Health Column: What Is The Deal With “Clean Eating”?



Ilana Muhlstein, R.D.N.

1. How is clean eating defined?

Eating real wholesome, mostly plant- based, foods with minimal processing, and with no unnecessary unhealthy additives. For instance, roasted chicken would be considered a clean food, but a chicken nugget with added fillers, white breading, and fat, wouldn’t be.

2. How does alcohol fit into a clean diet?

It doesn’t really but nobodies diet is 100% perfectly “clean,” and it doesn’t have to be. As long as a vast majority of the foods you consume are whole and natural and “clean,” there is always room to enjoy treats.

3. How does caffeine fit in to clean diet?

One cup of coffee per day has actually been shown to have vast health benefits including reducing the risk of Parkinsons Disease and Type II Diabetes. It is typically the add-ins that are messy, such as artificial sweeteners and overly processed creamers. If your coffee tastes more like coffee cake, it probably isn’t very clean. Try buying organic, fair trade coffee and adding just a splash of milk or unsweetened almond milk. It will be different at first, but you will eventually get used to it.

4. What is the easiest/most effective way to cut processed foods out of your diet?

Don’t buy it. If you order junk foods or put them into your shopping cart, you will eat them. It is that simple. Out of sight, out of mind works every time. Even if you are just “picking it up for your spouse,” the second it comes home, it will eventually find its way into your mouth. My best recommendation is to order, shop, and fill up on only clean foods, and rely on bites of small treats from friends and coworkers to satisfy a craving.

5. Should you cut out salt and sugar out of your diet if you’re trying to eat clean?
It is hard to say you are just going to cut sugar and salt out because they have found their way into many foods and you’ve probably become very accustomed to eating them.

I definitely recommend focusing first on weaning off of sugar by choosing whole fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings, rather than sugary desserts. Then, I would focus on getting rid of artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and overly sweet foods, which make your sweetness addiction that much harder to kick. This includes moving from regular and diet sodas to water, tea and seltzer. Keep finding more ways to curb the sugar loads in your diet such as choosing plain rather than flavored yogurts, whole oats and cinnamon rather than sugary packets, and savory and spicy condiments like mustard and sriacha rather than super sweet ketchup and BBQ sauce.

Eating too much salt usually means you are eating a lot of processed, restaurant, and packaged “unclean” foods. If trying to decrease your salt intake, I recommend cooking more at home. When cooking, I recommend trying to use other spices like cumin, garlic and onion powder, turmeric, paprika, and black pepper and lots of fresh herbs. Eventually, you won’t miss sugar and salt, but it takes time to adjust your pallet, you just have to stick with it.

6. Is it necessary to eat organic on a clean diet?

Again, there is no “perfect,” and it should be more about following a “clean lifestyle.” I hate the word diet- yuck! If organic fits into your lifestyle and you can afford to buy organic foods 100% of the time, I highly recommend it. If you don’t, I recommend prioritizing the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list for produce, and choosing organic eggs, dairy, and grass-fed meat when possible.

7. What’s one good rule of thumb (or two) if you’re trying to get started on a clean diet?

First, clear your house and work desk of junk foods so they are less accessible and tempting. Then, focus on eating just 1% cleaner everyday rather than thinking of it as an all or nothing process. For example, choose lemon juice and olive oil rather than a processed bottled dressing, or make a homemade soup with fresh ingredients rather than serving one from a can.

Ilana Muhlstein, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a private practice in Beverly Hills. She is also the dietitian for A&E’s hit new reality show, Fit to Fat to Fit, and works at UCLA where she meets with occupational health patients and leads a weight loss seminar titled, the Bruin Health Improvement Program.