What Clean Eating Means

Not to be confused with “cleaning your plate,” the definition of clean eating is up for grabs since it has not yet been defined by any credible, governing body.

Kris Sollid, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council, says that the confusion is amplified because “there is no standard definition for what clean means, and many consumers are left to determine its meaning for themselves.” He goes on to say, “American health authorities have not defined clean – not the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, not the Food and Drug Administration and not the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And for good reason – because there’s no evidence to suggest that ‘eating clean’ or eating only foods with ‘clean labels’ is related to health. It’s a trend, not a tenet of validated scientific evidence.”

Yet the push for clean eating is often boosted through the impact that influencers on social media have on consumer values, even when the popularity of those influencers seems to be based more upon their degree of followers rather than the degrees they earned in school. Let’s clean up some of the confusion and explore a few of these hot, yet misunderstood, terms.

“Eating that’s considered to be ‘clean’ is often conflated or used as a proxy for a term like ‘healthy,'” Sollid says. IFIC’s Food & Health Surveys have shown that products containing identical nutrition information are viewed differently, depending on other attributes that are attached to them. For example, products carrying identical nutrition labels are perceived to be “healthier” if they have a shorter ingredients list – compared to a longer one.