What is Clean Eating?
While not new, clean eating is gaining momentum, evidenced by its recent adoption by some high profile celebrities, its coverage in books, magazines, social media, and conferences, and the increasing number of clean labels on foods and beverages. Clean eating actually dates back to the 1960s with the natural foods movement and was popularized in the 1980s when Ralph Nader published his “Eating Clean” book.
Today, with clean eating once again in vogue, questions are being asked regarding what it actually means, what are the guidelines, and are there any downsides. As consumers seek more transparency in the foods they buy, the question of how milk and dairy foods fit into clean eating is being raised.
What is clean eating?
There is no uniform, agreed-upon definition of clean eating. Also, the term “clean label” has no regulatory definition, nor do many of the claims used on “clean labels.”
In general, clean eating is about consuming whole, natural foods that are only minimally or not processed and free from artificial ingredients (sweeteners, colors, flavors), chemicals, additives, and certain other ingredients. According to a survey by the NPD Group, a global information company, 80% of those surveyed considered clean eating a lifestyle approach to food, as opposed to a diet or fad.
Guidelines for clean eating.
Proponents of clean eating focus not only on specific characteristics of food, but also on where to obtain food, and how much to eat. The following are some clean eating guidelines:
- Consume foods and beverages that are only minimally or not processed.
- Consume products free of antibiotics and made without hormones.
- Select foods and beverages with a short, easily understood list of ingredients.
- Choose organic foods whenever possible.
- Buy local foods when possible.
- Control portions.
- Drink water.
Dairy fits into clean eating.
Based on a recent survey of 100 grocery shoppers in 10 Midwest U.S. states, respondents considered several dairy products to be clean foods. Let’s look at some of the reasons why cow’s milk and milk products can be part of clean eating:
- Cow’s milk is a minimally processed beverage, whereas many other beverages, such as “milk” alternatives made from nuts, soybeans, coconut, grains, and seeds undergo a lot more processing. The Midwest shoppers viewed pasteurization and homogenization of cow’s milk, which are processes that ensure milk’s safety and quality, as positively influencing their perception of dairy as clean foods.
- All cow’s milk in your grocery store is free of antibiotics as a result of stringent and mandatory testing from the farm to the marketplace. Although all cow’s milk, both conventional and organic, naturally contains miniscule amounts of hormones, these hormones do not affect human health and no artificial hormones are given to cows in Michigan.
- Cow’s milk has fewer ingredients and more naturally occurring nutrients than most other beverages. Low-fat or fat-free cow’s milk contains only three understandable ingredients (milk, vitamin A, vitamin D), whereas “milk” alternatives may contain up to 17 ingredients, many of which are unrecognizable.
- Organic milk is one of many options in the dairy case. Milk and milk products that are labeled “USDA organic” are made from milk that meets certain organic standards which ensure farmers do not use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, synthetic hormones, or antibiotics for their cows. All pasteurized milk is safe, delicious, and nutritious, regardless of the variety chosen.
- Milk is local. It takes only about 48 hours for milk to get from your local dairy farm to your grocery store’s dairy case, compared to weeks for “milk” alternatives.
- Controlling food and beverage portions and avoiding mindless eating is an important aspect of clean eating as it reduces waste and helps to decrease the risk of overeating. Recommended serving sizes for dairy are: 1 cup (8 ounces) for milk, 1 cup for yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces for hard cheeses like Cheddar, and 2 cups for cottage cheese.
- Drink water. Staying well hydrated, such as by drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, is important to health. For individuals who find it difficult to drink enough water every day, additional options, including milk, smoothies, and yogurt drinks, can help keep your body hydrated.
Is there a downside to clean eating?
Commenting on clean eating, the British Dietetic Association points out that some extreme versions can lead to “an obsession with foods that the individual considers to be healthy, and elimination of any food that is deemed unhealthy. In many cases, foods that are actually nutritionally beneficial are deemed unhealthy such as those containing whole grains, fruit, and dairy, with no basis in scientific evidence.” Eliminating or failing to consume recommended daily servings of dairy foods can lead to under-consumption of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, which are nutrients limiting in many Americans’ diets.
A variety of dairy foods are available to meet individual preferences. Although there are many different interpretations of clean eating, milk and dairy foods are whole, nutrient-dense, natural foods that can be part of clean eating.