Clean eating – combining health with enjoyment

‘Clean eating’ might sound like just another fad diet. In fact, it’s a lifestyle philosophy that started gaining popularity in the US 20 years ago. It’s not about losing weight, but about living a healthier life – thanks to fresh, whole foods. But how exactly does clean eating work?

Clean eating bowl

Julia McCoy

Photo: Julia McCoy

‘It’s actually quite simple,’ says Julia McCoy, who has been running the ‘Julie feels good’ blog, where she shares tips and recipes for eating ‘clean’ since 2014. The main message, according to McCoy: clean eating is not a diet! Rather, it is a lifestyle guided by the ‘you are what you eat’ principle.

In essence, clean eating simply means consuming whole foods and doing what for instance the German Nutrition Society has long been promoting as healthy nutrition practice based on scientific evidence: eat a variety of foods, eat fresh foods, cook carefully and be mindful when you eat. So is it just a new name for a familiar idea?

Clean eating – check the list of ingredients

When you eat clean, you focus on fresh, whole foods that are free of artificial additives and have not been heavily processed. That’s because processing often robs products of their nutrients. In practice that means: preparing a home-cooked chicken breast rather than turning to frozen chicken nuggets. And including plenty of whole grains, quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, fresh vegetables and fruit as well as healthy fats such as those extracted from almonds or avocadoes.

The general rule: meat and dairy products are okay as long as they are unadulterated. That means no artificial flavours, acidifiers or other non-natural additives. Sugar is not forbidden, but it should be used in the form of fruit-juice concentrates, maple syrup and unrefined cane sugar, not common, refined white sugar. Eating clean also means avoiding anything that has been genetically modified (like GM maize) or made with genetically modified ingredients (enzymes). Another important aspect of clean eating is what you drink – which ideally should be water. The rule of thumb here is 1.5 litres a day.

More on the topic:

Clean and enjoyable? It’s possible!

While clean eating has got its do’s and don’ts, it’s not about self-denial like in a traditional diet. ‘People need nutrition and enjoyment,’ says Dina Brehm of Green Affairs in Düsseldorf. As a METRO customer, she has been offering clean alternatives with her salad bar concept in the centre of Düsseldorf since the beginning of June 2020. ‘In food service, the salad segment has always been presented in a purist light. It was all healthy, slim and eco-minded. We’ve changed the whole presentation. Now ‘clean’ and ‘enjoyable’ are no longer mutually exclusive,’ Brehm says.

Her offerings focus on supporting a diet rich in vitamins and protein. Locally-sourced salads, fresh deliveries several times a week, ingredients prepared fresh every day. ‘We also do gluten-free food,’ Brehm adds. Lists of ingredients are available to everyone, and customers can build their own salads as well.

Dina Brehm, Green Affairs

Photo: Dina Brehm

METRO Health & Nutrition Strategy

With its Health & Nutrition Strategy, METRO strives to add even more healthy options to the product mix and mark ingredients clearly. This includes expanding the choice of fruits and vegetables in the ultra-fresh category, particularly regional and organic products. The range of products with reduced sodium, sugar and trans-fats is also set to grow, as are options that are free of additives like MSG and flavour enhancers. METRO’s own brands will be the focus of these efforts. In future, customers will also get clearer and more detailed information about nutritional values and ingredients.

METRO France is one example of how this can work. Since 2012, METRO France has taken a series of steps to improve its own-brand recipes. This resulted in overall reductions of 56 tonnes of salt, 1,072 tonnes of sugar and 64 tonnes of fat in their own-brand products. 116 additives are now no-gos.

Healthier products are part of the METRO sustainability strategy. More on this is also available in the 2018/2019 CR compact report.


Balance is key

‘I think health-conscious eating is growing more important for many people, and that will certainly remain the case long-term. The main thing is not to make a religion out of it. Rather, good food should be truly enjoyable and a reason to spend quality time with friends and family,’ Brehm says. Clean-eating expert McCoy agrees. What she considers important is to stay grounded in reality. ‘When we go out to eat, we simply enjoy what is being served. We also go out for ice cream often in summer, or scarf down a slice of cake at a birthday party. Then we get on with our normal, healthy routines. Balance is the key,’ the blogger says.

To her mind, the positive side effects of eating clean are the best argument of all: ‘When you eat fresh and healthy, you do your body a favour; you have more energy, you are in a better mood and you sleep better. And hardly anybody wants to give up great benefits like that,’ as McCoy’s own experience as well as feedback from her followers can attest. There is not a doubt in her mind that clean eating will continue to gain wider acceptance automatically, as more and more people are paying attention to their health. And that starts, at least in part, with what we put on our plates every day.

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