CLEAN EATING 101
Clean eating 101. That’s what we are talking about today. We have all heard that we should be “eating clean”, and that “clean eating” marks a healthy diet. But what does that mean, exactly? Let me explain.
Clean eating means eating real food that came from real ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible, while avoiding artificial non-food ingredients. Here are a few things to think about when determining if what you are eating is real, clean food.
1. Real food should go bad: If it can sit on your shelf for an extended period of time and look exactly the same with no mold, and no spoilage (think- a twinkie), then it is probably not a good food source. Real food should go bad quickly, spoil, and have a relatively short shelf-life (think- a head of lettuce).
2. Real food should have come from the ground or had a mother: This mean that what you are consuming was alive at one point, a.k.a real.
3. Foods you eat should be close to their natural state: Choose foods that have not been altered in any way with artificial additives, or have only been processed in a means necessary for consumption. A good example is whole grain bread vs. white bread. One of my favorite bread options is Ezekiel Bread. It is an organic, sprouted, whole grain bread that has been processed into bread, but the ingredients are close to their natural state and offer beneficial nutrients that your body readily recognizes as fuel. A piece of white bread, on the other hand, has been stripped of nutrients, is highly processed, and offers little to no nutritional value.
4. Avoid pre-packaged, man-made, non-food, food: These products may be filled with added sugars, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and unhealthy fats. Not the best fuel for your body.
5. Eat food with little to no ingredient list and be able to pronounce (and know) all of the ingredients: A good example of this- an apple. Things like an apple, a piece of chicken, or a piece of broccoli only have one ingredient- apple, chicken, or broccoli. You most likely won’t find an ingredient list anywhere when you buy them. Now, think about a pre-packaged cookie. The ingredient list goes on and on. Simple is always better when it comes to an ingredient list. If you don’t know what and ingredient is, if it contains a number, or sounds like it was made in a chemistry class- don’t eat it.
I think it’s important to talk about and understand why we should eat clean and avoid artificial foods and drinks. It does take a little bit more time, effort, and sometimes money (not always the case though) to eat a clean, healthy diet, so why is it important to invest this type of energy into our bodies? This is the only body we get. We only get one shot at this life, so let’s fuel our bodies with the best possible fuel available. With clean foods, our bodies run more efficiently. Food is our fuel, when we put good fuel into our bodies, they recognize that fuel, and use it easily with good results. Think about your car. Would you run your car on orange juice or water? No. Why not? Well, because you would break your car. Our bodies are the same way. Our bodies see artificial ingredients as toxins, and when toxins are present in our system our organs are taxed and work overtime to rid us of the toxins. Some have harmful byproducts and effects once metabolized in our systems and a number of artificial ingredients have been linked to cancer, neurological dysfunction, allergies, hyperactivity, liver damage, disturbances of gut bacteria, and so on. So, let’s treat our bodies like the fine-tuned machines they are meant to be and fuel them with real, natural fuel.
So then, what the heck should we be eating and what exactly should we be avoiding? Basically, if we break down the foods that we should be eating they fall into three macronutrient categories: Protein, fat and carbohydrate. Now, let’s break that down a little bit further: Protein (wild caught, grass-fed, organic when possible), vegetables (organic and local when possible), fruit (organic and local when possible), healthy fats (unsaturated fats are most heart healthy), and whole grains (organic and least processed available). Now, that’s starting to look more like a comprehensive diet we could follow.
Now on to the things we should avoid. In short- artificial anything. Artificial flavors, colors sweeteners and preservatives, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and excessive added sugar. These ingredients are added to enhance the taste, flavor, color, shelf-life, mouthfeel, texture, or appearance of a product. While not all artificial ingredients cause harmful side-effects, there are many that have gotten a bad rap and most should be avoided when striving to eat clean.
These ingredients are found in products such as pre-packaged, pre-made foods, candy, baked goods, drinks, breakfast cereals, and the list goes on and on.
Learning how to navigate the grocery store so that you can prepare your own, clean meals is a good way to avoid artificial ingredients and maintain a clean diet. When shopping, here are a few tips to help you make clean choices.
• Choose your store wisely: Stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have done the hard work for you. They do not allow products with artificial ingredients or preservatives into their stores, so you do not have to worry about finding these ingredients in their foods and drinks.
• Shop the perimeter: Fresh foods, produce, meat, dairy, and eggs are all on the perimeter of the grocery store. The packaged foods and beverages are inside the aisles. So, stick to the outer edge of the grocery store and you will be more likely to find foods with clean ingredients (or no ingredients at all- even better!)
• Have a plan, make a list, and execute the plan: Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time, make your list of foods, and stick to that list when you get to the store
• Check the ingredient list: Always check the ingredient list before you buy something. If you find artificial ingredients, words you don’t understand, a long ingredient list, or items you know are unhealthy, put it back
• Buy local: Check out local farmer’s markets and local vendors who are using real ingredients to make their foods and drinks. The less distance a product has to travel, the fresher it will most likely be, and the fewer preservatives necessary to prolong the shelf-life. There are many great restaurants and food chains who are committing to using real, local ingredients. Check them out and keep it local.