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An Ounce of Prevention: What is Clean Eating?


Have you noticed more marketing for “clean food”?  Upon first seeing a commercial promising clean food by year’s end, the question came to mind, “Is the food we have been eating dirty?”  Along with the promotion for clean food, there is a movement for “clean eating”.  What exactly do these terms mean?

For certain, food manufacturers and food preparers have responded to the consumer call for healthier foods.  Some have responded by eliminating hormones, preservatives and chemicals in food growing and preparation, as well as announcing no GMO products (genetically modified organism).  This is all part of “clean food”.

If you scour the internet for the meaning of “clean food” or “clean eating”, you will find a deluge of articles on these topics.  Most of the articles are not offered by traditionally reliable medical sources such as the Mayo Clinic, Medscape or WebMD.  Many are blogs, health magazines or non-traditional health websites.

While the terms “clean eating” and “clean food” are trending right now, many of the principles are actually not so new.  Americans have been pushing for healthier food and food producers have responded.  This movement has been in motion for many years.  Names may change and certain topics become more of a focus, but the desire to eat healthier is the same.

After a review of some reliable medical resources, it seems that clean food means whole foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains that are not processed and are free of artificial additives, flavors, colors, preservatives and sweeteners.  They are also foods that are low in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Clean eating involves basic principles and strategies, many of which may sound familiar.  Clean eating is not a diet; rather it is a lifestyle approach to food, its preparation and its consumption.  One internet article states that clean eating “leads to an improved life, one meal at a time”.  This opinion may or may not be true, but certainly the principles encourage healthy eating.  Principles and strategies include:  Eat six small meals per day; Drink lots of water; Read labels (to avoid preservatives, additives, salt etc.); Avoid/limit processed foods; Consume healthy fats (decrease bad fats); increase fresh fruits and vegetables; choose whole, unrefined grains; and learn about portion sizes.  There are other principles, depending on what website you visit, that get more into social and political ideas.  They may appeal to you, but are not essential to “clean eating”.

So whether you call it clean eating or healthier eating, it appears that the main principles are principles of good nutrition.  Of course, heathy eating is not the only factor for good health.  Increasing physical activity, not smoking, using alcohol in moderation, not abusing drugs, getting proper sleep and getting regular physical exam check-ups are all factors for healthy living.  If you have been prescribed certain medications by your health care provider, it is also important to take them as prescribed and discuss issues you might have with them.

To learn more about healthy eating, visit websites such as www.cdc.gov; www.choosemyplate.gov; American Heart Association; or www.nutrition.gov.  If you are a Quinnipiack Valley Health District resident (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven or Woodbridge) who does not have access to the internet and would like information on healthy eating, call 203 248-4528.  Visit our website, www.qvhd.org, “like us” on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  What topics would you like to learn more about?  Please forward your comments about this health column and suggested topics to info@qvhd.org.  This column was written by V. Deborah Culligan, Health Educator.

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