What is the clean eating diet?
Is it a fad like the cabbage soup and grapefruit diets? Or does it have the established recognition of the Adkins, Paleolithic and Mediterranean diet plans?
The answer is a big “NO” because actually, clean eating is not a diet – a word which strongly implies a temporary meal plan for weight loss. Rather, it is a lifestyle – a guideline for healthy eating for the rest of your life.
For some people, clean eating may even mean a more radical philosophical change to diet such as going vegan or vegetarian. Other interpretations stress eating organic foods, avoid genetically modified foods (GM), eating more frequent, lighter meals or detoxing with so-called cleanses.
One thing is for sure, dietitians agree on the basics of eating clean: eat food that is as close as possible to what comes out of the ground or grown on trees.
This approach not only benefits health and well-being but also benefits the environment.
Steps To Clean Eating
Whole foods are foods that has been processed or processed as little as possible and are free from additives or other artificial substances. Beans, grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables fit the bill.
These foods are rich in antioxidants, fiber, minerals, and vitamins – nutrients which are good for a myriad of functions within the body and overall anti-aging.
The typical Western diet is very low on whole foods such as fruits and vegetables – the latter in particular.
According to a study published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, people who consumed less than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day experienced progressively shorter survival rates and higher mortality rates.
Those who never consumer fruits and vegetables had a 53% higher mortality rate than those who consumed 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
So do yourself a favor and ramp up your intake plant-based foods.
Skip Refined Foods
Refined foods, such as, buns, crackers, white bread, and other junk foods, are stripped of nutrients even though paradoxically they have a long ingredients list.
Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are all strongly associated with our proclivity for junk foods. So, if you really want to eat clean, you must keep the reins on your intake of refined foods, especially those high in saturated, fat, sugar and salt.
By the way, saturated fat has been somewhat unfairly vilified for decades; and I’m not advocating that you rid your diet of it totally. I’ll get to this in another article.
High sugar intake on the other hand is arguably the single most destructive dietary practice. It is very addictive and tasty, which is one major reason why so many people fail at giving it up.
However, must it be given up? I, like many people, want to live a little by by enjoying the occasional cheat food – such cake, wine or ice cream.
The goods news is, incorporating cheat foods into your diet may actually be a good thing – when done smartly. Read more on this here.
You have to be tuned-in and turned on to not only what you eat but the when and the where you eat.
For instance, I know from past experience that the probability of me eating poorly goes up if I am up late at night losing myself in a film. So I’m mindful of that and make sure that I knock off eating by say around 7 pm or have a cup of green tea or an orange if I get a little hungry later on.
You need to have this kind of situational awareness in times when you know you are likely to overeat or drink the wrong things. Likely venues for such transgressions include the cinema, the club, and holiday dinners.
Pay attention to your portion sizes as well.
Eat Organic (When Possible)
You are at your local supermarket and already sold on the idea that you need to get whole foods. However, as you walk the supermarket aisles you realize that you have another choice to make: should you get organic?
The practice of eating food that is organic, that is, food free from antibiotics, genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, industrial solvents, ionizing radiation, and pesticides, is for a growing number of shoppers, the epitome of clean eating.
According to a meta-analysis of 343 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition found nutritional benefits to eating organic when compared to eating non-organic.
The benefits included higher levels of antioxidants, which have been linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and certain cancers.
The biggest hindrance to eating organic is the fact that it costs more than conventionally grown food. Another hindrance might be availability. In my city for instance, organic isn’t available as far as I know.
There is still a fervent debate as to whether eating organic actually adds up to a tangible health benefit. In a WebMD article on the issue, John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University is still unclear on this issue. He adds: “Is it going to make a difference? I don’t know. But it’s something to think about, and we’re the guinea pigs.”
Kim Larson, registered dietitian nutritionist and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated in an article that the pesticide residue left on conventionally grown food is way below the levels that would cause health problems.
My take is – if you organic is available in your area and you can afford it – go for it. If not, don’t sweat it. Just make sure you are eating more whole foods and taking proper care in washing them prior to consumption.
For some people, clean eating comes down to one thing – a meatless diet. I eat meat, but I am not here to advocate that over a meatless diet.
There are people who do well on a meatless diet in the long term and there are people who don’t. I myself tried it for about two weeks and I had very little energy – so I stopped.
There are also people who do well by eating meat in moderation, eating sufficient veggies, minimizing refined food intake, minimizing their stress levels and exercising regularly.
I’d love to see a long term controlled study that compares the longevity of the latter group with the longevity of vegetarians.
Even with the health benefits of the vegetarian diet, as previously stated, I do believe that meat/saturated fat has been unfairly vilified. Protein is after all, what makes us tick.
However, when you compare the vegetarian diet to the typical Western diet, which is refined-food laden, the former is hands down, more healthy.
If being a vegetarian/vegan works for you by all means continue. You may however be deficient in B12, folate and maybe some other B vitamins. This can be shorn up by taking a quality, doctor-formulated, vegetarian capsule, multivitamin.
As a vegetarian, you might also be deficient in omega 3, a nutrient hugely critical to your everyone’s health that predominantly comes from fatty fish. Normally I would suggest one takes a high quality omega 3 fish oil supplement but as a vegetarian you’d want to consume a plant-based source of omega 3 such as flaxseed or chia seeds.
Actually these seeds contain no omega 3 but rather alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a precursor to omega 3. Thing is, the enzyme required to covert ALA to omega 3 doesn’t work very well and hence the conversion rate is exceptionally small. Just be aware.
For my fellow meat eaters, go for free-rage, grass-fed organic meat if you can or at least free-range, grass fed meat. If beef or a dairy product is labeled free-range “grass-fed,” it came from cows that are: free to roam on a farm and exclusively fed grass, hay, and forage. They are fed no grains.
When compared to conventionally grain-fed, farm-raised cows that are often caged, the meat of free-range grass fed cows has less total fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks, and more antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E.
I think if more meat eaters consumed free-range grass fed meat, they would have less disease overall.
Experts recommend eating 5-9
If you are able to eat clean 100% of the time then more power to you. However, keeping it real, my guess is that most people who have healthy diets do cheat.
There are at least two reasons why it might actually be advantageous to satisfy your cravings, within reason, with the refined foods that you are a sucker for.
One, doing so makes life a tad more enjoyable. Two, the probability of maintaining a clean diet long term improves.
Here’s what one expert had to say about cheating:
“It can be unhealthy to eat perfectly all the time from a psychological standpoint,” says Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., R.D., a senior dietitian at Ronald Regan-UCLA Medical Center. “Think about yourself as a rubber band being stretched. Without any balance, you can want something so badly that you go from never eating it to gorging on it (or…snapping). By allowing yourself indulgences on a regular basis, you are showing yourself that you can stick to an overall healthy lifestyle while still enjoying some of the things you used to.”
There are many ways to define a cheat meal—but binge eating is not one of them. Having a small slice of cake every other day for dessert might be acceptable. However, eating an entire cake would be unacceptable.
If you are a sucker for a pizza, rather than getting one at a fast food joint, you could try a vegetable pizza for a change. It is plant-based so has less calories and saturated fats than the alternative.
Another benefit of vegetarian pizza is that it contains fiber, which will satiate you on fewer pieces than a cheese pizza.
Knowing when to cheat mostly comes down to knowing yourself. You might do better cheating a little on a daily basis rather than painfully restraining yourself for a week and then going hog wild when you can’t control yourself anymore.
Here’s a simple strategy to help you decide the frequency of your cheat days. Let’s say you eat 3 meals plus two snacks a day. That is 5 x7 (35) portions weekly.
Then for 3.5 portions/meal/snacks a week or 10% of the time, you’d have you’d have a cheat meal, within reason. You could cut back on your cheats if you find that it is sabotaging your fitness or fat loss goals.
Drink More Water