The ever-changing nutrition trends are not new to those of us that like to curl up in bed with the latest and greatest health news. Clean eating is another one of those terms that everyone wants once they’ve heard someone else say it, but what does eating clean really mean and how can we incorporate it into our busy lives when, let’s face it, we aren’t sitting around in the kitchen for hours at a time thinking about what to cook next!
Simply put, clean eating is eating as close to nature as possible. This means consuming primarily whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables, whole grains, some meat and fish, healthy fats, and some dairy. It is not a diet, but more of a lifestyle shift in the way we feed ourselves and how we live. The “Clean Eating” movement actually began in the 1960’s when processed food was banned for moral reasons, not health reasons. It has more recently taken off as a way of eating that can benefit our health and can be very individualized. Some benefits include clearer skin, weight loss, increased energy, stronger hair and nails, increased mental health, and better sleep. Here are five ways to begin the process of eating cleaner, or closer to nature:
1. Eat Whole Foods: A whole food has one ingredient, not a list of added and processed ingredients on the nutrition label when you flip the package around. It doesn’t need an ingredient list because there is only one. Buying organic is best because that means it was grown without the use of harmful chemicals, however, not everyone can afford to eat completely organic so eat as organically as possible but do not omit fruits and vegetables just because you cannot afford the organic option. Eating conventional is better than not eating any.
2. Get Rid of Refined Sugars: Get the “white foods” out of your diet for good reason. These empty calories have a high glycemic index and will quickly spike your blood sugar (hence the very temporary good feeling when you first eat them) and then send it crashing down only to crave these foods again. These white foods include white sugar and flour, white semolina pasta, white rice, breads, and pastries.
3. Maintain Blood Sugar: Even blood sugar means sustained energy levels and mentality throughout the day. You should not be exhausted at the end of your day (most of us are mentally exhausted, not physically exhausted). Eating an optimal diet and going no longer than 3-4 hours without eating should give you this sustained energy all day. This being said, you can drink all the green juice you want, but if your lifestyle is not balanced, you will not reap the rewards of good food. Everything is connected!
4. Get Cooking: It’s not necessary to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen to eat well and it’s also the best way to increase your nutrition. It just takes a bit of organization, planning, and shopping to have the right ingredients on hand. For example, you could make a healthy soup on the weekend and freeze two nights worth. Then you have two nights where all you have to do is unthaw and enjoy. There is an abundance of 30-minute recipes that are easy to follow on the internet that you can choose for the other nights. Make enough to have leftovers for lunch the next day and you don’t need to prepare your lunch in the morning. Most importantly, experiment with foods you like and have fun!
5. Correct Combinations: There’s a lot of buzz out there about what to eat with what and when to eat it. Unless you have specific symptoms related to certain food combinations or are a professional body builder, the basic rule of thumb is to have one serving of protein, fat, and a complex carbohydrate at every meal. Complex carbs digest slower and don’t spike your blood sugar like refined carbs do. Some examples include quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, and barley. Stick with the gluten-free options if you have a sensitivity or intolerance.
These tips should get you started and if you feel overwhelmed by all the changes, start with one at a time and work your way up. You want to make changes that are sustainable so slowly incorporating them into your lifestyle can help make this happen. The emphasis with clean eating is quality over quantity. Know where your food comes from, how it was grown, and make choices that will ensure the best quality possible. What you eat becomes your cells so you are, literally, what you eat. Feel the difference!
Shawn Clavelle earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Vermont. She is currently a student at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition working toward certification as a holistic health coach. Shawn’s vast clinical experience and knowledge of the healthcare system makes her proficient at helping others design their own treatment plan through structured goal setting and continuous evaluation of progress. Using a holistic approach with a focus on nutrition, she helps uncover the obstacles to good health and provides simple options for making better lifestyle choices.