The Clean Food Movement Explained
I remember the very first time I heard the term “eating clean”, or the Clean Food Movement. I thought to myself, “What does that mean? …Like, really well-washed produce??”
The thing is, the Clean Food Movement has come to mean a plethora of different things to different people. For some, clean food is only raw unprocessed foods, which excludes refined sugar, bread and dairy products. People who maintain a raw diet, or a paleo diet, or a vegan diet may all feel that their diet is the only clean option. What’s great is that everyone has the right to eat how they like.
You are the master of your diet domain, my friends!
Our hope at Clean Foodie is that however you choose to eat, it’s in a way that helps you feel great more often than not. In other words, there are varying degrees of how people approach the clean food movement, which is why Clean Foodie reviews restaurants in a way that reveals those varying degrees. Our directory isn’t about calling out which restaurants aren’t clean, but about shining a light on the spots doing their best to provide safe, freshly prepared, healthy food that is satisfying, delicious, and nourishing.
First off, to answer my initial rhetorical question, clean food is NOT about really well-washed produce…
Key elements of the Clean Food Movement:
- Ingredients free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and additives.
- Ingredients produced free of antibiotics, growth hormones, and with an emphasis on pasture-raised, humane treatment.
- Limiting highly processed and refined ingredients, like sugar, corn syrup and bleached flour.
- An emphasis on nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory ingredients.
- A respect for those with food allergies and values-driven dietary restrictions
What’s the point of the clean food movement?
When I discovered how a lot of the food we find at restaurants and in our grocery stores exposes us to a litany of chemicals that wreak havoc on our bodies, it made so much sense why so many people are suffering from systemic “lifestyle” related health problems. This almost constant onslaught of stressors can instigate autoimmune issues and hormonal imbalances that trigger systemic inflammation and set us up for serious health complications like IBS, arthritis, psoriasis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even cancer.
What I found even more remarkable, was the body’s ability to heal in the face of serious health problems when supported with a diet that provides it with the tools it needs while not bogging it down with synthetic chemicals it can’t process. At Clean Foodie, we’d like everyone to feel welcome to join in the clean food movement!
Clean Foodie always gives high marks to restaurants that take the time to create allergen and animal-product-free options. There is nothing better than seeing a diverse group of people sit down for a meal and one person getting to chow down on a grass-fed burger on a homemade organic bun, while someone else digs into an amazing vegan tofu scramble. In a way, this is what we consider the heart of the clean food movement, that more and more people have access to a wide variety of foods that are safe and nutritious.
Four words to remember:
Real. Safe. Nutritious. Delicious.
Micheal Pollan, the author of “In Defence of Food” summed it up so well when he wrote, “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Synthetic chemicals are not only hard for us to read on a label, but they are hard for our microbiome to read in our digestive system! Studies have shown that synthetic chemicals can do quite a number on our little bacterial friends and their ability to be the powerhouse chemists we need them to be.
Some chemicals can slip right past them and be immediately metabolized, absorbed into our bloodstream, which can throw our endocrine system for a loop. Others can disrupt the enzymatic process our bacteria uses to convert food into the vitamins and minerals we need. Our liver tries to process other chemicals that compromise its efficiency and sets us up for problems like fatty liver and liver disease. And some chemicals set off a chain reaction in our microbiome and creates dysbiosis, which means an unhealthy imbalance occurs in what would normally be a diverse and delicately balanced bacterial population.
There’s no such thing as one “safe” diet that works for everyone. Everyone’s health needs are going to be different, and I’m going to circle back to some of those individual needs. But first, there are some basic things that all humans should try and avoid. Naturally occurring toxins are produced by certain plants and fungi as a defense mechanism, and when ingested by humans or livestock on an acute or chronic level they can cause liver or neurological damage as well as compromised immune function.
This can sound pretty scary, but you don’t have too much to worry about if the foods you’re eating are properly stored and prepared. And the best way to make sure your food is safe is to know where it comes from. We’ve been trained as a society to jump on whatever is the cheapest option. Unfortunately, something cheaper usually means corners have been cut somewhere in order for it to be that inexpensive.
The global supply chain for ingredients is an amazing thing, but all of the distance and time needed to ship items to a processing plant means there is a greater chance dangerous molds can take hold and taint products with mycotoxins that damage human health. In order to eradicate this, processing plants either pasteurize or irradiate these foods.
There have yet to be any long term studies on how digesting irradiated foods can affect the human intestinal bacteria population. Could this effective measure for preserving freshness and safety of food be setting us up for chronic nutritional deficit? Currently, it seems to be the lesser of two evils, which is why food safety has become an almost impossible riddle to solve the more wide-reaching our supply chain becomes.
There’s enough to stress about, so try not to add this to your list. But when possible, buy local and become familiar with where your food comes from. Basically, if you go on to Amazon and there is a 24 oz bag of anything that is ridiculously cheaper than what that same item would cost in the store, it’s probably too good to be true. Take the time, do your research, and your body will thank you in the long run.
Speaking of your body… It’s time to get to know it.
Eating safely requires that you take the time to observe how certain foods make you feel. Do you bloat or experience diarrhea after eating “______”? How about skin reactions or a feeling of lethargy? Every body, and its microbiome, is unique. Some people may have food sensitivities that they’ve been ignoring for a long time which could be setting them up for more serious health problems. Our bodies start by whispering to us, then they state clearly there’s an issue, and finally they scream, “Stop! You’re hurting me!” You’ll want to get much better at listening to your body when it’s making gentle suggestions.
A diverse diet equals a diverse microbiome, which in turn equals a more resilient and healthy body. Eating only organic rice cakes and romaine lettuce will not provide the broad spectrum of nutrients your body needs. Try and make sure the food you’re eating is real and safe, and then mix it up! Become a connoisseur of variety! The more colors and textures and flavors you incorporate into your diet on a weekly basis, the more likely you are to provide your body with the balance of nutrition it needs to be the powerhouse of amazingness that it is.
Let’s face it. Eating is undoubtedly one of the primary joys of being alive. If the food we eat on a daily basis makes us go, “meh” then we are definitely missing out. When we observe the culinary traditions of many cultures with a history of having limited resources, we still find intense vibrant flavors with innovative uses for nutritionally dense ingredients. In our modern industrialized society, the culture of instant gratification has not only cheated us of many of the nutritional needs we need, but it has also made us rely on “cheap” sources of flavor, namely, sugar, fat, and salt. When used in moderation and from wholesome sources, sugar, fat and salt are fantastically useful elements of flavor.
Flavor is our friend. And there is way more to flavor than sweet, fat and salt!
As we can observe in highly processed food “products,” when you deplete all of the nutritional value out of food, you’re not left with much flavor. So, processors have had to compensate and double or even triple down in sugar, fat, and salt. Sometimes, even that isn’t enough, and they have to pump products full of chemically manufactured artificial flavors. And as we mentioned above, artificial chemicals can knock the balance of our gut bacteria out of whack.
A disproportionate amount of unhelpful bacteria can trick us into craving sugar or other simple carbohydrates all the time. This makes it hard to hear the helpful bacteria that are trying to send us the cravings for nutrients our body really needs. Remarkably, herbs and spices are jam-packed with antioxidants – powerful nutrients that support the function of our body’s systems! So get down with that flavor!
Ask yourself this question: What am I getting from the food I eat?
The clean food movement gets us to investigate what our motivations are for eating the food we eat and what we’re getting from that food.
- Are we eating strictly for momentary pleasure, or are we also eating as an investment in our overall health and happiness?
- Are we eating in a way that only values our individual wants and needs, or are we taking into account that how we eat does have an impact on how the system works as a whole?
- Are we viewing the food we eat as just a means to stay alive, or are we appreciating how the food we eat can also help us thrive?
In the long run, it is so much more sustainable to take these things into account and put in that little extra effort to try and eat clean as often as possible. We may think we are saving time and money by eating mostly highly processed foods, but down the road, we will eventually have to pay back that nutritional deficit in the form of medical costs due to poor health. The earlier we start investing in our bodies by eating clean, the more compound “health interest” we will accrue.
And when our body is well cared for, it truly does afford us a “rainy day” fund in the form of an agile and robust immune system that has all the right tools to appropriately defend us without overreacting. The great news is, accumulating those “health savings” doesn’t have to be a slog. It can be creative, fun and delicious, thanks to the clean food movement!
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, which helps cover CleanFoodie.com operating costs and ensures we can continue to sustain our mission to bring you unbiased content and reviews. We do not link to products or services based on financial compensation alone, but more importantly, we give precedence to product quality and company values. CleanFoodie does not link to products we do not personally endorse.
Thank you for the explanation of “clean” food. It is easy to get sucked in to grocery supplier marketing ploys and think you are buying/eating something with nutritional value when we’re not. Sticking with “real” food and flavors from herbs and spices is a good place to start cleaning up my choices!