As millions of us toss gunk and junk from the recesses of our apartments and garages in that annual rite known as spring cleaning, consider doing the same for your body: Take advantage of the warmer weather to try clean eating.
Clean eating is not washing your veggies five times before you peel. Nor is it eating “twigs and berries,” as my son once described some of my earlier, super ambitious dietary experiments.
Eating clean means eating food that’s as close to natural as it can be: unprocessed and without added flavors or excessive ingredients. Imagine grilled shrimp tossed with shallots, bell peppers, lime juice and chili powder; tender new potatoes roasted with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper; steamed spinach with garlic, lemon and pepper. Nothing boxed or bagged there. All fresh, all clean, amazingly flavorful and good for you.
Clean eating is not a diet; it’s a way of living. You don’t go “off” this lifestyle; you enjoy experimenting with fresh, whole foods, feeling energized and at your optimum from the premium “fuel” you feed your body.
I learned the concept of eating cleanly when I completed a 21-day nutritional cleanse a few years ago. When I read the list of foods that were prohibited, I thought, what’s left to eat? But those were the days when I was still preparing boxed rice dishes with seasoning packets (i.e. loads of salt and other stuff you don’t need).
I had to wean myself from those packets, trying new spices and new ingredients. I started reading labels more closely, and came to appreciate simply prepared foods. Clean eating is not as stringent as a “cleanse;” you don’t eliminate foods but you do eliminate ingredients that lead you to feel sluggish, bloated and craving more food.
After only a few weeks of eating cleanly, your taste buds will be “reprogrammed:” Fruits will taste sweeter than before, so you’ll crave fewer sweet treats. A little salt will go much further as your tolerance for sodium drops. Your skin will be clearer, your hair shinier an nails stronger. Oh, and you will definitely lose weight.
To eat cleanly, you can’t just pick something up, or open a package and pour in a pan. With a little forethought, you shop for the week and cook meals to last two to three days. These days my son may say, “what’s this?” when he peers into a pot with a scrunched-up nose. But then he digs in, with nary a mention of a twig or a berry.
6 Principles of Clean Eating
Eat whole foods – the fewer ingredients, the better. That means fruit and veggies, legumes and nuts are A-OK. For packaged foods, scan the ingredient list. Count the ingredients. Then name them. You’ll probably see many words you don’t recognize. Aim for foods with 5 ingredients or fewer. And if you can’t ID it, don’t eat it.
Cut the sugar and salt. Sugar is toxic. The average American consumes 23 teaspoons of the stuff a day, compared with the recommended daily allowance of just 6 for women, 9 for men. One soda has 8 teaspoons of sugar alone. Americans also eat more than 1,000 milligrams over the recommended allowance of sodium. Get your sugar fix from fruit and sweet vegetables, like carrots and yams. And cook your own meals. When dining out, ask for sauces and dressings on the side so you control how much you eat.
Drink more water and less alcohol. Water hydrates and helps maintain your balance of bodily fluids. Try swapping your soda for a glass of water, and drink a half-glass before a meal to help make you feel full and eat less. Alcohol, on the other hand, can make you dehydrated.
Eat healthy fats. Say yes to heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – from fish, nuts, seeds, olive, canola and coconut oils. Eat less saturated fats, which come from meat and dairy products. Run from trans fats.
Cut refined grains and wheat. Switch from white and wheat flour, bread and pasta to complex carbs from whole grains (grains that haven’t had their germ and endosperm removed by milling), such as corn (and yes, popcorn), brown rice, rye, amaranth, millet, quinoa. But steer clear of wheat: it’s known as an appetite stimulant that’s linked to inflammation, autoimmune and digestive disorders.
Eat mindfully. Eat when you’re hungry – not just because it’s mealtime. Eat slowly, and put your fork down between bites. Make a point to chew a certain number of times – aim for 20 – for each mouthful. Consider the aroma and the flavors and textures at play on your tongue. Stop eating when you’re full – well before you’re stuffed.
Clean eating is also about consuming with a conscience: consider the environment, focus on local products and products raised and produced humanely.
Ready to eat clean? Start with one clean meal a day, increasing the meals so that by day three or four you’re eating clean full time. Follow these principles for seven days, then if you can, go for 14, and once there, go for 21. Let me know how you do and what changes you see!