Eat better even on a Walmart budget.
Ready to clean up your diet? Well, just what exactly does that mean? And is this just another fad that is going to quickly disappear?
Before discussing what clean eating is, understand this is not a new concept. Remember those granola-eating hippies of the 60's and 70's? They pretty much started this movement in an effort to get back to nature and connect with the earth.
Clean eating is a simple concept - eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. Grab a tomato from your garden, choose whole grain oats rather than those instant packets, and toss together your own nut mix from a variety of raw nuts and seeds.
Though it is plant-focused, clean eating does not mean you have to become a vegan. When choosing meat and eggs, know where and how the animals were raised and choose those that were cared for properly. Choose sustainable fish that has been line caught to minimize the impact on other species. Consider the environment and choose organic whenever possible.
Unfortunately, clean eating has become a buzzword all over social media and people with little to no knowledge of nutrition are now selling clean eating programs, detoxes, cleanses and diet plans.
The food industry has jumped on the trend and the word "clean" appears on the front of many labels. Clean eating is really a simple concept but has been pushed to the edges by savvy marketers. Certainly almonds, coconut and cocoa powder could fit under the category of "clean" foods, but when they are combined with other ingredients and morphed into a high-sugar, high-calorie snack they no longer fit within the original intention of clean eating.
Without any regulation and no standardized definition of clean foods, how do you know where to start. Here are a few tips:
Choose foods with no label
Raw fruits and vegetables require no food label. You are getting exactly what you see. Many bulk-bin items are similar. You can purchase raw nuts, whole grains, and dried beans in bulk at many grocery stores. These foods have no added ingredients. You look at the product, you recognize it, and you do not have to try to figure out what has been added.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold in a similar condition as if you would pick them from the garden or off of a tree. Nuts, beans and grains or shelled or dried for ease of use and/or to maintain a longer shelf life (fresh garbanzo beans only stay fresh for a few days, dried you can keep them in your pantry for a long time).
Unfortunately, some foods that are highly processed are not required to have a food label. Bakery items are one example. I think it is pretty clear that those glazed donuts are not clean food items but it may not be so with other items. When the best choice is not so clear, consider the remaining tips.
Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible
Again, raw fruits and vegetables fit this criteria. Banana chips, which you may think are just dried bananas, are often fried in oil. Those baked sweet potato chips have added salt and other flavorings.
A cod filet from the fish counter is just that. Frozen codfish patties can be an entirely different product and may only contain a small amount of cod.
Learn to read labels
Products that appear the same can vary dramatically. For instance, some yogurt contains only milk and beneficial bacteria. Others include pectin, gums and other thickeners. Nut mixes can be a simple combination of a variety of nuts or they can be loaded with sugar, added fats, salt, and artificial flavor.
Check the back label and read the ingredients. Avoid (as much as possible) any foods that have more than 3-5 ingredients or have ingredients that you do not know. Some of the ingredients on the list may just be a form of a vitamin but others could be preservatives or additives. Taking time to learn what an ingredient is will help you make the best choice.
Limit highly processed foods
Packaged mixes, frozen dinners, and canned soups are often loaded with sodium, preservatives and artificial flavorings. A seemingly simple product such as pudding is actually a concoction of sugar and chemicals. Did you expect one serving of prepared pudding would give you 20% of your recommended sodium allowance?
Understand that some foods must be processed for our consumption. Olive oil is a prime example. The olives must be picked and processed into oil - we cannot just buy olives and squeeze out the oil. Understanding processing methods (first pressed, cold pressed are good in this example) and reading labels is imperative. Some olive oils are labeled light or light-tasting and are actually a blend of olive oil and some other cheaper oil.
Some are now calling the trend an elitist movement that has become a status symbol among wealthy women wearing designer yoga pants while shopping at Whole Foods. They find fault in the fact that some are boasting about their $15.00 green juice with an air of self-righteousness. Those who find fault in the movement believe it has become another form of class and cultural discrimination. There may be some truth in this belief, but it is also true that cleaner eating can fit into any budget.
Make the better choice.
Not everyone has room in their budget for grass-fed organic beef and getting farm-fresh eggs is often difficult in a big city. Just make the better choice. Rather than purchasing frozen chicken nuggets, grab a pack of chicken breasts. If you don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, check the freezer section. Frozen spinach, blueberries, and green beans are better choices than packaged blueberry muffins or veggie chips. Work within your budget, make the better choice, and don't worry about the $15.00 green juice. You don't need it.
Clean eating is much more than just a way of eating. Many who choose to clean up their diet do so not only as a way of improving their eating habits and their health, but also in a conscious effort to improve the health of our environment. Take some time to learn about what you are eating, how it impacts the environment and then make the best choice that fits into your budget.
Thanks so much for reading! I know healthy eating can be so confusing - I hope these tips help.
I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions and don't forget to follow me on social media!