Clean eating isn’t complicated, and it won’t make you feel deprived, either. Instead, learning how to eat cleaner is a common-sense way to eat healthier.
There are all sorts of diets that have reached fad status in recent years —from the Paleo Diet to the South Beach Diet and from low carb to intermittent fasting. Some have continued to be popular and others have faded.
Now the concept of clean eating has gained traction, with books and articles extolling the health benefits of this approach to the foods you eat. But figuring out what clean eating is, and how to eat healthy, isn’t always easy.
One reason is because there’s no scientific definition of “clean eating.” In fact, when U.S. News and World Reports polled a dozen registered dietitians to find out how they defined clean eating, none of them answered exactly the same way. What’s more, clean eating can sound a little off-putting, as if a normal diet is somehow dirty and eating clean involves a big effort and being a dietary purist.
However, a close look at the concept behind clean eating shows it’s not complicated or hard to apply to everyday life.
What is clean eating?
“Clean eating is consuming mostly foods in their natural form — not overly processed. That means eating lots of produce and foods from the earth,” explains registered dietitian, nutritionist, and health and wellness coach Julie Schwartz RDN, LD.
“If you want to learn how to eat cleaner, it doesn’t mean you must be a vegan or vegetarian, unless that works for you,” Schwartz adds. “However, the bulk of what you eat should ideally be plant-based.”
Health benefits of clean eating
Eating the clean way and consuming more whole foods and nutrient-rich fresh fruits and veggies has many potential health benefits, according to Schwartz.
“If you are eating clean, you are likely getting abundant fiber in your diet and meeting the recommended 25 to 35 grams a day,” she says. “There is more flavor, less sodium, less sugar and less fat — and more natural vitamins and minerals — in your meals. Plant-based, clean eating is implicated in reducing all our chronic diseases: heart disease — hypertension and high cholesterol levels, cancers, and diabetes. And it may aid in reducing overweight and obesity.”
Clean eating doesn’t mean you have to avoid every food that is somewhat processed. Instead, read labels and opt for products with few or no additives like extra sugar or preservatives.
“If we get technical, most foods are processed somewhat, even our produce. Clean is more plant-based with less additives,” Schwarz explains. “It’s more often home prepared, flavorful, and enjoyable. And when we eat at restaurants, clean eating is about being sensible versus using dining out as an excuse to splurge on the most calorie and fat-laden, low fiber options.”
Tips on how to eat cleaner
One reason we may reach for so-called convenience foods is to save time. But the reality is, convenience foods are often not great time-savers and typically cost more than preparing a meal for clean eating.
For example, Schwartz points out, you can make a healthy, clean, and quick meal using pasta, rice, quinoa, and other whole grains.
“Add seasonings and healthy, tasty fillers like vegetables, feta cheese, dried fruits, and tomato sauce, and you have a meal with more value in the clean eating department — and it really takes only a few more minutes than preparing packaged so-called convenience foods,” she says.
More ways to easily eat healthy:
- Keep clean eating simple. Focus on most of your meals being plant-based. But, if fresh or organic produce isn’t always available, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat clean. “Fresh, frozen, and canned produce, even if not organic, are nutritious and have health benefits,” Schwartz says.
- Plan ahead. Take some time on the weekends to plan clean meals, shop, prep veggies, and even cook foods ahead of time. Consider cooking enough of some clean meals so you can save time and money by serving them in two different ways. “For example, grilled salmon with couscous made with chicken stock, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, feta cheese, lemon juice, and a little olive oil and roasted asparagus is a healthy, clean meal. Make enough for leftovers and you can create another clean meal the next day by topping the leftovers over a bed of greens,” nutritionist Schwartz, who is based in Safety Harbor, Fla., suggests.
- Explore spices. Whole, fresh foods are often delicious without any added seasoning. But many of us are used to food loaded with sodium, sugar, and artificial flavors. If clean foods seem a little bland, try out the suggestions in Clean Eating for Dummies — explore herbs and spices to add flavor to clean foods. From mint and oregano to rosemary, thyme, and countless others, spices can add zest and zing to clean meals and snacks.
April 09, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN