There's no doubt that "clean" is a buzzword-of-the-moment when it comes to food. Lots of parents (myself included!) are seeking out shorter ingredient lists and avoiding artificial additives, so restaurants and grocery stores are responding with "clean label" pledges and product lines. But are these clean labels really healthy, or just a bunch of hype?
In a new report, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) evaluated programs at nine major chain supermarkets (including Food Lion and Meijer) and four major chain restaurants (such as Chipotle and Panera Bread) that have clean label commitments for their house brands or menus. Those commitments include eliminating (or continuing not to use) certain ingredients like synthetic food dyes and artificial sweeteners.
The good news: If you're looking to avoid fake food ingredients, these restaurants and stores have you covered. You can much more easily avoid artificial dyes, sweeteners, preservatives, and flavors. Products are reformulated using simpler ingredients. That's definitely a positive step for the food supply.
But the "clean" label doesn't mean perfection—and it's still important to be informed when shopping or ordering. Here are CSPI's clean label cautions:
Most importantly, don't let a "clean label" override common sense. A "clean" donut is still a donut—and simpler ingredients don't suddenly make something a health food.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author ofThe Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.