“By clean, I mean not Velveeta,” she wrote, adding that “clean eating,” to her is “something without 1,000 ingredients. That I can pronounce.”
“I feel like even potato chips can be considered clean. Olive oil and sea salt, baked,” she said.
So is that right? Sort of, says registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Angelone points out that there is no exact definition of clean eating, but “technically, ‘clean eating’ is eating foods as close to the way the nature provided them as possible.”
“It isn’t a particular diet or set of specific rules,” she says. “Rather, it is an attitude that chooses foods that are not over-processed and prepares them in a minimal way to enhance good health.”
Clean foods are usually healthy, says certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group, making clean eating a pretty decent dietary goal to have. “Clean eating means there is very little additives, preservatives, and processing,” Moskovitz says.
Clean and healthy eating are “usually the same,” says Angelone, since clean eating includes eating mainly vegetables, fruits, lean meats, healthy fats, and whole grains—all stuff that’s healthy for you. Clean foods are also usually organic when possible, and not overly refined to maintain the integrity of the original food, she says.
While Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, agrees that clean eating is largely healthy, she notes that it’s not guaranteed. For example, she points out that sugar is made from essentially one ingredient—sugar beets: “But no one would say it’s healthy.”
As for Teigen’s clean potato chip definition, experts say she’s right. “Clean eating isn’t necessarily a low-fat eating plan, so even potato chips fried in a better oil like avocado oil should meet these guidelines,” says Angelone. (If you really want to have clean potato chips, Moskovitz recommends making them yourself, by cutting up a raw potato, drizzling it in olive oil, and baking it.)
Overall, experts say striving to eat clean is a manageable way to try to eat better. Says Angelone: “Clean eating is a way of life and involves making small steps that are easy to maintain.” And that apparently includes keeping potato chips in the mix—win win.