The term “eating clean” has recently gained popularity among consumers. But, what does the term mean? I searched to find a science-based answer and came up empty-handed. Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have defined the term. Eating clean has been described in online social media and blog posts as eating foods in their whole-food state, free from additives, and minimally processed. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and dairy products all fit this description and are recommended by the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
When shopping for food, be mindful of nutrition labels and the ingredients listed. Look for foods with minimal ingredients. The ingredients on the label are listed based on quantity levels– from most to least. A carton of plain yogurt contains only milk and probiotics as ingredients. Adding fruit pieces or puree will naturally sweeten the yogurt, but fruit flavored yogurt is also available for convenience. While both items can be part of a healthy diet, aim for those with the least amount of added sugar, a component that will be on every food label by 2021.
Whole foods, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, are important parts of a healthy eating pattern. As a registered dietitian, I work with clients on selecting foods that provide the biggest nutritional benefit per calorie. For example, dairy foods are naturally rich in protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Milk alternatives, such as soy, rice, almond, and coconut beverages, have added nutrients to imitate real dairy milk’s nutrient package, but are not utilized by the body the same way. When you select foods based on natural nutrition, you can’t go wrong! So, if eating a nutrient-rich diet full of whole foods from all food groups is “eating clean,” I say, why not?
Jessica Todd is a registered dietitian nutritionist with over 10 years of experience. She is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor and the Coordinated Program Director at Georgia State University in the Department of Nutrition. Additionally, she is the owner of a local meal-prep and nutrition company, Perfectly Portioned Nutrition. Education, nutrition counseling and culinary nutrition has been and remains the focus of Jessica’s career path.