Week of June 25, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I keep hearing people talk about the benefits of “eating clean.” What exactly does this entail?

A: Clean eating refers to a general concept of eating food in as close to its natural state as possible, minimizing or avoiding processed foods and refined sweeteners. While this sounds clear in concept, there is no one definition and people differ in how they go about it. Most people who want to “eat clean” include lots of vegetables and fruits (generally fresh, though some use frozen or canned versions), choose whole grains rather than refined grains, and try to avoid added sugars as much as possible. Some choose a vegetarian or vegan eating pattern, others are quite comfortable eating poultry, fish and meat, although most avoid processed meat like bologna and sausage, and some specify organic or grass-fed meat. Some people “eating clean” minimize foods with saturated fat, including butter and cheese in addition to fatty meat; others don’t worry about these foods if they seem “natural.” Beans, nuts and seeds play an important role, usually in unprocessed forms. For drinks, most rely mainly on water and tea; some use coffee, some drink unsweetened juice, especially if it is homemade. Opinions diverge widely on acceptable forms of added sugar, such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar and stevia. Those who promote clean eating also differ on alcohol consumption. Some who promote clean eating do so for weight loss and weight control benefits most likely come from a greater proportion of foods less concentrated in calories (due to less added sugar and fat) along with avoidance of sugary drinks. Regardless of what you eat, portion control will still count. Research does not support the need to be quite as extreme as some advocates go in order to achieve health benefits and does not support claims for differences among the forms of sugar, but certainly the concepts of “eating clean” line up with steps that do promote overall health.

Q: Does vinegar reduce the rise in blood sugar following a meal? If so, would that be a good way to help control insulin levels, too?

A: In a few studies, when vinegar was consumed with a test meal of potatoes or rice porridge, blood sugars did not go up as high immediately following the test meal as without it. However, these were very small studies and did not test the effect of a carbohydrate-containing food eaten as part of a regular meal. In normal circumstances, the dietary fiber found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans that are part of the meal slows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrate, and thus leads to a slower blood sugar rise. The best ways to avoid large blood sugar rises after a meal are to choose these healthy sources of carbohydrate and choose appropriate portions. Taking a walk after a meal is another good way to reduce blood sugar elevations; activity stimulates muscles' ability to take up sugar from the blood stream in the short-term. Regular physical activity and keeping calories at a level that helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight both play a major role in keeping insulin at healthy levels. Of course it is also essential to continue medication to control your blood sugar if your doctor has prescribed it

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at


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