What is clean eating?
With all the talk and differing opinions on social media on how to begin eating clean, it's easy to become confused as to what “clean eating” actually means. The truth is, clean eating can mean something different for everyone.
Some will refrain from any and all processed foods, while others simply view clean eating to be eating fruits and vegetables regardless of how they are processed.
So, what exactly does clean eating mean?
The origins of clean eating are to consume whole foods, to eat organic and avoid highly processed foods, and to attempt to eat foods in their fresh state and from natural sources as often as possible.
Some tips to immediately add clean eating to your daily life include:
➤ Cut refined sugar and flours from your diet
➤ Eat more vegetables and fruits
➤ Learning to read food labels to know what ingredients you’re putting into your body
There are a few things to be wary of when attempting to start eating clean:
➤ There are some processes of canning foods that preserve the nutrients of fruits and vegetables, so canned foods may be one processed good that may be able to be included in your diet. Again, this varies per item, so make sure to read the ingredients on the labels.
➤ If you’ve spent any time around a local farm, they’d tell you that giving antibiotics to cattle is extremely common and necessary to protect their health. So, keep this in mind if you will continue to include meat in your diet.
Of course, with so many possible contradictions and things to keep in mind and learn as you navigate as you start out on your new diet journey, you might be wondering -- where exactly do I start? Here's a good question to ask:
“DID MOTHER NATURE CREATE THIS?”
If the answer is “yes”, it’s probably safe and a good idea for you to be eating it.
If the answer is “no”, check those ingredients, and consider swapping for a more natural food option.
Another tip for clean eating is doing your grocery shopping from local producers. The more direct “earth-to-table” the journey of a given food is, the "cleaner" it should be.
WHOLE FOODS Vs. PROCESSED FOODS
Now that we've been introduced to the concept of clean eating, how do we go about planning out our meals for the week? As already noted, you'll want to increase fresh, whole foods in your diet.
Whole foods consist of foods that are as close to their natural, fresh state as possible. Organic and natural fruits and vegetables that are free of chemicals would be on this list, as are meats that are mostly in their natural state (see the note about antibiotics above).
Bread and pasta can still be considered whole foods. Foods containing whole wheat and whole grains are great options to include in your meals. As always, check the ingredients to be sure that the flours used are not overly refined or bleached.
Be careful of foods that are typically considered health foods that are still packaged and processed. For example, with all of their added sugar and corn syrups, protein and energy bars would still be considered processed foods.
EAT MORE VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
This is basically a given in any type of diet, but increasing produce in your recipes is always a great way to control your weight, improve your health, increase the number of nutrients in your meals, lower the number of calories and fats in your meals, and improve your overall health.
Research shows that eating two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables every day can offer many health benefits, such as increasing your longevity and possibly decreasing the risk of chronic diseases.
Options found to be the most useful include foods like citrus, berries, cruciferous vegetables, leafy green vegetables, and foods rich in beta carotene. Starchy vegetables like potatoes were found to be the least helpful.
SHOP THE OUTSIDE WALL OF YOUR GROCERY STORE
The easiest way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to shop the outer wall of your grocery store. Most packaged foods are going to be found in the aisles, while foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, and whole dairy will all be found along that outer ring.
Making sure to shop the perimeter first will help you to fill your cart with food that is good for your health, like whole foods, leaving you less likely to stock up on highly processed foods.
Again, make sure to check your labels for ingredients, especially for meats and dairy, to make sure your ingredients are as organic and natural as possible and do not include extra sodium or sugar.
SHOP YOUR FARMER'S MARKET
As briefly mentioned earlier, shopping at a local farmer's market is a great way to make sure your foods are closer to their natural state.
Organic foods from a local market are likely to be less processed than packaged foods or foods sold in a big chain store, containing fewer ingredients such as sodium and sugar, making it easier to stick to clean eating.
There are other benefits to doing grocery shopping locally. Simply knowing you are supporting a small business and giving back to your community can be a great way to improve your mental health and wellbeing, making you more excited about eating clean.
EAT WHOLE GRAINS
Everyone loves bread and pasta, but they aren't exactly known to be full of nutrition. Making sure to eat whole grains is a great way to add fiber to your diet while cutting down on refined flour and sugar. Look up recipes to make your own bread so you can control exactly what is in it! You'll still want to limit your intake of whole grains like bread and pasta, leaning most heavily on fresh produce instead.
ELIMINATE REFINED CARBS
Refined carbs, such as white bread, some kinds of pasta, or snacks high in sugar, are often filled with added sugar and refined or bleached flour. This drastically cuts down on nutrition and fiber, according to research. Check ingredients to determine whether or not your grains are heavily processed. Increasing whole grains into your diet can be a great way to reduce refined carbs.
AVOID VEGETABLE OILS
We want to avoid fats in our diet, or at least limit the fat in our diet and opt for healthy fats whenever possible. You might already know to avoid butter, but vegetable oil is not a good substitute if you're looking to improve your health.
Eating vegetables is good; using vegetable oil when cooking, however, is known to be high in omega-6 fatty acids, which may be linked to an increased risk of inflammation. Coconut, olive, and avocado oil are considered healthier options.
Be careful of vegetable oil as one of the ingredients in packaged food, as well. Even if you are not using vegetable oil in your meals, it may be included in snacks such as chips.
AVOID CORN SYRUP
This might be a given, but it bears repeating: reduce intake of corn syrup in your diet.
Added sugar in your foods is one of the worst ways to sabotage your whole diet, hurting your weight and overall health. You may feel an increase in energy at first but will eventually crash, feeling more tired than before and craving yet more sugar in an attempt to stabilize your mood and energy.
Not to mention, corn syrup and sugar, in general, are just empty calories void of any nutrients.
Corn syrup can typically be found hidden in many different types of processed foods like canned fruit, processed grains and bread, unhealthy snacks.
Make sure to check ingredients to avoid eating this form of sugar and opt for whole grains and healthy foods like nuts as a snack.
Filled with sugar, alcohol is high in empty calories and does not offer any nutrients, making it a poor diet option.
Too much alcohol intake can also cause long-term health issues that further affect your weight and diet, like fatty liver disease, which can affect the way your body stores fats and carbs. The added sugar in alcohol may also cause you to crave and eat snacks that are bad for your health when your sugar levels begin to drop.
Anyone hoping to stick to clean eating will want to avoid the potential diet pitfall alcohol creates.
Clean eating isn't just about the foods we are eating but also about the liquids we consume.
Keeping your body hydrated is one of the top ways to begin eating clean and lose weight. Not only can water help you feel less hungry so you can control the amount of food you are eating, but it can improve the way your body burns calories.
Water helps to flush toxins from the body and helps us to better digest the whole foods we eat. Water may also help to boost metabolism, further aiding in weight loss.
If you would like to mix up your drinks, at least be sure to avoid consuming liquids with added sugar. Sugar-free tea and black coffee (or at least coffee containing very small amounts of creamer) can be good ways to get some variety into your drinks.
Avoid drinks that typically contain a lot of sugar like soda, sweet tea, and fruit juice.
Rather than drinking fruit juice, which can be filled with empty calories, try to eat fresh fruits instead. This will give you all the benefits of the nutrition gained by eating whole fruits without the sugar contained in fruit juice.
It is still possible to eat meat and incorporate clean eating into your life. But just like with whole grains, you will want to avoid processed foods here, too.
Foods that are high protein but that is packaged or processed will also likely contain a higher level of sodium and may contain chemicals and dyes. Eating too much meat may also increase, especially those high in fat, which could also increase your risk of chronic health problems.
Stick to better health, lower-sodium protein options like fish, soy, nuts, beans, and whole dairy and only consume red meat once or twice a week. Avoid packaged protein snacks whenever possible.
CONSIDER THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
The Mediterranean diet is a great way to incorporate these ingredients that will have many benefits for your health into your recipes. This diet consists of many of the healthy foods that would be a part of your recipes when you eat clean. Food like produce, whole grains, and protein like fish, seeds, and nuts, are all part of this way of eating.
People who eat a Mediterranian Diet limit the amount of red protein they eat. They also limit their intake of dairy and eggs. This helps to reduce the risk of long-term health issues.