10 Tips for Clean Eating
One of the newest diet crazes isn’t one of the ‘avoid all carbs’ or ‘limit your calories’ type diets. It is a shockingly simplistic concept that you would think would not actually require people to be told in order to do it. With the way we have begun eating over the last several decades, it really doesn’t come as a surprise that we need a little reminder on how we should be eating.
If you are interested in Eating Clean, here are 10 tips to help you get started. You might refer to them as the “Clean Eating Rules.”
The “Clean Eating Rules”
Avoid Processed Foods
Perhaps one of the most important clean eating tips is avoiding processed foods. The Clean Eating movement is all about getting away from convenient, easy foods where all of the preparation has been done for us. The Clean Eating definition is returning to whole foods – real foods – that have not been processed at all and preparing them ourselves in order to maximize nutrition.
By choosing fresh foods and passing on the processed foods, you avoid non-food products such as chemicals, dyes, preservatives, and artificial flavors that are put into processed foods. These additives are used for everything from mold prevention to texturization to preservation – and that’s just for starters.
These artificial ingredients have no place in our diets and our bodies are not built to handle them, let alone in large quantities. The truth of the matter is that we really don’t have any idea how much of this stuff we eat.
Can you say, for example, how many carrots you have eaten in the last week? That’s probably a pretty simple calculation. But, what about how much BHT you have had? No? What about sodium nitrite? Also no? Well, let’s try something a little easier – something you have probably heard of and would recognize on a food label. How much MSG have you eaten in the last week? Still nothing? You see why this is concerning? The things I just mentioned are not good for you, yet you can’t say how much of it you have eaten in the last week. The even scarier part about this is that there are so many of these additives that it will make your head spin.
Be Aware of Your Salt Intake
One of the easier things to recognize on product labels is salt, although food manufacturers are coming up with clever ways to hide even that. Many people pay attention to their salt intake because of health problems such as high blood pressure. They read the food labels for sodium and try to purchase items that have less sodium than others.
Notice, I didn’t say that they purchase items with little sodium, because almost none exist. Salt is one of the key ingredients that makes processed food taste good to us. Without it, processed food, made exactly the same way tastes either bland, metallic, or other flavors that we find off-putting become recognizable. Salt is here to stay so long as we eat processed food – and we can’t expect the levels to change much in a positive direction. Companies have tried to reduce salt levels and have failed miserably.
The best thing you can do is avoid processed food altogether. However, most people can’t do that entirely. The next best thing you can do is limit your processed food intake and keep track of the sodium that you are consuming. Fortunately, this is fairly straightforward. Don’t forget, however, to count the sodium in things you consume from food you get at restaurants since they don’t come with handy food labels.
One of the most important things in Eating Clean is to avoid sugar – at all costs. We were never meant to eat sugar in the way that we do today. Our bodies can handle the sugars we get from fruits, but we were never meant to process the kinds of sugar that we get from eating candy bars, drinking soda, and in things like pasta sauce.
Wait. Did I say “pasta sauce”? Yep.
The next time you find yourself in the grocery store head on over to the pasta sauce aisle. Take a few minutes and read the labels. You will be shocked at just how many major pasta sauces are full of sugar. Oh, but fair warning…it probably won’t say “sugar” on the label. Moe likely than not, it will say “High Fructose Corn Syrup.” On average, we consume about 300 extra calories a day from sugar alone.
Make no mistake – sugar is bad, no matter how it is labeled. In order to try to improve sugar’s image, manufacturers have been giving it all kinds of fancy new names like Turbinado Sugar, Raw Sugar, and Sucanat. Don’t be fooled. Get away from sugar, period. It’s doing everything from raising cholesterol (yes, you read that correctly) to causing diabetes.
Avoid Wheat, Other Grains, and Simple Starches
While you are avoiding sugar, there is another food that you need to cut out of your diet: wheat. Today’s modern wheat is no longer “wheat.” It is a hybridized version of wheat that bears very little resemblance to the wheat that was eaten as recently as 50 years ago.
Our bodies do not recognize this new plant that we call “wheat,” and they are fighting back. We aren’t talking about celiac disease here, although there could certainly be an argument made for the increase in celiac cases due to the current version of wheat that we eat.
We are talking about a whole host of problems from food allergies to things other than wheat being triggered to system wide inflammation that may result in fibromyalgia-like conditions as well as chronic fatigue.
Other aggravating factors for system-wide inflammation can be from grains other than wheat such as rice, corn, and oats as well as simple starches like potatoes. If you suffer from unexplained aches and pains, consider having your doctor perform a blood test to check your levels of C-reactive protein and homocystine.
If you live in the United States and consume the Standard American Diet, you have a very good chance of having elevated levels of these inflammatory markers. And even if you have a healthy or restricted diet, get yourself tested for them anyway. You might be surprised to find that your levels are also elevated. The important thing to remember here is that it is not the quantity of these foods that you are eating – it’s that you are eating them at all.
Cut Out Butter, Cheese, and Meat
I realize that I’m not going to make many friends with this particular recommendation, but I make it with good reason. Animal products, while full of protein, are full of a lot of very undesirable things that you probably don’t think about when you eat a burger or pour cow’s milk over your cereal.
In order to meet the steep demand for animal products and to keep costs low (in order to maximize profit), the meat/dairy/egg industries keep animals tightly confined so as to maximize the number of animals they can process in a given amount of space. This leads to extremely unsanitary conditions (to put it very mildly). To keep disease from spreading like wildfire through the livestock, they are given very regular doses of antibiotics as a preventative measure.
Additionally, in order to maximize profit, the faster the animals grow and the bigger they get or the more milk and eggs they produce, the more profitable they are. To this end, animals are pumped full of growth hormones that make them grow at an unnatural pace and to sizes that are gargantuan in comparison to what they would look like without these hormones.
When the animals go to slaughter, these antibiotics and growth hormones are still in their system and are passed on to whoever consumes them. It is doubtful that anyone would just randomly take daily doses of growth hormones and antibiotics, so why is it acceptable for it to be in our food?
Incorporate Organic Fresh Fruits and Veggies
What does your shopping cart look like when you go to check out? A good way to know if you are getting enough fruits and veggies is how many times the cashier has to stop and key something into the register. Does everything that you buy scan because it has a bar code? If so, you definitely aren’t getting enough fruits and veggies.
When our diets consist of things that come from packages we are missing out on some of the most potent disease-fighting compounds available – phytonutrients. Phytonutrients, sometimes also referred to as phytochemicals, are compounds in plants that serve to protect them from insects, disease, and genetic alteration. When we ingest fresh fruit and vegetables, we get the protective benefits from these phytochemicals which protect us at the cellular level from free radicals and a host of other causes of disease.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
This one of the Clean Eating Rules is fairly self-explanatory. Lots of booze is bad for you. It’s bad for your liver. It raises your blood sugar. It has lots of calories you don’t need. Simply cutting back on your alcohol intake can help you gain weight and make you feel a heck of a lot better.
Clean eating is about reducing the number of toxins in your body by severely restricting them from your diet. Sure, a glass of red wine now and again is fine, but a six pack of beer every night is another matter. Use your best judgement. Remember that when alcohol is concerned, generally speaking, less is more.
Cook Your Own Food
I know. I know. You are busy. You have kids, errands, a job that is driving you crazy, family problems, bills that are past due, and your mother-in-law is coming for a two week visit. I get it. It is hard to find time to cook when you are barely able to get everything else done when you are popping dinner for everyone into the microwave. How on earth are you expected to find time to cook in addition to all of the other stuff you have going on?
Let’s start with carving out a day a week where you cook like mad and then freeze meals for the whole week. Perhaps Saturday morning for a few hours or Sunday evening? By making an appointment – just like you would for all of those other pressing things on your schedule, you are stating that this is a priority and it will get the time it needs in order to be done.
Still sound too difficult? Yeah, without a doubt, it can be. Let’s examine what you will get out of cooking your own meals. Even if you can’t cook every meal for every day of the week, consider all of the crap ingredients that you will be eliminating from your diet every time you eat one of your meals instead of mac and cheese from a box.
When you start cooking for yourself and you start replacing those artificial ingredients with actual healthy food, you start to feel better. Your mood will improve, and you will be better able to handle your impossible boss at work and your mother-in-law when she comes to visit. Heck, you might even feel up to going to the gym or to a yoga class once in a while with all of the energy you will have. Trust me on this. It’s worth it.
Make Shopping Lists and Meal Plans
If you are like me, you tend to wander in a haze around the grocery store looking for things that look appetizing. Your brain goes blank on how to combine ingredients into delicious meals, and you start looking for a quick fix – especially if you go shopping when you are hungry. That’s another topic for another article, but you shouldn’t do it. Not only do you buy more, but your choices are generally more impulsive and less rational.
If you spend some time picking out some recipes in advance and making shopping lists of the ingredients you will need – and plan your weekly meals so that you don’t find yourself eating lasagna every night that week, you will find that you not only will better enjoy the food you cook, but there is less waste. Making shopping lists in advance is one of the best strategies to help you adhere to the Clean Eating Rules.
Use Spices – They’re Healthy!
When you cook your own meals and you aren’t getting all of the salt, sugar, and fat that you are used to eating in processed foods, you may find that whole foods taste a little bland to you. This is normal because your taste buds have become so accustomed to the outrageous amounts of salt and sugar that they put in those processed foods. Your taste buds will adapt back, but it will take some time.
One of the best tips for clean eating is: instead of reaching for the salt shaker, reach for the red pepper flakes, black pepper, turmeric, garlic, ginger, or otter spices that are appropriate for the dish you are preparing. Not only will the spices make your food more appealing, but they also contain the same phytochemicals/phytonutrients that you can get from fresh fruits and veggies. Recent research into spices has shown that when used regularly, spices can reduce inflammation and help fight many diseases.
Hopefully these clean eating suggestions will help you get started in the right direction. Remember that nothing happens overnight. Follow the Clean Eating Rules by adjusting a bit at a time and you will eventually find yourself naturally eating a healthy clean food diet.