What is the Clean Cuisine Definition of Clean Eating?
That’s a good question!
Although the concept of “clean eating” is a bit of a mega trend at the moment, if you ask a “clean eater” to define clean eating you’ll get a number of very different answers.
Clean Cuisine is designed to do two things:
- Reduce inflammation
- Optimize nutrition.
And so our definition of clean eating is a diet based on anti-inflammatory foods packaged in their most natural and nutrient-rich state.
This means you want to choose whole foods that are unadulterated…just the way nature intended. You want to go for corn instead of corn flakes, steel cut oats instead of a granola bar that is “made with oats” (but also made with a bunch of junk like high fructose corn syrup, processed corn oil, etc.) If push came to shove, you would even want to choose whole olives over olive oil.
The closer a food is to its natural state, the healthier it will be.
Clean Eating = More Plants, Less Animal Food
When it comes to clean food, it’s also important to remember plant foods are lowest on the food chain and therefore contain considerably fewer toxins than animal foods.
Unrefined plant foods are also the only source of anti-inflammatory, anti-aging phytonutrients, which play a key role in the health benefits obtained from eating Clean Cuisine. Phytonutrients are substances that protect the plant and fortify it against illness, but they also offer invaluable disease protection and anti-inflammatory benefits to YOU, the plant-eater. Phytonutrients act in a myriad of health-promoting ways. Many phytonutrients are sources of natural anti-aging antioxidants and others act as powerful inflammation extinguishers. Some phytonutrients enhance immune function and promote healing. Others stimulate enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing carcinogens. In a nutshell, the more phytonutrients you can manage to get into your diet, the better! And the only way possible to get more phytonutrients is to eat more plants and less animal foods. There’s just no way around it. Thus, Clean Cuisine places a heavy emphasis on plant-based nutrition.
However, Clean Cuisine is not vegan either (click HERE to read why). We still encourage modest amounts of high-quality animal foods (such as grass-fed beef or pastured eggs) as part of Clean Cuisine, it’s just that we suggest the bulk of your daily calories should come from phytonutrient-rich plant-based unrefined foods (lots of vegetables, fruits, unrefined whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, legumes, etc.)
Seafood is also encouraged on the Clean Cuisine anti-inflammatory diet because it is so rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fats. When it comes to reducing inflammation, the dietary fats you eat (or don’t eat) make the biggest impact; and omega-3 fats are the most anti-inflammatory fats of all, so they play a very important role in our Clean Cuisine nutrition recommendations.
In our Clean Cuisine book (Penguin, 2013), we go into great detail explaining the principles and research behind our nutrition advice, but this food pyramid below is a good visual guide to how we build a clean eating meal plan.
Don’t Count Your Food, Make Your Food Count!
Although there are plenty of clean eating enthusiasts who might disagree, we don’t support the concept of “counting food” in the form of macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein). Instead, we prefer to put the emphasis on “making food count” through optimal intake of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients).
Instead of restricting calories or portions, you’ll find our clean eating meal plan recommends changing the proportion of the dinner plate to emphasize unrefined plant-based whole foods and deemphasize animal foods. In a “Clean Cuisine” recipe, foods such as meat and chicken are used more as condiments and flavor-enhancers rather than taking center stage at the dinner plate. And we incorporate a LOT of fruit and vegetables. These subtle changes to our clean eating recipes and meals do not change the flavor or the enjoyment you’ll get from your meal, but they radically enhance the nutritional profile and help reduce inflammation.
It Has to Be Enjoyable!
One thing that really sets Clean Cuisine apart from other clean eating diet programs is our understanding of that fact that the only way people are going to get the results they are seeking from changing their diet is if they make a lifetime commitment. Doing a 60 day “cleanse” or detox program and then reverting right back to your old eating habits is not going to give you long-term results. However, a lifetime of clean eating can be daunting if it is overly restrictive or if the food doesn’t actually taste good. And that’s where Clean Cuisine is very different from other “clean eating” programs. Our primary goal is life-enhancement; we want to enjoy our life maximally in every way possible.
Clean Cuisine is all about eating the absolute best-tasting and most flavorful food. Furthermore, we are strict when and where it counts most and lenient where it doesn’t matter so much. Our approach to clean eating is balanced and we promise eating this way will not decrease the pleasure in your life. And eating Clean Cuisine does not mean adopting a radical way of eating either. In fact, we are not convinced that radical diets are optimal for health either.
For example, we do borrow many cooking techniques and nutrition recommendations from vegan and raw food experts and we enjoy an abundance of vegan and raw food meals in our own diets, but as mentioned above, we are not vegan. The primary reason we are not vegan is that if you dig deep into the nutrition research you realize that people who eat primarily vegan “whole foods” diets but also include a bit of fish, eggs and lean meats are every bit as healthy—if not more so—though those who follow a pure vegan diet. Additionally, we absolutely cannot find any scientific support for eliminating omega-3 rich fish from your diet either. Instead, what the medical research shows is that while it is true vegetarians have fewer heart attacks, less incidence of cancer, less obesity, lower body weights, less high blood pressure, and longer life spans in general, individuals who are not super strict at avoiding animal foods enjoy equally impressive health benefits across the board as long as the bulk of their calories come from whole plant foods with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. In other words, the less radical approach to clean eating seems to not only be the easiest and tastiest approach, but is potentially the healthiest as well.
In short, Clean Cuisine bridges the gap between what we should eat, what tastes good, what is best for our bodies and what is actually doable in the real world. We encourage a sustainable way of eating that is in sync with the needs of our bodies and the environment.
Here’s a little acronym that simplifies our Clean Cuisine philosophy:
All Calories are Not Created Equal
In addition to reducing inflammation, Clean Cuisine is also all about boosting nutrition and eating nutrient-dense foods. To understand the concept of nutrient density, it is important to understand the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the calorie-containing substances that give us energy: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The Nutrition Facts labels you see on food products make it appear as though all carbohydrates, fats and proteins are equal. This is not the case.
There are good, healthful unrefined sources of carbohydrates, fats and proteins and then there are bad, unhealthful and highly processed sources too. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates and should absolutely be an integral part of any clean eating meal plan. High fructose corn syrup, enriched or all-purpose flour and white rice are all examples of nutrient-poor, pro-inflammatory carbohydrates. Just because an apple might have the same number of calories as a slice of white bread does NOT make the two nutritionally equivalent! Raw nuts, flaxseeds and avocados are all good, anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense sources of fat and should also be included in clean eating recipes and meal plans. On the other hand, vegetable oil, margarine and vegetable shortening are all nutrient poor and pro-inflammatory fats and should be avoided. When it comes to protein, foods like fish, nuts, seeds, beans and “whole” soy (such as tempeh or edamame beans) are nutrient-dense. Isolated soy protein, hot dogs, milk and cheese are all nutrient-poor and pro-inflammatory sources of protein. In short, the best sources of macronutrients are unrefined whole foods, primarily (but not exclusively), from plants.
Keep in mind, the micronutrients in food do not contain calories (energy) and do not directly provide energy, but they do play a tremendous role in optimizing health and even appearance. Micronutrients consist of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Modern diets are highly deficient in micronutrients. Although it is true highly processed modern foods such as enriched flour and most breakfast cereals are often fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals, these man-made versions are not recognized or utilized by your body in the same way as naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals found in whole foods.
In addition, although processed foods may be fortified with a synthetic vitamins and minerals, they are not fortified with all the other good things found in unrefined whole foods, such as antioxidants and phytonutrients. These anti-inflammatory compounds are destroyed during food processing and are not added back. And even if a food does happen to be fortified with an individual isolated phytonutrient, such as a lycopene-fortified beverage, your body does not recognize or utilize the isolated substance in the same manner it would if the phytonutrient had been consumed as part of the whole food. Without question, phytonutrients found in their “whole food” form are superior.
Clean Eating & Detox
And finally, lets address detox briefly. Clean eating and detox seem to go hand in hand, but a lot of people are confused about what constitutes healthy detox.
Here’s the deal: cleansing, or detoxifying, is a process that occurs naturally and regularly in your body. If you stick to our clean eating meal plans and use our recipes, you will be supplying your body with the necessary materials it needs to safely and healthfully detoxify, while also limiting the intake of new toxins. As mentioned earlier, since animal foods are highest on the food chain, they have the highest concentration of toxins. Keeping animal intake low and choosing the highest quality and cleanest animal foods possible is just one way Clean Cuisine helps keep your body’s toxin burden low. Also, the abundance of chlorophyll-rich greens that we recommend do wonders to enhance detoxification.
We do not support drastic detox methods such as colonics and prolonged fasts because they can be dangerous and because they are not really necessary. Nature provides all the nutrients your body needs for safe, gentle and effective detoxification. You simply need to keep toxic food intake at a minimum while simultaneously supplying your body with a steadfast stream of detoxifying phytonutrient-rich clean foods. Once again, we are not supportive of anything that is too radical.
In conclusion, if you are new to clean eating, it should be encouraging to know that a clean eating lifestyle exists that is not only doable and enjoyable, but has been put to the test for almost 20 years. If you do not yet know our story or how Clean Cuisine came about, be sure to read HERE. I have also put together an overview of my clean food diet journey.
For more information on the Clean Cuisine nutrition program please reference our book, Clean Cuisine: An 8-Week Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Program that Will Change the Way You Age, Look & Feel.