No one can deny that today's modern diet is a far cry from what we were once consuming as a species, even as little as a hundred years ago. The industrialized food revolution has played a large role, moving us away from eating fresher, simpler and more locally produced foods, to convenience-oriented products made to stimulate our taste buds, have the longest shelf life possible, and maximize profits. It's also hard to deny the fact that, despite better medical technologies than ever before, the disease rates for several degenerative health conditions like cancer and heart disease continue to rise.
As human beings, there are many factors that contribute to either our state of health or lack thereof. We live in a world where we can't fully avoid exposure to things like air pollution, environmental toxins, and electromagnetic radiation unless, of course, we live very secluded lives. And even then it may not be possible. And while these factors can be major stressors for our bodies over time, they're still not going to impact our health as much as what we choose to ingest every single day through our food choices. To quote holistic health icon Ann Wigmore — "The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison."
What Is “Clean Eating”?
Clean eating is the idea that eating foods in their most natural state, and avoiding processed foods, can positively impact our health long term. In a world where there are so many “expert” opinions on what we should and shouldn't be eating, this idea of “clean eating” can seem simple, easy, and refreshing.
Instead of following a strict diet protocol and eliminating entire food groups, or things we may have previously loved, we can choose more natural options that are less processed, more nutrient-rich, and don't contain the ingredients most of us already know aren't good for us anyways – things like preservatives, food dyes, table salt, hydrogenated oils, and refined sugar.
It's about getting back to a way of eating that supports our health and gives back, instead of depleting and taxing our bodies.
A Movement Is Born
While avoiding chemicals and eating real food isn't a new phenomenon (it's actually how most of our great, great grandparents ate every day...), the term “clean eating” first came onto the wellness scene thanks to health, fitness, and nutrition icon Tosca Reno, who authored a book in 2007 titled The Eat-Clean Diet. She describes the diet as “a colorful assortment of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and lean protein.” Two years later in 2009, Alejandro Junger, M.D published what became a New York Times Bestseller titled CLEAN: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Health Itself. The book and the program it outlines focuses heavily on removing toxins from our lives and supporting the body's natural ability to detoxify and heal. It was a program endorsed by celebrities like actress Gwyneth Paltrow and supermodel Naomi Campbell and has since spread like wildfire on social media where hashtags #cleaneats and #cleaneating have been used millions upon millions of times.
Not just for the rich and famous
Eating this way isn't just for the famous, wealthy, or those that have thousands of followers on Instagram. It really comes down to choosing real food over the fake processed stuff. Going organic is a great first step in effectively reducing our exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and GMO's. If going 100% organic isn't an option, avoiding The Dirty Dozen™ at the very least is a great compromise. The Dirty Dozen™ is a guide published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to highlight the most pesticide and herbicide-laden fruits and vegetables so we can make the best choices for ourselves and loved ones. We can also pick up packages and read labels thoroughly. If the product contains simple, food-based ingredients we can pronounce and understand – this is what we want. If it is full of additives, chemicals, synthetics, and ingredients made by a team of people in a lab – not so much. Fewer ingredients can oftentimes mean a healthier option as well. Look for products with less than 10 ingredients, unless of course, it is a superfood blend with 30 amazing organic adaptogens and herbs, then the more the merrier. If you're buying almond butter, it should ideally contain just one ingredient: organic almonds. Buying hummus? Give a no thanks to the brands that contain sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate and look for an alternative that contains just garbanzo beans, lemon, sesame tahini, sea salt, garlic, and spices. Or better yet, whip up a batch of sprouted hummus from scratch! Also, there is nothing cleaner (for both our bodies and the environment!) than buying organic and local or growing at least some food at home. Even if it means an epic sprout garden on a windowsill.
Staying balanced mentally
Does eating a “clean” i.e. less processed diet mean that we can't treat ourselves once in a while to foods not necessarily part of the “program”? Heck yes! We are all human and have our emotional and spiritual health to look after too. Stress is also toxic to the system. Food is only part (albeit a large, important part!) of the equation. There have certainly been some concerns and even backlash related to the clean eating movement. Much of this has to do with aspects of mental health, and the rise of obsessive tendencies, eating disorders and overall anxiety or negativity around food and eating. It's important to make note that just because we may prioritize our health, this doesn't give food guilt an open invitation to the party. The two don't have to go hand in hand. It also doesn't mean that somehow we've become "dirty", or “impure” if we indulge in a treat once in a while that doesn't fit the #cleaneats bill. We can choose to enjoy our choices in the present moment, love ourselves just the same, and carry on with our healthy lifestyle. Nothing is lost. Mental outlook and perspective is everything. And health is a life-long journey, not a competition or even a set destination. It evolves just like we do.