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How Clean is a Clean Calorie?


The term "Clean Calorie" gets tossed around here a lot. Does it have a specific meaning? Does it just mean whole food derived calorie? I assume it also included high-quality supplements (or maybe not)?

I used to eat, almost daily these breakfast burritos with carne adovada (pork). Delicious, probably close to 1000 k cal, prob 4-6 eggs worth, lots of cheese, chile, squash, and the meat. Well I stopped. But now I'm trying to bulk. Is a flour tortilla a clean calorie? They are crap as far as I'm concerned, but eating a couple a week doesn't seem like a big deal... at the same time, is really cheap crappy cheese (product?) and not the greatest eggs... or meat...

So, it's a step above McDonalds... is that still a clean calorie? Or should I stick to the Whole Foods prepped food for lunch @ the office?


Clean GENERALLY means a meal that is not excessive in calories from both saturated fats and carbs, the specifics depend on the person and the diet.

If you want it any more complex than that you need to post a 2 week nutrition log and get your wallet out.. :wink:

For bulking it is generally well accepted that being 100% clean is not the most effective method; not enough insulin in a low carb diet and not enough calories in a low fat diet. Son yes, i would certainly add the burrito.

The burrito would not be considered clean my me, due to its high amount of satfat and processed CHO - add in the salt and other crap - and you have a non-clean food.

However the high simple/processed CHO, calorie and protein content make it near perfect for gaining.


To me, a 'clean calorie' means I am eating it in the form that it grew into for the most part.
It's like eating a chicken nugget. Chicken's don't have nuggets. Therefore, I wouldn't eat it. I try to skip foods that are combined. An example would be french fries - potatoes and oil. Two foods combined. If you take the whole foods and combine them and know what you are getting, then by all means. I also try to avoid anything from a box.

As Brook said, gaining is very hard to do with a clean diet. Doesn't mean you have to go ass wild and eat whatever the hell you want, but you can cheat a bit more and have an "excuse" to do so. I still try to eat as clean as possible, but sometimes ya just gotta eat a burrito. LOL


Icarus, your first statement: does that mean you eat paleo basically? Since beans, rice, grains, corn and the like are inedible if unprocessed (the form that they grew in)?

I think I typically fall into the same category as you do. Other than the tortilla, the burrito is more or less whole foods... but I'm sure they are the cheapest, thin shelled, mass bought eggs one can get, and the "cheese" might be a little suspect... the pork probably didn't lead a very healthy life... but they are traceable. There are no "nuggets" so to speak.

Brook, so the burrito would not be considered clean by you, but you still say you'd eat (or I guess you really say I should go for it). Is the un-clean calorie status of it due to the poor quality of ingredients (like if I made the same burrito from grass-fed port, organic eggs, "real" organic cheese, whole wheat tortilla, exe would it be clean)or is food like that (lots of cheese, pork, refines cereal grain product)"unclean" by its very nature?


It's all relative since there's no universal definition of a "clean" diet.

For some it simply means no junk food, while others go to the other extreme and avoid artificial colors and flavors.

Best to simply focus on eating appropriately to achieve your goals.


I guess part of why I'm asking is I'm still trying to figure out how to do that.


To me, a clean diet involves all of the above and some personal views.
The only thing that you can do is inform yourself about nutrition, read a lot and you will change the way you see food. You will know what foods are not good for you and you will know what foods will make your gainings better and also will improve your overall health.
And I agree with Icarus, sometimes you just need that burrito =)


Set a goal and adjust your caloric and macronutrient intake accordingly to reach that goal.

This way subjective terms like "clean" can be eliminated and you can focus on what's really important.


So you feel like the macro-nutrient content is what really counts, more than the quality of the food itself? It seems like things like high vs. low glycimic foods, even if they had the same calorie and macro makeup, do different things to you...


The nutrient content of the food is obviously most important.

Too many newbs get hung up on all the other details.


The quality counts, you could make a 2500 calorie diet in Mcdonalds, does it fit your macros? Yes. Is good for your health? No.


Wait.... what?


How would we define quality? Is there such thing as a high-quality doughnut, since I'm sure the macros would be right for someone if fitted in correctly...


Much as with "clean," "quality" can refer to just about anything someone wants it to mean.

Just use some common sense. Is is that difficult to know that having the majority of your meals from McDonalds probably isn't a good thing?

As I've stated, the key is to focus on your macronutrient intake. While doing this you can obviously opt for less processed options if you have a choice and find that you tend to add fat faster with more processed carbs.

It's not a black and white thing, however. For example, the burrito example was just silly as there's nothing wrong with having one if it fits within your desired macronutrient intake. The same is true for a fast food burger.


I consider a calorie to be cleaner if it came from a source closer to natural. Eg; a steak is cleaner then a slim jim.

A piece of broccoli is better then a french fry.


What about frozen yoghurt and ice-cream?

Both are about as processed as the other - but frozen yoghurt is the cleaner calorie as it has less fat in and is more suitable for a better body composition diet (ice-cream has both high fat and carbs)

A french frie is just a chopped potato - nothing 'unnatural' about that.

In order to compare two food stuffs you can't really take the method of preparation/cooking into account - as that is clearly obvious (which is cleaner - 'fat soaked shit' or 'plain shit'?)

So compare 'deep fried and highly salted broccoli sticks' and 'potato fries' - which is cleaner? The broccoli is, NOT because it is 'closer to natural' (as it isn't, they are both veggies) but because it contains less starchy carbs with the high fat content and is more suited to body composition diets.

As i said it isn't purely a subjective matter, it is about the ratio of fat to CHO and how suitable it is for body composition gains - which is specific to the individual.

So while that does vary by the individual, two people on a low fat diet will not have different ideas as to what is suitable in that diet (ie. what a clean calorie is).

If you realise that 'clean calorie' is simply slang for 'pro-body composition food' then you see that there is really no mystery to it at all.



Nope. There is no place for 'partially hydrogenated unstaurated fats' (read:trans-fat) in any body composition based diet (they made trans-fat illegal in most states in the US, but not 'partial' trans-fat) and there is no place for a meal that contains high sugar AND high fat in such goals either.


I'm with you how, my definition comes from processing and how close it is to it's natural state.

The main reason it's important is satiety. Since I could probably eat 2+ lbs of cookies in a day but that would easily get you to 4,000+ high insulin raising calories, compared to 2 lbs of steak which will fill you up a lot better and be around 1000 harder to digest calories.


Different ice creams are made different ways, as bad as it sounds I've gone by labels which are most of the time just results of marketing. That being said I haven't considered frozen yogurt to be any cleaner than ice cream. Ice cream is just nutritionally dense but both are not quite the same as processed food. They do have lower fat ice creams, are you going to say the lower the fat the cleaner it is?


Really? Illegal? What about the trans fats that occur naturally?

I'm not suggesting that anyone go out of their way to consume trans fats, but I've yet to see minute amounts in an overall good diet make a difference in real life or research.

This is just another area where some people get too hung up and end up spinning their wheels cause there might be half a gram of trans fat in their dairy products.

The whole phobia about consuming fats and carbs is really overblown. After all, as slow as most fats are digested, they don't reach the blood stream until after any elevation of insulin from carbs has largely subsided.

I've seen many people consume foods such as ice cream occasionally and still be able to maintain lean, muscular physiques. Granted, such foods should be minimized in most diets when fat loss is the objective, but to suggested "there is no place" for them is a bit ridiculous.