What is clean eating? Loads of people are telling us to eat clean,that it is ‘better’ for you? But is it really?
There are many different opinions on what eating clean actually refers to. Some see it as consuming “organically grown and produced” food (1), others as eating healthy, whole, or unprocessed foods (2). Deviations from clean eating include filthy or dirty eating (i.e. unsanitary) or cheat snacks and meals (i.e. unhealthy). The interpretation can be individualised, however overall, clean eating means wholesome, fresh, high quality foods and water, safe from pathogens.
This has to be a dirty or even filthy right? FMT, also known as stool transplants, are where the faecal bacteria from a healthy individual are transplanted into another person. The healthy bacteria is infused either via colonoscopy, enema, orogastric tube or ingestion (eating) of freeze dried material. It has been shown to be effective in treating clostridium difficile infection, curing up to an amazing 90% of patients (3, 4). This could be the way forward with a lot of gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, watch this space.
Probiotics are different strains of bacteria that are often present naturally in foods such as yoghurts and fermented foods (i.e. kefir, kimchi, aged soft cheese, miso), and are touted as ‘good bacteria’. Probiotics are non-pathogenic live microorganisms (5), but consuming bacteria may not be seen as ‘clean’. Probiotics have been proven to help reduce the duration and frequency of diarrhoea (6, 7) due to their ability to recolonate the GI tract with bacteria after illness. The mechanisms for probiotics being beneficial for the host’s GI tract and immune system are possibly due to them competing with the pathogens or the toxins by enhancing the host physiology, or acting as immune regulators (6). Guidelines are to consume about 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) daily (5).
Many food handling and cooking practices can lead to unclean/ unsafe food. It is estimated that food-borne illness affects millions of people yearly due to the ingestion of a variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemicals (8). The common food-borne illnesses are usually from Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Camplyobacter (8). They can cause hospitalization due to nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea which can even lead to death. Prevention of food-borne (and water-borne) illness is through adequate cleaning of hands and cooking surfaces/ utensils and foods (remove all dirt, chemicals), adequate cooking (high temperatures), covering exposed food from pathogens and rapid chilling of cooked food. Also avoid unpasteurized dairy, sharing food with sick people, dented tins/ cans, expired food products or food stored in unsafe temperature zones (9).
Avoid calling any foods or beverages ‘cheat’ foods. This implies that you are not following the rules or you are deceiving yourself, and food should be about enjoyment and nourishment for the body. Most people would agree that if you aim to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and wholesome unprocessed foods most of the time then the odd piece of cake or fried food will not be an issue for your health or training goals (unless you need to be rigid for a particular reason). Some bacteria is healthy for you and some can make you very sick, so keep yourself well by ingesting safe food and water, and then you will be eating ‘clean’.
Really, the bottom line is that clean eating is interpreted differently by many people, and to include all of the above under one name ‘clean’ won’t work.
So ditch the terminology and start to focus on healthy wholesome food and clean water to fuel and nourish your body.
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