The health halo surrounding clean eating is shining brighter than ever. It has manifested from a trend into global movement and has persuaded many nutrition experts to adopt a natural approach to improving health.
Basically, clean eating is the avoidance of all processed and refined foods. It focuses on food as it's found in nature. Many claim it's a prescription for a longer, more vibrant life.
Made up of nutrient rich, fulfilling foods like meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes; clean eating has created a social media frenzy - search #cleaneating on Instagram and witness the fitness of thousands of filtered food photos.
Clean eating sits alongside other wholefood movements, like Paleo, whose rise to fame has boosted awareness that some of the healthiest foods available are those that come directly from the garden or farm.
Read more of Dave Shaw on paleo.
However, the thing about clean eating is that it's a movement for those who are already healthy, so those in need of a health kick don't really benefit. More worrying, it's a diet that can become harmful when taken to extremes.
With no real definition of what "clean eating" is, a variety of descriptions are available, some encouraging the banning of meat, dairy and wholegrains depending on their origin and level of processing.
But by eliminating foods based on misinformed beliefs, rather than evidence or culture, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies or poor health. Especially if the missing nutrients aren't replaced by alternative sources.
And, for susceptible groups, like young women, clean eating can become an obsession. It can distort healthy eating perceptions, lead to strange eating patterns and/or social segregation.
With this in mind, here's my refreshing approach to clean eating that's simple, intuitive and inclusive.
Choose a lifestyle
Most people in search of a healthier diet forget about what should really guide their eating behaviours - that's their lifestyle and family. True clean eating requires planning, preparation and an incredible amount of willpower to resist temptation. If you want to succeed, get your family and friends on your side. But if you're unwilling to allow yourself to be lenient from time to time, you might find it hard to recruit allies.
Buy mostly wholefoods
All health experts have come to a consensus - eat real food. Shop at produce stores, farmers' markets, butchers and around the perimeter of supermarkets. Try to limit the amount of processed and sugary foods you eat, and drink heaps of water. If the majority of the food in your kitchen reflects food as it's found in nature, you're definitely on the right track.
Aim to buy local and organic
New Zealand is blessed with a landscape that produces high quality food, it's a shame more of us don't seek it outside supermarkets. Support your local gardeners and farmers when you can, it's a bonus if you can buy organic or free range.
Cook from scratch
Possibly the most underrated activity we can do for our health and one that also helps to clean up our eating habits. Cooking ensures we eat the foods we intend to, without the additives and chemicals included from many processing techniques. It's also a great way to socialise and express your creativity with fresh new dishes.
Stock up on some processed food
Not all processed food is "dirty". Many foods have only gone through a small amount of tinkering before they reach supermarket shelves. Frozen vegetables and berries are a perfect example, as are some tinned foods like legumes, fish and tomatoes. Keep these on hand for desperate (or lazy) times.
The perfect diet is one that contains imperfections and can accommodate all types of food - it's the amount we eat that causes concern. Tread carefully if a diet recommends completely cutting out any food without giving sound evidence to support their advice. Even consider an 80:20 approach. If you eat perfectly four days out of five, you're doing bloody well.
Listen to your body
It might take some time to find foods you love that respond well with your body - mother nature has provided us with hundreds of them - so experiment a little. You are the one in control of your health, not a book, blog or article so always pay attention to what your body is telling you.