Real Food vs. Clean Eating
Seriously? A nutritionist that doesn’t talk about clean eating?!!! What is she smoking?? I loathe the words “clean eating”. (This goes double for the term “whole foods” of which I have been guilty of overusing back in the day before I wised up and realized that eating clean or whole is just a label. I mean what IS clean eating anyway? If I wash my chocolate bar with Dettol before I eat it, does that count??!! I despise the smug faces of people who extol the virtues of eating a “clean diet” and want to drown them in a pot of my homemade hollandaise!
Ok, you might be wondering “Is eating clean not the same as eating real foods”?
That’s a challenging question and an even more challenging answer with most people’s definition of clean eating. Most people assume that clean eating is just eating unprocessed foods. But here’s the thing. “Clean eating” when you go by the “rules” is actually REALLY complex…. and, in my view, unnecessarily so. Clean eating can be nearly as stringent as Paleo and the acolytes just as self-satisfied!
Before we get started, let me tell you what I am not railing against.
I’m not railing against eating healthy unprocessed foods. I’m not droning on against cutting out chemicals and additives, cutting down on grains and other insanely high fiber foods that act as sticks and twigs in the digestive tract, or even cutting down on unnecessary sugars (you do only need SO much glucose in a day, after all….around 6 teaspoons, ).
While clean eating/ whole foods and real foods eating should be synonymous it has, in my view been co-opted by the diet industry and has just become another pulpit for disordered eating. Clean eating has become another excuse for orthorexic behavior. Clean eating has become a new religion.
If it were just about eating unprocessed foods with as few ingredients as possible it would be one thing. But now there is just so much judgement about things like ice cream and chocolate, and, well, it seems like that list grows exponentially every day. These are the people that mish mash Paleo and raw, vegan, and low carb and pretty much everything under the sun into one big pile of “eat this not that” it just becomes impossible to know what it actually means to eat “clean”!
What’s the difference anyway?
Let’s take a closer look at why eating “real food” is vastly superior to eating clean from my view.
Eating clean means whole single ingredient foods. That’s a great premise, to eat whole unprocessed foods, right? Here’s the thing. It means a lot of chicken breast with a side of veggies and maybe, if you are lucky a sweet potato. There’s nothing wrong with that meal, mind you. It’s quick and easy for a weekday but it doesn’t exactly pleasure the palate. There are only so many ways to cook and season a chicken breast (or fish filet, or grass-fed beefsteak). And that side of broccoli? If you are really feeling naughty you might roast it with some garlic but most of the time you are going to steam it. Me?…. I crave variety too much. There is a difference between subtlety of flavor and boring. I’ll take sole meuniere over plain fish any day!
Eating clean is a way of life, a plan, a manifesto. Don’t get me wrong here. Eating real foods is absolutely a way of life but here is the difference. If you are at a birthday party and someone has a birthday cake bought from the best bakery in town, one known for using real ingredients (cake flour IS a real ingredient!! It’s more processed than we’d like but it IS a real ingredient!) like butter, eggs, cane sugar, and flour (you know, cake ingredients), and you don’t have a severe issue when you eat wheat (and you aren’t celiac or severely Hashi!) then I say “let them eat cake!”. Of course I don’t mean half the cake (unless it is a REALLY good carrot cake, then maybe….) but a slice is not going to be the death of you. If you have symptoms after you eat grains, then it is a judgement call but if you are not symptomatic and your GI tract is humming along then, simply for the sake of cake not being on your “clean eating list” there is no reason a little cake should not pass your lips.
Pizza crust (and maybe even the topping) is the enemy. I am not an advocate of eating grains, especially bread, on a daily basis. But I draw the line on a REALLY good pizza. Clean eating websites have all kinds of alternative crust recipes like cauliflower crusts, zucchini crusts, sweet potato crusts, almond meal crusts, and probably even coconut flour crusts. If you are pizza crazy and have to have the dish five times a week, then perhaps you will want to explore these alternative crusts. Even in my meal plan I have an amazing recipe for “cauliflower crust pizza with spicy meatballs” but…. if I am honest with you, while it is really actually amazing tasting and fantastic on a healing eating plan it is also NOT the same as a really good thin crust pizza made with real ingredients. It’s not for every day, mind you. And, again, if you have digestive issues when you eat breads or dairy (remember the cheese), then this is a judgement call. But clean eating websites actually have cauliflower pizza crusts with cashew cheese and vegan pepperoni and I have to call the game on account of foul play in this situation. Real food is having a slice of real pizza, and if you are lucky enough to live in New York City you might want to check out American Flatbread with its sprouted crusts or Milk Flower with its Sopressato sausage pizzas….heaven on a plate!
I’m not suggesting your local Pizza Hut or Dominos should ever be an option. (Ever, ever ever!) However, if you are ever fortunate enough to be somewhere where the crust has a reputation for melting the iciest of hearts, the cheese is not out of a box and is made from happy cow’s milk (or sheep or goat for that matter), the tomatoes out of the restaurant’s garden rather than out of a can, and even sausage made from happy pigs then why in the name of all things holy would you not eat a slice or two.
Eating clean on holiday (er… sorry, vacation) isn’t entirely simple either. There are whole websites that outline where to get the best vegan/whole foods/raw/Paleo foods in pretty much every city on the planet. But here is the thing…. If you stay out of McDonald’s (or Chilis, or Hard Rock Cafe…) , go to the markets in virtually every city in Europe or visit restaurants that the locals frequent then you are pretty much eating real foods. Most cultures outside of the US (even in the UK) offer fresh, real foods! It doesn’t have to be an issue of “what am I going to eat??” Eat what the locals eat. (Unless you are at Disneyworld and pray that you aren’t bombarded by plastic food!)
There is nothing better than going to a local outdoor market and getting the freshest of greens and other salad veggies, freshly made roasted peppers, tuna and anchovies in home grown olive oil, sourdough bread, and home cured prosciutto, parmigiano, burratta and mozzarella, olives, and a bottle of chianti and finding a spot under the shade in someplace beautiful for beautiful dining al fresco. Or a perfect barigoule of spring vegetables with a perfectly done Steak au Poivre pretty much anywhere in Paris. Real food, real ingredients, no fuss.
Clean eating is not about pleasure. While this might be a blanket statement and I am sure there are recipes on clean eating sites that have turned out to be pretty good, (I have tried many myself) at the end of the day, it’s about more puritanical “clean vs. dirty” and “sinful vs. virtuous” and, although asparagus is welcome on any dinner plate, switch it up, add an egg, some bacon or ham and pour hollandaise (butter and egg yolk divinity!) it becomes something to avoid like the plague! Serve it with a homemade sourdough english muffin and you might as well shake holy water over it and order a priest.
Oh and let’s not even talk about sugar. You know, that stuff that is tantamount to cocaine and heroine according to pretty much everyone in the wellness media these days? You have to banish it because everyone knows it’s evil!! Lovelies, let’s get real. Your body wants sweet. It needs a little glucose to survive. We aren’t talking bagfuls. We are talking about no more than about 6 to 9 teaspoons in a day.
You know, once I actually did try to quit sugar. I didn’t experience any of the highs, dramatic weight losses, improvement in skin or whatever people claim to have once they have stopped chasing the sugar dragon. But here’s the thing. I do only eat about 6 teaspoons a day. A little honey in my yoghurt, an individual dark chocolate molleaux, a little custard after dinner. Sometimes I may do a bit more but I don’t buy packaged foods with 50 types of sugar lurking inside. I may add a pinch to some tomato sauce to cut the acidity.
Clean eating is still far too many powders, potions, and pills. Salmon is good but fish oil pills must be better. Steak is good but protein powder put into everything must be creating super human strength.
I do have protein powder on hand! I love my probiotic rich Inner Beauty Powder from The Beauty Chef and, of course, adore my Aloha protein powder because I am the mother of triplets and I do not always get the chance to get enough protein into myself or my children and this is a really delicious way to make sure mommy and kidlets are getting enough!! It is not, however, a way of life for us, to glean every bit of nutrition from a box of powder! It is a good on the go supplement. A little pineapple juice is good, a little pineapple juice with a scoop of protein powder makes mommy even happier knowing my angels are going to get enough of what helps them grow whether they like it or not!
Clean eating takes this idea, though, to crazy levels. To me, it’s just another food trend that has made millionaires out of a few who knew how to capitalize on just another buzz word that should mean nothing more than eradicating processed foods full of questionable chemicals and fillers from your diet. Real food encourages you to fall in love with your food again; to really get to know where it comes from; to connect to it as you are either creating wonderful meals or enjoying them from restauranteurs who have created something amazing from these foods!
Look, I am a nutritionist. I think about food for a living but I am so much more than a mere nutritionist. I am an eating psychology specialist that believes a healthy respect and even love of food and the pleasure it can bring is imperative to a healthy mind as well as body and, dare I say, soul!
I believe in eating healthy foods with ingredients that are a belle melange of real, whole and, when humanly possible, clean sustainably and locally sourced food components but your food should be created and savored at every single meal. Of course it needs to be food that can healthfully nurture your body and you aren’t going to be eating pizza, or cake, or plates of prosciutto every day but the emphasis on clean eating is just encouraging a whole new way of disordered eating.
Beauties, I encourage you to eat food. Real food. Whole ingredients that have created a symphony of flavors both subtle and bold and encourage your body to release any puritanical views of whether food is evil or virtuous. If food is real, there is no need to fear it. Even if, for a time, you have to eat a special way to heal your body from years of abusing fake plastic foods, you can still make those delicious.
I urge you to fall in love again, with real food! Life is too short. Eat dessert. REAL dessert. What is “eating clean” really going to do for you? Does living for three more weeks really sound like it is worth skipping pizza on your trip to Naples?