As exercise and nutrition has become more and more high-tech, with body scanners, smartphone apps and intricate diet plans the new normal, we shouldn't be surprised that there is a growing backlash in the form of “clean eating.” The premise of the movement is that it doesn't matter how many calories, carbs, proteins or fats are in your food, or even how often you eat, so long as you are eating fresh, whole foods.
“Clean” eaters focus on consuming foods that are as close to their natural state and as minimally processed as possible. They often prefer that their food originate from farms that respect life and the environment.
Certainly, organic fruits and vegetables are a big part of a “clean” diet. All are filled with vitamins, fiber, minerals and phytochemicals that battle inflammation and defend cells from damage. Numerous studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables lead to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
Another focus for the “clean” crowd is a drastic reduction, or even elimination, or processed foods. These are defined as any food modified from its natural state. Usually the modification results in more sugar and other unhealthy ingredients in the mix. These processes, and the foods that result from them, have been connected to inflammation and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Processing also typically causes food to lose much of its nutrients and fiber content. And because processed foods take less energy to digest and absorb than whole foods do, they are more likely to cause weight gain over time. In fact, one study showed that a group that ate only whole foods burned twice as many calories as the control group.
Refined carbs are shunned by most people who watch what they eat, but are treated like kryptonite by those who are eating “clean.” Refined carbs have been consistently tied to obesity, insulin resistance, and inflammation. Contrast that with whole grains – greatly favored by the “clean” movement – which have been shown to reduce inflammation and foster better gut health. Look for steel-cut oats to replace your oatmeal, and sprouted grain bread instead of white bread.
Avoid sugar in general if you want to go “clean,” as even table sugar is usually half fructose. If you must give in to your sweet tooth, look to pure honey or maple sugar for satisfaction.