Clean eating has become a popular buzz-word in the nutrition community over the past couple years, but what does it mean exactly?
Clean eating is a style of eating that puts as few steps from the farm to your mouth as possible. That means cutting out processed foods and adding more foods that your grandmother would have recognized.
As we are quickly approaching summer, many people are looking for a way to eat that will make them feel better inside and out. Read on to find out the basics of clean eating, some cleansing food, and some pantry staples to get started.
Clean Eating vs. Processed Food
The term “clean eating” refers to a way of eating simple and unprocessed foods that are better for our health.
The goal of clean eating is getting as close to transparent and uncomplicated foods as possible. It means ditching over-processed and refined foods in favor of foods in their whole form.
Clean eating is not meant to be an overly strict and unsustainable diet. In order to maintain eating clean in the long run, it is important to allow yourself some leeway. Many nutritionists recommend sticking to the “80/20” rule. This means that if you adhere strictly to the diet 80% of the time, then having something outside of the diet 20% of the time makes it realistic without hurting your health.
When indulging in the “20%”, it is still important to keep it as natural as possible. Sticking to natural sugars, for example, and less salt will allow you to treat yourself without wreaking havoc on your health. Although avoiding processed foods entirely may not be realistic, there are still ways to have some without straying too far from clean eating.
“Processed food” can be separated into three broad categories. First, it is food that has additives of any kind. This includes sugar, salt, preservatives, coloring, and even enriched vitamins.
Second, processed foods include any food that has been changed from its natural form. Refined flour or rice, for example, constitutes as processed food. The flour and rice have been stripped of much of their nutrition to create a more appealing product.
Third, any food with manufactured ingredients is considered processed. A very loose rule of thumb many ascribe to is, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients on a label, that’s a sign you may not want to be eating it.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between processed and convenience food. There are many convenience foods that can make clean eating easier. For example, canned beans or fish without extra ingredients are convenience foods, but not processed. Reading labels and choosing foods in their natural forms does not necessarily mean you need to eschew all packaged and canned foods.
If you find that you need to grab a quick convenience snack, be sure to read the labels. Check the sugar and sodium counts to make sure that they are not too high. Also read the ingredients to make sure that there are no artificial flavors or colors, and that there is no added bad oils or preservatives hidden in there.
Basic Principles of Clean Eating
Eat more veggies.
Americans are notorious for not eating enough fruits and veggies, so the clean eating movement encourages plant-based meals to get as much nutritious produce as possible. Vegetables are incredible important for health: they reduce the risk for many chronic diseases, are great for gut health, strengthen the immune system, and improve your mood.
Part of eating clean encourages eating as organic as possible. When budget is a concern, or organic is not available, try to stick with the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and avoid the produce on their Dirty Dozen list.
Know your meat.
There is some debate amongst “clean eaters” on the role and dominance of meat in a clean eating diet. However, there is one point of agreement: avoid conventional (aka CAFO) meat. CAFO meat comes from sick animals that are loaded with antibiotics to keep them alive until slaughter. It is an unsustainable model that is bad for the animals, environment and your health.
Instead, look for wild-caught, free-range and pasture-raised meat. The more natural and healthier the animal, the healthier meat it will be.
Or to go really clean, consider going vegetarian or vegan!
Eat whole grains.
White flour is a stripped, nutrient-deprived food. Whole grains, like quinoa, oats, rice and wheat, are full of nutrition. They are chocked- full of magnesium, various trace minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
However, be careful when buying whole grains. Many processed foods label themselves as “whole grain” in order to appear healthy, but in reality, are full of undesirable ingredients. Get used to reading labels on a clean eating diet! No matter what the packaging says, be sure to turn it around and looking at the ingredients list. You may be surprised to find that your “whole grain” snack may also contain preservatives, artificial colors, and excess salt.
There is no question that modern Americans consume far too much sugar. In fact, they average a whopping 66 pounds every year! Sugar is linked to so many modern plagues, from heart disease and cancer to obesity and mood disorders, that it is vital that it is substantially cut from the diet.
Clean eating encourages limiting as much sugar as you can. When you can, choose natural sugars for some sweetness, such as fruit, honey and maple syrup. The American Heart Association recommends keeping daily added sugar intake under 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, for men and 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, for women, so aim to keep it in that range or below. Pure 'clean eaters' likely strive to stay as far under that number as possible.
Embrace a clean lifestyle.
How you eat and your lifestyle choices are just as important as what you eat. Meals should be balanced and regular. They should not be rushed, or eaten standing up. Enjoy your food with good company and light conversation whenever possible. The less stress you have while eating will help with digestion and absorbing the nutrition in your meals.
Beyond how you eat your meals, clean eating is a way of approaching a more natural lifestyle. Movement is essential, so include some physical activity every day. Reducing toxins in your home and beauty regimen will improve your health and the environment.
Clean eating means being aware of the impact your actions have on your body and the environment. This goes far beyond food.
Spring Cleansing Foods to Add to Your Diet
Springtime is an excellent time to start eating a clean diet. Nature has provided many spring foods that aid your body in detoxing from the toxic food and chemicals as you work to change your lifestyle.
As you transition into a cleaner diet, add some of these foods to aid the process.
Chocked- full of glutathione, asparagus contains an antioxidant that works to break down free radicals in the body. Toxins from an unhealthy lifestyle and diet can create dangerous free radicals that wreak havoc on your health, so asparagus is a great way to help remove it.
Asparagus also acts a natural diuretic. It gently works to help get rid of excess salt and water in the body while imparting minerals that are often lost in traditional diuretics. This is great way of getting rid of toxins and excess salt while still building up the body.
Warm water with lemon is often recommended by nutritionists and experts for its cleansing properties. Lemon juice helps support a healthy digestion. Also, the liver works all night clearing out toxins and waste, so lemon juice helps to flush the body of these toxins.
The way to get the most benefits from garlic is by consuming it raw, but there are still many benefits to eating garlic cooked as well.
Garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties that make it ideal for cleansing the body. It also works to activate liver enzymes. The liver is essential for filtering and removing toxins, and garlic helps to encourage the liver to do its job.
A great source of betaine, beets help fight inflammation. The body’s response to unhealthy food and lifestyle is to produce inflammation. Beets can help bring the body back down to a healthy level while you work to change your diet and lifestyle.
Beets also contain betalin pigments. These encourage broken down toxins in the body to be excreted. This process is referred to as Phase 2 detoxification because often toxins will stick to molecules in the body unless encouraged out with foods like beets.
Yes, the humble cabbage is actually a cleansing powerhouse. It is full of antioxidants, nitrogen and sulfur which all work together to flush toxins. Cabbage is also rich in vitamins and minerals to help replace any that is lost while the body is flushing out these toxins.
Fridge and Pantry Essentials to Lighten Up and Clean Up Your Diet
So you’re sold on the benefits of clean eating, but where do you get started? Although a diet shift can feel overwhelming at first, the longer you commit to it the more natural it will feel and the better YOU will feel.
In the meantime, here are some helpful lists to get you started on your journey to clean eating.
DO buy these top things:
- Oils: coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, or ghee
- Vinegar: balsamic or apple cider vinegar
- Sweeteners: honey, stevia, pure maple syrup
- Snacks with low sugar and no fillers
- Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal
- Legumes: lentils, beans
- Canned fish: salmon, tuna, sardines
- Bone broth or stock
- Nuts and nut butters: peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pistachios
- Coconut aminos
- Himalayan or Celtic sea salt
- Coconut milk
- Spices and herbs
- Dairy: real cheese and Greek yogurt
- Free-range Eggs and meats
- Organic fruits and vegetables
Next, GET RID OF these things:
- White flour
- Refined sugars
- Dressings and condiments
- Processed snacks
- Processed, frozen meals
- Lunch meat
- White bread
- Ice Cream
- Margarine, Canola oil, and all processed oils
- Processed cheeses
- Flavored yogurts
Although a simple concept, clean eating has a powerful effect on health and well-being. Cutting overly processed foods and adding health-building foods in their stead has great potential in improving both your health and the environment.
Clean eating is very different than the Standard American Diet. Reading labels, cutting out sugar, and rethinking meal time might take some practice, but the benefits make all of the effort worth it.
Try clean eating and see its benefits for yourself!
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