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Is “Clean Eating” a Healthy Lifestyle?

Sharon Palmer

“Clean eating”—the art of eating foods with no processed or artificial ingredients—is a really big food and nutrition trend. But is it worthwhile? Today, I’m answering your top nutrition questions on whether “clean eating” is a healthy lifestyle.

Question: What does “clean eating” really mean, and is it a healthy way to eat? –Diana


A “clean eating” style has come to mean a way of eating that focuses on whole foods that are minimally processed and in their most natural state. Think a real apple vs. apple-flavored fruit candies. This “clean” way of eating often refers to foods that are prepared without artificial ingredients, pesticides, and additives. In other words, “real” foods, just as Mother Nature created them, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains in their intact form, pulses (beans, lentils, and peas), nuts and seeds. A “clean eating” diet doesn’t necessarily mean a vegan diet, as many people consider unprocessed, grass-fed, cage-free animal foods as “clean foods” too. However, there are overlaps between whole foods plant-based diets and the clean eating trend, which centers upon eating more seasonal, local plant foods, such as cooked heirloom beans, whole grains like farro and quinoa in their intact form, and lots of organic produce.

I think that you can gain the most health (and environmental) benefits from choosing most of your foods in their whole form. I call these foods “close to the Earth”. For example, when you pick up whole plant foods—barley kernels, an orange, a scoop of pistachios in their shell—you can recognize the plant’s original form and even envision how it grew. You can imagine that orange starting out as a flower on the tree, which was pollinated by a buzzing bee…eventually a small fruit formed on the tree, swelling until it was finally plucked. I have seen this process time and time again on my own citrus trees. All you do is peel that orange and eat it—just as nature intended. This experience is vastly different than highly processed foods, which have no signs of the original food. Just consider artificially colored vegetable chips or a nutrition bar—do you recognize the grains, nuts, and vegetables in these products?

It’s important to consider that the “clean eating” trend may have its downsides, too. Anytime you become overly concerned about the purity of your food to point that you start avoiding food groups and become fearful of eating, you may be pushing the boundaries into disordered, unhealthful eating behaviors. Take a deep breath. It’s ok to have a sweet treat every once in awhile, and to have a slice of white (gasp!) bread at your favorite Italian restaurant every now and again.

So, make the most of the “clean eating” trend by choosing to eat mostly whole plant foods to gain the flavor and nutritional benefits of these healthful foods. After all, these foods are linked with many benefits: lower weight, higher longevity, and lower risks of chronic diseases. And they will also nourish and feed your soul. Just look at my Green Goddess Buddha Bowl for proof!

Eat and Live Well,


Check out the other nutrition questions I’m answering at The Plant-Powered Dietitian:

How to Prepare Dried Beans to Avoid Antinutrients
How Can I Choose Sustainable Foods?
Does Roasting Veggies Ruin Nutrients?

About Ask Sharon:

As part of my program “Ask Sharon”, I am answering the top question of the month submitted through my   blog,   Facebook,    Twitter  or    Instagram   to answer here. You can even win a prize! Don’t forget to submit your burning nutrition question this month via my blog, or other social media. Here is my favorite question this month.

Main image: Green Goddess Buddha Bowl, Sharon Palmer, RDN

6 thoughts on “Is “Clean Eating” a Healthy Lifestyle?

  1. Hi Sharon, i have hyperthyroid condition and i recently moved to vegan diet and also started to eat organic. but its getting too much on budget. any tips on saving while eating healthy, organic

  2. Sharon, here is my question. I’m looking to make the conversion to a Vegan lifestyle. Where should I start? I’ll give you another hint. I spend 6 days in the gym. So I’ll need my energy/protein. Thanks. Dave

  3. Thanks for your question. I’d like to feature this on an upcoming Ask Sharon blog in full. But the short answer is that some raw foods contain more nutrients than cooked—but that’s not always the case. For example, produce containing vitamin C and B vitamins can experience loss of these during cooking—especially longer cooking times in high amounts of liquids. However, some nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as minerals are more stable in cooking. Some nutrients are more available to the body in cooked foods—such as carotenoids, plant compounds with health benefits. Cooking helps to release these nutrients from cell walls of the plant. Some foods should be cooked—such as pulses (beans, lentils, peas) and grains to reduce anti nutrients. Sprouting grains and pulses can make the nutrients more bioavailable, and make these foods more digestible. The answer is to have some of both in your diet!

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