Clean eating has become a major buzz word in the recent years, but you may not know what it is exactly or how to go about cleaning up your diet. Eating clean is a good way to refresh your eating habits and incorporate a healthy lifestyle. It's about eating more of the best and healthiest options in each of the food groups—and eating less of the not-so-healthy ones. So that means consuming more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus proteins and healthy fats. That also means cutting back on refined grains, added sugars, salt and unhealthy fats. My favorite part is not having to count calories or give up entire food groups. It's also easy to follow. Here are some tips to help get you started.
1. Limit Processed Foods
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 healthier homemade versions. Instead of store bought cookies, you can make healthier ones made of oats, peanut butter, raw honey, nuts, and dried fruit. Check for added sugar and salt. Many processed foods are full of excess sodium, sugar and fat. Also, 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. Just remember to make sure there is no added salt in your canned goods.
2. Bump Up Your Veggies
I'll be the first to admit I'm not the greatest when it comes to veggie consumption. I'd rather eat fruit, but I know veggies are good for me. 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. I'm always trying to sneak veggies into my day. If you struggle too you can try carrots and hummus for a snack, start your meal with a salad, or begin your day with vegetables by adding spinach, peppers and onions to an omelet.
3. Cut Down on Saturated Fat
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 in favor of healthy fats like olive oil, avacados, and the kind found in nuts, nut butters, 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. 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.
4. Reduce Alcohol Intake
Having a cleaner diet also includes cleaning up what you drink. Alcohol in moderate amounts may be good for your heart (like red wine), 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. My rule is to eat my calories, not drink them.
5. Stay Away From Excess Sugar
Most people eat too many added sugars. I am a recovering sugar addict, so I relate to this all too well. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Cut down on added sugars in your diet by eliminating sweets like soda, candy, and baked goods. Instead, replace them with healthier versions like LaCroix sparkling water, make your own granola bars, and sweeten cookies with bananas. Also, keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt, tomato sauce, and cereal. Always read your labels and 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.
6. Watch the Salt
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.
7. Choose Whole Grains
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.” Or with bread, check the first ingredient. It should say "stone ground 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.
8. Eat Less Red Meat
Eating clean doesn’t mean giving up on red 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. Instead, replace your ground beef with lean ground turkey or ground chicken. Or if you absolutely have to have meat (my husband is one of them), buy organic, grass-fed beef and steak.
9. Up Your Fruit Intake
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. This goes back to my rule; eat your food, don't drink it.
10. Nix Refined Grains
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 clear up any questions regarding clean eating. If you need any more tips or clean recipes, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to help, or at least point you in the right direction. If you want to join my May accountability group to learn more about clean eating and ensure you stay on track click here to join. I will also be posting clean recipes right here on this blog (some old and new), so make sure you subscribe to be updated.