What exactly does it mean to “eat clean?” We often hear this term thrown around as something we should strive for, but determining what “dirty” things we should avoid to attain this goal can be confusing and difficult. The short answer is, clean foods are minimally processed and do not contain chemicals, preservatives, flavourings, or other additives.
If you are looking to start eating cleanly but don’t really know where to start, then let this be your guide. Once you understand what it truly means to eat clean, this lifestyle will become not only easy to maintain, but enjoyable as well, as you will begin to feel the benefits almost immediately.
While some of these tips may seem obvious, they can be easy to forget, particularly if they aren’t part of your daily routine.
1. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Everyone knows that vegetables and fruits are healthy, and most people would probably agree that they could be eating more of them. Not only are they loaded with nutrients, they require minimal work to enjoy. They can be picked, washed, and eaten with little or no preparation.
Fruit is often considered nature’s perfect food, as you can hold it in your hand and simply eat it — no cooking or utensils required! Whizzing some up in a blender for a morning smoothie, perhaps with some spinach or kale, couldn’t be easier, and smoothies are undeniably delicious.
Simple tips to incorporate more fruits or veggies include:
- Have a smoothie full of fruit in the morning, before eating anything else
- Eat one large salad during the day
- Make sure to use a variety of colourful vegetables
- Always have something green with your dinner, and make sure it takes up more of the plate than protein or carbohydrates
Fruits and vegetables are the backbone of a clean and healthy diet.
2. Limit or Eliminate Processed Foods
Want to know what foods aren’t clean? Look no further than processed foods. Not only are they loaded with chemicals and preservatives, but they almost always contain ingredients that have either been genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides.
Processed foods barely resemble their natural counterparts and are usually stripped of fiber, minerals, and other important nutrients. In their place go sugar and other unhealthy ingredients that give the food flavour and extend its shelf life.
Processed foods take less energy to digest and absorb than whole foods do, which means your body doesn’t have to work as hard to access those calories. This will cause you to gain more weight over time, as many studies have shown. In one such study, healthy adults consumed a 600 calorie meal that contained either whole or processed foods. The group that consumed whole foods burned twice as many calories while digesting their meals than those who ate processed foods. Contrary to popular belief, a calorie is not just a calorie — where it comes from matters.
3. Avoid Sugar
For those who don’t have a sweet tooth, this might seen like an easy one, but you’d surprised by how much sugar is hiding in processed foods. From condiments and sauces to nondairy milks and yogurt, sugar is in everything, especially if it’s “low fat.” These foods may be marketed as healthy and better for weight loss, but they contain vast amounts of sugar — a surefire recipe for weight gain — to replace the flavour that was lost from taking all the fat out. So even if you are already making an effort to avoid sweets, be sure to eliminate processed foods as well.
And if you are craving something sweet, eat some fruit! There are also healthier sugar alternatives, such as dates, pure maple syrup, and unpasteurized honey, which won’t affect you the same way that refined sugar will.
4. Read Labels
Reading food labels is essential if you want to achieve or maintain good health. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, then quite simply, you shouldn’t be eating it in the first place. The best way to avoid this altogether is to buy foods that don’t have ingredients, but are ingredients themselves — whole foods. These are foods that have not been altered or had anything added to them, so the only ingredient would be the food itself. Apples, carrots, potatoes, rice, oats — I think you get the idea.
Obviously, that isn’t always possible. But consider how much waste you could avoid by opting for whole foods more often. They generally come without packaging, and sometimes they even come in their own biodegradable and organic package, like an orange peel. (Nature is so cool.)
When you do purchase foods with a label, however, focus on the ingredients and the sugar count. Don’t worry so much about the calories and fat content, as it’s better to have high calories and lots of nutrients than low calories with loads of added sugar.