For the past several years there has been a dietary term called “clean eating” or “eating clean” that has followed on the heels of the organic, local and slow food movements. Clean eating simply means eating foods in their most natural, whole state as possible while reducing the intake of processed and packaged foods to a bare minimum. Foods eliminated would be prepared items such as frozen pizza, boxed or canned goods, sugary desserts, soft drinks, or anything that contains unnecessary food additives such as high fructose corn syrup, other added sugars, excess salt or chemical preservatives.
Clean eating involves eating 5 to 6 meals a day or having breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2 to 3 snacks throughout the day. Because only natural foods are being eaten and unnecessary refined and processed foods are eliminated, this helps with increasing the body’s metabolism, stabilizes insulin levels, prevents skipping meals and overeating, and improves cholesterol levels.
Another component of clean eating is encouraging regular physical activity. If you’re going to practice eating clean it only makes sense to practice being physically active. Exercise has many benefits including improving sleep, aids in weight loss and maintenance, tones muscles, strengthens bones and the immune system and improves mood by relieving stress.
How to eat clean
· Minimize processed foods – Processed and refined foods are any foods that have been changed in their physical, chemical, microbiological or sensory properties. Essentially, foods that have been altered from their original source in some manner. Foods with excess added salt, sugar and fat would fall into this category. Examples would be boxed macaroni and cheese or any boxed dinners requiring addition of a meat item. Also if the ingredient list of a food is long and with ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.
· Reduce sugar – Consuming too much sugar means extra calories that don’t provide any nutritional value and can lead to weight gain and possibly increase inflammation in the body. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men. A good way to reduce sugar is to read the ingredient list. If sugar is listed as one of the top three ingredients, avoid that food. Cut back on intake of soft drinks, candy, baked goods, sugared breakfast cereals or any other foods that contain too much sugar.
· Increase whole grains – A whole grain is where the kernel contains the endosperm, bran and germ, components that contain important nutrients. Refined grains remove the bran and germ making the grain not as nutritious. Look for labels on grains that say “whole wheat” or “whole wheat” listed as the first ingredient. Other healthy whole grains include quinoa, oats, brown rice, amaranth and buckwheat.
· Always include fruits and vegetables – There’s nothing more natural than eating fruits and vegetables the way nature made them. Chock full of various nutrients, phytochemicals, fiber, minimal fat and low in calories, they fit the bill of a clean way of eating. Most adults need 2 ½ to 3 cups of veggies and 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruits each day.
· Choose healthy fats – Healthy fats need to be a part of your diet and can be a part of clean eating. Healthy fats mean they help raise HDL cholesterol, which is beneficial for the heart. This includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, avocadoes and fatty fish. Unhealthy fats include saturated and trans fat. These fats increase the risk of heart disease and need to be limited. Unhealthy fats are found in foods that are solid at room temperature such as shortening, cheese, mayonnaise, marbling in red meat and stick margarine.
How clean eating helps in other ways
Clean eating is not only a way of eating but a way of life. When it is embraced fully, it will lead to other perks that are an asset in many different ways:
· Saves money – Many foods that fall under the umbrella of “clean eating” foods can fit most consumers’ budgets. Foods such as beans, brown rice, sweet potatoes, canned tuna or salmon or produce in season, are usually budget-friendly and will save money when compared to many of the processed and refined foods. In addition, clean eating means eating out less and cooking more at home which is cheaper. Restaurant food is notoriously high in fat, sodium and sugar making it difficult to stay on track when following a clean eating lifestyle.
· Helps out the environment – The less processing foods undergo, the less packaging and preparation work involved which means less waste and environmental pollution. Supporting farmers markets or locally grown foods also results in less of a carbon footprint.
· Provides a quality diet – Many of the processed foods are loaded with salt, sugar or fat, all meant to hook you into craving those flavors enticing you to want to eat more of it. Clean eating does not involve any flavor additives. Instead you’ll experience the natural, pure flavor of that food which brings you back to savoring the quality of the food and what it really tastes like. Simplicity is what many of us are craving and clean eating brings us back to noticing and enjoying our foods at their finest.
· You’ll feel better – What many people find when they eat clean is they feel clean inside. You’ll notice little things that are not as frequent such as less bloating, gas, constipation and other digestive issues. Weight loss often occurs due to less fat, sugar and sodium in your diet that would lead to water retention or weight gain. You may notice improvements in your skin, hair, mood and energy level. There may be fewer occurrences of headaches, allergy symptoms and an overall reduction of getting sick.
Grocery list for clean eating
What is allowed when eating clean:
· All fresh fruits and vegetables
· All frozen fruits and vegetables without any sugar added
· 100% fruit juice
· Canned fruits (water-packed) and vegetables (low-sodium, rinse with water before cooking)
· All fresh meats – grass-fed beef, poultry, fish
· Non-fat to low-fat dairy products – milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese
· All beans or legumes
· Nuts and seeds
· Whole grains and whole wheat pasta
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re ready to adopt the clean eating lifestyle just yet and it may not be for everyone. But let me tell you this – once you do start eating clean, there’s no way you want to return to a diet of highly processed and refined foods. Trust me you will not miss the overly sweet and or salty and loaded with fat processed foods. When and if you do eat a processed food, you’ll notice right away the difference in how they make you feel sluggish and overly full. Because clean eating results in positive changes in how you look and feel, you’ll do whatever it takes to avoid going back to your old eating habits. Try it and watch how it can change your life for the better.