Here’s the Dirt on What’s Hot in Nutrition 

By Carla Turchetti

Clean eating isn’t a lifestyle that encourages you to wash your fruits and vegetables really well.

Clean eating is a nutritional approach that encourages the consumption of whole foods and grains while eliminating packaged and processed food options.

“Clean eating is about moving forward,” says Betsy Mikolajewski, Registered Licensed Dietician and co-owner of Carolina Nutrition Specialists in downtown Raleigh. “Clean eating is about moving forward, choosing differently and observing the outcome.”

And it is a personal journey.

The EWG Dirty Produce List (buy organically):

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Snap Peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Hot Peppers
  • Kale
  • Collards

The EWG Clean Fifteen (can buy conventionally)

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet Corn
  • Frozen Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Potatoes

“On your next grocery store visit you may spy an avocado – something you have eaten only in restaurants, but you never actually brought one home. You don’t even know how to cut it open, but today, you bring one home and a simple Google search teaches you avocado skills,” Betsy says.

Kelly Guess, the other co-owner of Carolina Nutrition Specialists, who is also a Registered Licensed Dietician, says clean eating has been sparked by changes in what we find at the grocery store.

“Today’s food is not the same as food from 25 years ago. In order to keep food plentiful and profitable and to gain loyal customers, today’s food is grown with more pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones. It is also processed with more sugar, in its many forms, plus more salt, synthetic flavors and colors than ever before. Clean eating addresses these changes by advocating the purchase of food with the least amount of added chemicals, sugar and salt available,” Kelly says.

“For many decades we have been manipulating our food to be easy and fast,” Betsy says. “In the process we got lost. We forgot the subtle flavors of the avocado. We forgot the sweetness of the apple. We forgot the texture of a real tomato right off the vine.”

Is Clean Food Organic?
So if you want to embrace clean eating, do your food choices have to be organic?

“The best way to do this is to buy certified organic foods and prepare them at home,” Kelly says. “Organic food cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. It can’t be processed using irradiation or Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs), which are plants designed to survive large doses of pesticides and herbicides during the growing process. The more organic foods you add to your diet, the less synthetic chemicals end up in your body, which is the idea behind clean.”

Kelly recommends always buying organic dairy products like milk, butter and cheese. She also recommends purchasing pasture-raised meat and eggs because the cows and chickens eat grass instead of grain. She says in this country soybeans, corn, white potatoes, sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, papaya and summer squash are mostly GMO, so she advises clients to purchase organic versions. And when it comes to produce, Kelly subscribes to the lists compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Farm-to-Table Dining Options

Irregardless Café
901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh
Serving community-sourced food with a side of live music since 1975.

Fiction Kitchen
428 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh
Completely vegetarian with vegan offerings, serving fresh, creative and locally-sourced food.

Leli’s Diner
3325 Rogers Road, Wake Forest
Farm-to-table diner classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus cooking classes.

But I’m Too Busy to Eat Clean!
Betsy and Kelly say menu planning is key for busy people to stop relying on cardboard boxes for their food. They say meals can be assembled and the slow cooker can be used to produce clean meals. And there are clean convenience foods.

“There are so many pre-cut, pre-prepared and pre-cooked items in the grocery stores these days,” Betsy says. “We enjoy taking clients to their usual grocery store and introducing them to items that are fast and nourishing.”

Farm to Table
When it comes to eating out, Clean Eating and the Farm-to-Table concept become intertwined.

“Farm-to-table is interested in decreasing the process that occurs between harvesting and consumption,” Betsy says.

Restaurants like Farm Table in Wake Forest believe in preparing dishes made from seasonal ingredients purchased from local sources.

“Guests are more knowledgeable and informed about the food and are curious about where it comes from,” says Laszlo Lukacsi, partner and owner at Farm Table. “I have always been a big believer in local trade, which usually translates into a handshake with the local farmers. The one and only thing that matters is quality. We are able to inspect the product and visit the farms. Working closely brings joy and fun.”

And it’s part of the current food journey.

“The clean food path is open-ended,” Betsy says. “It’s the process of reconnecting to the idea that what we eat matters. It’s an exploration back to our roots when we ate whole foods, because that was all there was.”

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