We hear a lot about “clean eating” these days. But what is it, really, and how does it benefit you and your family?
I have to say, ever since I changed my diet to a more “clean eating” version, I’ve been amazed at how much better I feel. I not only have more energy and stamina, but I’ve even noticed positive changes in my skin and hair.
It’s true that we are what we eat, and in today’s world, we have to be a little more careful. There are thousands of chemicals put into our food every day that have not been adequately tested for safety, and it’s in our best interests to avoid them.
What is “Clean-Eating?”
Clean eating is a lifestyle choice that involves eliminating all processed foods and extra additives from the diet. It also includes eating mainly whole, unrefined foods, in their natural state.
That translates into eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. This is the easiest part, as these items come straight from nature without being altered-as long as we purchase them fresh or frozen and not cut up and stored in sugary syrups inside cans potentially lined with bisphenol-A (BPA), or mixed with flavorings and preservatives and other chemicals in ready-to-eat meals.
A clean-eating diet can also include meat, as long as it’s raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, and is purchased from the butcher and prepared yourself. It doesn’t include processed meats or ready-to-eat meats like ground turkey or prepared chicken breasts.
Whole grains can fit well on a clean-eating diet, as long as they’re purchased in their whole, natural state, and not after they are refined and stripped of their nutrients.
10 Tips for an Easy Clean-Eating Diet
As part of a clean-eating diet, we also try to reduce as much as possible our exposure to pesticides. Traces of pesticides are found on even organic produce (because of run-off or cross contamination), so we try to make choices that keep pesticides at a bare minimum. They’re linked with a number of health issues, including developmental delays, cancer, hormonal disruption, and nervous system problems.
With that in mind, here are my ten tips for following an easy clean-eating diet:
- Limit processed foods: This is probably the most important thing to do if you want to eat clean. Processed foods, as a rule, contain excess sugar and potentially dangerous additives and chemicals that are just not good for you. Yes, they make life convenient, but if you make them a habit, you’re doing your health a disservice. Not everything that comes in a box, bag, or can is bad for you-whole-grain pasta and baby spinach are often clean packaged foods-but on the whole, be suspicious of anything that’s got a long shelf-life. Read the ingredient list, and if you see more than three or four ingredients, and some of these are chemicals you can’t pronounce, pass it by.
- Follow the EWG’s Shopping Guide: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a great shopping guide to help you reduce your exposure to pesticides. Their “dirty dozen plus” lists those fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with higher levels of pesticides, while their “clean fifteen” includes those items less likely to add to your pesticide count. Find the guide on their website.
- Choose whole, natural foods: In essence, this means do most of your shopping around the outskirts of the grocery store. You want lots of fresh, natural produce first, and your second choice should be frozen whole foods. Look for bags that contain only the fruit or vegetable without extra sauces or additives.
- Choose unrefined grains: Many of our grains these days are “refined” or processed with chemicals that strip some of their most important nutrients. You can still enjoy the health benefits of these foods without the toxins by choosing whole grains in their raw form-things like brown rice, millet, amaranth, and quinoa. Then look for breads in their most natural state, made with whole grains and other natural ingredients.
- Choose oils with limited processing: Many of the standard oils you see on the shelves have been greatly processed, most with chemicals. Look for “extra-virgin” and “unrefined” varieties that have been minimally processed to retain important antioxidants and other nutrients.
- Reduce alcohol intake: You don’t have to eliminate alcohol entirely, but keep in mind that recommendations are no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for women. Levels higher than that are linked to health issues like cancer and weight gain. Mixed drinks also tend to contain a lot of sugar, which we’re discovering is worse for our health than we thought. And speaking of sugar…
- Cut way back on sugar: Thanks to recent research, we know a lot more about sugar these days than we used to. For one, it leads to weight gain. Secondly, it is addictive-as bad as drugs like cocaine. Thirdly, it has been linked to mood swings and memory problems. Fourth, it’s linked to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. To be a true “clean-eater,” you want to cut way back on sugar. Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends only six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men? One Coca-Cola will give you just a little over nine. Watch your food labels, too-even soups, yogurts, condiments, and more have sugar in them. If you add up your exposure in one day, you’re likely to be surprised.
- Cut back on red meat: You don’t have to eliminate it, but if you’re a voracious meat eater, you may want to cut back a bit for your health. Clean eating involves choosing grass-fed beef for its healthier profile, and choosing “meat-free” days each week. Making meat more of a side dish rather than the main course can have a number of positive health benefits, such as cutting your risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
- Get back to the joy of cooking: Many of us think we’re too busy to cook, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. With a little research, you can find recipes that work for you in a pinch, and you can adopt some other habits like cooking on the weekends to create healthy leftovers for the week. When you cook your own meals, you use clean, whole foods that create a much healthier, more satisfying result.
- Drink more water: It’s time to end the soda habit. Most all flavored drinks are full of added sugars, preservatives, and other chemicals. Drinking pure water is the best way to support your body’s efforts to flush out waste and toxins and keep everything in optimal working order. Drinking water also helps keep dehydration at bay, helps you focus, and can reduce appetite so you eat less.
Do you have tips on the clean-eating lifestyle? Please share them with our readers.