In the wellness sector, clean eating has become a major topic of discussion. However, the science behind it is controversial, with some experts claiming that it might lead to disordered eating. In this Honest Nutrition article, we look into the research supporting clean eating, as well as the hazards and advantages it may have.
Several proponents of this idea claim that it will help them lose weight, have better skin, and have more energy.
Choosing natural, nutrient-dense meals while avoiding processed and refined foods are the cornerstones of clean eating.
Taking a “clean” approach to eating can help you live a healthier life and lose weight. Some interpretations of clean eating, on the other hand, may have negative implications.
We discuss exactly what clean eating is, its big advantages, and its hazards in this Honest Nutrition segment. We’ll also look at the most up-to-date studies on clean eating.
What is clean eating all about?
Over the last decade, the clean eating movement has gained in popularity. Regardless of the fact that many individuals are committing to clean eating in order to get healthy and lose weight, there is no universally accepted meaning of the term.
In general, “clean eating” may be defined as consuming foods that are both natural and healthful. Foods that are devoid of additives, preservatives, and refined or processed components fall under this category.
Although the word was probably coined with great intent, the lack of clarity around it leaves it up for interpretation, which might lead to overuse.
Some people, for example, may prefer a less stringent approach and stick to a clean eating pattern akin to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Consume more whole fruits and vegetables, beans, and high-quality proteins while avoiding processed meals.
Others, on the other hand, may be more stringent and avoid items like dairy, gluten, and sugar. They may also restrict the amount of components in foods and avoid those that have been treated with antibiotics, pesticides, or growth hormones.
Findings of these studies
A research published in the journal Nutrients looked at how a broad, diversified sample of teenagers and emerging adults in the United States felt about clean eating.
Although participants’ interpretations differed, the majority of those polled defined clean eating as eating complete or unprocessed meals, such as raw foods, natural foods, and foods free of artificial flavorings or additives.
Clean eating was deemed healthful by 70.8 percent of those polled. In contrast, 18% found both good and detrimental aspects, indicating that it may lead to disordered eating practices.
Another research published in Nutrients looked at 762 Australian women ranging in age from 17 to 55. They filled out a self-report questionnaire based on websites about their eating habits and attitudes on clean eating.
Women who followed nutritional advice from clean eating websites were more likely to fulfill dietary recommendations for fruit, meat, and meat substitutes — such as legumes, eggs, nuts, and seeds — than women who did not follow the sites’ advice.
In terms of vegetables, dairy, grains, and discretionary foods, there were no significant differences between the groups.
Nevertheless, individuals who followed the website’ nutritional advise showed higher dietary constraint, suggesting the possibility of compulsive eating tendencies. It’s also unclear whether the advice was supplied by a trustworthy source or followed evidence-based criteria.
Furthermore, a research published in the Journal of Eating Disorders indicated that clean eating is seen positively by college students in the United States, even when it is associated with mental suffering.
All of the mentioned findings above show that further study is needed to fully understand the dangers and benefits of clean eating.
A clean diet can help you lose weight by reducing sodium, sugary drinks, and ultra-processed foods.
Clean eating, which comprises a nutrient-dense diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy protein, can fully fuel the body while also promoting general health and weight management.
While there are no medical studies linking clean eating to health advantages, there is evidence that eating a balanced diet, which clean eaters often shun, is linked to chronic illness.
One big research published in The BMJ, for example, discovered that consuming 10% more ultra-processed foods raised the risk of coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular illness, and cardiovascular disease by at least 10%.
Reconstituted meat items, savory snacks, and frozen meals were among the ultra-processed foods studied.
Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), general challenges in maintaining a balanced diet, such as excessive intake of sugary beverages, salt, and processed foods, might raise the risk of chronic disease.
According to research, clean eating can lead to severe dietary restriction, vitamin deficits, and the loss of social interactions. This can also cause mental anguish.
The lack of clarity regarding dietary guidelines in the clean eating movement can lead to people labelling certain foods as “bad” and others as “good” without adequate evidence to back up their claims.
Individuals are under pressure to eat a specific manner, which can lead to a dangerous fixation with healthy eating.
Clean eating, like dieting, raises the risk of orthorexia nervosa (ON), the rigorous avoidance of items a person thinks to be harmful, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Additives, nonorganic foods, and processed foods are examples of this.
The fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not distinguish orthorexia as a distinct eating disorder. Many scholars, however, feel ON should be classified as an Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.
There is a distinction to be made between orthorexia and dietary limitations. While some people avoid specific foods for ethical, religious, or health reasons, those who suffer from orthorexia obsess over their eating habits.
Furthermore, just because you prefer grilled chicken to fried chicken or spaghetti squash to pasta does not indicate you’ve gone too far with your clean eating.
There may not be cause for concern if a person’s eating pattern contains foods from all food categories. No matter the dietary plan a person follows, the ideal way is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Consuming a well-balanced diet
While focusing about clean eating is unhealthy for the mind and body, eating a nutrient-dense, healthful diet is essential. There are methods to strike a good balance between eating clean and eating well without feeling deprived.
Frozen and canned food, for example, may be part of a healthy diet. When buying canned or frozen meals, however, stay away from added salt, sugar, and syrups.
Processed foods aren’t always terrible, and they shouldn’t be avoided entirely. In reality, most foods offered in supermarkets today have been processed in some way.
Follow evidence-based food and beverage guidelines to ensure nutritional needs are satisfied, such as those provided in the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which indicates that a healthy adult diet includes:
- vegetables of all types and colors
- diary, including low fat or fat-free milk and cheese or lactose-free versions
- fruits, with an emphasis on whole fruit
- oils, including vegetable oils and oils in foods such as nuts
- grains, with at least half being whole grains
- protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, peas, and lentils
Added sugars, saturated fat, salt, and alcoholic beverages should all be avoided, according to the recommendations.
Last but not least
There is no study to establish that clean eating offers more advantages than other dietary patterns since the notion of clean eating differs widely from person to person.
While some people can achieve tremendous success by following a clean eating pattern and allowing for moderation, others who are prone to disordered eating may be at risk.
An unhealthy fixation with limiting particular meals or dietary categories can lead to malnutrition, social isolation, and general mental anguish.
It indicates that the presence of unqualified persons providing erroneous clean eating advice may put people at greater risk of developing disordered eating practices.
With this in mind, if you have a question regarding clean eating, you should always see a licensed dietitian or competent nutrition specialist.