Of the many healthy living buzz terms you’re likely to hear, “clean eating” is among the most ambiguous and confusing. That is unfortunate because eating a clean diet is one of the best ways to achieve and maintain optimal health. At its core, clean eating is about eschewing processed and packaged foods in favor of whole, natural ones. Learn more about it and why it’s far more than another diet fad.
What Is Clean Eating?
Put simply, eating clean means consuming a diet that overwhelmingly consists of whole, natural foods. The modern American diet tends to heavily favor processed, packaged foods, which are more convenient. However, diets that largely consist of packaged, processed foods cause a myriad of health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Processed and Packaged Foods
Processed and packaged foods are typically loaded with artificial ingredients, which are used to make the food appealing to consumers. These ingredients also help to extend the shelf life of such products. Unfortunately, all of those extra ingredients do nothing to improve the healthiness of such foods. Processed foods are usually loaded with extra fat, sugar and salt, which are all terrible for your health when consumed excessively.
How to Adopt a Clean Eating Diet
The first step in adopting a diet in which you eat mostly unprocessed, whole foods is not thinking of it as a diet. Don’t use it as a means to an end. Rather, consider it a lifestyle change. There is no finish line. Rather, you shift the way you eat permanently. That may sound terrible, but you can still enjoy just as many delicious treats with these eating habits as you can while eating processed, packaged foods.
When following the tips below, try to be as consistent as possible. However, don’t beat yourself up for falling off the wagon here and there. Aim for about 80 percent of your diet to adhere to these rules, and you should be good to go.
- Avoid Processed, Packaged Foods – As much as possible, steer clear of foods that are in cans, boxes, bags or otherwise processed or packaged.
- Stick with Whole, Real Foods – Only buy and consume foods that you recognize. As much as possible, stick with foods that are in their whole, unaltered, natural state. This means primarily eating food when it’s in season. However, it’s okay to eat canned or frozen vegetables and fruits to have more variety throughout the year.
- Cook and Eat at Home – The vast majority of restaurant food is made from processed, packaged ingredients. By cooking and eating mostly at home, you will always know exactly what you are consuming.
- Avoid Added Sugars – Everyone gets cravings for sweets from time to time. Start satisfying those cravings with fresh fruit, which contains natural sugars. Before too long, you won’t miss the candy, baked goods and other sugar-loaded treats.
- Stay Hydrated – Conventional wisdom regarding how much hydration is enough is always changing. Some recommend drinking when you are thirsty. However, try to consume at least six eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
- Avoid Trans Fats and Consume Saturated Fats Sparingly – Steer entirely clear of foods that contain trans fats. Saturated fats are mostly found in processed, packaged foods, so you can avoid them by avoiding those foods. Some meats contain saturated fats too, however, so limit your consumption of them as well.
- Limit Your Consumption of Caffeine and Alcohol – Limit yourself to no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day, which is equal to two 16 to 20 ounce mugs of coffee. As for alcohol, women should stick with one serving per day and men with two. Servings for different types of alcohol vary. For wine, it’s five ounces. For beer, it’s 12 ounces. For spirits, it’s 1.5 ounces.
Michael Pollan’s Food Rules
Author Michael Pollan also happens to be an activist regarding the intersections between food and society. He has gained a lot of prominence for his advice regard clean eating. Pollan deftly boils down the concept of eating clean to its essentials, making it much easier to adopt this type of diet.
His book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” contains dozens of rules for clean eating. Here are ten especially useful ones to keep in mind:
- Eat Mostly Plants – Pollan recommends sticking mostly with leafy plants for best results.
- Eat Your Colors – Aim for variety when it comes to the color of the vegetables you consume. Pollan notes that vegetables are rich in phytochemicals that help keep you healthy and even ward off disease. Different phytochemicals produce different coloring in vegetables, so the best way to ensure that you’re getting optimal nutrition is by being colorful when it comes to this food group.
- Consume Animals that have Been Fed Well – Pollan is a huge advocate of avoiding meat as much as possible. If you must eat it, however, he recommends sticking with animals who have eaten well themselves. This may include grass-fed cattle and free-range chickens.
- Only Eat Junk Food You Make Yourself – Fortunately, Pollan doesn’t suggest avoiding junk food altogether. However, he says to only consume it when you’ve made it yourself. For instance, go ahead and whip up that batch of cookies. The idea here is that the amount of work that’s needed to make homemade junk food will reduce its prevalence in your home.
- Shop the Periphery of the Store – When grocery shopping, stick to the periphery. Avoid the middle section as much as possible. In most stores, produce, the bakery, fresh meats and seafood and the like are located around the edges. Processed, packaged foods tend to fill up the center aisles, so avoid them as much as possible.
- Get Inspired by Traditional Food Cultures – Look for recipes based on traditional food cultures of societies like Japan, Greece and France.
- Avoid White Bread – According to Pollan, the whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead. Stick with whole-grain bread for clean eating success.
- Learn to Love Sardines – The oily little fish are loaded with omega-3 fats, which are sorely lacking in most Western diets. They’re a great source of vitamin D too.
- Avoid Foods with Sugar as a Top Ingredient – Always read food labels. Avoid foods where sugar is listed in the top three ingredients.
- Only Snack on Unprocessed Plant Foods – When the urge to snack hits, ditch the potato chips for fruits, nuts and vegetables.
The Problem with Corn
Finally, a great way to ensure clean eating is by limiting the amount of corn in your diet. Pollan is quite vocal about the negative health consequences that go along with the prevalence of corn in our food. Indeed, corn derivatives are found in nearly all foods that are processed. Many are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. If a store has around 10,000 items, at least 2,500 of them will contain some form of corn. This issue largely stems from the government encouraging farmers to grow corn by subsidizing its production. This results in a huge volume of corn, which is why it is used so much – and which adds another hurdle to clean eating.
So, are you ready to adopt a clean eating lifestyle? By keeping the points highlighted above in mind, you will be well on your way. Don’t forget the most important rule of all: Be consistent. You’ll start looking and feeling better, but that will only last as long as you keep up your clean eating.