Clean Eating: Fitness Fad or Phenomenon?

There seems to be a relatively new catch phrase that’s floating around fitness circles: clean eating. But what does that really mean and is it really necessary? If someone wanted to, how would they start this new trend of clean eating? Here are the answers to those questions and more. 

What is "Clean Eating"?

Some say that in order to "eat clean" people shouldn't consume foods that have more than three ingredients, making most foods in the supermarket off limits. Even some foods with single ingredients, such as sugar, are off limits, making the rules quite confusing to some. There also seems to be some confusion because "clean" can mean something different depending upon who you ask.

Related: Is Sugar Toxic to Your Body?

There are many pros and cons to starting this type of diet. The pros include a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But the cons are less tangible. Eating at a restaurant or sharing a meal with friends and family who aren't on the same diet make clean eating a burden. It also encourages an unhealthy obsession with food and a belief that some foods are bad. Not only is it highly subjective, it simply is not true.

So Why Do It?

The main idea behind this diet is to improve health, lose weight and extend life by eliminating what are so-called "toxic food additives". There are hard core athletes who swear by clean eating. However, there are just as many who say that the diet was created from pseudoscience. Most reviews say that while there are good points to the diet, the rest, such as the supplements and cutting out all forms of fat are not based in any verifiable science at all.

Related: A Guide to Food Additives and Preservatives

It is true that eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat are good ideas. But this isn't new information. This is what doctors and health experts have been recommending for years. The clean eating diet goes further encouraging the use of only organic products. While this is great in theory and certainly good for the environment, there is no scientific evidence to support organic food being more nutritious than the regular variety.

If a person is trying to lose weight, the clean eating diet may in fact be good. It restricts calories to 1,200-1,800 calories per day and weight loss always depends upon calorie deficiency, whether through restricting diet or increasing exercise or both. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine tested different diets, each focusing on different macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates). All of the diets resulted in weight loss due to reduced calories. In other words, the key factor for weight loss was the reduction in calories, not the type of food being eaten.

See: 8 Negative Healthy Effects of Physical Inactivity

There is no evidence to indicate that this diet prevents any disease that a person is already pre-disposed to. However, it's been well known for years that eating a balanced, healthy diet can improve many chronic health conditions. Any diet program should always be discussed with a doctor first.

Budget Concerns

Clean eating can be very expensive, especially if the diet plan is followed to the letter. While some foods will be available at regular supermarkets, and more stores are carrying organic products, the majority of these products are still only available at specialty stores at an elevated price. In some cases, those who live in rural areas may not have access to these products at all except for mail order. It is not uncommon at all for clean eaters to spend twice or three times as much on food as those who simply eat a balanced diet from the regular supermarket.

Tips for Clean Eating

So, you still want to give clean eating a try? Okay! Here are some tips to help get you started.

  • Buy in bulk. Products such as meat and grains can be purchased in bulk for a cost savings.
  • Buy local. Produce is always best when bought close to home. This way it's as fresh as possible and you're supporting local farmers as well.
  • Start slow. Any diet can take some time to get used to and trying to jump in with both feet can lead to burn out and giving up.
  • Look for bargains. Some items, such as oatmeal are inexpensive no matter where you buy them. So shop around. Look for sales and clip coupons. Every little bit helps.
  • Discuss the diet and supplements with a doctor first. With the aid of your doctor, you can come up with a clean eating diet plan that best suits your health needs.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. This is key to losing weight and being healthy. Discuss any exercise plan with a doctor first as well.

The clean eating diet may be good for some people such as athletes, but overall, experts agree that it can be much too restrictive for most to follow with any longevity. In the end, it's a matter of personal choice and willpower as to whether or not the clean eating diet will prove to be a lifestyle that can be lived with forever.

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