What is clean eating?
Clean eating isn’t about making sure you rinse off your veggies or meats before tossing them in a stir-fry. At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or "real" foods — that means embracing foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus healthy proteins and fats. These foods are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled-- making them as close to their natural form as possible. The idea is more about being mindful of the food's pathway between its origin and your plate, and avoiding highly refined foods with ingredients you'd need a lab technician, or at the very least, a dictionary to help you pronounce. It also means cutting back on refined grains, pesticides, additives, preservatives, unhealthy fats and large amounts of sugar and salt.
So, what’s the point of eliminating basically anything you can’t get from the farm? Not only are the benefits immense, it’s not as hard as it sounds!
Here are a few tips on eating clean: the benefits, what to do, what to avoid, and what to look for on labels.
- You get adequate amounts of essential nutrients.
- Relying on whole foods is the best way to get a good combination of micronutrients.
- Foods high in micronutrients can help reduce cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar
- Multiple studies have shown that diets heavy in fruits and veggies can curb or prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- The fiber in whole produce keeps your microbiome (the collection of good bacteria that live in your gut) happy, which can fight off infections and pathogens, reduce your risk for autoimmune diseases, and can even improve your mood.
- Whole foods satisfy you longer, so you’re less tempted by junk foods.
- Whole foods help keep your digestive system regular.
- Avoiding artificial ingredients keeps your cells strong so your body systems work efficiently.
- As if you needed anymore motivation, there's research linking diets high in fruits and veggies to healthy weight management and glowing skin and hair.
What to do:
- Eat whole foods: Clean eating foods come straight from the farm AKA foods that haven’t been tampered with in the lab or the manufacturing plant.
- What you should eat:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of Americans don't get enough fruit each day and a whopping 87 percent aren't eating enough servings of vegetables!)
- Whole grains
- Dried legumes (alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupin bean, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts and tamarind)
- Grass-fed and free-range meats
- Low fat dairy products
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Minimally processed foods include: Unrefined grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice, Frozen fruits and vegetables, and Oils
- What you should eat:
- Farm-fresh eggs
Note: Eating clean doesn't give you free reign to eat endless quantities. They may be healthy, but they still have calories! A good rule of thumb for portion sizing is to think of your plate in terms of fifths: three-fifths should be fruits and vegetables, one-fifth should be protein, and one-fifth healthy carbs.
Consume healthy fats. Aim to have essential fatty acids, or EFAs, incorporated into your clean diet every day.
- Eat five or six small meals a day. By eating smaller meals throughout the day, you can help rev up your metabolism and reduce the chance that you’ll binge out later on.
- Cook your own meals. Clean, whole foods need little preparation beyond chopping and sautéing to make satisfying, delicious meals.
- Combine protein with carbs. Balance your meals! This simple act will fuel your body and squash hunger pangs.
What to avoid:
- Processed Foods: This means changing the form of a natural food — even mashing apples into applesauce, or stir-frying veggies means it’s been processed. These examples aren’t the worst processed foods you can consume, and you don’t have to eliminate all processed foods (like whole grain pasta or natural cheeses), but if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label, you probably shouldn’t be consuming it! Additions of any kind, from salt, sugar, and fat, to preservatives that keep food from spoiling too quickly, mean that that food has been processed and is nowhere near it’s natural form.
Note: The health problems associated with ultra-processed food are numerous. Foods that have been modified heavily tend to have additives that over stimulate the production of dopamin (the "pleasure" neurotransmitter), creating a negative cycle of constant junk food cravings. In addition, foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to cancer and infertility and highly processed foods are so stripped of nutrients needed for overall health, that you really aren’t getting any health benefits at all!
- Refined sugar. Did you know that The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men? The average American consumes 28 teaspoons of added sugar per day—that’s 4 times the recommended amount! It’s okay to indulge once in awhile, but sugar provides only calories and no health benefits. We’re talking more than just sweets, or candy-- keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain), tomato sauce and cereal. Look for foods without sugar as an ingredient, or make sure it's listed towards the bottom, which means less of it is used in the food.
Get label savvy
- When perusing the grocery for packaged foods, ask yourself: Where did this food or its ingredients come from? How much has it been processed or handled?
- The ingredient label should be short, and all ingredients should be recognizable.
- Scan for easy-to-avoid additives like artificial coloring and flavors.
- Watch out for claims on labels. For instance, don't get duped by "whole-grain" claims on labels. Whole grains should always be the first ingredient!
Tip: try to concentrate on shopping just the perimeter of the grocery store. This will get you your produce, meats, and dairy!