Clean Eating: Fad or Future?

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Last week my sister told me about a coworker of hers who recently lost weight by “clean eating.” I admit, I’m not an expert in this area, but I’ve heard of this movement and it got me wondering. Is eating “clean” is just another fad or trend, or is it something that’s not only here to stay, but that can help people with diabetes?

A bit of history
I didn’t realize that clean eating is nothing new. The clean eating movement began in the 1960’s when a lot of things were changing, including people’s approaches to food and health. In a sense, this is when the “health food” movement really began. Eating processed and refined foods was frowned upon, probably more due to the changing values and mores of society at that time than to health and nutrition. However, people were beginning to think more holistically about their health and clean eating became popular with bodybuilders and fitness fanatics.

Skip ahead a few decades and clean eating began to make another resurgence. Companies like Wild Oats and Whole Foods became more mainstream as consumers were paying more attention to their lifestyles and the foods they were eating. Clean eating may not be a familiar term for you, but chances are you’ve been paying more attention to the food you eat and perhaps practicing clean eating without realizing it!

What is clean eating?
Clean eating (or eating clean) isn’t a “diet” or a food trend, like juicing or detoxing. And it’s not about washing your food really well. Instead, it’s more of a way of eating and living. Essentially, clean eating involves avoiding or limiting processed and refined foods and foods that contain a lot of additives, and instead eating more whole foods and focusing on plant-based foods. Truth be told, many people have been following the principles of clean eating for quite a while.

What are the benefits of clean eating?
Proponents of clean eating claim that it can do all sorts of good things for us, such as:

• Help with weight loss
• Improve energy levels
• Improve sleep
• Give us clearer skin and shinier hair
• Improve our mental well-being

Sounds pretty good so far. Does it help with diabetes? That remains to be seen, but given that this movement promotes healthful, unprocessed foods, it certainly seems like a good choice.

How to be a clean eater
Pretty much all of us could benefit from eating more cleanly, whether we have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or are overweight. The principles of clean eating really seem to make sense for most people. So let’s take a look at what’s involved:

Choose whole foods. No, you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods (unless you want to). What this means is that you choose to eat an apple rather than a slice of apple pie or you eat a chicken breast rather than Chicken McNuggets. Eat foods in their natural state.

Ditch the processed foods. OK, that may not always be possible, since sometimes time and convenience dictate what we are able to eat. However, clean eaters avoid packaged and canned foods, like boxed mac and cheese or salty soup in a can that comes with a whole list of unrecognizable ingredients. So, that means cooking from scratch, for the most part. And fresh is best.

Eat a lot of plant foods. You don’t have to become a vegetarian to eat clean, but one of the main principles is to eat a lot of vegetables, beans, and fruits.

Eat whole grains. Go for brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat. Try the “new” ancient grains that I’ve written about recently, like teff, spelt, or freekeh. White bread, white pasta, and white rice are refined and have been stripped of a lot of their nutrients. Plus, refined foods are more likely to have a larger effect on your blood glucose levels.

Read labels and ingredient lists. Yes, serving size, total carbohydrate, and saturated fat are important to look at. But don’t be fooled into thinking that “fat-free” or “sugar-free” foods are the best choices for you. Most likely, these foods have a whole bunch of unpronounceable ingredients in the list. And a lot of these ingredients are the very ones that clean eaters try to avoid.

Balance your meals. In other words, include some carbohydrate, protein, and fat at each of your meals. Many of us don’t eat enough protein at meals; protein helps to sustain fullness so that you’re not craving something two hours after eating. Also, eat a variety of foods.

Shy away from liquid calories. This one’s likely not new for people with diabetes. Juice, sweetened ice tea, soda, and sports drinks are loaded with sugar and calories (empty calories, to boot). Reach for water, seltzer water, and unsweetened tea, instead.

Eat several meals and snacks during the day. The point of this is to prevent hunger and also keep blood glucose levels more stable. Check with your provider or dietitian about the best way to space out your meals and snacks.

Clean eaters report that their taste buds change over time. Processed foods don’t taste good to them anymore and they learn to appreciate the “wholeness” of foods. Is clean eating for you? You’ll never know until you give it a try!

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