“Calories don’t count”, “Honey and molasses aren’t sugar” and three other clean eating myths. Don’t fall for these–get the facts instead!
These can all be positive things:
- Seeking out lots of whole and minimally processed foods
- Reading ingredient lists
- Cooking more from scratch
- Thinking about where your food comes from
But somewhere along the way, “clean eating” has become a sort of shorthand for this way of life.
There’s no shortage of opinions about which foods are good for you and which aren’t, but one label has emerged that’s become shorthand for healthy among all kinds of eaters: “clean”.
“Clean” seems to imply some kind of official stamp of approval from…just who, I don’t know. Because “clean” doesn’t actually have an official definition. And frankly, “clean” has a lot of issues, like these:
It’s January, and that means lots of people talking about diets–and lots of posts and Pins about “clean eating”. I don’t love the term “clean eating”, but I love the intentions behind it: to eat more food that’s close to its original form and fewer ultra-processed foods and artificial ingredients.
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Clean eating” (just like “healthy eating”) is a fuzzy term to be sure, and I’ve seen a lot of interpretations on it. Some are totally reasonable. But there’s also plenty of misinformation floating around. Here are the five clean eating myths I hear the most–and the facts:
Clean Eating Myth #1: All non-organic food is a GMO.
I’m not going to wade into the debate on whether GMOs are bad for us or not, but this is important: Just because a food is non-organic doesn’t mean it’s a GMO.
According to the Non-GMO Project, these foods have a higher chance of being GMO:
- sugar beets
- yellow summer squash
- animal products (because of GMO ingredients in the feed)
- ingredients (such as corn syrup) made from corn, soy, and sugar beets that are used in processed foods
But that leaves a whole lot of other whole foods that aren’t GMO.
- Dry beans and nuts aren’t GMO, even if they’re not grown organically.
- Conventional strawberries and lettuce greens aren’t GMO.
- New varieties of fruit like apples are created by cross-breeding but they’re not GMO.
If you want to avoid GMO, buy organic or look for the non-GMO verified seal, but don’t be afraid to eat conventional foods.
Clean Eating Myth #2: Calories don’t count when you’re eating “clean”.
I once saw this comment on Facebook: “You won’t gain weight if you eat clean”.
Yes, 100 calories of flaxseed is of higher nutritional quality than 100 calories of soda–and it’s true that the body may be more apt to store calories from sugar as fat. But it’s inaccurate to say that calories are meaningless if your diet is highly nutritious.
If some people find it easier to maintain their weight on a less processed diet, my hunch is that they’re simply more satisfied thanks to a higher intake of fiber and filling foods like water-rich fruits and vegetables. Cutting back on hyper-sweet processed foods may also dull some cravings, which could help stabilize weight. But believe me, you can still gain weight eating “clean”. I did!
Clean Eating Myth #3: Honey, maple syrup, and molasses aren’t sugar.
I see so many recipes that claim “no sugar” but contain honey, maple syrup, or molasses. These are all forms of sugar.
Though you may prefer to use them because of how they taste or because you believe they’re not as processed as regular table sugar, you should know the facts: When these sweeteners hit your intestines, they break down into glucose and fructose, just like table sugar does.
Blackstrap molasses does contain some iron–but like all sweeteners, it should be used in small amounts. So when you hear advice about limiting added sugar, remember that not only goes for white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but also honey, maple syrup, and molasses too.
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Clean Eating Myth #4: “Clean” means dairy-free and gluten-free.
People who need or want to avoid gluten and dairy have a ton of recipes to choose from right now. Yet there seems to be an implication that foods and recipes that are gluten-free or dairy-free are somehow better for all of us.
There is no reason to avoid gluten unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Ditto for dairy–avoid it if you have to or want to.
But don’t be fooled into thinking a cake recipe is healthy because it’s touted as gluten-free or dairy-free. And a diet that includes gluten and dairy can still be very healthy.
Clean Eating Myth #5: “Clean” equals “healthy”.
I have to chuckle at the recipes for “Healthy Chocolate Fudge” and “Healthy Cookie Dough Ice Cream”. Just because something contains “clean” ingredients doesn’t make it a healthy, everyday food (read The Trap of Clean Eating Treats).
If you want to eat “clean”, eat the kind of diet that’s been shown in research to be good for the body:
- lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (whether they’re organic or not)
- foods like nuts and seeds
- avocados and olive oil
- beans and lentils
- whole grains
Save those clean eating treats as occasional desserts, as you would regular fudge or ice cream.