When it comes to hot nutrition topics trending lately “clean eating” is at the top of the list.
But what exactly is it? With many variations, the bottom line is that clean eating is choosing foods that are the least processed as possible. At first thought, it seems very easy. Just avoid highly processed snacks like boxed cookies or those high sodium frozen TV dinners. But when you really think about it, most of the foods we eat are processed in some way, however small that may be. Unless you are only eating foods you’ve grown in your very own organic garden, the world of processed foods are lurking in almost every kitchen cabinet. Take pasta for instance…a relatively simple food with few ingredients but are you making it homemade, from scratch? Or that 100% orange juice in your refrigerator…if you didn’t squeeze it yourself from the oranges in your backyard, some type of processing actually had to be involved.
Most nutrition professionals feel that the closer you get to minimally processed, the better the quality of the foods that we eat are for your body. The closer ingredients are to their natural form the better. There are exceptions to this “rule” of course. Sometimes processing foods is to make them safer for human consumption. Pasteurizing milk is a perfect example. So be careful not to demonize all processed foods and categorize them together. A highly over-processed hot dog is no way in the same league as pasteurized skim milk.
So be on the lookout for those highly processed, “unclean” foods that are abundant in our food supply. Cereals made up of neon colored, sugarcoated nuggets for example contain so little nutritional value and can even be harmful to your body. Foods that are stripped of their nutritional qualities (white flour vs. whole wheat flour) are also considered poor choices. Where “clean eating” gets tricky is what concessions are you willing to make. Personally I’m okay with eating frozen broccoli when fresh broccoli isn’t in season. In fact, the frozen alternative can often be even healthier knowing that the broccoli is typically picked at the peak of freshness and frozen quickly to preserve the quality and nutrition. The bottom line message to eating clean is to choose minimally processed foods. Of course eating a raw tomato fresh from your garden is almost as clean as you can get but one doesn’t have to only eat this way to be eating clean.
While some clean eating purists believe that even cooking your foods breaks the clean eating rules, Registered Dietitians argue that avoiding cooking methods that add unhealthy fats and artificial ingredients is a good way to go. But sometimes, cooking foods brings out the nutrition in foods. For example, the phytonutrient lycopene is more available from a tomato by 25% when the tomato is cooked. Cooking also increases the bioavailability of beta-carotene found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as carrots.
Bottom line is that we all live in a busy world full of schedules and a workload. Finding time is like finding a treasure sometimes. Taking shortcuts is often the only way to make it all work for the family. Pick those shortcuts wisely and choose minimally processed foods for the best health and wellness outcome.