What It Means To Eat Clean
"Eating clean" is one of the newest buzz phrases in the nutrition industry. You may have heard about it from a celebrity interview, or a friend trying to lose weight, but you may still be a bit confused about what exactly it means to eat clean. It's not a fad diet, but more a way of eating healthier in the face of the typical American diet with its excessive amount of processed foods, added sugars, sodium and saturated fats. Like locavores, those who eat clean are focused on the food itself as opposed to how much they eat. While locavores focus on how far away their food comes from, those who eat clean generally stick to minimizing their intake of processed foods and lower or eliminate foods with added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts, eggs, dairy, and whole grains are all a go on a clean diet, but keep in mind that keeping these clean is hard these days. With sweetened fruit, processed meat, margarine, and tortillas made with refined grains it's not as easy to eat clean as you may think. Some stick to organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed beef, but it's not required. If you go beyond the produce section, staying within an eating clean plan means avoiding chemical based-preservatives, food coloring, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners. It also means skipping the sweetened nuts container for the bag of raw nuts. Because solid fats and added sugar make up 35% of the average American's daily caloric intake, making this switch could help you lose pounds.
Eating clean does not restrict specific foods per se, but making the switch means exchanging some pantry staples for their healthier cousins. Refined grains such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta are considered "dirty" foods. Their eat-clean equivalents are 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, and 100% whole grain pasta. The increase in fiber that will result from skipping refined grains could help you reach the 25-38 grams of fiber you should be getting in your diet every day. Processed foods are obviously on the dirty list for a number of reasons including unnatural preservatives, added sugar, excessive sodium, and saturated or trans fat content. To go clean with processed foods like cookies, pancakes, and other desserts, the use of natural sweeteners, such as brown rice syrup is exchanged for regular sugar, and whole grain flour such as white whole wheat flour is exchanged for regular flour.
Eating clean while eating out may be a bit more difficult, but it's mostly the same game you'd play in the grocery store. Stick to salsa on meat dishes, as opposed to the special sauces you may never find an ingredient list for. Also skip soups to avoid the added salt and sweetened beverages to steer clear of the added sugar. Mix and match the side orders the restaurant offers if a certain dish has a processed option you'd rather not have. If that means exchanging the ranch salad dressing on a specific salad for a basic vinaigrette, or nixing the candied pecans for slivered almonds so be it. Of course fried foods should be left off the table.
A Break from Clean
Eating clean can feel like a strict diet if you don't allow yourself some leeway every once in a while. Some clean eaters allow a little wiggle room for processed foods that have five ingredients or less. Others apply the 80/20 rule, sticking to a mostly clean plate 5 to 6 days a week but allowing a few meals to enjoy that little something something that's solely for your eating pleasure.
Check out a sample Clean Eating Meal Plan. Also, here's a set of shopping lists from Clean Eating magazine.
How "clean" is your diet? What "dirty" foods are hard to give up?