I spent the better part of last week at Food As Medicine, a training program for health professionals, teaching alongside the country’s leading lifestyle medicine clinicians and researchers as well as some of the most gifted integrative functional nutritionists, mind-body practitioners, and chefs. Picture a live wire shooting off sparks—that was my brain throughout this feast of science and wisdom. And as I listened to my dear colleagues deliver data about everything edible from agricultural history to the biochemistry of food and nutrition, I couldn’t help revisiting the question—what is clean eating?
As a self-proclaimed purist I don’t like anything fake in my food. In fact, buying fresh whole foods at all times and understanding where they come from is my ideal. But it is not my reality 100% of the time. And it is far from many people’s reality. So back to my question…
As my colleague, John Bagnulo and I ruminated on the topic, we determined that food purism should be on a spectrum. In other words, there’s definitely “dirty” food like highly processed chemicalized cereals to snack foods and super sugary drinks with food dye compared to the commonly “clean” food like a fresh fruit and vegetable smoothie or lentils with garlic (John’s favorite). And then there's everything in between as in the less processed “boxed” edibles with more thoughtful ingredients made by companies that are striving for some level of food purism in a fake food kinda world—hey, hats off to you for trying to better the food system!
While both John and I are “food fanatics” (for good reason) we both appreciate that everybody has a different ideal. And that is OK. But here are the basics for clean eating Stefanie style:
- Aim for a diet comprised on 70-80% fresh whole foods (in other words, foods without an ingredient list).
- If buying packaged foods, how long is the ingredient list? Aim for 5-7 items at most unless your food is superbly spiced with oodles of anti-inflammatory aromatics.
- Can you pronounce a food’s ingredients? If not, definitely dig in and question what you’re ingesting (but don’t worry about those fancy names for vitamins and minerals). The best resource (and Smartphone app) to investigate ingredients is the soon to be available Food Database by Environmental Working Group.
- Does your product have tons of claims? If so, it’s most likely covering up its utter phoniness. Opt out.
- A product that overly boasts “natural” is typically a dead give away that it’s unnatural. Be cautious.
- Avoid foods with anything artificial like preservatives, sweeteners, flavors and colors. There are plenty of better alternatives and you can learn all about them in my upcoming book.
In a perfect world, we would all be eating organic plant and animal foods that are thoughtfully grown and raised, packaged food taking a back seat to real nourishment. But the world is not perfect. And for many the learning curve is immense with time and money being the driving forces preventing healthier choices. So, never forget that small changes in food choice can make big everyday differences. How about starting by cleaning up your diet just a bit with some of the above suggestions?