Eating clean” may sound like another diet fad, but there’s substance behind the hype. Clean eating is really just about getting back to healthy basics and enjoying food in its natural form.
“The easiest way to eat clean is to seek out simple ingredients,” says Jen Bruning, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She adds that the focus should be on whole fruits and vegetables and minimally processed whole grains, along with lean proteins such as legumes, fish and poultry.
While clean eating doesn’t have just one definition, understanding these common buzzwords can help make cleaning up your food choices simple and easy.
Minimally processed. An essential element of clean eating is limiting heavily processed foods, says Bruning. That means focusing on whole foods that are still as close to their natural state as possible (think sliced veggies or cooked quinoa). When it comes to packaged foods, one of the easiest ways to identify what’s minimally processed is to look at the ingredients list. If it’s chock-full of words you can’t recognize or pronounce, it’s probably highly processed.
Following this clean-eating principal will naturally steer you toward lower calorie, nutrient-dense foods. Your meals are also more likely to contain plenty of fiber and good-for-you fats, which will satisfy your hunger and keep you feeling fuller longer.
GMO-free. Genetically modified foods are made with organisms whose genetic material has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally. They have not been shown to present any health risks, says Bruning, but there is an increasing movement for products with GMO ingredients to be labeled so that consumers can make an informed decision. While GMOs may not cause a problem for human health, some researchers are concerned about their effect on the larger environment.
Natural. This is a label that has no agreed-upon definition, so it carries little true meaning. Instead, look for a label that is regulated, such as a “USDA organic” label. Also “natural” doesn’t always mean healthy. Even so-called “natural” foods can contain high amounts of fat or sugar.
Hormone-free. This means the meat was raised without the use of hormones. It’s important to remember that poultry and pork sold in the U.S is never allowed to be raised with hormones, so even if the label doesn’t call it out, you can feel confident your choice is hormone-free. However, hormones are allowed to be used in beef, so either look for a label that specifically says “hormone-free” or talk to your butcher before you buy.
No Antibiotics Added. The use of antibiotics is allowed in red meat and poultry in the U.S. If you want to be sure your meat does not contain antibiotics, look for the terms “no antibiotics added.” This means that sufficient documentation has been provided by the producer to the USDA demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics. Meat labeled “USDA Organic” is also guaranteed to contain no antibiotics, because their use is prohibited by federal organic regulations. However, the term “antibiotic-free” is not authorized by the USDA and therefore has no true meaning.
Local. Just because something is local doesn’t mean it fits the bill for clean eating, but it may be a good start. If you go to a farmers market, you can ask questions about how the food was prepared or grown.