Eating “clean” has been a buzzword for a couple of years now, even though the term is so vague that it’s hard to know whether you’re doing it or not.
There is no concrete definition for “clean” food but for most people it suggests eating foods that are closer to their natural state and less processed. Although it’s pretty easy to identify a green bean as “clean” and a jelly bean as not, foods like cheese or bread or orange juice occupy a gray area somewhere in between.
See also: Why processed foods can be good for you
“Don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce” is another common refrain, and this has led food manufacturers to “clean up” their labels by removing preservatives and other additives. But our mistrust of multi-syllabic words is having an unintended consequence: Manufacturers are also removing things like ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) from their products.
Vitamin C (pictured above) and E are useful nutrients as well as natural preservatives. But consumers don’t like to see “chemicals” in ingredient lists, so out they go. Meanwhile, a “clean” label may trick consumers into thinking that snack foods and treats are more nutritious than they actually are (instead of less).
If eating clean means you eat more whole and minimally processed foods, I think you’re on the right track. If an obsession with avoiding unpronounceable ingredients is simply steering you toward processed foods with “cleaner” labels, I’m not sure how much you’re accomplishing.
4 thoughts on “Unintended consequences of the clean eating movement”
I have unfortunately known people afraid of the chemical cobalamin. And it’s a minority who know how to pronounce quinoa.
I live in the UK and have seen some food labels with an asterisk or ‘(Vit C)’ following ascorbic acid, but it’s rare. It’s a matter of education, and also food labels could be clearer.
I know people who think they’re giving their kids a good nutrition boost by packing Veggie Straws in their lunch. While it may be better than other processed foods, it certainly isn’t the same thing as packing carrots and cucumbers. This seems to prove your point. The marketing on this product is very good and the ingredients are simple and easy to pronounce. People are tricked by it.
I am pretty much afraid and question absolutely everything I eat or drink, from tap water/bottled water to organic vegetables and everything in between. My dog Hailey has succeeded in eating absolutely EVERYTHING from paper to knives to blankets and more and she has not died…YET