What the heck is… clean eating?

By Toni Sekinah 11 January 2017
Photo from Ella Mills

Explaining the buzzwords of the moment: What is clean eating and should you be doing it?

Our weekly series What The Heck Is sheds light on strange unexplained acronyms and unfamiliar buzzwords that creep into our everyday lives.

From fika to vertical farming, we’re on a mission to explain the unexplained.

What is clean eating?

In truth, whatever you want it to. My kale and peanut butter smoothie had no sugar. It’s clean, dammit!

Your friends have probably made New Year’s resolutions to eat more greens and the good people behind Veganuary are encouraging us to give up meat and dairy for at least a month. That’s clean for them.

Clean eating means different things to different people. It can be anything from cutting down on sugar, salt and processed foods to eating a raw, solely plant-based diet.
It could mean eating food free from gluten or scoffing down salads but skipping dessert or making sure that everything you consume is natural, organic and biodynamic (that is planted and harvested in sync with the cycles of the moon).


What’s the big deal?

It’s great that people are looking after themselves and eating nutritionally balanced diets. Think of all the national health campaigns warning us not to eat ourselves into an early grave.

But when it comes to food and nutrition, you can have too much of a good thing. Especially if someone with no qualifications or experience (apart from their own) is advising you about what to put into your body. Popular clean eating food blogger Ella Mills only began training as a nutritionist after her first recipe book topped the charts.

You, your metabolism, your physiological makeup and thus your nutritional requirements are unique. The fruit-only diet that works perfectly for Freelee The Banana Girl might not be so great for the next person.

Also classifying food as strictly ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ could cause some people to have a negative view of and relationship with the food they enjoy. If left unchecked, that unhealthy relationship with food can result in an eating disorder.

Sophie Medlin, lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, warned that OTT clean eating can lead to a condition called orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating.

This problem is compounded in social media spaces like Instagram where people can heap praise or scorn on the food choices of others. When peer pressure comes into play, people don’t always make the best choices for them.

So is it time to get dirty again?

It’s time to put what’s on our plates back into perspective. The British Nutrition Foundation says that to eat well we should eat more fruit and veg and oily fish, less sugar, salt and saturated fat, base our meals on starchy carbs and drink more water.

The combinations and ratios will vary for each person. So we should try to think less about foods that are clean and more are foods that are right for us.

Who cares if our grub is a little bit grubby every now and then.

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