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Navigating the IC Diet: Your Comprehensive Guide to Clean Eating 101 for Interstitial Cystitis

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

What’s clean eating?

While there’s no legal definition of clean eating, one of the most common definitions is: Choosing foods closest to their natural state. Other variations of the definition include:

“Steps toward real, wholesome, simpler, minimally-processed foods more often and away from highly processed foods” - Wendy Bazillian, Dr. PH, MA, RD


"Filling your plate with minimally processed whole foods as close to how they’re found in nature” – Kate Geagan, MS, RD.


“Eat more whole foods. When you eat packaged foods, choose those made with wholesome ingredients you’d use in your own kitchen.” – Michelle Dudash, RD


What can I look for on the front of the label? Some companies may use the words “whole,” “real,” natural,” “fresh,” or “local” to entice clean eaters, making it seem like the product is free of additives and preservatives. Unfortunately, only claims about health, nutrient content, or function are regulated by the FDA, so companies have a lot of wiggle room to make unsubstantiated claims on the front of the package. This means we must be our own food investigators and look at the back of the package, especially the ingredient list, before putting the item in our cart.


Clean eating is essential for individuals with interstitial cystitis because it aligns with dietary principles that can help alleviate symptoms, reduce bladder irritation, and support overall well-being. It offers a proactive approach to managing the condition and improving quality of life by making informed food choices prioritizing health and comfort.


What additives should I avoid?

One of the most comprehensive resources available for adopting a clean eating lifestyle is the EWG's Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives. Within this guide, the organization meticulously examines the primary culprits responsible for causing significant health concerns, including but not limited to endocrine disruptors and cancer-inducing agents. Below, you'll find a list highlighting the most prominent culprits.


1. Nitrites and nitrates are chemicals commonly used as flavoring, coloring agents or preservatives in cured meats such as bacon, sausage, hotdogs, and lunch meats. These additives react with naturally occurring amines in proteins, forming nitrosamines in the meat or digestive tract, which studies have linked to multiple cancers.


2. Phosphates are found in over 20,000 foods and used to leaven baked goods, decrease acid, improve moisture retention, and keep processed meats tender. While the effect of phosphates on other health conditions is still being studied, high phosphorus levels in the blood have been linked to heart disease and in those with chronic kidney disease can be fatal.


3. Aluminum (sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate) is added as a stabilizer in food products such as baking powder. Research has found neurological changes in animals who are exposed to aluminum as a fetus.

There is also an unknown association between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.


4. Potassium Bromate is added to bread or cracker dough to help it rise during baking. Unfortunately, it has been found to cause tumors in various areas in animals and can cause acute kidney injury and DNA damage. It is a known carcinogen banned in the United Kingdom, Canada, and European Union.


5. Propyl gallate is a preservative used in foods that contain certain fats, such as sausage. While there is no established causal link, there has been an association with tumors in rats, and some evidence suggests it may be an endocrine disruptor with estrogen effects.


6. Diacetyl is a butter flavoring for microwave popcorn, yogurt, and cheese as well as making foods taste like butterscotch, maple, strawberry, or raspberry. What’s scary about this chemical is that factory workers exposed to it have developed an irreversible respiratory condition that leads to inflammation and permanent scarring in their lungs.


7. Artificial colors are added to nutrient-deprived foods to improve their appeal. As you probably could guess many of these artificial colors are linked to health concerns. Caramel colors III and IV (often labeled as “artificial color”) have been shown to cause tumors, and there is an ongoing debate about the effect of synthetic FD& C colors (such as Yellow 5 or blue 1) on a child’s behavior, such as hyperactivity.


8. Natural and artificial flavors are, as the name says, added to foods to add flavor. Interestingly, “natural flavors” are derived from plants and animals but can be derived from GMOs and also contain synthetic chemicals such as propylene glycol or BHA (which we already know causes issues). Luckily, if the flavor is certified organic, it cannot contain synthetic or genetically modified ingredients.


9. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) is a preservative added to flavoring and various foods, such as chips and processed meats. Though considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS), several agencies have classified it as an anticipated or possible human carcinogen because there is consistent evidence that it causes tumors in animals. The European Union also classifies it as

an endocrine disruptor, and higher doses can lower testosterone, sperm quality, and thyroid hormone.


10. BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is chemically similar to BHA and is often used with BHA as a preservative. There is some data showing it causes lung and liver tumors in rats, and additional research suggests it is an endocrine disruptor causing developmental effects and thyroid changes in animals.


11. Propyl Paraben is used as a preservative in foods like tortillas, muffins, and food dyes and contamination during processing or packaging has resulted in it being found in other foods like dairy products, meat, vegetables, and beverages. Unbelievably, this proven endocrine disruptor, which is linked to decreased sperm count and testosterone, as well as accelerated growth of breast cancer and infertility in women is GRAS.


12. Theobromine is an alkaloid added to chocolate, bread, cereal, and sports drinks. One company requested the FDA list it as “GRAS,” despite animals developing reproductive and developmental effects from exposure and average human

consumption being five times the “reported” safe level. Somehow, the additive was designated as GRAS without FDA approval.


What is GRAS? Generally Recognized as Safe is a classification the government has given to additives that are allegedly safe in food and are not required to receive review or approval. This leaves manufacturers to decide whether compounds are safe without oversight by the FDA or even notifying them at all. Talk about scary.


What about foods without a label?

The good news is that if the food doesn’t have a label, our work becomes a little easier. There’s no drudging through the ingredient list, but instead, look for a few keywords, including “organic,” “grass-fed,” “pasture-raised,” “wild-caught,” “no antibiotics,” or “no added hormones.”


Simple Swaps for Healthier Choices

Organic animal proteins mean no antibiotics or hormones were added, and farmers must document that no pesticides or fertilizers were used on their farm or land for the past 3 years. As an added bonus, grass-fed beef has also been found to have higher levels of omega-3 fats, which help fight inflammation. Similarly, research has found that pasture-raised eggs have significantly more omega-3 fats than conventional. Farm-raised fish have been found to contain higher levels of contaminants like PCBs, which are carcinogenic or cancer-causing. Therefore, purchasing wild-caught fish can avoid these undesirable contaminants while also providing us with higher levels of omega-3 fats.


Any foods labeled certified organic cannot be grown with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and they cannot be genetically modified. While aiming to fill our shopping carts with organically grown foods is ideal, it's essential to begin by selecting organic alternatives for the items listed in the EWG's 'Dirty Dozen.' These particular foods exhibit the highest pesticide levels, making switching to organic especially important.


1. Strawberries 2. Spinach 3. Kale 4. Nectarines 5. Apples 6. Grapes 7. peaches 8. cherries 9. pears 10. tomatoes 11. celery 12. potatoes


The key takeaway is that food additives are often poorly regulated, so reading food labels and avoiding the “dirty dozen” food additives is important. Choose fresh foods without a label and purchase organic whenever possible. Lastly, clean eating can help alleviate symptoms, reduce bladder irritation, and support overall well-being. Navigating clean eating can sometimes seem overwhelming, so if you’re feeling lost, IC Wellness is here to support you! Contact us to get started on your clean eating journey!


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