What is Clean Eating?
by Barb Casper
Clean eating is a lifestyle trend that continues to grow in popularity. A clean diet is consuming whole foods that are minimally processed and as close to their natural form – the way nature intended. It’s about eating real food with plentiful vitamins, minerals, high quality proteins and health fats.. Clean eating focuses on whole, unrefined foods rather than pre-cooked alternatives which are often filled with artificial and synthetic ingredients and preservatives. Clean eating typically involves the elimination of most processed foods, trans fats, heavy saturated fats, added sugars, chemicals, preservatives, food dyes, refined grains and a number of other detrimental ingredients that your body doesn’t quite know what to do with.
Does your diet consist mostly of fast food or instant meals and processed foods? Processed foods have often lost much of their nutritional value in order to make them last longer, taste better or cost less. Not only that, they may also contain additives or preservatives that have a negative impact on your health with regular consumption.
Clean eating is all about getting the nutrients that your body needs without taking in extras which may be harmful. Whole ingredients may be a bit more expensive, but the resulting health benefits are well worth the extra cost.
While there are many different ideas of what exactly encompasses clean eating, the basic principle of skipping processed foods in favor of whole, fresh foods is of great benefit to your body. Even if processed foods have had nutrients added in to replace what they’ve lost during processing, they are not as healthy as the real, unprocessed versions.
Why Choose to Eat Clean?
Here are some ways in which you can benefit:
Improves your Immune System
Deficiencies in zinc, selenium and Vitamins A, B, C, and E are widely known to negatively affect your immune response. Poor nutrition can compromise your ability to fight infection and recover quickly. Eating clean and focusing on a balanced diet is a smart approach to obtain the proper nutrients and sufficient energy to fight off infections and viruses.
A Healthier Heart and Brain
Many whole foods can have a positive impact on your heart and brain health. Nuts are high in heart-healthy nutrients such as vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Almonds are particularly high in monounsaturated fats, which help lower the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, keeping your arterial and venous walls clear for better blood flow.
Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, or whole wheat bread are also great sources of fiber, which also help your body to process cholesterol. However you do it, lowering your blood cholesterol levels lowers your risk of heart disease and protects your brain health reducing your risk of stroke and dementia.
Less Risk of Diabetes
Sugar tastes great. Which is unfortunate, because it’s not a healthy part of your diet. Sugar provides what are called “empty calories,” meaning that it offers no nutritional value other than calories.
Regularly eating too much sugar can also cause your body to build up an insulin resistance. This means that your cells are more resistant to insulin’s normal effect of transferring glucose into them from the bloodstream. Insulin resistance can contribute to the development of disorders including metabolic disorder and type II diabetes.
Increases Your Energy Levels
Processed foods have a high glycemic index, which means that they are broken down quickly by your body. They give you a sudden, short-term burst of energy due to the spike in your blood glucose levels. However, these sudden bursts also mean sudden declines, which has the potential to leave you feeling sluggish and fatigued.
Helps You Lose Some Weight
Adopting a clean eating plan can be a simple and effective way to lose weight.
Saves You Some Money
Preparing more meals at home may save you some money.
Some Tips for “Cleaning Up” Your Diet
Cut Out Added Sugar
The first step to take in order to eat a more clean diet is to cut out sugar as much as possible. Regularly eating sugar or foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup can lead to weight gain and diabetes, among other things.
Cutting sugar out of your diet completely won’t be easy. Just about every sweet, processed snack food on the market includes some sugar. When you’re in the mood for something sweet, use healthy substitutes and reach for some fruit rather than candy or sweets to satisfy your craving and keep you on a healthier track.
Many whole foods tend to have a lower glycemic index. This means that they take longer for your body to break down and are a more stable source of energy over a longer period of time.
Drink Plenty of Water
When you feel thirsty, water is the healthiest drink to reach for. Try to drink at least two liters of water every day. You may want to buy a reusable water bottle to help encourage you to drink more.
Soda and sports drinks both come with a significant amount of added sugar (not to mention the acid found in soda, which softens tooth enamel). An occasional glass of fruit or vegetable juice is a healthy drink alternative. Just make sure that you look for juice made from real fruits and vegetables. You may also choose unsweetened tea, coffee or seltzer.
Shop the Perimeter of Your Grocery Store
Next time you go to the store, shop the store’s perimeter. This is one of the most important pieces of nutrition advice I, personally, have received. The perimeter of your store contains your produce (fresh veggies and fruit), and your healthy proteins such as fish, poultry, and eggs.
The interior aisles of the grocery store tend to be where most of the unhealthy items like chips, candy, soda and processed foods are located. Fill your cart up first with healthy whole foods found at or near the store’s perimeter before moving to the interior aisles thus avoiding tempting snacks and treats.
Check the Labels
When in doubt about a certain food, check the nutritional facts and ingredient list carefully. Make sure that the bulk of the ingredients listed are whole foods and not artificial or processed. Some foods may say that they are “whole” on the label, but actually may only be made up in part with clean ingredients.
Here is a good source of what to look for when you go grocery shopping:
Clean Eating Grocery List 2
Support Your Local Farmers
Find farmers who grow their produce organically and naturally without the use of chemicals/fertilizers/pesticides or GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to reduce insect damage, and, instead, stimulate plant growth/development which results in better crop yields.
Stop Eating Diet Foods
It seems counter-intuitive but “diet” foods such as low-fat dressings, meal replacement shakes/bars, yogurt, etc… are often loaded with artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives.
Sugar substitutes (artificial sweeteners) are food additives that replicate the taste of sugar but, in actuality, may have more negative effects on the body than real sugar. Animal studies have proven artificial sweeteners can cause an increase in appetite, weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer, an other health issues.1
You are better off choosing whole, non-diet foods than artificially sweetened foods and drinks and then eating/drinking them in moderation.
This doesn’t need to be difficult. Stick to whole foods – vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Opt-out of ordering fried foods, creamy pastas, casseroles and meats and potatoes laden with gravy. Skip the appetizers and breads before the meal and opt to have your salad served early. This way you fill up on your fiber instead of carbs.
Fill up on of Protein and Fiber
Eating clean sources of protein such as nuts, eggs, fish, poultry, beans, and hummus have been shown to suppress hunger, boost metabolism, increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. Combining protein with fiber keeps you satiated, (i.e. having a salad with grilled chicken, veggies and hummus dip, or add homemade egg salad, made with cage-free eggs, to a slice of single-ingredient, whole grain bread).
Try On Your Chef’s Hat
Sure, your days are busy. However, constant “busyness” can lead to buying fast foods and eating unhealthy snacks on the run. This pattern of behavior can become habitual and downright unhealthy. Set aside part of your weekend and prep your own meals making them from scratch for the week. This ensures fresh, healthy alternatives for each and every day and eliminates the need to make poor food choices because of time constraints during your work week.
The easiest way to control what goes in your food (and in your mouth for that matter) is to be the one preparing your food. Preparing healthy food for yourself should be a priority whenever possible. You can find countless whole food recipes available from sources such as cookbooks, cooking magazines and food/recipe websites. Not only will all of your meals taste better, they’ll also be better for your health.
Of course, how clean your diet may be is solely and ultimately up to you!