The trendiness of better for you foods movements-- for instance, eating more plants and locally sourced foods-- has absolutely made us more aware of what we're putting on our plates. It's also changed reading labels at the food mart into a pursuit of food forensics-- does that "certified organic" stamp guarantee a food is nutritious? Why doesn't your tub of kale chips have a "certified vegan" stamp? How do you know if a food is locally made? Ethically produced?
Clean food began to get trendy 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 moldy or hard within a few days?).
This was an idea whose time had come. Consumers were beginning to keep an eye on how foods were prepared, and what they were made of, health food stores were generating more and more customers, 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, propelled 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 healthy and clean eating mean to you?" we received a variety of replies, from simply "eating fresh fruits and veggies," to "not eating anything synthetic."
Over here the years, my own ideas of what it means to eat clean have evolved widely, 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 direct-- instead of a carrot cake, eat a carrot and some nuts! The primary principle of eating clean is to replace highly processed foods with fresh and natural foods. To me, this means foods that haven't had anything added to them, and haven't had anything valuable taken away.
So, even if you're not developing 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 robbed of its fiber-rich bran (outer skin) and nourishing germ (the inner part that sprouts into a new plant), bleached, and adulterated with preservatives.
Let ingredients guide you.
I don't think it's reasonable to never eat anything that comes out of a box, bag, or jar , but when you do, the first 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 got one of my beloved brands, which are made with: organic 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, 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 accentuate 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 best of ebay etc. The biggest plus for me though is discovering the unsavory ingredients in my favorite products - msg, TBHQ and other weird names that I had ignored in the past - but realize now how dangerous they are to my health.
Bingo! Clean eating is about paying attention to quality first, and not more info letting terms like zero trans fat, low sodium, or sugar free fool you into thinking that a processed food is healthy.