Healthy clean eating is the newest “catch phrase”, but what exactly does it mean? When it comes to diets, terms are tossed around like baseballs – we hear things like “whole foods”, “Dukan”, “raw foods”, “Mediterranean”, “Paleo”, “no-carb”, “low-carb”, “high-carb”, or “plant-based”.
But wait, it gets even more confusing. Now some of these diets have joined forces to create the “raw plant-based meal plan” or the “whole foods Paleolithic lifestyle”. So, is “clean eating” just another name in a seemingly endless list of fads?
Actually, the idea of “clean eating” is a breath of fresh air in the very muddled and congested world of diet plans. It is simple and inexpensive. You don't have to buy special products or eliminate entire food groups. It's not based on our cavemen ancestors or our blood types. It doesn't matter if our bodies are “pear-shaped” or “banana-shaped”.
There is no argument about whether or not our teeth were meant for eating meat or if our digestive system can handle grains. Not that these things should be disregarded. Proponents of any eating program can show you studies that support the merits of their plan.
But, when it comes to “clean eating, there is no trick, or marketing scheme, or special program to follow. It is just a back-to-basics, the way things used to be, way of eating. It's retro. It's old-fashioned.
There is a saying: “Everything old is new again”. When it comes to what we put in our bodies, healthy clean eating is the way to go. And, some of the healthiest, most successful snack and meal plans are actually built on the basic concepts of clean eating. So, in essence, it is where every good diet plan begins.
It's simple. Basically, clean eating is based on two principles:
That's it. Simple, right? But simple does not mean easy. In a culture full of packaged and prepared snacks and meals, it can be hard to make the switch. The Standard American Diet (S.A.D) is...well, as its initials indicate....SAD.
And, too many people have very sick, tired, and “sad” bodies because they are eating a S.A.D diet. Even some of the most popular diet programs include meal replacement bars or packaged snacks that contain a long list of questionable ingredients.
So, healthy clean eating goes back-to-basics. It doesn't focus on counting calories or measuring how much you eat, but rather looks at what food choices you are making. Healthy options from EVERY food group are allowed, while the not-so-healthy choices are limited.
Basically, push rewind and eat how they did about 100 years ago. Only it's easier for us because we have the benefits of modern conveniences to make food preparation easier and faster.
1. Read Labels. It is probably unrealistic to think that you are never going to buy anything that is bagged, boxed, or canned. In fact, some of these products are actually quite healthy. It is possible to find pasta that in simply water and lentils, or cereal that is made from sprouted whole grains.
But, you also have to be careful about marketing schemes that advertise products as “low sodium”, “zero trans fats”, “sugar free”, “whole grain”, or “light”. Low sodium does not mean chemical free. Zero trans fats does not guarantee that healthy fats were used. Sugar free often means that dangerous artificial sweeteners were added. And, whole grain does not mean that the product doesn't contain refined white flour. In fact, a company can say “made with whole grains” even if the product contains less than 5% whole grains.
The best way to clean up your diet it to read the labels – carefully! If there is a long list of ingredients, you should probably avoid it. Especially if there are a lot of things you can't pronounce or don't recognize as real food. “Clean” products usually contain no more than 3-6 ingredients – the fewer the better. Remember, the goal is to eat as close to natural as possible, and you don't really need an ingredient list for an apple, or a cucumber, or a bag of oats, do you?
2. Go Organic. Organic food can be expensive, although the prices are coming down as the demand is increasing. If organic options are not available, or if you cannot afford to buy everything organic, then at least try to splurge on the most important (and most contaminated) items such as meat, eggs, dairy, and certain fruits and veggies (The top 10 include: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap peas, potatoes, hot peppers, and kale). If organic isn't possible, be sure to wash all your produce with a fruit and veggie cleaner to remove as many of the pesticides as possible.
3 Eat Seasonal. Buying local produce when it is in season is less expensive so you can eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies without spending a fortune.
4. Pack Clean Snacks. Make up little containers of unsalted nuts, homemade trail mix, fresh veggies and hummus or any other tasty snack that will satisfy your hunger while also helping you avoid the fast food restaurants or vending machines.
5. Do-It-Yourself. Make your own granola bars or cookies using healthy ingredients like whole grain flour and natural sweeteners. Find interesting recipes online to keep things exciting. Since eating clean is so simple, it really isn't a lot of work to prepare your own meals and snacks. This way you will know exactly what is in the food you and your family are eating.
6. Allow a Cheat Day. Clean eating is about adopting a lifestyle of healthy choices – it is not about depriving yourself. Give yourself one day, or one meal, a week to eat whatever you want. You might even find after a while that the treats that used to tempt you aren't quite as tasty as you remembered. Most people find that the 80:20 rule (80% clean eating: 20% cheat eating) works quite well.
Whether you want to lose weight or improve your health, cleaning up your diet is the first step in meeting your goals. You can exercise all you want – and exercise is important – but if you don't make healthy food choices you will just keep going around in circles. Healthy clean eating is simple because it doesn't involve counting calories or following special plans. All you have to do is replace processed and refined foods with whole, natural, and nutrient packed foods and it won't be long before you notice the difference that clean eating can make.
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I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or ideas you would like to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum