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Clean Food 101

The beautiful plate of food above is a perfect example of a pretty clean meal. What makes this Apple-Chicken Salad clean? All of the produce is organic or beyond organic and mostly local, the chicken is fed non-GMO organic feed, the oils, herbs, and spices used in the scratch made dressing are organic, as well as the nuts and cheese. How do I know this? I interviewed the owner/chef at Monica’s Kitchen in Beaumont Texas from where this beauty of a salad is a mainstay on her menu. Not only is it clean, but it’s off the charts in the yummy department as well, but I digress. What could be cleaner? It would be better if the chicken were pasture raised instead of free range, and only ‘supplemented’ with organic non-GMO grain instead of grain being its only source of food. Also, if the cheese was made from the milk of 100% grass-fed cows, instead of cows fed organic grains. And, lastly, if every ingredient was beyond organic and local. See our list of clean eating glossary terms for further explanation of ‘beyond organic’.

Clean Eating Blog
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 A lot of research goes into investigating the ingredients used at potential approved restaurants, long before I arrive or taste their food. Once I enter a restaurant, the vetting continues, as if I have no prior knowledge and I will typically begin by asking a waiter or staff if the food being served is cleanly sourced. Unfortunately, I am often met with a perplexed look, at which time I resort to more familiar words like organic or healthy, and I’m able to get more information. More often than not, if I have to probe and ask a lot of questions, clean food is not being served. The same holds true for sellers of produce at Farmers’ Markets. If a restaurant or vendor is serving or selling 100% Grass Fed Naturally Raised beef or all Organic, for example, believe me, these facts will not be hidden. On the contrary, clean labels are big selling points and they will be clearly stated somewhere for us to easily see. So, let’s clarify a few things, shall we?

What is Clean Food?

It is Real Food in it’s purest unadulterated whole food state that is grown, raised and fed by nature with the least amount of human intervention as possible. It is food that is without pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, animal by-products, growth hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners, to name a few. Clean food is not processed, non-GMO, and harm-free. The whole point of eating clean is to introduce the least amount of toxins into our bodies as possible.

What Clean Food is Not:

Does ‘Made From Scratch’ mean it’s clean? Not necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, it is a huge step in the right direction to cook from scratch, and far superior to serving processed foods. However, if a salad contains farmed shrimp from China and is served on pesticide-laden lettuce topped with house made dressing composed of GMO soybean oil and other GMO or nonorganic ingredients, that’s not clean eating. The same holds true for Healthy, Vegan, Gluten Free, Natural, Fresh, Raw, Locavore, Sustainable, Farm to Table, Paleo, Keto, or any other diet. However, all of these diets or categories could actually be clean food. To be sure, ask questions and if in doubt, adhere to the Clean 15, avoid the Dirty Dozen, peel the skins, eat organic and locally sourced, and beware of Greenwashing.

What is the Clean 15?

Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list each year of the produce that is LEAST likely to be contaminated by pesticides. Here are the 15 for 2019:

      1. Avocado

      2. *Sweet Corn

      3. Pineapple

      4. Sweet Peas

      5. Onions

      6. *Papaya

      7. Eggplant

      8. Asparagus

      9. Kiwi

      10. Cabbage

      11. Cauliflower

      12. Cantaloupe

      13. Broccoli

      14. Mushrooms

      15. Honeydew

*Many papayas and corn varieties sold in the US are produced from GMO seeds, so we suggest AVOIDING them unless they are ORGANIC.

What is the Dirty Dozen?

The EWG report lists the produce that contains the MOST pesticides, therefore it’s best to AVOID these fruits and vegetables unless they are ORGANIC. Here are the 12 for 2019:

      1. Strawberries

      2. Spinach  

      3. Kale 

      4. Nectarines

      5. Apples

      6. Grapes

      7. Peaches

      8. Cherries

      9. Pears

      10. Tomatoes

      11. Celery

      12. Potatoes

What is Greenwashing?

Going green in any industry these days is big business, with good reason. However, we must be aware of the smoke and mirrors in practice, which, unfortunately, occurs more often than one might think. Greenwashing simply means using misleading words or phrases like the infamous ‘Natural’ or ‘Fat-Free’ to describe a food or product which falsely influences the customer’s perception as being a healthy, clean, or sustainable choice. It is deceptive marketing, at its best. Unfortunately, when initially inquiring with restaurant staff, I often get the response ‘everything is organic’ which immediately raises a red flag because rarely is everything organic, unless it is a juice establishment. It is a very tall order for every single restaurant ingredient to be organic. Out of the 1000’s of restaurants I have investigated thus far, there are very few 5 avocado clean rated restaurants, in fact, less than a handful.

What to Look For When Choosing Animal Proteins.

Pertaining to animals that roam such as cattle, pigs, poultry and lamb, clean options to look for are; 100% grass-fed, pastured, naturally raised, supplemented with organic feed, no growth hormones, no antibiotics, and no animal by-products. Seafood is only as clean as the food it consumes and the sea that it lives in. Wild Caught is generally preferred, however, with the growing prevalence of radiation, toxins, and pollutants occupying our oceans, lakes, and waterways, clean seafood is quickly becoming a chore to find. See our blog about radiation in the Pacific.

Farmed seafood is sustainable, however, it is typically not clean. For example, I’m aware of only 2 ocean farmed seafood facilities in the world where the fish is fed food that is free from GMO’s, raised in its natural habitat, and in clean waters. The topic of farmed fisheries warrants a blog of its own; coming your way soon.

Let’s face it, operating a restaurant is no walk in the park. There’s a lot to it and it’s a tough business. When an establishment courageously steps into the world of serving or growing clean food, the challenge is increased exponentially. Clean Foodie has the utmost respect for the Clean Food entrepreneurs who are ahead of their time in many parts of the country. We commend and appreciate these forward-looking souls, beyond words. I hope this further explains what clean eating is all about. Visit us at for more info. Your body will thank you for choosing food that is void of harm. Eat clean and shine from the inside out!

Monica's Restaurant Salad
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