Clean Eating: This is how modern whole foods work

Clean Eating: This is how modern whole foods work

[00:00:02] Hannah Frey If I had told myself at the beginning of this clean eating journey that I must never eat cake again, I would not have lasted a week.

[00:00:12] Intro We all have ideas for a better life. But how do we implement them in everyday life? In this podcast we meet people every week who tell us how it can work. Welcome to Live Smarter. I'm Lenne Kaffka and today I'm skyping with Hannah.

[00:00:30] Hannah Frey Hi, my name is Hannah Frey and I have been following the Clean Eating concept since 2011.

[00:00:36] Announcement A pizza from the delivery service or sweets - Hannah likes to eat that just as much as most people. But it only takes hold in exceptional cases. Because Hannah largely avoids industrially processed foods. She writes books about clean eating and also a blog. And as a health scientist, she knows exactly which foods contain the most important nutrients, but also why it could be dangerous to be too dogmatic about the subject.

[00:01:02] Lenne Kaffka Hello Hannah, you have been following the Clean Eating principle for nine years now. Explain in your own words what that is.

[00:01:08] Hannah Frey I really like doing that. The clean eating concept is basically a modern form of whole food or whole food nutrition. And clean eating basically only means that you eat very naturally, that is, that you are not a convenience product, that you do without additives that are often found in industrially produced foods, and that you do not use refined flour such as normal wheat flour, for example refined sugar and stuff like that. It's a very natural diet and very unprocessed.

[00:01:42] Lenne Kaffka You just said, modern form of whole foods. What is unfashionable whole foods?

[00:01:47] Hannah Frey This whole food of the 80s - I think in the 70s, 80s it was modern to eat whole foods - and for me it's such a very outdated form of nutrition with very unmodern recipes . Well, I got a couple of whole food books from my mom a few years ago and the recipes didn't appeal to me at all. I found the principle very interesting, the wholesome nutrition. But the recipes that were in those books didn't appeal to me at all. And that's why I say modern form. That used to be such a heavy diet, I thought. A lot of wholemeal flour, a lot of nuts, and somehow that wasn't sexy at all and therefore didn't appeal to me at all.

[00:02:35] Lenne Kaffka You've already said a lot about what you don't eat and what you don't like. What do you eat? So what's your modern, sexy take on whole foods?

[00:02:43] Hannah Frey Of course I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, lots of herbs. For example, I really like sprouts. I also eat legumes and whole grains, grains, but not as much as I used to. At least I had the impression in these books that it was also very difficult. I'm vegetarian myself, but with clean eating you can also eat fish and meat. You can really customize it to your own needs. It's a very flexible concept, which I really like about it. You can adapt this to different food intolerances.

[00:03:19] Lenne Kaffka You say it yourself that this is a very flexible concept. I leafed through several guidebooks, looked around on several blogs. It really looks like everyone makes their own rules. But is there a connecting element? Something that is generally valid and, so to speak, stipulates that you have to do it if you want it to be clean eating?

[00:03:39] Hannah Frey Yes, it should be as unprocessed as possible. That means you buy real groceries, so you only buy fruit, vegetables, legumes, for example. You can also use dairy products, but not industrially produced foods or processed foods. Of course, cheese, for example, is also one of them. If you eat vegan and buy almond drinks or other nut drinks, for example, then it is industrially processed, but the ingredients are still clean. So I make sure that there are no additives such as sugar, that there are no e-substances.

[00:04:19] Lenne Kaffka Does clean eating actually include clean drinking?

[00:04:23] Hannah Frey Yes, of course. I don't drink soft drinks, for example alcohol, if you're referring to that, but I do drink it in moderation from time to time.

[00:04:34] Lenne Kaffka What ultimately made you decide to go clean eating? Was there some trigger of nine years?

[00:04:41] Hannah Frey Yes, my parents always made sure that we ate healthily at home. And when I left home for my studies, I initially ate the opposite kind of food. At first I did everything that wasn't available at home, or ate everything that wasn't available at home, and I ate very unhealthily. I just ate a lot of finished products. I often ate in the canteen, and the food there wasn't exactly healthy either. Then the trigger for me was that I suddenly didn't feel fit anymore. I really noticed my energy levels drop during lectures during my college days. I suddenly felt totally drained. I suddenly had a real midday slump because I ate much less healthily than before. And then I started to go on a diet, which a lot of young women do. I counted calories and tried everything possible. But that did not lead to the desired result for me. And then I just started looking for a diet that I could implement permanently in my everyday life and that is also healthy. And so I ended up with whole foods and then looked at what information there is on the internet about it. You can't really believe that anymore these days. But back then, when I started with the topic, i.e. in 2011, there wasn’t a lot of information on the internet at all. I found next to nothing about it in German-speaking countries and then I came across the topic of Clean Eating on American websites. And that's why I ended up sticking with this term.

[00:06:19] Lenne Kaffka If I want to start next week, how should I proceed? What's the best place to start?

[00:06:25] Hannah Frey The first thing I always advise is to simply see what you have in stock. So just really look through the fridge, the pantry and then really every packaging that you have there, turn it around and see: What is actually on the list of ingredients? Often it really is the case that there are a lot of ingredients that you don't even know what's hiding behind them, and that it's not clean, but these are industrially processed foods that aren't good for the body and are used in the body Avoid clean eating.

[00:06:58] Lenne Kaffka When you started, did you somehow buy completely new products that you had never used before?

[00:07:03] Hannah Frey Yes, quite a lot. You don't have to - I'll say that directly. But I did it because I really enjoy it. As I said, 2011, that was a time when all these superfoods didn't exist yet. That came so slowly.

[00:07:18] Lenne Kaffka Those are chia seeds, goji berries, something like that...

[00:07:18] Hannah Frey Exactly, all that stuff. And then I started trying them. In the meantime, however, I eat very seasonally and regionally. When I look through my closets now, there aren't many unusual things left in them.

[00:07:33] Lenne Kaffka Are there any supplies that a clean eater should definitely have at home?

[00:07:38] Hannah Frey Yes, definitely. I have a lot of legumes in my pantry at home. I always have oatmeal on hand. I like to eat millet, for example. Quinoa is also part of it, I also like to eat it. I also have a lot of oils at home, i.e. various high-quality vegetable oils, the healthy fats such as olive oil. These are the standard things that I have in stock.

[00:08:02] Lenne Kaffka Is something that you loved completely taboo now?

[00:08:04] Hannah Frey That has changed. First of all, it is important to say that I do not forbid myself anything. Most of the things I used to like I don't like anymore because they're way too sweet for me. Well, I used to like Oreo cookies, for example, and today I can't eat them at all because I think they're way too sweet. I eat a piece of cake now and again because I love cake. And if I had told myself at the beginning of this clean eating journey that I must never eat cake again, I would not have lasted a week.

[00:08:39] Lenne Kaffka How often do you allow yourself such exceptions?

[00:08:40] Hannah Frey I can't put it that way. It varies, it always depends on what's going on, what's coming up. If there's a birthday coming up and there's a cake I'd like to try, then I do it. Or when I'm in a café with a friend. That is very different.

[00:08:55] Lenne Kaffka Then I would think it doesn't feel like you have to do without anything either.

[00:08:58] Hannah Frey Exactly. Not anymore. That's just my normal diet for me. And exactly, if I want to eat something specific and feel like it and it doesn't fit into the concept, then I eat it anyway. I'm really relaxed about it.

[00:09:14] Lenne Kaffka Avoiding finished products, which are often saltier, are greasy, and are sweeter. Are there any other things that speak against buying finished products for you?

[00:09:24] Hannah Frey For me, the most important thing was how I feel about it. Personally, that's the main reason why I don't buy it anymore. But of course, of course there are many other reasons for not buying the things. Especially when you look at who sells and manufactures the products.

[00:09:42] Lenne Kaffka So there is also an ethical question that comes into play.

[00:09:43] Hannah Frey Of course there are also ethical aspects.

[00:09:46] Lenne Kaffka If we think about shopping now. If I now go to the store as a beginner, what is the quickest way to find out whether a food is really clean?

[00:09:56] Hannah Frey When shopping, you should make sure that you always take a look at the list of ingredients. And you can use the list of ingredients to see whether the food fits into the Clean Eating concept or not. On the one hand, you can just read through the ingredients, and if something sounds like a chemistry kit, then it doesn't fit the concept or if you don't even know what that ingredient is. Another factor is that you should pay attention to the length of the ingredients list.

[00:10:23] Lenne Kaffka I read in a book that up to five ingredients are allowed. Why exactly five ingredients?

[00:10:29] Hannah Frey That's just a rule of thumb. It can also be six or seven ingredients. But the shorter the list of ingredients, the less processed the food is natural and the more it fits into the clean eating concept.

[00:10:42] Lenne Kaffka I just looked in my fridge, which has exactly five ingredients, and I found a jar of roasted peppers.

[00:10:48] Hannah Frey Now that's a great example.

[00:10:51] Lenne Kaffka And then I looked to see what was in there: roasted peppers, brandy, vinegar, sugar, garlic and salt. Five ingredients. On the other hand, sugar and salt, probably not very good.

[00:11:05] Hannah Frey I wouldn't consider the salt to be that bad, but of course the sugar doesn't fit. It's a rule of thumb or rule of thumb. There are, of course, plenty of examples where this is not the case. But what is meant is simply that the list of ingredients shouldn't be miserably long, because this is usually an indicator that there are ingredients that shouldn't be in the product or that don't fit into the clean eating concept.

[00:11:30] Lenne Kaffka But I also had another wow factor in my fridge. I found a pesto and I thought, okay, that's probably industrially made, no way. Also five ingredients: basil, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, pine nuts, sea salt. That actually sounds good, doesn't it?

[00:11:44] Hannah Frey Yes, that would fit into the Clean Eating concept. All you have to do is tell me what kind of pesto it is. I recently went through the pesto shelves and really couldn't find any pesto that fit the concept. I needed a quick pesto and couldn't find anything. Then I did it myself.

[00:12:07] Lenne Kaffka An organic pesto from the drugstore.

Clean Eating: How modern whole foods work

[00:12:07] Hannah Frey Then I'll have to take a look.

[00:12:09] Lenne Kaffka How is that actually? In your opinion, are additives generally bad?

[00:12:13] Hannah Frey There are also additives that are okay. So even behind the E-substances there are some substances that are not bad. But I personally always think to myself, it just doesn't belong there. Even if it's for preservation, I don't need it.

[00:12:31] Lenne Kaffka Sometimes it is also the case that products look healthy at first glance, look clean and it says so, without artificial flavors. How can you unmask something like that, that the manufacturers actually want to trick you?

[00:12:41] Hannah Frey Yes, that's actually very often the case! I'm always shocked and can only advise to always take a look at the list of ingredients, because they really reveal what's in the products. And I don't allow myself to be fooled by these advertising statements, because of course I know that that's often not true. Yes, that's basically the only way to find out what's really inside.

[00:13:04] Lenne Kaffka Where do you buy your groceries?

[00:13:05] Lenne Kaffka I have everything in front of the door, from organic supermarkets to normal supermarkets to discounters, and I actually shop everywhere. For me, because I develop recipes professionally, I have to do a lot of shopping and often need an ingredient quickly. That's why I shop everywhere. But I try to make sure that my food is organic. This is important for me. And what I'm increasingly focusing on is the topic of plastic-free shopping. I try to pay attention to that.

[00:13:36] Lenne Kaffka Would you say that your diet has become more expensive because of your decision to eat clean.

[00:13:42] Hannah Frey That's a very interesting question that I'm often asked by readers. I do not find it. Of course, in the beginning you simply have to buy new foods that you probably don't have on hand when you start changing your diet. But a key factor for me is that the foods I buy now fill me up much longer than what I used to buy, and as a result I eat a lot less than I used to. If you compare natural foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and so on with convenience food, i.e. ready meals. In contrast, ready meals are much more expensive. I've never really kept a record of it, but the feeling hasn't changed much.

[00:14:27] Lenne Kaffka How come your food fills you up today? You also create your own recipes for your books. What do you look for when you make your recipes in terms of nutrients?

[00:14:36] Hannah Frey It always depends on the meal. I make sure it fills you up for a long time. Especially with breakfast recipes, for example, it is very important to me that they get me through the morning. That means I use complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal. I make sure that there is always fruit or vegetables and proteins. That's the main focus.

[00:14:57] Lenne Kaffka You only live 80 percent clean.

[00:14:59] Hannah Frey Yes, that's something like that. So I don't keep a book about it. It's just a gut feeling, it's 80 percent, and 20 percent there are "exceptions".

[00:15:09] Lenne Kaffka How does this 20 percent come about? what do you eat then

[00:15:12] Hannah Frey If I ever drink alcohol, I would also count that among these exceptions. Or when I go out to eat, for example, I don't pay too much attention to it. I'll look at the map then. What is the best alternative for me? For example, I don't ask in the restaurant whether there is sugar in the sauce or is this convenience food you're serving me. I will not do that. It's often the case in restaurants that the food isn't freshly cooked at all.

[00:15:38] Lenne Kaffka What speaks against going through with it one hundred percent?

[00:15:41] Hannah Frey That would be too exhausting for me, because then I wouldn't be able to eat out without it severely restricting my quality of life, because then I would have to keep asking. Well, I cook a lot myself, currently of course anyway. But otherwise I also go out to eat, or if I'm invited somewhere, it would bother me a lot if I asked about it. There are people who do that and have no problem with it. But that wouldn't be for me. Of course, everyone has to decide that for themselves. But, as I said, that would limit my quality of life. And some things just taste good. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like a delivery pizza like this. Of course it tastes good, and for me that's just part of it, every now and then.

[00:16:31] Lenne Kaffka And you said there is a piece of cake every now and then. Your recipes also include a few sweet recipes, for example cake recipes. I noticed that you don't use normal industrial sugar, but coconut blossom sugar or cane sugar. What's better about it? After all, isn't it just sugar for our bodies?

[00:16:48] Hannah Frey Yes, that's exactly right. Sugar is sugar, but there are healthier alternatives. I don't use cane sugar anymore, but I do use coconut blossom sugar, for example, when I'm baking a cake and need that sugary consistency, i.e. that granular sugar. I've tried a lot. Sometimes you just need him. So I experimented a lot with alternative sweeteners. Sometimes there is just no other way. In addition, it should also taste sweet. When we eat cake, we want something sweet, and then we just need some kind of sweetener. I often use dried fruit or fruit for sweetening. Ultimately, of course, it's also sugar. Coconut blossom sugar has slightly more minerals than refined sugar. It's a bit healthier, and what's most important for me is that coconut blossom sugar doesn't cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall as much. That's why I use it.

[00:17:49] Lenne Kaffka In order to eat clean, you probably have to cook a lot more than you used to. Isn't it also much more time-consuming to eat like this?

[00:17:58] Hannah Frey That's definitely true. I cook almost everything myself. I enjoy it very much. But actually I don't spend that much time in the kitchen. Apart from the fact that recipe development is my job. But when I'm not developing new recipes, I need a maximum of half an hour for a main course. And preparing breakfast in the morning is really quick too. What I do is that I always plan it very well. I make a weekly plan in which I write which dish I want to eat and when. And then I do it in such a way that I simply cook a larger portion in the evening, which is also my lunch the next day. As a result, I don't actually stand in the kitchen very long at all.

[00:18:41] Lenne Kaffka But that's five to six meals, and during the week I can imagine it's harder when you're working. I mean, I cook more often too. But there is also canteen food. You would say good planning helps.

[00:18:54] Hannah Frey Exactly, good planning definitely helps. And then you just have to make that a priority. So if it's important to you, then you'll find the time for it, I always think. As I said, for me it is simply crucial that I know that I feel better when I eat healthy food that I have cooked myself. And when I know what's in it, it just makes me feel so much better. I feel fitter, more powerful than if I eat something unhealthy on the go.

[00:19:21] Lenne Kaffka Sometimes I don't think it's that easy when I'm out and about. Also, do you have any special clean snacks that are always good when you're - I don't know - on the train, on your way to a work meeting or something?

[00:19:30] Hannah Frey I always have nuts with me and apples and bananas. So really these very simple snacks.

[00:19:38] Lenne Kaffka Very classic basics, nuts and fruits. It's a bit like the old whole foods too, isn't it?

[00:19:44] Hannah Frey Yes, but somehow a bit more exciting. It's just the recipes that are more modern today.

[00:19:53] Lenne Kaffka Mindfulness also plays an important role in clean eating. To what extent is it actually the case that you not only pay attention to what you eat, but also how you eat?

[00:20:03] Hannah Frey Yes, that's also a very exciting point. Mindful eating is also very important. In everyday life, I have to admit, I sometimes forget that too. But I try to really take the time to eat in the mornings and evenings, not playing with my cell phone, not eating in front of the TV, just concentrating on my food and really enjoying it, you can learn that. In the beginning it was difficult for me too. I think a lot of people feel that they can't stand the silence at all, at least when they're eating alone. It's really exciting once you've started to see how your consciousness changes, so that you really perceive the tastes more intensely, that you also come to rest and, above all, that you eat a lot again valued more. That you simply appreciate that you have taken time for yourself, that you have taken the time to prepare your own food, and then enjoy and celebrate it.

[00:21:11] Lenne Kaffka Because it then leads to a conscious confrontation with the food, doesn't it?

[00:21:14] Hannah Frey Definitely.

[00:21:15] Lenne Kaffka Your real reason was to eat healthier, that you wanted to feel fitter. Have you felt any physical changes or effects?

[00:21:24] Hannah Frey Yes, totally. Just because I'm now only a little refined sugar, I've noticed that my skin has gotten much better. Well, I really used to have bad problem skin, which has gotten much, much better as a result. And what was decisive for me was simply that I no longer have such a midday slump. It really used to be that I could have lain down for half an hour after lunch. Today I'm just efficient all day long and don't have this ups and downs anymore. Of course, that's also totally motivating. That is what drives me to keep going.

[00:22:01] Lenne Kaffka Is there a diet where you would say that anyone can do it, including pregnant women, including competitive athletes?

[00:22:07] Hannah Frey Yes, definitely. I can't think of an example of someone not being able to do this. You can really customize this to suit your individual needs. You can eat vegetarian, you can eat vegan, but you can also eat fish and meat. You can adjust that for food intolerance and so on. If you are pregnant, you can also adjust it. Apart from the typical things that you shouldn't eat when you're pregnant, you don't eat anything with clean eating that would somehow not fit.

[00:22:36] Lenne Kaffka That means, as long as you pay attention to the nutrients, is it okay for everyone?

[00:22:39] Hannah Frey Yes.

[00:22:40] Lenne Kaffka There are people who criticize what you describe as very flexible. They say the clean eating concept is far too vague. There is no definition at all. What's a clean meal? Would you disagree? what would you say?

[00:22:55] Hannah Frey Of course, the term is often criticized. Like you just said, this clean eating, what does that even mean? Should I wash my food there? Whole food nutrition just doesn't appeal to me. And that's why I think clean eating is good. I also think that it fits very well, that it's clean, so clean in terms of the list of ingredients, that there's just no crap in it. I don't think it's spongy in principle, because you're supposed to eat very naturally. I don't think it's easy for a beginner to figure out what that means. But in principle I find it very clear to me that I eat as naturally as possible. Of course, everyone can interpret this as they wish. For me, that's not a point of criticism that would prevent me from doing it now, because it's basically just a very healthy diet.

[00:23:50] Lenne Kaffka And there is another point: there are repeated allegations that clean eating could also lead to an eating disorder. There is a risk of orthorexia, the compulsion to eat healthily. How do you see this problem?

[00:24:02] Hannah Frey That's definitely a problem. I've been thinking about it, and I've written about it. Because I know that many young women follow me and read my articles and books, I try to show again and again that I don't see the whole thing dogmatically and that one should allow oneself exceptions and that none of this is too serious should be taken. I think that's very important. And if you do that, you won't slip into orthorexia. But of course there are always people who want to do it 100 percent. If you just do that, then I also think that it can quickly become morbid and that that's not good, because then you just don't meet up with friends for a barbecue anymore, because where there's sugar in it. Or you limit yourself a lot by doing so. And I don't think that should be the case.

[00:24:52] Lenne Kaffka For you, that's a kind of concept, simply raising awareness and less dogmatic, just living healthy.

[00:24:58] Hannah Frey Exactly. If you change small things, a lot is already done. If you've been drinking soft drinks and just don't have them, but still eat like before. Even if you change something like that, then you have already done a lot for your health. And that is a first step and brings a lot.

[00:25:17] Lenne Kaffka That could also be an introduction to simply integrating clean partial aspects into life.

[00:25:21] Hannah Frey Yes, not everyone has to change their entire diet overnight. Of course, that was also a process for me. I didn't change it completely overnight either. Sure, even such small things help a lot and of course bring a lot to your health.

[00:25:37] Lenne Kaffka But you stuck with it, you expanded it more and more, you live like that for the most part now. Finally, tell me again why it just feels better for you to eat as clean as possible.

[00:25:48] Hannah Frey Well for me it feels better because I just have clarity about what I'm eating. I didn't know that before because I never paid attention to it. It makes me feel better. My well-being has improved, my body feeling has become much better, and the decisive aspect for me is that I am more efficient than I used to be.

[00:26:11] Moderation And that's it living with Smarter again. There is more information on the subject in Hannah Frey's books, for example "Clean Eating Basics" and on her blog "Project Healthy Living". As always, the links are in the show notes for this episode. The next episode will be available next Saturday on and wherever there are podcasts - for example Spotify or Apple Podcasts. If you have any suggestions or suggested topics, simply send an email to This time I was supported by Philipp Fackler and Yasemin Yüksel. Our music comes from audioBOUTIQUE. Until next time.