“Clean” vs. “Dirty” — eating to optimize health?
Trigger warning: Discussion of diets and weight loss.
I’ve been seeing quite a few comments on my Facebook feed about “clean” eating — how it’s so much healthier for one’s body and how easily it leads to weight loss are the two main recommendations that people give as the reason for eating a “clean” diet. So I decided to do a little research to find out just what all the fuss was about. Believe me, there is a lot of fuss about it going on too; advocates of “clean” eating are vehement about their choice to eat “clean” and some of them are very judgmental of anyone who doesn’t drop their “dirty” food habit immediately and jump on the bandwagon.
The best article I could find that explains what “clean eating” is was fairly clear about it all, but there are a few assumptions in here that need to be challenged.
Where did the “clean” eating movement come from?
Clean eating is mostly a new-age concept that began when we had enough cultural advancements to create excess. Books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and popular documentaries like “Food, Inc.” have helped bring ingredient awareness to the forefront of people’s minds. Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating campaign has also played a major role in this awareness.
More significantly is the need for clean eating as a necessity for health. ”Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are in almost every household in the country. Those are lifestyle related conditions. We’re all affected by it. The problem is so urgent at this point we can’t just keep on keeping on.”
It looks, to me anyway, like people who have the time, money, and energy to devote to this type of diet are the ones who created it. But what I take exception with in the above quote is the “Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are in almost every household in the country. Those are lifestyle related conditions.” Lifestyle-related conditions? Really? Genetics don’t have any part to play in them at all?
While I may agree that some of the ingredients in our food supply may contribute to heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, I don’t think that eating “clean” is going to eradicate or lessen the impact of any of those diseases. Way to add fuel to the fire — the fire of blaming people for the diseases they get. Blame them because what they ate wasn’t up to some “standard” of “clean.” If they had just eaten “clean”, they wouldn’t have gotten whatever disease or it wouldn’t have been as bad.
As for how urgent the problem is, I think lowering the diagnostic standards for what constitutes the start of hypertension or diabetes has more to do with that. Every time the standards are lowered, previously healthy people are added to the list of those who need “treatment” (which is something I’ve written, and ranted, about before).
Let’s take a look at what “clean” eating is. According to the linked article, it’s eating foods that have as few ingredients as possible — in other words, unprocessed.
The clean eating rule of thumb: The shorter the ingredient list, the better. No specific food is off-limits as long as it’s a real, honest-to-goodness food. In other words, this isn’t a “diet” that bans bread or sacrifices sugar.
It doesn’t ban bread outright, but if you don’t have the time or the money to buy the ingredients to bake your own bread, bread would not be on the list of “clean” foods. Ever read the ingredient list on a loaf of bread? Even the “whole grain,” supposedly “healthy-for-you” breads have ingredients in them that we can’t pronounce and we would have to look up to see exactly what they are and what purpose they serve.
“This is a way of eating that you can eat until you’re full and satisfied, and the side benefit is the weight loss,” said Ivy Larson, co-author of “Clean Cuisine.” Larson’s multiple sclerosis symptoms were lessened when she started eating a “clean” diet.
Although Larson and her clients have a more strict interpretation of clean eating, the core principles of the plan are the same: Eat whole foods and less packaged items.
Larson recommends starting by adding one “clean” meal a day to your diet, adding more week by week. She suggests that buying frozen vegetables or fruits is a quick way to add nutrients to your diet with less work.
A common belief is that clean eating — or healthy eating in general — is more expensive than fast-food choices. “To eat this way is actually cheaper than processed food. You just have to put in the labor,” said Orlando, “We take more energy making our car nice than taking care of our bodies,” he said.
There always has to be a side benefit, and that side benefit just has to be weight loss. Why can’t we just stop at improved health? Why does it always have to have “weight loss” thrown in there too? I noticed that nowhere is it stated, as a number of pounds or a percentage of beginning body weight, what that “weight loss” looks like. Why is there this obsession with weight, and with blaming weight for all of our ills? Even people who aren’t fat get these diseases. Even people who aren’t fat can end up disabled, for whatever reason. So why is the focus always on weight loss?
“Clean” eating may be right for you, if you have the money, time, and energy (spoons) to devote to shopping for “clean” foods and then preparing them. Not to mention you also need to have a place to store all those “clean” foods/ingredients — refrigerator/freezer, cupboards, containers, etc., as well as a stove (and the wherewithal to pay for the gas/electricity it takes), and enough pots/pans to cook those foods.
Sorry, but there are some of us who just don’t have enough spoons to do the grocery shopping for “clean” food, let alone have enough spoons left over to put it all away properly, and then actually prepare meals from scratch. There are a lot of illnesses and disabilities that “clean” eating isn’t going to resolve, and those of us who can’t jump on this bandwagon don’t need to be judged for our choices (and I’ve seen a lot of that judgment issued against people online).
In the end, it all boils down to everyone eating as best they can in the circumstances with which they’re dealing. And that is a very personal issue for each and every one of us, which is not the business of anyone else. Whoever wants to eat “clean” has the right to do so without judgment. But I reserve the right to not eat “clean,” for whatever reasons, and not be judged for that. My body, my choice — your body, your choice.