By: Paula Karamihas, MS, Dietetic Intern
“Eating clean” is a popular phrase pushed in the nutrition world recently. It can mean different things to different people, but generally it means avoiding processed foods and only eating foods that are in their natural state. I’m here to tell you that “clean foods” aren’t even a real thing.
First of all, most of the food we eat is processed. Adding flavor, cooking, canning, packaging, freezing, and preserving are all forms of processing. Your bagged kale? Processed. Your unsalted, roasted almonds? Processed. Your boneless, skinless, chicken breast? Processed. Your “clean” foods aren’t really that clean after all. Of course some foods are more processed than others, but we need to be realistic about this phrase that for some, defines healthy eating.
The problem with putting a label like “clean” on foods is that if your food isn’t considered clean, then it’s dirty, and therefore bad. But diet isn’t all or nothing. Just because I decide to have potato chips with my sandwich, doesn’t mean I’m an unhealthy eater. It just means I wanted potato chips. The point is, clean eating makes us feel like some foods are off-limits, and perhaps makes us feel guilty if we don’t eat what others perceive to be “clean”.
Second, clean eating is very restrictive, and if you truly do attempt to eat clean, the foods you can eat are pretty limited. Restrictive diets often cause anxiety, and I feel like the average twenty-something year old already has enough of that in their life. Restrictive diets are also pretty hard to sustain long-term. A much better, more lasting approach is “everything in moderation”. (No, seriously.)
The key to a healthy diet and relationship with food is balance. That includes allowing yourself to eat the food you want, without feeling remorseful about it. Yes, most of the foods you choose should be whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. But who doesn’t want pizza or those South Campus Diner brownies every now and then? I know I do, and to deny myself food that isn’t “clean” would only make me cranky and crave it more. So quit listening to mainstream nutrition messages, practice moderation, and enjoy the foods you eat.
Terps With Taste is run by the Student Nutritionist Team with University of Maryland Dining Services. We write content for students, by students. Enjoy!