By Jennifer Giamo
“Clean eating” has become a catchphrase lately, but what does it mean?
To eat clean means to ingest foods that are nutrient dense; unprocessed, preservative-free, hormone-free and as close to their natural state as possible. It also means to be aware of where your food is coming from in order to better understand what things you are putting into your body. Choosing locally grown foods and shopping at a farmer’s market for less expensive organic fruits and vegetables are easy ways to start eating clean. By doing this, you see first hand what the ingredients in your food look like in their natural, uncooked state and can learn where they are sourced, allowing you to make your own choices rather than letting a label or a package do it for you.
What Clean Eating Isn’t
It’s not about “dieting” as much as it is getting back to basics. And it certainly doesn’t mean having to eat raw foods only. It also doesn’t mean that some foods are “dirty”- you may want to think of foods in terms of “whole” and “altered”. Whole foods come as they are, without any processing, while altered foods involve processes that change them, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
Why Eat Clean?
One reason to eat clean is to get the maximum amount of nutrients out of your food. For instance, instead of throwing your fruit into a blender and making a smoothie or a juice, eat the fruit in its whole form. You will benefit from the fiber (which is being stripped in the blending process) as well as allowing your body to break down the food more slowly keeping you fuller longer.
Getting back to nature and enjoying real food, you will also taste the difference. You can actually taste what you’re eating instead of just the added butter, sugar or salt that accompanies packaged foods.
Whole foods will keep you satisfied, improve your digestion and give you more energy. They provide more nourishment and hence, offer greater benefits. It’s also easier to get all of your essential nutrients when relying on whole foods in addition to stabilizing your blood sugar levels.
How and What to Eat
Since clean eating is not a diet, there isn’t a full list of what’s included and what isn’t. Instead, there are guidelines of how to pick foods:
Locally sourced – the closer the food is to your location, the fresher it is. And freshness is important not just when it comes to taste but also when it comes to what’s in the food. Bread that is baked 5 states away will often need more preservatives added to it than the bread you buy at a local bakery.
In season – similar to locally sourced foods, when fruits and vegetables are purchased in season they taste better and are better for you. Eating produce out of season means it went through some sort of preservation process in order for you to be eating it “fresh” now.
More vegetables – whether you are cutting them up for salad, adding them to a soup or stir fry or just snacking on them at work, vegetables are the easiest way to get the vitamins you need. And they can bulk up your meal to make it more filling.
More whole grains – Eating whole grains means eating the entirety of the grain and not just the sugar or carb. By eating more whole grains, you get all of the nutrients within the grain, like protein and fiber. Whole grains include whole wheat, oats, brown rice, rye, barley, buckwheat, and bulgur.
Cook more – this is less about what to eat and more about how to eat. By cooking more, you ensure that you include the foods you want into your diet and are leaving out the things you don’t want. If you give your meals just a little bit of planning, you won’t find yourself eating sad salads every day. There are plenty of easy recipes online and in cookbooks that include all the foods you need for your new clean eating lifestyle.
What to Avoid
The main element to avoid in clean eating is processed foods. To do this, try to avoid:
Foods that have a label- anything pre-made like canned soup or frozen meals, or foods that come out of a factory like lunch meat.
Eliminate refined sugar – refined sugar is added to all sorts of foods, including soft drinks, sauces and packaged snacks. When blood sugar levels are stable, it is easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Alcohol – you don’t need to go dry but watch how much and how often you drink. Choose water whenever possible to avoid extra sugar and opt for red wine over other types of alcohol.
Watch out for added sodium- like refined sugar, added salt is found in all sorts of processed foods. You don’t need to take salt out of your diet completely but be aware of how much your taking in.
Meat- you do not need to become a vegetarian by any means. When it comes to meat when adopting clean eating habits, opt for local meat that comes from farms with good conditions – good for both you and the environment. You may also want to change how you incorporate meat into your diet. Some experts recommend treating meat as a secondary ingredient in your dishes so that it takes a side role to vegetables or grains rather than staying in the spotlight.
How to Start Clean Eating
The clean eating process takes time and effort. You need to prepare in advance. Keep healthy choices in your kitchen so you aren’t tempted to reach for the unhealthy items.
Evaluate your progress each day (or week) if it’s still feels like your goals are an effort – do not get discouraged. It’s important to incorporate this new way of eating slowly.
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Be patient until you reach a point where 80% of the food you are consuming comes from natural sources. This is a manageable way to maintain clean eating as a lifestyle and not see it as a “diet”.
Remember that clean eating isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle that allows for flexibility and change when necessary. It is also a big commitment so if you seriously considering making this change to your eating habits, do your research and find out what ingredients you can get easily, what dishes you can prepare based on your time limitations and cooking abilities and how you can make it work with your current way of life. Often, big changes like these are easiest to adopt when you are doing it with others so get friends and family on the bandwagon with you. That way, you can enjoy your clean eating prep and meals together and bounce ideas off each other.
About the Author
Jennifer Giamo is an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Education, and the founder of Trainers in Transit LLC.