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Jul 05, 2017 04:35PM

Dishing a little dirt on the 'clean eating' diet craze

By Leslie Barker, The Dallas Morning News
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In our ever-earnest quest for health, certain phrases make their way into our gastronomic vernacular: Paleo. Whole 30. Cleanse.
Then there's this one, alluring in its innocence: clean eating.
It sounds to be a breath of fresh air. What, after all, what could be more basic than clean eating?
Lots, apparently. The headline on a Good Housekeeping column called it "Total BS." Huffington Post UK wrote about "How Clean Eating Became a Dirty Word." For every website or trainer or dietitian touting it, there's another rolling their eyes.
It's confusing, they say. It implies if you're not eating clean, you're an overweight sloth whose food is unclean.
"I tend not to use the phrase often," says Sara Asberry, registered dietitian at the University of Texas at Dallas, "because I feel it has a lot of mixed messages. It inadvertently is implying that all other foods are dirty."
Julie Kuehn, registered dietitian and personal trainer at Life Time in Allen, Texas, loves it. "When I hear 'clean eating,' I think, 'Oh, yeah!'" says Kuehn. "I think we've finally stumbled upon the catchphrase that gets it."
One problem, though, seems to be coming up with a mutually agreed-upon understanding of the two words.
"There are a lot of definitions, and that's part of why it can be so confusing," Asberry says.
Kuehn defines the concept basically as "minimally processed foods."
But, she acknowledges, people do get a little carried away: "Should we get all organic? All local meats? There's not a clean-eating council to define it."
In the past, Kuehn says, so-called "diets" revolved around eliminating something — for instance, carbohydrates or fat. "Everybody's always trying to eliminate a food group, then another group of scientists comes out and says 'No, eat this.' It's leaving consumers confused and baffled."
But, says Asberry, many people are just as baffled with clean eating.
"If they come to me wanting to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and lean protein, I can support them," she says. "But if they come to me wanting to eat all organic and omit foods from their diet — 'I hear dairy is bad for me' or 'I hear grains are processed foods so I don't want to consume them' — they're eliminating really nutritious foods."
Allison Cleary, a registered dietitian at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at White Rock, also cautions against taking clean eating too far. Say, for instance, you eliminate fast food. But then you move on to all deli meats. Understandable, because some processed meats have been shown to increase cancer risk.
Then you hear that steaming broccoli will change the nutritional content, and rethink this important vegetable. Then you start turning down dinner invitations for fear you won't find anything that falls into what you consider "clean eating."
"It's not mentally healthy, mainly because it causes a lot of anxiety," says Cleary.
When people find out she's a dietitian, she says, they often brag about eating clean. "They're almost looking for praise and recognition, like 'You're doing something good!' If it's just a quick thing, I say, 'Yeah, eat your fruits and vegetables,' and I leave the conversation. People get defensive if I say it's not all it's cracked up to be."
When Kuehn meets with clients, she stresses the importance of making small and slow changes that will become part of a permanent way of eating. She tells them to forgive themselves for past dietary transgressions, and to look at food as fuel.

Here are some tips to eating — call it what you will — clean, healthy, sensibly.
Oatmeal labels, Asberry says, the label should say "100 percent rolled oats."
"If we're looking at yogurt, I want to see milk and active cultures. Past that, we should be more cautious. Milk, I want it to say 'milk.'"

"Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh lean protein, dairy products, really nice whole grains," Asberry says.
This is the concept of "just listening to your body and really trying to nourish your body," Cleary says, "of trying to recognize your hunger cues, eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full."
Craving a cheeseburger? Ask yourself if it's something you really and truly want. "If it is, allow yourself to have it, guilt-free, without beating yourself up, and without overeating," she says.
Asberry suggests creating routines: Eat at the table. Swap chips for trail mix with nuts, unsweetened dried fruit, whole-grain pretzels and dark chocolate chips.
"There's no magic cure for a healthy diet, no one thing you have to eliminate or one super food you want to add and you'll automatically be super-healthy," Cleary says.
If you tend to pick up most meals from a drive-through window, decide to make lunch or dinner one day a week. "When you feel comfortable with that, work on two days or three," Cleary says.
"Most people have a hard time with this, but I say, 'You're in it for the marathon, not the sprint,'" Kuehn says. "The goal is 80 percent of the time to be spot-on. Don't consider it messing up; consider it training yourself."
Just about every restaurant posts its menu online. "A safe thing is usually grilled salmon or other fish," Kuehn says. "I tell them instead of couscous or white rice, do extra vegetables. Or a salad, but check what they put in it."
"If you have any question about bloating or feeling gross or you feel like you're in a brain fog, lab testing is very helpful," Kuehn says.
Adds Cleary: "People generally know what their weaknesses are and what they need to work on. But if you're having difficulties, see a dietitian. We're able to work with you and help you with your problem areas. You're supposed to enjoy your food."

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