Maybe a new raw cafe has sprung up in your neighborhood, or you read about Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow being fans. Either way, eating “clean” is gaining traction — but what does it actually mean, and how is it good for the body?
Clean eating is a deceptively simple concept. Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food’s pathway between its origin and your plate. At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible. However, modern food production has become so sophisticated that simply eating whole foods can be a challenging proposition these days.
First, let’s start with the definition of processed food. “Processing” includes:
Additions of any kind — everything from salt, sugar, and fat to aid flavor and mouthfeel, to preservatives that keep food from spoiling too quickly, to the vitamins enriching everything from beverages to breakfast cereal.
Changing the form of the natural food — for instance, removing the bran and germ from whole grains to create refined bread, mashing apples into applesauce, or stir-frying veggies.
Foods with components manufactured in a lab. (You probably don’t need clarification on this one, but if the ingredient list has stuff you can’t recognize or pronounce, that’s a pretty solid indication that it’s not natural).
In that light, processed food includes everything from a hot dog (where do we even begin?) to jarred organic pasta sauce and instant oatmeal. And yes, changing the form of natural food includes cooking as well, so even your steamed broccoli is technically processed, albeit minimally.
So why, exactly, is processing so bad — especially if it’s something as simple as adding heat?