Clean Eating – what it is and why it’s good for you
You’ve probably heard the term ‘Clean Eating’ and probably wonder what all the fuss is about. Is it just another food trend that everyone will soon get bored of and will stop talking about? Many health experts tout the clean eating trend as a choice for general wellness that may even help you lose some weight. Cleaning up your diet is always something that will offer benefits, but knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it before getting started will help you along the way. So, what is clean eating and why is it good for you?
Clean eating is simply choosing as many fresh whole foods as possible and staying away from processed foods. This means eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, eco-conscious meat, and grains. It also means staying away from preservatives, additives, sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. In short, clean eating means choosing foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.
The Positive Impacts of Clean Eating
As you clean up your eating habits, you will provide your body with a wide range of benefits including helping you lose weight, fighting diseases, feeling better in general, and having a healthy outlook on life. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that clean eating isn’t a diet program, so while you may drop a few pounds, it’s not a commercial diet that requires counting calories or measuring your food. The weight loss, if you experience any, comes from choosing lower calorie foods. Cleaning eating is a lifestyle and will require some commitment on your part. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
Clean Eating Food Choices
Clean eating means choosing foods that are not refined and processed and sticking with whole, fresh choices. Boosting your fruit and vegetable intake is one easy way to do this. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 in 10 adults are getting enough fruits and vegetables each day. Not only can eating more produce on a daily basis help you lower your overall calorie intake, but it infuses your entire body with essential vitamins and minerals that optimize your health. Your total fruit and vegetable intake should be close to 5 cups each day, something that will show itself in how you look and feel in just a few short weeks.
In addition, it’s best to choose whole grains when you’re eating clean. Whole grains are not as processed as the refined grains you see on store shelves, making them as close to their original and natural form as is possible. That means forgoing white bread, white pasta, and white rice in favour of brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa, and oats. As more people embrace natural foods, the range of whole grains has increased, and you might find amaranth, freekah, teff, kamut, and spelt among your choices. Eating whole grains offers more fiber, something that controls appetite and protects your heart health, two of the biggest perks to following a clean eating plan.
Foods to Stay Away From
Clean eating is a way of eating that requires an honest commitment to avoiding highly processed and other unhealthy food choices. One of the first steps you can make on your clean eating journey is to cut back on how much meat you eat. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan to adhere to a clean eating plan, but eating less meat overall has a wide range of health benefits, not to mention being better for the environment. When you do eat meat and fish, opt for grass-fed beef, wild caught salmon, free range chicken, and other fresh meats, while avoiding processed items like sausage, cold cuts, and bacon.
Processed foods are the biggest group of foods you’ll need to avoid for a clean eating meal plan. The best way to be sure you’re adhering to this guideline is to stay away from items with a long ingredients list, especially if you can’t pronounce many of the ingredients. The more processed a food is, the more unhealthy additives and preservatives it contains, both of which can interfere with overall good health in a variety of ways. There are some foods that are processed that can still be a part of clean eating diet and they include plain Greek yogurt, cheese, and bag packaged produce, such as baby spinach or baby carrots.
Salt and sugar are other ingredients that you should be wary of. Research suggests that the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar each year from foods and drinks. The problem with this is that a diet too high in sugar leads to health problems like diabetes and obesity. Clean eating means avoiding highly sweetened foods, such as jarred pasta sauce, pre-made salad dressings, some kinds of bread, and packaged desserts. Likewise, salt poses health risks like elevated blood pressure and heart disease and should be limited on a clean eating diet.
Health Benefits of Clean Eating
As you can imagine, simply by having read the suggestions above, clean eating can have a profound impact on your health. Because you’re choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limiting meat, salt, and sugar, you’re naturally consuming fewer calories, something that can help you lose a few pounds without trying to lose weight. Another weight loss benefit is that the recommended foods for clean eating are high in fiber, which satisfies your appetite and prevents you from overeating, especially between meals.
Another natural side effect of clean eating is that you’ll have more energy. You’re fueling your body with vitamins and minerals that won’t cause dips in your blood sugar, helping you keep your energy leveled out over the course of the day instead of experiencing the blood sugar crash that occurs when you eat too many unhealthy carbs or sugar.
The additional vitamins and minerals you’re consuming, including vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, calcium and many more means that your entire body is benefiting. After eating clean for a couple of weeks, you’ll begin to notice that your nails are stronger, your hair has more shine, your gums and teeth are looking and feeling good and you’re happier and more optimistic.
Clean eating also has a significant impact on your risk of a wide range of diseases. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are rich in antioxidants which fight free radical damage and help ward off everything from cancer to heart disease. In addition, a high-fiber diet helps control blood pressure and combats the development of heart problems. Lowering your sugar intake helps reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Plus, as mentioned previously, cutting calories lowers the risk of obesity and all the health problems it can lead to.
Other benefits include better sleep, higher productivity, more energy to exercise, and that you’ll feel full, rather than always wanting to nibble and snack between meals.
Environmental Benefits of Clean Eating
Research proves that eating clean is better for the environment. The meat industry uses a lot of energy and contributes heavily to greenhouse gases. Reducing your meat intake can help reduce your carbon footprint and protect your community. Similarly, modern fishing methods have destroyed ecosystems. By choosing more produce, you can reduce the impact your eating habits have on the planet, something that benefits you and everyone around you. Some estimates say that a plant-based diet can add 10 years to your life. Sticking with organic options, both when it comes to plant and animal foods, can also dramatically improve your health and the environment.
Now that you know what to do, it’s helpful to have some guidance as you get started. Your doctor or a nutritionist is a great resource if you need assistance along the way. There are however, some easy tips to incorporate into your lifestyle that can also help. They include:
- Reading nutrition labels
- Cooking your own meals at home
- Staying away from liquid calories (from juice, soda, energy drinks, and coffee drinks)
- Eating well balanced meals
- Eating 5 to 6 smaller meals each day to control hunger
- Planning your meals and snacks and shopping for the ingredients so you’re always prepared
You’re going to find that eating clean needs to be a conscious habit at the outset of your journey. This is especially true if you’re used to eating a lot of fast food, fried food, and other kinds of junk and processed food. It’s going to take some planning to be sure you have the items needed on hand to prepare clean meals and snacks. With time, your efforts will become more of a habit and clean eating will become second nature to you.
Once you start experiencing the benefits of a clean diet, you’ll never want to go back to your old ways. However, it’s perfectly fine to incorporate treats into your program from time to time. They give you something to look forward to and offer a healthy balance of nutritious foods with items that just make you happy. Clean eating is going to quickly become a way of life for you and you’re going to be so glad you took the first step on the road to a healthy life.