What is “clean eating” and should you bother trying it?


During the holiday season, food is a major part of the celebration. Sometimes it becomes a guilty pleasure and we might wonder how to counter that inherent guilt.

We might even start to think about our next diet.

When it comes to food and nutrition, there’s always a trendy “buzzword” diet of the moment.

In the 1990s, it was all about the “Zone” diet.

In the early 2000s, everyone was obsessed with the South Beach diet, Atkins, and let’s not forget: the maple syrup-lemon-cayenne pepper cleanse!

Currently, gluten-free food is super trendy, along with the Paleo diet, and also… something known as “clean eating.”

But what is clean eating, exactly? Is it healthy? Should you try it?

Let’s take a closer look…

What is clean eating? 

Clean eating means:

— Eating real food (veggies and fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, chicken, steak, fish, and other proteins)

— Eating food in a minimally processed state (no pre-packaged crackers, cereal or cookies, nothing sealed in plastic, or produced in a factory)

— Avoiding refined white sugar and corn syrup (which is actually fairly easy when you’re not eating anything that comes out of a package or box)

— Avoid wheat and wheat-based flours (using alternative flours like almond flour, coconut flour, brown rice flour, and oat flour instead)

— Avoiding any food or food ingredient that you can’t pronounce (like butylated hydroxytoluene!)

Should people try it? 

Sure! Clean eating is a great idea. You’re fueling yourself with real, minimally processed food, and that’s always a good move. And you can even create holiday meals that are are clean!

Any potential issues? 

I don’t have any concerns about the clean eating trend. It’s a healthy way to approach meal-time. However, there is one point that is controversial: avoiding wheat.

Wheat—wheat gluten, in particular, has become something of a “villain” lately. Unless you have Celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, there’s really no need to avoid wheat. Wheat is a natural grain, just like barley, corn, and quinoa. Choose minimally processed wheat products, like sprouted grain Ezekiel bread, and you’ll be just fine.

That being said, it takes some effort to know if you are sensitive. Symptoms can effect the skin, gut and sinuses. You’ll need to do a strict elimination of gluten for at least 14 days, then add one serving back and track how you feel over the next few hours, then have another serving and see how you fell over the next couple of days.

Also, if you’re interested in clean eating, I’d encourage you to be kind and patient with yourself, and try not to hold yourself to unrealistically high standards of “perfection.” If you eat clean most of the time, but indulge in processed food occasionally, that’s fine! Don’t beat yourself up about it. Enjoy your treat and then get back onto the clean-train for your next meal.

Sample menu 

A typical day of clean eating might look like this:

Breakfast. Carrot cake baked oatmeal with coconut cream. (Recipe from Oh She Glows.)

Lunch. Fiesta bowl salad with black beans, corn, and avocado. (Recipe from Fitness magazine.)

Dinner. Zoodles (aka: “zucchini noodles”) with cilantro pesto and grilled chicken. (Recipe from Clean Eating magazine.)

Dessert. Dark chocolate raw almond butter cups. (Recipe from Minimalist Baker.)

Cleaning eating inspiration

If you use Instagram, search for the #cleaneating hashtag or the #eatclean hashtag to find thousands of inspiring photos and recipe ideas.

CleanFoodLove.com is another great resource for recipes, and of course, Clean Eating magazine. They have some great holiday recipes online.

Whole30 is another great resource based on clean eating.

Personally, I’m excited by the clean eating trend, because it’s not a temporary “diet,” but rather, a lifestyle that involves a sensible commitment to eating wholesome, preservative-free, unprocessed food—which is always a good idea!

That being said… Don’t beat yourself up too much in the next few weeks. Enough some treats but look at ways to introduce more whole foods into your holiday traditions and your life!

Have fun in the kitchen & have a positively beautiful week!

~Dr. Sue

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