This post is part of the “To Try or Not to Try” blog series. Written by a registered dietitian (RD) or dietetic intern, each post explores the claims and science surrounding a different dietary pattern or trend. After compiling this research, each RD or RD2be gave the diet a grade based on whether it appears to hold up to the hype. A = “yes, go for it!” and F = “no way, absolutely not!”
About the Author:
Jenny Dang is a Registered Dietitian (RD) based in the Washington, D.C. area, where she works in child nutrition and food policy. She is an anti-hunger advocate, bookworm, and member of DCMAND. Stay in touch with her on social media:
What foods are allowed?
The clean eating diet, also known as #eatclean, is one of the most popular diet trends1 that has gained attention with the help of social media and blogs the past few years. Clean eating is an idea of consuming whole or minimally processed foods that are as close to the way nature made them to be. Plants, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and seeds are encouraged. With no legal definition, variations of this diet include but are not limited to avoiding foods that contain gluten, dairy, refined sugars, soy, chemicals, artificial colors or flavors, GMOs, and/or preservatives.
Are the claims supported by science?
In the mainstream media, there is anecdotal evidence of clean eating benefits related to improved productivity, clearer skin complexion, weight management, and decreased inflammation. Some of the principles, like eating whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, are supported by scientific evidence2,6; however, there is limited scientific research on the outcomes of directly eating clean.
What are the overall pros and cons?
There can be unintentional consequences of following rigid rules that restrict or avoid food intake of certain food group(s) such as less than adequate nutrition without a well-planned diet; feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and stress around what you eat; or warning signs of an unhealthy obsession3,4. The greater problem with this trendy diet is when people make decisions based on the abundance of misinformation and not the evidence-based facts. For example, restricting gluten because you have a medical diagnosis of celiac’s disease is different than cutting out gluten foods (i.e. bread, pasta, cereal, beer) because someone on the internet told you it would “cure” your headache. Or that organic non-GMO salt is better than regular salt. Salt has no genetic material, so it cannot be genetically modified5.
What grade do you give this diet?
The original concepts of clean eating deserve a high grade, however, the variations of the diet, potential effects of following rigid food rules, and misinformation about clean eating scores this trendy diet a C.
What is your recommendation for an eating pattern for the average human?
Rather than focusing on labels and claims that are “good” or “bad”, focus on foods that nourish our bodies. All foods can fit into each individual’s lifestyle. A healthy eating pattern as recommended by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans6 be tailored to meet the medical, dietary, physical, economic, social, and cultural needs of each person by collaborating with an RD.
This content is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice, medical nutrition therapy, or individualized nutrition counseling. Talk to your doctor or another licensed healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your diet, medications, or exercise routine. The opinions of these authors are their own and are not approved, sponsored, or endorsed by any professional organizations including but not limited to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, and American Diabetes Association.
Thalheimer, C. J. (2016, June). Hottest Nutrition Trends of 2016: Clean Eating. Today’s Dietitian, 18(6),37.
Dagfinn Aune, Edward Giovannucci, Paolo Boffetta, Lars T Fadnes, NaNa Keum, Teresa Norat, Darren C Greenwood, Elio Riboli, Lars J Vatten, Serena Tonstad; Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 46, Issue 3, 1 June 2017, Pages 1029–1056, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyw319
Katrina, K., (n.d.) Orthorexia Nervosa. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa
National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.).Warning Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/warning-signs-and-symptoms
Brat, Ilan. (2015, August 24). Non-GMO Salt? Water? Food companies exploit GMO-free labels, misleading customers, promoting misinformation. Genetic Literacy Project. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/08/24/non-gmo-salt-water-food-companies-exploit-gmo-free-labels-misleading-customers-promoting-misinformation/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns. (n.d.). 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/key-recommendations/