It's time to redefine membership in the 'Clean Plate Club'

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It’s time to come clean.

I am not the same person I was when I was a kid and I don’t play by the same rules as I did then. Of course, the same is true for you.

For many adults, memories of family dinners included the encouragement from Mom or Dad that sounded something like this: “If you eat all of your food, you’ll be a member of the Clean Plate Club!”

Well, who didn’t want to be included in a club and win the accolades and praise of parents who “put food on the table” and “prepared it just for you”? Food became a leverage point, a tool used to earn praise, reward and ultimately ... dessert.

Therefore, like so many others, I would eat my fill of food, drink the large glass of milk and stuff myself in order to be a part of the club and be rewarded with something I actually wanted to eat, which would ultimately leave me feeling stuffed and ready to puke.

How time and education changes things. Eating the food prepared for you, while polite, may not be the best thing for you, your digestion, your body and, I would include, your soul.

Today I am proposing a redefinition of what it means to join the Clean Plate Club. What if, instead of finishing all the food on your plate, we changed the definition to mean “eating only foods that are clean.” OK, not clean like “not dirty from the ground,” but clean as in free of preservatives, nitrates and nitrites — food that is served minus the artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and additives, and hormones and a slew of other nonfood ingredients like wood (cellulose).

It’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of additives is threefold: to improve the taste of food, to make food look more attractive and to enrich food with certain nutrients. Above all, remember that food additives are not natural. And while it would be nice to expect truth in advertising when it comes to food, the fact is that the truth doesn’t sell food.

Don’t believe me? The next time you’re watching TV watch the ads with a critical eye. Marketers are remarkable at selling you what you don’t need and high calorie, nonnutritive, gut wrenching food is at the top of the list.

Advertisers use colors like red and yellow to make the consumer feel youthful and energetic. And red, in particular, is known to increase appetite. Just look at the fast food signs as you drive down the street and notice what colors are used.

While I admit this description is a bit harsh, it is more truthful than anything an advertiser will tell you. As a health professional in the business of preventive health and health maintenance, here’s a peek into what I tell people about “clean food”:

  • Clean food is real food. It’s food that you recognize and that is recognizable by others.
  • Clean food is minimally processed, if at all.
  • Clean food comes from the ground.
  • For those who choose to eat animal products, clean animal products come from the same animals, which were raised as naturally as possible. They are free of antibiotics, nitrates and nitrites.
  • Clean food tastes better than anything that comes in a box.
  • Clean food is full of nutrients.
  • Clean food is accepted and absorbed by the body for energy.

For many, the switch to eating clean and joining this version of the Clean Plate Club can seem overwhelming. But in reality it’s just one decision at a time.

For more help, visit a local natural foods store, a certified health coach, a registered dietitian or other registered professional. There are many online resources as well. A few of my favorite include eatcleaner.com, “A Gutsy Girl” blog and Eating Clean for Dummies.

Leslie Snyder is senior program director of Healthy Living at the Walla Walla YMCA. She can be reached at lsnyder@wwymca.org

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