Cleanwashing 101: Are You Really Eating Clean?

Let’s celebrate! The community of Clean Foodies is growing!

More and more people are becoming aware of the disruptive effects that synthetic chemicals have on our bodies and are actively looking for businesses that practice a clean philosophy.

With this incredible tidal shift toward being more conscious, a concerning trend has also arisen. We like to call it:

CLEANWASHING

CleanWashing 101
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Image courtesy of Follain’s Clean Beauty 101 Guide

You may have heard of the phrase “greenwashing”. This term was coined a few years back shortly after the concept of “going green” had become popular to the point that demand for green products was not just a trend.

Unfortunately, many unscrupulous companies and brands began touting themselves as being eco-friendly and “green”, but in reality were not doing anything to curb their Carbon footprint or achieve the certifications that could prove their entire supply chain and operations were helping the planet and humanity.

And now that clean living (a step beyond just being “green”) is starting to catch on, we’re seeing the same trend take place in the form of cleanwashing.

In 2018, a NYTimes piece shed some light on the mattet of cleanwashing after it was discovered by an unrelenting activist that BareBurger was not as “organic” as they claimed.

Being an advocate for your own health has gotten much easier in a lot of ways, but it also means you will still need to be a savvy Clean Foodie. Digging deeper than the buzzwords and marketing slogans will require some detective work, but your body will thank you.

Here are some common Clean-Washing phrases and the questions you’ll want to ask to gain a clearer picture of how clean the food really is.

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All Natural

This sounds great. No added colors, flavors, or artificial substances, right? Well, that may not be the case, because the phrase “All Natural” is only regulated by the FDA in meat. So if you visit an “All Natural Bakery” you’ll want to ask them what they mean by “all natural” and confirm there are no synthetic additives being used.

real fruit fake claims
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Made with Real Fruit

This phrase has a giant loophole that you should be very wary of. The FDA allows companies to use this phrase even when just a tiny bit of real fruit is being used. And the “real fruit” in the ingredients doesn’t have to be the same as the flavor on the label. Example: A company could market a juice as an “Acai Elixir” labeled “made with Real Fruit” but in actuality it is 90% pear juice, with added high-fructose corn-syrup, and only enough Acai to make it a pretty purple color.

no added sugar fake claim
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No Added Sugar or Sugar Free

Clean Foodies should be on guard when they see this kind of marketing. Often this can signal the use of sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol that are incredibly disruptive to the microflora in your digestive system. If you see something labeled this way, be sure to ask what sweetener was used. Ingredients that can put your mind more at ease are: organic dates, bananas, agave, raw honey, and maple syrup. Regardless, sweeteners should always be used in moderation.

true cage free chickens
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Cage Free

This one can trick a lot of people. This marketing phrase paired with idyllic images of green pastures and happy chickens can mislead a lot of people into thinking it is synonymous with pasture-raised. It is not, my friends. This simply means the animal is not confined to an individual cage. Oftentimes they will still be held in large crowded enclosures. Humane treatment of animals should be of interest to Clean Foodies for many ethical reasons, but specifically, animals not held in crowded and stressful environments tend to be healthier and more nutritionally beneficial.

free range chickens for real
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Free Range

Once again, this does not necessarily equal a pasture-raised animal. The term “Free Range” is only regulated by the FDA for Poultry (but not eggs). And this term is not regulated for any other livestock like Beef or Pork. Even the FDA regulation only requires access to the outdoors and a 5 minute minimum daily outdoor requirement. If an establishment is labeling things as free-range, be sure to ask what they mean by that and what the daily routine is for the livestock. But in many instances, you may be asking someone who is not educated in-depth on the products. That is when you should ask the name of the farm where the ingredient is being sourced and do your own Google sleuthing.

antibiotic free claims
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Antibiotic-Free

This does not necessarily mean the animal was not treated with antibiotics. The FDA restricts the sale of any meat that contains antibiotics. This is achieved by simply allowing the antibiotics to leave the animals system before slaughter, which means pretty much all meat in the USA could tout this label. The label that offers more clarity about how the livestock was raised is “Raised With the Use of Antibiotics” .

hormone free pork for real
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Hormone Free Pork

You’ll be happy to know that the USA does not allow the use of hormones in any Pork. So when you see a label celebrating that fact, it isn’t the achievement the marketing team wants you to think it is. Granted, hormones are often used in dairy cows. So Clean Foodies looking for cow’s milk that is “Hormone Free” is definitely a good idea.

We have an even more exhaustive list of terms and certifications the industry uses here. Be sure to check it out.

Also, we share more tips on how to eat clean and the best clean eating restaurants near you in our informative Newsletter! Stay up to date and sign up here:

CleanWashing Restaurant Menu
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