The terms “clean eating” or “eating clean” have gotten very popular in recent years, even though these words might mean different things to different people. You may be interested in clean eating if you have PCOS and are looking to improve your symptoms with nutrition. But what does clean eating mean?
While there is no clear definition, it usually means avoiding or limiting processed foods, eating mostly organic foods, and avoiding GMOs. Let’s take a closer look at these topics.
Most foods you eat are processed to some degree. Any kind of washing, chopping, freezing, fortifying, preserving or drying is a type of processing. Foods that are considered minimally processed are: fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, beans, milk, and meat.
Foods may be further processed by milling, grinding, extracting, combining ingredients, heating, canning, pickling, and fermenting. A lot of these foods can be very healthy choices for everyone, including those with PCOS. Some options include: whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, or quinoa, whole grain flours, whole grain products such as bread or pasta, oils, yogurt, canned tomatoes or beans, soy milk, edamame, peanut or other nut butters, tofu, or tempeh.
Highly processed foods often have a lot of added sugar, salt, and fat and these tend to be the ones that give processed food a bad name. Here are a few: sweetened drinks like soda, iced tea, juices, or energy drinks, chips, shelf stable cookies or cakes, sausages, hot dogs, candy, ramen noodles, and some frozen prepared meals.
Bottom line: Processing foods doesn’t automatically make them unhealthy. However, eating foods with a lot of sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fat (whether you add them or someone else does) can negatively affect your health and make your PCOS symptoms worse if you eat them often.
In order for foods to be labeled as organic, they must meet the standards that the USDA have set in place. This standard can be expensive and difficult for farmers to achieve, but ultimately the foods are produced without banned chemicals including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics.
While there are definite environmental benefits to organic farm practices, there is limited evidence that organic foods make people healthier. The nutritional benefit of organic foods depends on the food itself. Eating foods with skins or peels that are exposed to pesticides can increase the levels of these chemicals in our bodies, but more evidence is needed to see how this affects us. Organic dairy and meats may have higher levels of omega 3s and some organic produce may have higher antioxidant levels than conventional produce.
Bottom line: Eating foods made with organic practices can be beneficial for the environment and may help you to avoid some exposure to excess chemicals. However, don’t avoid eating foods like fruits and vegetables if you feel like you can’t afford the organic version. There is plenty of evidence that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Click here to learn more about the organic label from the USDA site.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are foods where the genes have been manipulated with bioengineering so that they have some traits that are considered beneficial. Usually it is done so that foods can hold up better when shipped, have a higher yield, and increased resistance to disease. There are environmental concerns about how these new plants affect other organisms and the amount and type of fertilizer these plants need.
We don’t have evidence that suggests that nutrition quality is worse with GMOs compared to non-GMO foods or that people who eat GMOs have worse health than those who don’t. The technology is still pretty new so this could change in time.
Bottom line: Just like organic foods, you may want to limit your exposure to GMOs for environmental reasons, but there isn’t any reason to avoid GMOs for health reasons at this time. Click here to learn more about GMOs from the Genetic Literacy Project site.
Final thoughts about the word “clean”
The labeling of foods as “good”, “bad”, or “clean” can have some consequences for you. If you eat something “good” or “clean”, then you may feel like you are being good or are a good person. And on the other side if eat something “bad” or processed, you may feel like you are a bad person and your self esteem and health may suffer.
Your thoughts are powerful and will drive your behavior. Having a healthy relationship with food includes making room for all foods without judgement. Ultimately I don’t like the term “clean eating” because in addition to being vague, it may cause you to judge how you eat which is more likely to make you feel badly about yourself than improve your health.
If you want to make changes to your diet to improve your PCOS symptoms, cooking more at home and adding in more fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains can make a big difference. But let’s not call it “clean”. Check out my post on the best diet for PCOS in this link.
Interested in learning about nutrition counseling for PCOS? Contact me for a discovery call!