The term "clean eating" gets tossed around everywhere now days, but many people don't really know what it means. Clean eating is not a diet, but a healthy, whole food based way of eating. Refined, processed foods are avoided/limited and replaced with nutrient-dense foods that have not been altered (or very little) from their original state.
So what exactly does that mean? I means choosing and consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. A peach plucked from the tree, berries picked from the vines, carrots pulled from the ground are foods we consume in their natural state. A quick rinse and they are ready to eat. These are obvious examples, but clean eating is sometimes not so easy to figure out.
For example, olives must be processed to give us the olive oil that is a staple in a healthy meal plan. Frozen fruits are processed but are considered a "clean" food as long as nothing has been added to them before freezing. In fact, some times frozen fruits can be a better alternative than fresh. During the winter months when fresh berries are unavailable, frozen berries offer a simple, convenient addition to smoothies, baked oatmeal, and many other recipes.
With the barrage of diets, meal plans, and "fixes", following a healthy meal plan can seem overwhelming. I am going to simplify it for you.
First - understanding the difference between unprocessed, minimally processed, and processed foods is imperative if you are trying to make better choices.
Unprocessed foods are those that are consumed in their natural state. Most fruits and vegetables fall into this category.
Minimally processed foods are those that require some type of processing before consumption. Minimally processed can also mean something as simple as freezing, chopping, or drying. A good example is natural peanut butter. Peanuts are processed (ground) until they become peanut butter. As long as no additives, sugars, salt, or other flavorings are added, this peanut butter would be considered a clean food.
Highly processed foods include any that have a list of ingredients that include additives, chemicals, preservatives, etc. Packaged meals, microwave meals, most jarred sauces, and commercially made baked goods and snack foods are highly processed.
Refined flours are also highly processed. Standard white flour is the end product of a long process of transforming wheat grains into a white powder that is completely void of any nutrients. The bran and germ are removed and the remaining grain is ground into a flour. The bran and germ contain the nutrients and fiber, so what you are left with is basically a starch that has been stripped of all nutrients.
Many boxed cereals are highly processed and include a bunch of ingredients and additives to make it taste and look good. Well, maybe not good, but overly sweet with a boost of artificial flavorings to make them taste like berries or some unidentified fruit, chocolate, or cinnamon. But these cereals must be "enriched" (nutrients added) because the nutrients were lost during the processing.
Confusing, isn't it? Most often, "clean" eating includes those foods that are consumed in their natural form or are minimally processed to make them useable (olives to olive oil) or dried, frozen, or canned at their peak of freshness without any additives.
To simplify clean eating, use the list below to help you get started.
Second - Learning to read and understand food labels is extremely important when trying to incorporate clean eating into your life. Have you noticed that items such as oranges, apples, and bananas have no label? Fruits and vegetables, as well as some other products are not required to have food labels. They are easy to identify and, in the case of fruits and vegetables, you pretty much know what you are getting when you buy an orange.
Other foods that do not require food labels are those that are made to be consumed immediately (such as cafeteria food), those with insignificant amounts of nutrients (such as coffee), and those prepared on-site and sold only in that business (such as your local bakery).
Taking a look at the label is a simple way to choose a cleaner, healthier product.
From this example you see a long list of ingredients that includes sugar, corn starch, gelatin, and natural flavors as well as others.
Top this one with your own fruit, nuts, or even a drizzle of honey. You know what you are eating, you are avoiding added chemicals and flavorings, and you will consume more nutrients.
Third - check the source. Knowing where your food comes from can also help you make cleaner choices. Those that are produced locally often are less processed and tend to be fresher and more nutrient-dense. Consider the difference in freshness between eggs from a local farm and those you buy in the grocery store. The eggs purchased from a farmer will be much fresher than those from the grocery store. Certainly this is not always true, but another factor to use in making cleaner choices.
Much of the fish available at the local supermarket (at least in the Midwest) is imported from other countries, often from China. With China's history of contaminated food, I avoid products from that country. Even in the Midwest, we can purchase Alaskan salmon, halibut, rainbow trout and other healthy options. If you want to know more about healthy and sustainable choices, check out this link https://www.seafoodwatch.org/consumers.
Learning what clean eating encompasses and how to make healthier choices is important, but learning how to incorporate those foods into your daily meal plan will give you the confidence to implement your own clean eating meal plan. Though some people are able to make a complete overhaul of their diet in one full-sweep, many find it easier to make simple changes gradually.
I recommend to my clients to choose their biggest challenge and work on that one first. For some, it's the drive-thru dinners that are quick to pick up after a long day. For others, it's the doughnuts and sweets in the breakroom at work.
If preparing a healthy dinner after work is a challenge for you, try cooking some extra food on the weekend. A big pot of chicken vegetable soup, a simple marinara sauce, or a pork loin can be cooked ahead and used during the week for your meals. Too tired to cook when you get home? Just heat up some spaghetti squash and top it with your marinara sauce, warm up a bowl of soup, or shred some of the pork and mix with salsa for easy pork tacos.
Are you continually tempted by the treats in the breakroom? Those can definitely be hard to resist! Bring some healthy snacks with you to work. Almonds, fruit, sliced veggies, string cheese, or whole grain crackers can fuel you through that mid-morning binge and help you avoid the pastries.
Need help getting started? Below I have written out a daily plan that compares a clean eating menu versus one that relies on processed foods. Look at the left-hand column - every food listed is in its natural state, or very minimally processed. By reading what is included in the meal, you know exactly what you will be consuming.
Now look at the left side. Do you know what ingredients are added to the instant cinnamon apple oatmeal? Well, they include whole grain oats, sugar, dehydrated apples (treated with sodium sulfite to promote color retention), natural and artificial flavor, salt, cinnamon, calcium carbonate, citric acid, guar gum, malic acid, some vitamins, and caramel color.
On the clean side, breakfast consists of old-fashioned oats (cooked in water), blueberries, and walnuts. Maybe you like yours with a little milk or honey. How about guar gum and caramel color? Didn't think so.
Crispy chicken salad? Here are the ingredients: Salad Mix: Lettuce , Carrots, Parsley, Chives. Tomato Crispy chicken patty Chicken, Water, Injectant (salt, stabiliser E450, E451, E452, sunflower oil), Marinade (potato starch, flavouring), Herbs, Raising agents (E450, E500), Yeast, Salt, Coating (wheat flour, flavourings, egg albumin, sugar, salt (E508), mustard powder, spices, maize starch, thickener E461), Colourant, Breadcrumbs, Whey powder (milk), Palm oil. Sweet corn
This comes right from the source: https://www.mcdonalds.co.za/menuItem/crispy-chicken-salad
Or you could have this:
A simple vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper tops it off.
Salmon is a great choice as it is high in Omega-3 fatty acids. That salmon patty? Well, it's high in a bunch of other things too. Here is the label for Trident Seafoods Alaskan Salmon Burgers:
PINK AND/OR KETA SALMON, VEGETABLE OIL (CANOLA AND/OR SOYBEAN), WATER, GROUND ONION, SALT, POTATO EXTRACT, GARLIC POWDER, MUSTARD FLOUR, WHITE PEPPER, BEET JUICE (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), ROSEMARY EXTRACT, MESQUITE SMOKED FLAVOR, LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE. CONTAINS FISH (PINK AND/OR KETA SALMON)
Sure - it could be worse, but if you are choosing salmon why do you need vegetable oil and potato extract? Were you hoping to serve an extra helping of vegetable oil and potato extract with your meal?
You were probably just expecting this:
Remember these 3 simple tips to help you clean up your meal plan:
1. Know the difference between clean foods and processed foods
2. Learn to read labels
3. Check the source
Better choices, better health, better You!
Thanks for reading! I hope I answered some of your questions. For more information, check out my website or find me on Facebook @cinergydynamics.
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