What Does Clean Eating Mean to Dietitians?

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Twelve experts share their takes.

By Melinda Johnson

As a college professor, I hear about diet trends fairly early and often. Many of my students love the idea of “eating clean,” but I find that most of them struggle to define what it actually means. Indeed, “clean eating” is a term that has no official definition, leaving it wide open for interpretation. Some of my colleagues dislike the term and avoid using it, because it implies that this way of eating is somehow more virtuous, or that some food is “dirty” (and therefore, bad). Dietitian Marsha Hudnall, who is president and co-owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run – a healthy weight loss retreat in Vermont – explains that her hesitation to use the term is because it ultimately sets a lot of people up for unrealistic expectations about eating. She finds that the term encourages an all-or-nothing kind of thinking about food, and sometimes even contributes to an overall fear of food, which stands in the way of being healthy.

Still, the idea of eating clean is a powerful one for many people, and some dietitians do embrace “clean eating” on their own terms. Here is how 12 different registered dietitians define it:

“Since there is no scientific consensus on the definition of clean eating, I define a clean eater as someone whose diet consists of 80 to 90 percent whole foods, 80 to 90 percent cooking and preparing their foods from scratch, using minimally-processed foods and including superfoods in their diets.” –Manuel Villacorte, MS, RD, author of “Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet”

“Clean eating is about exploring and enjoying the amazing flavors our foods inherently offer. Authentic, traditional dishes with their signature flavors from herbs, spices and cooking techniques are a great example of clean eating that has been around for generations.” – Jennifer Ignacio, MS, RD, Nutrition Communications Manager for the Compass Group North America

“When I think of clean eating, I think of Sankofa. The African word and symbol Sankofa translates as ‘to go back and take.’ The symbol of a bird arching its neck to take an egg from its back symbolizes one taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present. Clean eating aims to do just that, promoting positive progress in health by reaching back to a time when we ate more wholesome, minimally processed foods.” Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, author of The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes

“Clean eating = eating foods where nothing healthful has been taken away, and nothing harmful has been added.” – Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of “The Superfood Swap”

“Clean eating simply means eating with micronutrient and macronutrient goals in mind, with as much variety as possible, without restrictions. It’s not an extreme dieting technique; it’s a way of improving your eating habits so you are not over-consuming foods heavily processed and stripped of nutrients.” – Jim White, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, Virginia Beach

“Clean eating is when I can see all of the ingredients I am eating. For example, a lunch of grilled salmon over salad with lots of veggies as opposed to a bowl of processed macaroni and cheese where I can’t pronounce the ingredients on the label. Clean eating means the least processed fresh food that focuses on a rainbow of colors from fruits and vegetables, not from a cereal box.” – Jayne Newmark, MS, RDN, owner of Newmark Nutrition, LLC, Phoenix, Arizona

“It’s is my mantra, my go-to safety net. To me, clean eating means eating food I know will benefit my health, mind and body. It’s not all vegetables, whole grains, fruit and lean protein; sometimes it includes a small piece of chocolate or a glass of wine, when I have balanced it out with physical activity. It’s a state of mind and a way of life to remain as positive and as proactive as I can about my health as I approach … 60.” – Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, Author of “The Doctor’s Detox Diet: the Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription”

“For packaged foods, I consider a product to be ‘clean’ if I can look at the ingredient list and know I could have purchased all of the ingredients and made it myself in my own kitchen, but I didn’t have to because someone made it for me.”- Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD and author of “Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast”

“Clean eating is focused on reading labels to make sure there are fewer ingredients; but the best clean foods come with only one ingredient – and many have no labels: leafy green vegetables, berries, citrus fruit, tomatoes, nuts, seeds, wheat berries, oats, lentils, chickpeas and more.” – Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life

“Maybe I’m old fashioned and fact oriented, but I think the most important definition of ‘clean eating’ should be for foods chosen and prepared to minimize the threat of food-borne illness. For example, wash fresh produce, clean cutting boards to avoid cross contamination and cook raw meats to proper internal temperature. That’s clean eating.” – Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD and author of “The Slim Down South Cookbook”

“Clean eating is buying, preparing, cooking and enjoying food that is both nutritious and delicious. Balancing food groups and never restricting. Life is too short and food too delicious!” – Ximena Jimenez, MS, RD, consultant dietitian in Miami

“Clean eating is about power washing your diet, to strip away the clutter and enjoy the clean taste of a crispy apple, a juicy tomato or nutty brown rice.” – Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, Director of Sports Nutrition at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine

Originally published: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2015/03/27/what-does-clean-eating-mean-to-dietitians