Chew on This

It’s OK to ‘eat clean’ but let’s call it another name

After reading a few end-of-the-year inspiring weight loss stories, I noticed a reoccurring theme. Most of these successful weight losers stated that they started eating “clean” to lose weight. This is an interesting choice of words.

Even Google does not know where the term “eating clean” originated but it probably first gained popularity with the gym crowd. Think of boasting body builders downing protein shakes, egg whites and spinach. Clean eating is typically described as lots of vegetables and fruits, minimal sugar and salt, whole grains, avoidance of heavily processed foods, and no fried foods. I have no issue with the foods but I would like to see the descriptor “clean eating” go into immediate retirement. It sounds sterile, boring and tasteless — the complete opposite of what eating is about.

A recent study in Psychological Science looked at how health and taste influence food choices. Using both the subject’s ratings of food and a method of measuring the movement of a mouse cursor, the researchers were able to evaluate when taste and health information started influencing a food decision. They found that taste information influenced a food decision 195 milliseconds before health information kicks in. They hypothesize that the earlier an attribute is processed, in this case taste, the greater the weight in the final decision. One of their suggestions, which is not a new one, is to slow down when it comes to making food choices and slow down your eating so as to give the health attribute a stronger place in the food decision.

If taste is the quick influence on our food choices, then “clean eaters” are not working with their brain circuitry. Well-prepared vegetables, fruits, grains and protein foods are delicious. Instead of clean eating why not call fresh foods “totally tasty eating” or a “delectably delicious diet.” Reinforcing taste before health seems the easiest way to make healthy food choices effortless.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.