You may have heard the terms “clean eating” recently because this latest food/diet trend has gained popularity. What is it? Is it actually beneficial? What are the issues?
Clean eating is exactly what the name implies, it means to eat only whole, natural, and real food. To eat clean is to replace processed, packaged, and refined foods with those that are as close to their natural state as possible. This also means a reduction or elimination of sugar and excess fat and salt. In a nutshell, it’s basically focusing on the general scientific consensus that real food is healthy food.
Of all the food trends, this is one that has the most flexibility while packing a healthy punch. The idea is that whichever food preferences you have (vegan, omnivore, vegetarian, pescetarian, etc.), you can fit comfortably within the clean eating idea. It eliminates many foods that contribute to health issues. Foods like candy, soda, sports drinks, chips, crackers, and essentially everything in the center of the grocery store are replaced with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Eating clean can be super simple, but it does require some effort. Most major grocery stores are packed with refined, packaged, and processed foods. Go down any aisle of the store and pick up an item. Chances are that food item will have ingredients such as dyes, preservatives, added sugar/high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavorings. So, unless you are privileged enough to afford and to live close to a health food store, this means making all meals and snacks. And to be totally honest, many of us often don’t have the time to cook every meal from scratch. But when it’s possible, cooking our meals goes beyond giving us the healthiest food we can get. It can be a way to interact with kids, try new foods, learn new things, and to find a new depth of pleasure in food.
It’s important to note that clean eating is not about perfection or only organic or only pure or only expensive. It’s about making smarter and more informed choices about eating as close to the real thing as possible.
So where to start? How do we include the idea of clean eating into our lifestyles?
- Read ingredient labels. Before putting an item in your cart, check out the label. Are there any preservatives? Added sugar? Any ingredients you don’t recognize or sound like a chemical? Anything that you wouldn’t use in your own kitchen? If there are, put it back. If I’m having trouble finding a clean item and don’t want to make it, I look for the most natural one I can find.
- Increase the vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Even if you do eat meat and dairy, increasing veggies, fruits, whole grains, and beans is awesome for your body and a great way to eat clean.
- Stick to fresh food. Foods that can last long periods of time or that is sitting in a package are processed to do so. Steer clear of these nutritionally devoid foods and opt for fresh. Fresh may not last as long, but the benefits long outlast the packaged food.
- Balance those meals. Although carrots are a clean food, you wouldn’t want to only eat carrots at every meal (hello, orange skin). It’s important to remember to include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein in meals or snacks throughout the day.
- Take it easy on the sugar. Clean sweeteners like maple syrup and coconut sugar are great replacements to table sugar but they still act very closely to it within the body. Reducing sugar of any kind is wonderfully beneficial to the body and makes room for more whole foods.
Is it possible to join the “clean eating” movement and still live normally? Absolutely! It’s important to indulge every now and then, even if it means eating something “dirty”. And sometimes we need to participate in non-clean eating family event like a birthday party. Or sometimes life just happens and we don’t have the time or money to eat totally clean. It’s less about being pure and more about making better choices with what’s available to us.