Last night I mentioned that I wanted to try and eat “cleaner”. This term gets thrown around a lot and I didn’t really know what I should or shouldn’t eat.
I found this great article on Eating Well that should really help you understand what Eating Clean is.
Many processed foods are full of excess sodium, sugar and fat. An easy way to clean up your diet is to look at the ingredient list on packaged foods. If the list is long or includes lots of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, try to stay away from it. Instead, make healthy homemade versions of your favorites, like macaroni and cheese, tomato sauce or granola bars. And remember that not everything that comes out of a box, bag or can is bad for you. For example, whole-wheat pasta, baby spinach and chickpeas are all “clean” packaged foods. They are minimally processed and provide good-for-you nutrients like fiber and vitamins.
Vegetables are full of vitamins, with many boasting vitamin A, which is essential for healthy vision and immune function, and vitamin K, which can help keep your bones healthy. Vegetables are also high in heart-healthy fiber, which helps you feel full. Plus, veggies are low in calories, so you can eat lots of them without damaging your waistline. Fresh vegetables are as clean as they come since they are unprocessed and come straight from the farm (just don’t forget to wash them before you eat them!). The recommended daily amount for most adults is 2½ to 3 cups. To make sure you get your fill, try carrots and hummus for a snack, start your meal with a salad, or begin your day with vegetables by adding peppers and onions to an omelet.
You don’t have to cut out fats when you’re eating clean; instead just focus on healthy fats. It’s as simple as swapping out saturated fats (like those in butter, cheese and meat) in favor of healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil and the kind found in nuts and fatty fish. These fats are good for your heart and can help raise your good HDL cholesterol, while saturated fats are associated with increased risk of heart disease and should be limited. Need help identifying fats? Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. To cut back on saturated fat in your diet, try these simple swaps: top your salad with nuts instead of cheese, use peanut butter instead of cream cheese and replace mayonnaise with avocado on a sandwich.
Having a cleaner diet also includes cleaning up what you drink. You can still have alcohol, but stay within the recommended limit—one drink per day for women and two for men (one drink equals 5 ounces wine, 1½ ounces liquor or 12 ounces beer). Alcohol in moderate amounts may be good for your heart, but too much alcohol dehydrates you and adds excess calories to your diet. Steer clear of mixed drinks with lots of added sugar; it’s probably safe to assume that if your drink is neon-colored or came out of a frozen machine, it’s not all that clean.
Most people eat too many added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. To clean up your diet, cut down on added sugars in your diet by limiting sweets like soda, candy and baked goods. Also keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain varieties with no added sugar), tomato sauce and cereal. Look for foods without sugar as an ingredient, or make sure it’s listed towards the bottom, which means less of it is used in the food.
Eating too much salt can increase your blood pressure. Many Americans eat more than the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium per day (that’s about one teaspoon of salt). Cutting back on processed foods will help you reduce your salt intake, as most packaged foods contain more sodium than homemade versions. To help minimize salt while you cook, flavor your food with herbs and spices, citrus and vinegar.
Whole grains include more nutrients than refined grains because the bran and germ are not removed. Look for the word “whole” with the first ingredient in breads and pastas—for example, make sure it says “whole wheat,” not just “wheat.” Outside of whole wheat, choose whole grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice. Another bonus to eating whole grains: a study found that people who eat three or more servings of whole grains have lower body mass indexes and less belly fat than people who eat fewer.
Eating clean doesn’t mean giving up on meat entirely, but eating less meat can help eliminate extra saturated fat from your diet. A serving of meat is just 3 ounces (the size of a deck of cards)—but portions served at restaurants and even at home tend to be larger than that. Try serving vegetarian proteins like beans, tempeh or tofu on some nights and bulking up smaller portions of meat by serving it in veggie-packed soups or stir-fries.
Fruit has been nicknamed “nature’s candy” for good reason—it’s naturally sweet and delicious. Fruit is also rich in potassium, which can help keep blood pressure in check, and vitamin C, which is important for a healthy immune system. And just like vegetables, fresh fruits are whole, unprocessed foods. Frozen, canned and dried fruit is minimally processed and can be a great clean-eating choice as well. Just double-check the ingredient list to be sure that there is no sugar added, and look for fruit canned in its own juice. The recommended amount of fruit for most adults is 1½ to 2 cups per day. To make sure you get the added heart-health and weight-loss benefits of fiber, choose whole fruits over fruit juice.
Cutting out white flour and refined grains is an easy way to eat cleaner. Refined grains—unlike whole grains—are more processed and often stripped of beneficial nutrients like magnesium, selenium and fiber. Plus, they’re typically found in unhealthy packaged foods, like baked goods and junky snack foods that may also deliver added sugars, saturated fats and extra sodium. Skip the packaged refined carbs like cookies, crackers and cakes altogether, and also swap white rice, white bread and white pasta for brown rice and whole wheat bread and pasta.
I hope this helps you get an idea of how to eat clean. I know it helped me!