How often do you come across a friend or colleague who mentions that they're trying to "eat clean"? Probably a lot more than you'd expect. We've become so used to hearing the term clean eating that we've never stopped to ask ourselves what it really means. New York City–based RD, CPT, CDN Sharon Zarabi breaks the concept down as simply as possible: "Clean eating is a way to describe eating foods that come in its purest form, unprocessed and light. Anything doused in a heavy sauce or salty seasonings or fried in a heavy oil would not constitute as clean."
While this seems like a flawless approach for following a healthy diet, it's important to understand that clean eating is subjective. For example, if you were to ask your vegan friend or Paleo-dieting boss what their ideas of clean eating are, their responses would be worlds apart because one believes a meatless diet is healthier, while the other believes the complete opposite.
Believe it or not, there are health risks that can be attributed to clean eating. Like your extremist cousin who becomes so obsessed with the idea, they actually end up eliminating important foods that they should be eating. "If you try to avoid eating cooked foods and add healthy fats to your diet in an effort to eat clean, you may be missing out on essential nutrients and fats to help with many metabolic processes within the body," warns Zarabi.
But what exactly are "bad" or "good" foods? While it's logical that overdoing it on chocolate isn't the healthiest move, it's important to remember that balance is key. Instead of beating yourself up about eating all of that holiday candy, hop back on the horse and eat better during your other meals during the week. Adding some exercise to the mix helps, too.
But be careful to not overindulge in your sugar or salt cravings. "I do believe that many processed foods and simple sugars trigger us to eat more and disrupt our metabolism, so try to include them in moderation and only at parties — which is on occasion and not every day at 4 p.m. when you are bored or stressed at work," suggests Zarabi.
"Just as if medical advice is recommended on a diagnosis, so is dietary advice based on your goals," says Zarabi, adding, "weight management depends on genetics, lifestyle, exercise habits, and most of all nutrition."
So maybe you're confused about how to approach your daily diet. The truth is, there is no perfect way to eat — but you should approach healthy eating as a lifestyle and not a short-lived plan. "Every day should be one that you eat to use food as your medicine," concludes Zarabi. Remember, the goal isn't to eat 100 percent perfect. The key is to try and put the most nutrient-dense foods into your body without going over your caloric needs.
Related From Vivala: The Key to Ordering a Healthy Holiday Cocktail