Dish­ing a lit­tle dirt on clean eat­ing

How to eat sen­si­bly – rather than fol­low­ing a fad.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By LES­LIE BARKER

IN our ever-earnest quest for health (and per­haps to be part of the hip diet-fol­low­ing crowd), cer­tain phrases make their way into our gas­tro­nomic ver­nac­u­lar. At times, ad­mit­tedly, they stick in our craw: Pa­leo. Whole 30. Cleanse.

Then there’s this one, al­lur­ing in its in­no­cence, tan­ta­lis­ing in its seem­ing sim­plic­ity: clean eat­ing.

It sounds, on the sur­face at least, to be a breath of fresh air — in­haled and ex­haled, slowly and yoga-es­que, through the nose. What, af­ter all, what could be more ba­sic than clean eat­ing?

Lots, ap­par­ently. The head­line on a Good House­keep­ing col­umn called it “To­tal BS”. Huff­in­g­ton Post UK wrote about “How Clean Eat­ing Be­came a Dirty Word”. For ev­ery web­site or trainer or di­eti­tian tout­ing it, there’s an­other rolling their eyes or giv­ing it a thumbs down.

It’s con­fus­ing, they say. It im­plies if you’re not eat­ing clean, you’re an over­weight sloth whose food is un­clean. It can cause anx­i­ety in a world that al­ready has plenty enough wor­ries – par­tic­u­larly of the di­etary va­ri­ety.

“I tend not to use the phrase of­ten,” says Sara As­berry, reg­is­tered di­eti­tian at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Dal­las, “be­cause I feel it has a lot of mixed mes­sages. It in­ad­ver­tently is im­ply­ing that all other foods are dirty.”

Julie Kuehn, reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and per­sonal trainer at Life Time in Allen, Texas, loves it.

“When I hear ‘clean eat­ing,’ I think, ‘Oh, yeah!’” says Kuehn. “I feel like, hon­estly, as a di­eti­tian prac­tic­ing for 23 years, I think we’ve fi­nally stum­bled upon the catch­phrase that gets it.”

One prob­lem, though, seems to be com­ing up with a mu­tu­ally agreed-upon un­der­stand­ing of the two words. What ex­actly does it mean?

“There are a lot of def­i­ni­tions, and that’s part of why it can be so con­fus­ing,” As­berry says.

Kuehn de­fines the con­cept ba­si­cally as “min­i­mally pro­cessed foods. If it came from the ground,” she says, “it looks pretty much like it did when it was grow­ing. A potato chip looks noth­ing like a potato.”

But, she ac­knowl­edges, peo­ple do get a lit­tle car­ried away: “Should we get all or­ganic? All lo­cal meats? There’s not a clean eat­ing coun­cil to de­fine it.”

In the past, Kuehn says, so-called “di­ets” re­volved around elim­i­nat­ing some­thing – for in­stance, car­bo­hy­drates or fat. “Every­body’s al­ways try­ing to elim­i­nate a food group, then an­other group of sci­en­tists comes out and says ‘No, eat this.’ It’s leav­ing con­sumers con­fused and baf­fled.”

But, says As­berry, many peo­ple are just as baf­fled with clean eat­ing.

“If they come to me want­ing to eat more fruits and veg­eta­bles and whole grains and lean pro­tein, I can sup­port them,” she says. “But if they come to me want­ing to eat all or­ganic and omit foods from their diet – ‘I hear dairy is bad for me’ or ‘I hear grains are pro­cessed foods so I don’t want to con­sume them’ – they’re elim­i­nat­ing re­ally nu­tri­tious foods. A lot of times, if you’re eat­ing too much of one thing, you’re not eat­ing enough of an­other.”

As a di­eti­tian on a col­lege cam­pus, work­ing with clients who have eat­ing dis­or­ders, she’s es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to how peo­ple view what they put into their mouths.

“We find the term ‘clean eat­ing’ can be very trig­ger­ing for peo­ple who al­ready ob­sess about food,” she says. “I tend not to use the phrase be­cause I feel it has a lot of mixed mes­sages. It’s definitely pretty weak, and in­ad­ver­tently is im­ply­ing that all other foods are dirty.”

What if, for in­stance, you de­cide to cel­e­brate a friend’s birth­day with a slice of – heaven for­bid – cake?

“What does that mean about you?” says As­berry, who has had clients suf­fer panic at­tacks be­cause they ate a bagel. “In­ten­tions aren’t meant to be ugly or judge-y, but in­ad­ver­tently, that’s what hap­pens.”

Al­li­son Cleary, a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian at Bay­lor Scott & White Med­i­cal Cen­ter at White Rock, also cau­tions against tak­ing clean eat­ing too far. Say, for in­stance, you elim­i­nate fast food. OK, it’s not ex­actly known as a bas­tion of health. Then you move on to all deli meats. Again, un­der­stand­able, be­cause some pro­cessed meats have been shown to in­crease can­cer risks. Then you read on­line that you should be grind­ing your own meat.

Then you hear that steam­ing broc­coli will change the nu­tri­tional con­tent and re­think this im­por­tant veg­etable. Then you start turn­ing down din­ner in­vi­ta­tions for fear you won’t find any­thing on the menu that falls into what you con­sider “clean eat­ing”. Then you be­gin look­ing askance at other peo­ple who eat a choco­late chip cookie or meat that isn’t grain-fed.

“It’s not men­tally healthy, mainly be­cause it causes a lot of anx­i­ety, a lot of worry,” says Cleary. Plus, “clean eat­ing, in its most ex­treme form, is pretty time-con­sum­ing”.

When peo­ple find out she’s a di­eti­tian, she says, they of­ten brag about eat­ing clean. “They’re almost look­ing for praise and recog­ni­tion, like ‘You’re do­ing some­thing good!’ If it’s just a quick thing, I say, ‘Yeah, eat your fruits and veg­eta­bles,’ and I leave the con­ver­sa­tion. Peo­ple get de­fen­sive if I say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

When Kuehn meets with clients, she stresses the im­por­tance of mak­ing small and slow changes that will be­come part of a per­ma­nent way of eat­ing. She tells them to for­give them­selves for past di­etary trans­gres­sions, and to look at food as fuel.

“Clean eat­ing is a way of eat­ing,” she says, “a new life­style. There are no foods they’re not al­lowed to have. We move to­ward a healthy bal­ance and do it as a way of life.”

Here are some tips to eat­ing – call it what you will – clean, healthy, sen­si­bly.

Look for clean la­bels

If you’re hav­ing oat­meal, As­berry says, the la­bel should say “100% rolled oats”.

“If we’re look­ing at yo­ghurt, I want to see milk and ac­tive cul­tures. Past that, we should be more cau­tious. Milk, I want it to say ‘milk’. Un­sweet­ened al­mond milk wouldn’t fit in as clean. It’s a para­graph of in­gre­di­ents.”

It’s not a “bad food”, she says, but “they’re try­ing so hard to make it a sub­sti­tute for milk that it has to be heav­ily for­ti­fied to com­pare.”

Seek out foods with no la­bels

Shop gro­cery store perime­ters: “Fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, fresh lean pro­tein, dairy prod­ucts, re­ally nice whole grains,” As­berry says.

Eat mind­fully

This is the con­cept of “just lis­ten­ing to your body and re­ally try­ing to nour­ish your body”, Cleary says, “of try­ing to recog­nise your hunger cues, eat­ing when you’re hun­gry and stop­ping when you’re full”.

Crav­ing a cheese­burger? Ask your­self if it’s some­thing you truly want. “If it is, allow your­self to have it, guilt-free, with­out beat­ing your­self up, and with­out overeat­ing,” she says.

As­berry sug­gests creating rou­tines: Eat at the table. In­stead of walk­ing around the house mind­lessly munch­ing on a bag of chips, make nu­tri­tion­ally dense trail mix with nuts, un­sweet­ened dried fruit, whole grain pret­zels and dark choco­late chips. Put a por­tion on a plate or nap­kin, eat that and put the rest away.

Make small be­havioural changes

“There’s no magic cure for a healthy diet, no one thing you have to elim­i­nate or one super food you want to add and you’ll au­to­mat­i­cally be super-healthy,” Cleary says. “A lot of peo­ple want that.”

If you tend to pick up most meals from a drive-through win­dow, de­cide to make lunch or din­ner one day a week. “When you feel com­fort­able with that, work on two days or three,” Cleary says. “Over a period of time – we’re talk­ing months and years – you’ll look back and say, ‘I made a big life­style change.’”

Nix the word ‘cheat­ing’

“Most peo­ple have a hard time with this, but I say, ‘You’re in it for the marathon, not the sprint,’” Kuehn says. “The goal is 80% of the time to be spot-on. Don’t con­sider it mess­ing up; con­sider it train­ing your­self.”

Plan ahead when eat­ing out

Just about ev­ery restau­rant posts its menu on­line. “A safe thing is usu­ally grilled sal­mon or other fish,” Kuehn says. “I tell them in­stead of cous­cous or white rice, do ex­tra veg­eta­bles. Or a salad, but check what they put in it. Are there can­died pecans in there?” If so, pick an­other kind.

Still con­fused? Seek help

“If you have any question about bloat­ing or feel­ing gross or you feel like you’re in a brain fog, lab test­ing is very help­ful,” Kuehn says.

Adds Cleary: “Peo­ple gen­er­ally know what their weak­nesses are and what they need to work on. But if you’re hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, see a di­eti­tian. We’re able to work with you and help you with your prob­lem areas. You’re sup­posed to en­joy your food.” – The Dal­las Morn­ing News/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

— Photos: TNS

This healthy Globe Life Park salad fea­tures straw­ber­ries, quinoa, baby spinach and toasted wal­nuts.

If you’re hav­ing oat­meal, look for the phrase ‘100% rolled oats’ on the la­bel.

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