What is Clean Eating: A Guide to Eating Your Best
When it comes to making decisions about what and how to eat, it can feel like the number of options are endless. Low carb, keto, paleo, organic, adding or restricting foods... It can be daunting to change the way you eat, especially if the goal is to eat healthier.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might not have to pick one of the above: A common theme of all of these is being conscious of what's coming into your body. This means making discerning choices about what you eat by selecting foods that offer the most nutrition per bite.
Clean eating is bigger than a quick-fix diet: it is the practice of actively reducing your intake of highly-processed foods and increasing your consumption of whole, unaltered nourishment. Put simply, it means eating more foods that offer your body a great deal of benefits, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats.
What Is Clean Eating
At its core, clean eating is simple: it means putting foods into your body that have had little done to them between the time they were grown and the time you consume them.
To understand what clean eating is and which foods make the cut, it can be helpful to understand what constitutes processed food. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, processed foods are any that have been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. Cooking is a form of processing, but not necessarily a bad thing. Other forms of processing, like pasteurization, can make foods safer. Processed food exists on a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed:
- Minimally processed foods — such as bagged vegetables and roasted nuts — may have had little done to them, but are still considered processed.
- Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
- Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
- Ready-to-eat foods — such as crackers, cereal and lunch meat — are more heavily processed.
- The most heavily processed foods are pre-made meals including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.
There are thousands of minimally processed, whole foods that offer the body a host of great benefits: a well-crafted clean-eating plan includes a wide variety of these.
On A Clean Eating Plan, Expect To Eat:
- Fresh or flash-frozen fruits and vegetables
- Whole, unrefined grains, like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and rolled oatms
- Dried legumes, like lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and adzuki beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Unprocessed meat and poultry
- Organic dairy and eggs
- Unrefined oils, like extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
What clean eating comes down to is focusing on a variety of quality, whole ingredients put together in interesting, nourishing ways.
The Benefits Of Clean Eating
When you’re eating clean, you’re likely going to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which is great news for your entire body. The nutrients provided by these foods provide wholesome fuel for your cells and lasting energy, with fewer filler ingredients (like preservatives and added sugar) for your body to filter out.
You can also expect to reap the benefits of cutting down on added sugar, salt and fat. Eating too much of these can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. In particular, trans-fats and industrially produced oils can damage your cells and cause long-term health issues.
Clean eating can also help improve digestion, as high-fiber foods like fruit and vegetables move more easily and efficiently through the body. These foods also tend to contain a high water content (hurray for hydration!) and balanced levels of minerals and vitamins. Eating these types of foods can improve overall functioning and help preserve homeostasis (or optimal balance) throughout the body.
How To Eat Clean On The Go
Any number of complicated life commitments - work, parenting, travel – can interrupt the best laid clean eating plans. (Eating clean on vacation, anyone?) There are a number of ways to make eating clean a little easier so you feel prepared even on the craziest days.
Plan your meals and prep your food in advance: if you have a fridge full of nourishing meals ready to go (and some snacks on hand), you won’t need to run to the vending machine when hunger strikes. A balanced clean eating meal plan with a variety of foods incorporated throughout the week can keep things interesting so you’re more inclined to keep working towards your goals.
Pack In The Protein And Fat
Protein and healthy fats help keep us fuller, longer. Focus on incorporating nuts, beans, and seeds; sustainably-sourced animal proteins; and healthy fats to round out meals. If you don’t have time to eat a full meal, fuel up with a snack that contains healthy proteins or fats.
Make A Grocery List
Successful meal planning relies on a good grocery list. Group items by where in the store you’ll be hunting for them and focus on shopping the perimeter of the store. Fresh produce and foods that require cooling (because they don’t contain preservatives) are likely to be around the outside walls.
Sign Up For Grocery Delivery
Grocery shopping can take up a considerable chunk of your week. If you’re short on time, a grocery delivery service can be a huge help. You’ll save time and money and cut down on food waste by planning ahead. A little help purchasing goes a long way in keeping good habits up and stress levels down.
Easy Clean Eating Recipes
Still confused about where to start? You may be surprised by just how straightforward it is to work clean eating into your regular routine. Building a week’s worth of recipes to feed yourself can be as simple as selecting your favorite veggies, a couple of proteins, a grain or two, and a recipe ‒ and voila! Planned. Some of our favorites include these slow cooker recipes from around the world and these easy Whole30-inspired dishes that are good any time of day.
If you don’t have the time to develop your own meal plan or come up with ideas, a meal planning service can be a smart investment. Expect to receive a breakdown of your meals, a shopping list, and easy-to-follow instructions to make easy and nourishing clean-eating options.
Try These Simple Clean Eating Recipes:
- For a super-simple, nourishing breakfast: overnight oats with apples, peanut butter and pecans
- For a flavorful, unique dinner: Vietnamese shaking beef with bok choy and sweet potatoes
When it comes to being good to your body and setting yourself up for long-term wellness, being conscious of what’s coming into your body is one of the smartest habits to adopt. With a little planning and some creative thinking, eating clean can be an excellent proposition for your health and your taste buds. Get inspired and save yourself time and effort by seeking out a little help and inspiration via custom meal plans that are crafted to your preferences. Your body will thank you.