Does anyone really know what clean eating is?

I’m sure we have all heard the term, “clean eating,” but how many of us truly know what that means?

Roy Graber Headshot
(Nehopelon | Bigstock)
(Nehopelon | Bigstock)

I’m sure we have all heard the term, “clean eating,” but how many of us truly know what that means?

My thought is if two registered dietitians can’t come up a definition for that phrase, I don’t know how any of the rest of us are supposed to.

During the Animal Agriculture Alliance Virtual Stakeholders Summit session, “Conversations that Cultivate Trust: Staking Your Claim on the Plant-Based Plate,” held on May 7, Allison Webster, PhD, RD, director of research and nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council; and Cara Harbstreet, RD, Street Smart Nutrition; were asked what they thought “clean eating” means.

Harbstreet had the most humorous response: “My definition of clean eating is food without physical dirt on it.”

Just for a point of reference, Wikipedia says: “Clean eating is a fad diet based on eating whole foods in their most natural state and avoiding processed foods such as refined sugar offers certain health benefits.” (I’m not a grammar guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I dare you to diagram that poorly constructed sentence.)

Harbstreet, following her comment about dirt, offered further explanation of the phrase.

“Clean eating is such a nuanced term. This is a theme that keeps coming up. Everyone seems to have their own definition and that’s shaped by perhaps personal experience,” she said.

Like Harbstreet, Webster also thought the phrase was difficult to define. She said that while clean eating seems like it should be something so basic, the deeper you dig for a definition, the harder it is to come up with a meaning.

“I don’t personally have a definition of clean, because I found it to be such a challenging kind of discussion to have. There are so many different voices about this, and so many different ways you can think about it,” said Webster.

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