Dirty Eating

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Funnel Cake & Fried Oreos

If you want to talk about “Clean Eating,” you also have to talk about “Dirty Eating.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “clean eating” hundreds of times. There are truckloads of magazines, books, and blogs dedicated to the subject. Maybe you’ve heard it called “unprocessed food” (my favorite) or “real food” or just “healthy” food. Whatever you label it, there are even more ways to define it (and I’d encourage you to define it in whatever way makes the most sense for you).

But what about the opposite of clean? Yep, I’m talking about eating “dirty.”

Of course, there are many people and companies – most often the manufacturers of highly processed foods – who frequently say that no such thing exists. They claim that “there are no bad foods.”*

I beg to differ. There are dirty foods. It’s yin and yang: It seems you can’t have one without the other.

Of course, to make this case, we have to define “dirty” foods somehow. Once again, I encourage you to give it a definition that is right for you. It could be “From a factory, not a farm.”  Or perhaps “More than five ingredients.”  Or “Ingredients I can’t pronounce.”  Or to borrow from Michael Pollan, any “edible, food-like substance” that isn’t actually food.”  My mom simply calls it “junk food” and “empty calories.”

I tend to think of it as any food that does more physical harm that good. An easy example of this is anything with man-made trans fats (which is anything that contains partially hydrogenated oil). There is no safe intake level of trans fats.

Some other simple examples: Cake. Cookies. Potato Chips. Ice Cream. French Fries. Candy Bars. Soda.

All of these “dirty” foods may be good for you psychologically, but certainly not physically.

I don’t say any of this to make you feel guilty about what you choose to eat. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think it’s empowering. Once you are able to consider “dirty” foods just as well as “clean” foods, you then have an awareness you didn’t have before, and a way to frame your food choices. You can ask yourself, “Is that piece of [insert guilt-inducing food here] worth it?”  Often, the answer may be “yes” – and you can enjoy a fantastic treat, without actually inducing any guilt. Or maybe the answer is “no,” and you put that cookie down.

Either way, that’s when you’re really eating clean.

* “No bad foods” is almost always followed by the industry battle cry, “Everything in moderation!” I think that’s also a bunch of hooey.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

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