Opinions expressed in the ACSM Certification blog are the author's and do not necessarily reflect positions of ACSM
If you are feeling confused about what to eat, you are not alone! You've undoubtedly heard health-conscious athletes talk about good foods, bad foods, healthy foods, and clean foods. Some athletes talk about food like it's a drug (I don't do sugar or white flour.) Others spend time trying to stay away from some of their favorite foods (I don't keep cereal in my house; that keeps me from eating the whole box.) And then there are the food police who shame you for, let's say, eating dessert - Are you really going to eat sugar??? - as if one cookie will ruin your life forever.
Eating clean, a popular food fad, is more of a religion than an investment in health. Clean foods are generally defined as being unprocessed, all natural, non-GMO, sugar-free, whole grain, and free of high fructose corn syrup, antibiotics, wrappers, and hard to pronounce ingredients.
If you aspire to eat clean, in hopes of enhancing your health and performance, please keep these tips in mind:
- There is no such thing as a good food, nor is there a bad food (that is, other than a food that is moldy or poisonous). There is a balanced diet and an unbalanced diet.
- You should not scrutinize a single food (red meat, white bread) or ingredient (sugar, salt). Instead, evaluate the menu for the whole day, week, month and year. Even "bad" foods with little nutritional value can be balanced into an overall wholesome food plan.
- Clean eating creates unintended negative consequences:
- No red meat reduces your intake of iron, a mineral needed to prevent anemia and needless fatigue.
- No salt reduces your intake of iodine, a mineral added to table salt in the 1920s to eradicate goiter (a thyroid issue). Iodine deficiency is associated with infertility, poor brain development in infants, and low metabolic rate.
- No additives reduces your intake of the hard-to-pronounce vitamins and minerals added to grain-foods for health benefits. For example, no ferrous sulfate (iron) for people who eat no red meat increases their chances of consuming an iron-deficient diet.
- No added sugar or refined white flour eliminates a lot of foods. Do you really want to never eat birthday cake or holiday cookies ever again? Is there something wrong with enjoying some "fun food"? Will you end up binge-eating those foods when the opportunity arises? You know, "Last chance to have a cookie, so I'd better eat more now because they taste so wonderful..." and the whole plate of cookies disappears down your gullet.
My advice: Instead of aspiring to eat clean, focus on eating overall wholesome meals that include 85 percent to 90 percent quality calories and 10 percent to 15 percent whatever. You need not eat a perfect diet to have an excellent diet.