The trendiness of better for you foods movements-- such as eating more plants and locally sourced foods-- has certainly made us more aware of what we're putting on our plates. It's also turned reading labels at the grocery store into a game of food forensics-- does that "certified organic" stamp guarantee a food is healthy?
Clean food began to get popular back in the mid-1990s. Grocery chains were starting to "clean up" store brand ingredient lists by removing chemical ingredients and weird sounding names.
Back then, this move was considered controversial, because it involved doing away with added nutrients, listed by their technical, non-household names (like pantothenic acid, a B vitamin), as well as eliminating preservatives, which meant short shelf lives (e.g., would consumers really want bread that gets hard or moldy within a few days?).
This was an idea whose time had come. Consumers were starting to focus on how foods were prepared, and what they were made of, health food stores were drawing in more and more patrons, and many natural food stores and farmer's markets experienced remarkable 4-year growth of 544% between 1989 and 1993, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in America.
Today, two decades down the road, clean eating, or eating clean, is a major movement, sparked by people from all walks of life who want to feel good about what they're putting in their bodies.
When we asked our readers "What does clean and healthy eating mean to you?" we received a variety of replies, from simply "eating fresh fruits and veggies," to "not eating anything artificial."
Throughout the years, my own ideas of what it means to eat clean have evolved dramatically, here's my current take on what this philosophy (which I'm a huge fan of):
Eat foods that are minimally processed.
This one is pretty uncomplicated-- instead of a carrot cake, eat a carrot and some nuts! The primary principle of eating clean is to replace highly processed foods with natural and fresh foods. To me, this means foods that haven't had anything added to them, and haven't had anything valuable taken away.
Even if you're not growing quinoa in your back yard, you can buy this whole grain in the bulk section of your market, or in a box, where the only ingredient is quinoa, and only quinoa. That's a far cry from a refined grain, that's been stripped of its fiber-rich bran (outer skin) and wholesome germ (the inner part that sprouts into a new plant), bleached, and disguised with preservatives.
Let ingredients guide you.
I don't think it's realistic to never eat anything that comes out of a box, bag, or jar , but when you do, the primary thing a clean eater looks at is the ingredient list and the nutritional label. Reading it is the only way to really know what's in your food, and choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
FoodSniffr.com is among my favorite apps as they do all this heavy-lifting for you.
I picked up one of my preferred brands, which are made with: organic here buckwheat and rice, organic whole quinoa, organic pumpkin and chia seeds, organic brown flax seeds, organic brown sesame seeds, organic poppy seeds, filtered water, sea salt, clean eating book organic black pepper, organic herbs-- all "real" and recognizable ingredients; a list that pretty much reads like a recipe I could recreate in my own kitchen.
They will focus on what they call as the good, the bad and the ugly in various grocery foods. They can also tell you if the product is gluten free, lactose free, corn free etc; if it has GMOs, or is high sugar, high salt etc. The biggest plus for me though is learning about the unsavory ingredients in my favorite products - msg, TBHQ and other weird names that I had ignored in the past - but realize now how damaging they are to my health.
Bingo! Clean eating is about paying attention to quality first, and not letting terms like zero trans fat, low sodium, or sugar free fool you into thinking that a processed food is healthy.