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Clean Eating: More Than Just An Elitist Fad

There’s no question that the concept of clean eating has exploded in recent years. However some nutrition experts doubt whether it has any real benefit or even any real meaning. They argue that it’s nothing more than a way of looking good on social media: at best it’s elitist and at worst it can body-shame us into anorexia and bulimia.

I strongly disagree. I believe clean eating represents a vibrant backlash against processed junk food and the endless health problems it leads to. Clean eating is a vital part of the equation if we want to  heal our gut, strengthen our entire body and stay on top form for the rest of our lives.

A quick glance at Instagram, for example, shows just how popular #cleaneating has become. Millions of people every day share images of their clean recipes and clean-fuelled gym bodies.

Dieticians and doctors get their knickers in a twist over it because there’s no official definition of ‘clean eating’, but the average person knows instinctively what it means.

Defining Clean Eating

Here’s are some of the ingredients of what clean eating means from a Gut Geek point of view:

It means eating food that is:

  • Made from whole ingredients. We buy these ingredients and we put them together to make a meal. We don’t rely on a big food company to do it for us in a factory somewhere, then ship it to us inside a package.
  • Often made at home, so that we’re in control of the ingredients.
  • Free from artificial additives that damage our gut and overall health.
  • Free from added refined sugar. It’s important to understand the difference between sugary crap added by manufacturers, such as high fructose corn syrup, and sugar that occurs naturally in, for example, fruit or honey. For more details check out 6 Steps to Shake Off Sugar

The ‘clean’ meals we prepare will contain:

  • A wide variety of ingredients, as more variety leads to a richer and more diverse collection of friendly bacteria in our microbiome, which in turn makes us stronger, fitter and happier.
  • Lots of vegetables, because if there’s one thing all nutritionists agree on, it’s that veggies are good for us!
  • Meat that is grass-fed/outdoor-reared and is from farms that don’t use intensive industrial methods. We don’t like those industrial methods as they are cruel to the animals and fill our meat with growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticide and GM residues, all of which are highly irritating to the gut.

Eating clean means getting our head around the distinction between good and bad fats:

  • Trans fats (aka hydrogenated fats) are bad because they are heavily processed and make us sick.
  • Your average vegetable oil from the supermarket is also ‘bad fat’ for the same reason.
  • Cold-pressed vegetable oils are good fats, as they haven’t been ruined by high temperature processing.
  • Contrary to the decades-old myth, not all saturated fat is bad for us. For example coconut oil has tons of scientifically-proven health benefits. 
  • Saturated fat from healthy, outdoor-reared animals is very beneficial for us.
  • Saturated fat from intensively-reared feedlot animals is bad for us, as many of the toxins in their poor little bodies are stored in their fat.
  • We don’t buy ‘low fat’ products because they are a food-industry con that should be consigned to the dustbin of history. They are inevitably more processed, contain fewer nutrients and more additives, and often end up making us fatter instead of thinner.

Clean eating does NOT necessarily mean:

  • Gluten-free, because lots of products marketed as ‘gluten free’ are full of processed crap like tapioca starch and cornstarch. On the other hand, good quality sourdough bread is relatively easy to digest for most people and contains a bunch of useful nutrients. Having said that, when our gut gets really bad, we often need to go completely gluten-free for a period.

And clean eating does NOT necessarily have to be:

  • Organic, because it’s prohibitively expensive or unavailable for many of us. That said, if you can buy organic, it is definitely the cleaner option.
  • Expensive or elitist. We don’t have to spend our time wandering around farmer’s markets and taking photos of our parsnips if we don’t want to!
  • Body shaming, if we’re not setting out to be or look superior to anyone else.
  • Followed obsessively.

The concerns about anorexia are important and I’m not dismissing them for a moment.  However, there are complex reasons behind why people become anorexic or bulimic. To throw out the idea of clean eating because of this is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Clean Eating And Our Microbiome

Diet is far more critical to our health than we previously thought. Sure, we all have a general understanding that vegetables are healthier than ice-cream, but the picture is expanding rapidly. We now know that:

1) Diet is the number one factor that shapes our microbiome (the friendly bacteria inside us),

2) Our microbiome is fundamental to our digestion, immune system, metabolism, hormones, brain and entire health.

If we step back and take a look at the bigger picture for a moment, there are at least three big signs that something has gone badly wrong with our diet and microbiome:

  • The explosion in recent decades of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) such as food allergies, asthma, diabetes type 2, obesity, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Alzheimers and cancer.
  • Life expectancy in the West is now no longer rising.
  • Sperm counts in the West are dropping by as much as 50%

Every time we chose a ‘dirty’ food option over a ‘clean’ one we’re taking a decision about our health and wellness. Do we want to slide into old age with a miserable combination of obesity and dementia, or do we want to be vibrant and healthy for our entire lives until we die peacefully one night in our sleep aged 99?

Your Definition of Clean Eating

Yes it’s true that there’s no definition of what clean eating is exactly. But so what? I’m always sceptical of official definitions handed down by powers-that-be anyway. That doesn’t mean it’s not ‘evidence based’. There’s plenty of evidence if we look for it.

We need to find our own definition of ‘clean’. I’m not saying that my definition is better than yours. It’s the process of thinking about it and then changing our food choices that counts. This elevates us from mindless consumers to active participants in how our food is grown and how our planet is looked after.

Your definition could be vegetarian, vegan, low carb, high fat, whatever. The point is that you’re thinking about it, not all the time, not obsessively or compulsively but with kindness and compassion, firstly to yourself and your body (which includes your old friends the bacteria), then to your family and then to the planet.


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45 thoughts on “Clean Eating: More Than Just An Elitist Fad”

  1. I do try to eat as much unprocessed food when I can. I quite like fruit and veg as they come which helps. Loads of great information here.

  2. Thank you for reminding and inspiring us to choose a healthier lifestyle. Clean is one of our goals as a family. It’s not easy to transition but we’re taking baby steps. Thank you for sharing these clarifications and busting these “myths”

  3. Reevaluating how we have been eating over the past year or so is on our list of things to do. I guess we need to get started right? These are great tips to start!

  4. I appreciate the thorough explanation and information on clean eating. I’m not partaking in clean eating 100% of the time but I do it a few times of the week and hope to increase the usage because my body feels so much better not having so much processed! i already home cook 90% of my meals so slowly I am getting there.

  5. thanks so much for this detailed sharing about clean eating as I learnt much more about it after reading. A bit challenging for me personally because we eat lots of processed foods nowaday. cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  6. I’m guilty as I know I don’t usually do clean eating. Especially when we are so busy that we tend to just buy fast food. Glad to know as well that eating organic is not the only way to eat healthy food because most of them are really pricey.

  7. This is so timely. I recently heard about leaky gut from Dr Axel. Many of my issues made sense. Book marking your site as I start this clean eating journey.

  8. Great post and thank you for freeing me from the pressure to take photos of damn parsnips! Haha. As I get older, I find it easier to eat clean. It may be because, thankfully, I can afford more organic food, or that I have spent so much time and money and health on processed food. I have it once in a while but really try to focus on clean eating.

  9. I’ve gotten much better about eating clean over the last few months. It’s strangely hard to start but you really can tell a big difference. We’ve been mainly sticking with chicken and fresh veggies and fruits as well some steak every now and then. I agree that it’s way better for you than all of those processed things we are so used to eating.

  10. I absolutely agree with this definition of clean eating. People immediately think organic or expensive or fancy or complicated. Your post shows that it doesn’t have to be either. It can be simpler than going to a fast-food chain. As long as we follow the instructions/advice that you list above. Thank you for this educational reminder!

  11. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and engaging, and without a doubt,
    you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which too few people are speaking
    intelligently about. I’m very happy I found this in my search for something regarding this.

  12. My family has been trying to eat clean for a few years now and it has made a huge difference for us all. We’ve cut out almost all processed foods from our home and I love it.

  13. I eat pretty clean, but am guilty of eating a few processed food now and then. Usually when I am lazy or in a hurry are the times I make bad choices.

  14. Really appreciate this post. It is so important to put “good” foods into your body, and I love when you say that while there is no definition of clean eating you instinctively know what it is. So true! We all know what we should be eating, and choosing the good over the bad impacts our health and lifespan so much. I wish GPs would talk more about nutrition as a key to styaing/getting healthy. It makes all the difference!

  15. Thanks so much for dispelling some of the myths about clean eating! My husband and I have been making a conscious effort to cook more at home and slowly replace some of our excess meat, grains, and fried foods with fruits and vegetables.

  16. Ahhh, the never ending food debate…… I agree with you. Clean eating is much better for people. I try to eat clean as often as possible but I know I’m not perfect at it. It is sad that so many people are not taking care of themselves then are surprised when they have one or many medical problems…. as the old saying goes “You Are What You Eat”.

  17. I think clean eating is great! While I’m not the best at it, I try to eat less packaged foods or junk food. I even started making my own granola so I wouldn’t have to eat all the sugar and preservatives in boxed cereal.

    1. Taking care of our bodies is our personal obligation. We should choose eating right for ourselves and loved ones. Thank you for this great topic.

  18. Wonderful site you have here but I was wanting to know
    if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get responses from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.

    If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Cheers!

  19. Absolutely loved this article. I’m definitely on the clean eating train, although I CERTAINLY do not eat totally clean. I shoot for 70% and call it a day for my sanity. Thanks for all the facts about this!

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