Food trends change and evolve a lot over time and they are influenced by a number of factors. New research that changes our understanding of our bodies and our health gives us more insight into what we should be eating. However, advertising has a role to play too and many of our eating decisions are determined by which companies have the best marketing team behind them.
In recent years, the online world has had a role to play too. The speed at which trends are disseminated and adopted has drastically increased as a result of social media, and influencers have the power to change lifestyles across the globe. The internet has also given more access to information than ever before, meaning that people are more informed about their health. On the other hand, it also means that people are more prone to disinformation too.
All of these factors combine to drive change in our eating habits and the biggest trend right now is ‘clean eating’. But what exactly is clean eating and how did it become so popular?
What Is Clean Eating?
One of the main issues with health concepts like clean eating is that they are very subjective and can mean different things depending on who you talk to. Even people with a background in nutrition will often disagree about what our personal definition should be.
However, in general terms, clean eating means removing any processed or artificial foods from your diet.
The term ‘clean eating’ was coined in the US back in 2007 by a personal trainer named Tosca Reno. She wrote a book called The Eat-Clean Diet which took the idea of clean eating and put it into practice, offering meal plans that people could follow to cut out processed foods from their life.
The book became very popular over the next few years after being endorsed by celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow who is probably one of the best-known advocates for clean eating. Her website Goop is dedicated to providing information on food, drinks, lifestyle choices and wellness tips around clean living.
People that follow a clean eating diet cut out a lot of the foods that people often eat on a regular basis. Vegetables, legumes and fruit are encouraged along with lean meats and fish, while things like dairy products and soft drinks are avoided. Processed foods, refined sugars and anything deep fried are seen as an enemy to health and wellness so should be eliminated from your diet whenever possible. Organic foods are often tied into this too because any pesticides or other additives used during the growing process are thought to go against the ethos of clean eating.
There are variations on the concept too, which incorporate vegan and gluten-free diets. Although the exact diet varies from person to person, clean eating is a backlash against the modern consumerist diet. It’s an attempt to go back to something simpler and eat what people assumed we would naturally eat before we had a supermarket full of processed food to choose from.
Despite the fact that clean eating has been around for a while now, it’s only really starting to rise in popularity recently. The concept is a backlash against modern society and the convenience of processed foods, but what exactly is making people turn away from those alternatives?
There are several things at play here. Firstly, there have been some pretty high-profile cases involving food contamination and companies that have been trying to cut corners over recent years. There have been a number of recent cases of lettuce being recalled due to E.coli and the scandal has left a lot of people worried about what they’re putting on their plates.
In late 2015 too, health food chain Eat made headlines after the company was found to be using cheap ingredients in order to save money. The company went under due to a loss of consumer trust and didn’t manage to recover from the bad press.
On top of this, there is evidence that suggests that Americans are becoming more health-conscious about their diets. A survey carried out by research firm NPD Group showed that nearly 52% of adults were thinking about eating healthier in 2014 which is up from 38% in 2010. Most of these people were looking for food alternatives rather than trying to eat ‘clean’ but it’s still indicative of an interest in bettering our diets and cutting back on processed foods.
Of course, celebrities play a big part in our lives when it comes to fads like clean eating too. They often try to promote healthy living and encourage people to cut out things like dairy, sugar and gluten from their diets – foods that aren’t necessarily bad for you but can cause problems if they’re eaten in abundance every day. With more celebrities adopting clean eating practices, it’s only natural that their fans are following suit.
Issues around climate change also have a big role to play in people’s dietary decisions. In the past, changing your diet was all about losing weight and improving your health. But in recent years, new research into the impact of livestock farming has inspired a drastic increase in the number of people cutting out meat and dairy from their diets. As the climate crisis worsens and governments are put under more pressure to take action, people are increasingly looking to find ways to live a less impactful lifestyle. For a lot of people, that means changing their diet.
Although all of these factors play into the rise of the clean eating trend, it arguably would not have taken off in the way that it did in a pre-internet world.
The availability of information has had a huge impact on the way that we view our diets. For the first time ever, anyone can access information about healthy eating and be exposed to a huge variety of different diets with just the click of a mouse.
In the past, lack of information about healthy eating meant that decisions were driven by the companies that produced foods. If people wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, they would buy products marketed as healthy. However, people are increasingly aware that low-fat products are often packed full of sugar and do not do much to aid in weight loss. They also have access to alternative information about how to prepare food without any processed ingredients, which means that they are no longer reliant on companies to tell them how to eat well. In short, the internet empowered people to make informed decisions about their diet.
Online communities have also played their part in making clean eating more popular than it might otherwise have been. There are so many informative sites out there and organizations like Eat Better Food offer newsletters packed full of information and recipes to help people improve their diet and their general health. Through engaging with these communities and educating themselves, people have been able to sustain clean diets in ways that they never have before.
The impact of social media influencers cannot be overlooked either. Fitness fanatics and Instagram celebrities have a huge impact on fashions and trends, including the desire to eat healthily. There are a huge number of accounts on Instagram promoting clean eating practices and influencers hold a lot of sway over their followers. Unfortunately, this can be a double-edged sword because people are willing to trust the advice of influencers wholeheartedly without looking into it further. The power to give advice about health matters and diet has been taken from the hands of researchers and trained nutritionists and given to anybody with a big social media following. This has led to a number of dangerous eating trends and claims that a lot of clean eating profiles are promoting unhealthy weight loss and body standards.
The wealth of information available about clean eating and the different variations on the concept leave a lot of people confused about whether this is just another diet fad that should be ignored or if it’s something that we should all be doing.
Clean eating, in its most basic form, can be considered a good thing. As we’ve already seen, it is rooted in a desire to live a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. By cutting out processed foods from our diets, we can reduce the body’s toxic load and improve our health as well as reducing the impact that we have on the planet.
One of the other beneficial things about clean eating is that it’s a concept rather than a rigorous, restrictive diet. Many of the popular diet trends like the keto diet are based around cutting out very specific food groups. Restrictive diets like these can often lead to disordered eating patterns but, when approached in the right way, clean eating is not that restrictive. Although it cuts out processed foods, it is fairly flexible in terms of what you eat. Diets that are very specific and restrictive are rarely sustainable. Although they may produce good results in the short term, those effects are reversed very quickly when people resume a normal diet. But clean eating practices can be a lot more sustainable in the long term, leading to improved overall health.
It’s fairly obvious that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is good for you and will improve your health, but there is a darker side to the clean eating trend that is causing more harm than good.
Misinformation about eating clean is rife on the internet with millions of people taking advice from Instagram influencers, fitness fanatics and bloggers with no medical training whatsoever. Nutrition needs to be treated as a science because you can’t always trust what somebody’s personal trainer has told them about losing weight or their friend who eats paleo gave them advice about health.
One of the most concerning aspects of the clean eating trend is the misinformation surrounding nutritional deficiencies. Fad diets are full of items that are promoted as being super foods or magical cures for different conditions but they don’t account for having enough of other nutrients in order for your body to function properly.
The discourse around clean eating can also have a negative impact on the way that we think about food. The idea of ‘clean’ foods naturally gives rise to the idea of ‘dirty’ foods. By introducing a moralistic element into your diet, you increase feelings of guilt and shame into eating habits and that is often the beginnings of an eating disorder. This effect is compounded by social media influencers that are promoting an unhealthy body image and telling people that clean eating is the way to achieve those unrealistic standards.
In some cases, this leads to serious conditions like Orthorexia. This is an eating disorder that is often associated with veganism but can be caused by any diet that has strict rules around food intake. It’s an anxiety-based condition where someone will become obsessed with the idea of having a healthy diet and eating ‘clean’. Orthorexics tend to subscribe to very specific diets such as raw foods, gluten-free or dairy-free. They avoid certain foods based on moral grounds rather than medical necessity and this mentality takes over their life so much so that it affects their social life and their mental health.
Does that mean you should ignore all advice about clean eating? No, but you do need to be careful about where you get your information from. Consider the source and don’t believe everything that you read on the internet. If it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. There are plenty of science-backed resources out there like Eat Better Food that can give you great advice and recipes, and some of the social media influencers you see will be trained nutritionists. However, there is an equal amount of bad information that could cause harm to your health if followed. So, if in doubt, always do your own research before you hop on the clean eating trend.