Clean eating isn’t a diet, nor is it just a way of eating. It’s an entirely new lifestyle. Clean eating is all about choosing minimally processed, real foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. The whole idea behind clean eating is to choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. It means a lot more cooking at home and less stopping at the drive-through. Here’s more about clean eating, what it is, and how to incorporate it into your life.
Eat More Real Foods
The first step in a clean eating journey is to eat more real, whole foods that are as close to how nature intended them to be as possible. That means eating a whole lot more fruits and vegetables. These important foods are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant compounds that help fight inflammation and protect against damage from free radicals. Sometimes, the best first step you can take is to add more of these foods into your diet before taking anything out. By increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet, you won’t be as hungry throughout the day and won’t find yourself turning to snacks as frequently. Slowly, you can begin to take unhealthy, processed, and prepackaged convenience foods out of your diet and replace them with even more real, whole foods for a truly clean eating lifestyle.
Cook at Home
Unfortunately, hitting the drive-through on your way home isn’t always conducive to a clean eating lifestyle. Though you may be able to find a salad or two, most of the food offered at fast food restaurants is highly processed and unhealthy. Instead, when you embark on a clean eating lifestyle, you’ll be making most of your meals at home. And with good reason – highly processed fast foods have been linked to inflammation and an increased risk for heart disease. Instead, choose recipes that include a wide array of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, eggs, and nuts. You don’t have to cook a four-course meal every night. Find a few go-to easy recipes that you can whip up quickly and try something new when you have more time to experiment.
When embarking on a clean eating journey, you’ll also need to start paying attention to nutrition labels. While clean eating is based on consuming whole foods, you can fit certain types of packaged foods into your diet, such as prepackaged vegetables, salads, nuts, and meat. However, you need to read nutrition labels to make sure there aren’t any added sugars, preservatives, or other unclean ingredients. Choose raw nuts over those roasted in vegetable oil and choose meat without added MSG flavorings. You can also choose prepackaged vegetables for the sake of convenience, such as pre-chopped butternut squash or chopped lettuce, but it’s important to make sure there aren’t any add-ins or unhealthy salad dressings included.
Avoid Refined Carbs, Sugar, and Unhealthy Fats
When adhering to a clean eating diet, it’s important to avoid refined carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Refined carbs are highly processed and provide little in the way of nutritional value. In fact, research has linked eating carbs to increased inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity. Instead, those adhering to a clean eating lifestyle should choose the least processed types of grains, such as steel-cut oats and sprouted grains.
Vegetable oils also don’t meet the criteria for clean eating. These types of oils are made using a highly processed method of chemical extraction. Not only that, but they’re also high in omega-6 fatty acids. Studies have shown this type of fat increased inflammation and the risk of heart disease. Instead, turn to healthy fats, such as fish, nuts, and seeds rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
The last, and probably the most important, type of food to avoid when you’re eating clean is sugar. Sugar is in practically every processed food. It’s even in foods that don’t taste sweet, such as peanut butter and tomato sauce. Research shows that diets high in sugar can cause obesity, diabetes, and metabolic disorder. Some proponents of clean eating say it’s best to avoid all sugar completely. Others advise that an occasional treat with natural sugar, such as honey or maple syrup, is okay. It should be noted, however, that even natural sugars contain little nutritional value. Instead, it’s best to stick with fresh fruit and berries for a sweet fix that’s also packed with vital nutrients.
Clean eating is a great way to get – and stay – healthy. Adhering to the clean eating lifestyle isn’t that complicated, either. Just remember to eat more real, whole foods and stay away from ultra-processed foods that are loaded with sodium, sugar, and fat, and you’ll be well on your way.