Eating clean is a lot simpler than you think. The idea is about being mindful of our food’s pathway between its origin and your plate. At its simplest, eating clean is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods – those that are minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural state as possible. However, modern food production has become so sophisticated that simply eating whole foods can be a challenging proposition these days.
First, let’s start with the definition of processed food. “Processing” includes:
- Additions of any kind — everything from salt, sugar, and fat to aid flavor and texture; to preservatives that keep food from spoiling too quickly; and to vitamins enriching everything from beverages to breakfast cereals.
- Changing the form of the natural food — for instance, removing the bran and germ from whole grains to create refined bread; mashing apples into applesauce; or stir-frying veggies.
- Foods with components manufactured in a lab. (You probably don’t need clarification on this one, but if the ingredient list has stuff you cannot recognize or pronounce, that’s a pretty solid indication that it’s not natural).
In that light, processed food includes everything from a hot dog (where do we even begin?) to jarred organic pasta sauce and instant oatmeal. And yes, changing the form of natural food includes cooking as well, so even your steamed broccoli is technically processed, albeit minimally.
So why, exactly, is processing so bad — especially if it’s something as simple as adding heat?
In two words: It’s not.
The key is to avoid foods that are “ultra-processed”. As you can probably guess, the health problems associated with ultra-processed food are numerous. Foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to cancer and infertility; highly processed foods are stripped of nutrients needed for overall health; and heavily modified food tends to have additives that overstimulate the production of dopamine, the “pleasure” neurotransmitter, perpetuating a negative cycle of constant junk food cravings.
Thanks to extensive research that has linked eating whole foods with good health, we do know that largely plant-based diets are healthy. Multiple studies have shown that diets heavy on fruits and vegetables can curb or prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Plus, there’s research linking diets high in fruits and veggies to healthy weight management and glowing skin and hair — as if you needed more motivation.
Unprocessed foods include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Dried legumes
- Farm-fresh eggs
Minimally processed foods include:
- Unrefined grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Unprocessed meat; wild over pastured, pastured over grain-fed
- Hormone-free dairy
Pesticide-free organic food is preferable to avoid consuming added hormones or chemicals. It’s also important to note that eating clean doesn’t give you free reign to eat endless quantities. They may be healthy, but they still have calories! You still have to think about portion size.
Realistically, eating clean doesn’t mean you need to eat everything raw and straight from the ground. It means choosing minimally processed foods with few ingredients on the label, if it has a label at all.
If you’re shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store, that’s always a good start. When roaming the main aisles for packaged foods, ask yourself; Where did this food or its ingredients come from? How much has it been processed or handled? The ingredient label should be short, and all ingredients should be recognizable. Scan for easy-to-avoid additives like artificial coloring and flavors.
Cooking does alter your food, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While it’s true that some nutrients are lost during cooking, like vitamin C, other nutrients are increased when foods are cooked, like lycopene (antioxidants), so it’s best to eat a wide variety of foods, in both their raw and cooked forms. When cooking food, the focus should be on maintaining the integrity of what you are consuming and avoiding high-fat cooking methods such as deep-frying or stewing in animal or vegetable fats. Opt for flash-cook methods such as stir-frying and ones without additives like steaming. For fruits and veggies, raw is best, but steaming is a close second in terms of preserving nutritional value and keeping the food’s natural integrity.
The bottom line, eating clean is better for your overall health and well-being. It’s simple and easy to accomplish when you have the knowledge and desire to make the change. In the long run, you will feel great, have more energy, and live a better quality of life.
Source: Fitness Magazine, Core Fit Studio