You’ve probably heard about clean eating in the media, but what is it? And how does it work? Read on to find out and for tips on how you can integrate clean eating into your diet.
What is clean eating?
The basic premise of clean eating is that you cut out any processed or “dirty” food and eat natural, whole foods as much as possible. It’s important to know that clean eating is not just another weight-loss method or diet. It’s a happy, healthy lifestyle with no weighing, measuring or point counting.
Clean eating doesn’t involve meal replacement shakes, fasting or fat binding pills. In fact, when it comes to clean eating, fat is not the enemy. It’s much more of a sustainable lifestyle change for the long-term, rather than another quick fix.
What to cut out
We’re used to diets that ask us to remove certain food groups. Atkins says no carbs; slimming clubs ask us to exclude or limit high-fat items, Some diet plans, even require that we eat nothing but cabbage soup, but humans weren’t built that way. We are created to enjoy variety, and restrictive eating plans need a lot of willpower after the first couple of days.
Clean eating is different; there are no particular food groups excluded. It’s about how you prepare it. Food that is whole or unprocessed makes up most of the diet, and you are to limit and reduce processed foods.
When it comes to clean eating, foods that should be limited include prepared meals, margarine, soda, chips, cookies and baked goods. Also, pastries and processed meats like ham, bacon, and sausages. These foods are considered ‘dirty’ or processed to the point of having little nutritional value. They are likely high in fat, sugar or additives which your body struggles to process. For example, clean eating advocates real butter over margarine.
Your body can successfully break down the amino acid chains in butter and put them to use. It cannot break down the complicated chain in margarine.
Also, “diet” foods should be avoided. While containing less overall calories, diet foods often have more processed ingredients to make up for the lack of fat or sugar. Your body struggles to recognize and digest these and so won’t feel full after eating them.
These are sometimes called “trick” foods due to the way they trick your body into thinking it’s eaten but contain no real nutritional benefit.
What to keep in
While clean eating does mean becoming more aware of what you are eating, don’t worry! There is still a vast range of nourishing and filling food that is available to you. You can enjoy – olive oil, nuts, fish, whole grains, dairy, legumes and beans, fresh and frozen veg, free-range and organic meat. If you are going for frozen veg, make sure to check the packet for ingredients to make sure nothing was added in the freezing process.
For dairy and meat, go for items not farmed with chemicals (organic) and allowed to roam the land (free-range).
While this is more expensive than other options, it is wise to remember that it’s only in modern-day society, that we enjoy meat every day. Think of meat as a treat to enjoy a few times a week. It will help you include beans, pulses and tastier vegetarian options in your diet.
Just because eating clean means cooking from scratch more often, it doesn’t mean that you need to chain yourself to the stove! You can prepare simple, delicious clean meals easily and quickly. Try Greek-style roast fish, kale, and apple soup with walnuts or BBQ squid salad, all available from BBC good food.com.
There are also countless cleaning eating cookbooks on the market now. Check out Hemsley and Hemsley, as a good starting point. Of course, you don’t have to keep it simple if you don’t want to. If you fancy getting more adventurous, then feel free to cook a clean dinner party or Sunday roast!
Why it works
After a lifetime of limitation diets, the idea of eating most foods might seem alien to you. Many people think of fat as the enemy, and to avoid it at all costs. However, research has shown that this is not the case. We now know that the body needs fat to function efficiently. Limiting consumption of fat can push the body into starvation mode. Encouraging it to store any fat consumed; making it even harder to maintain a healthy weight.
While we’re used to thinking of saturated fats as unhealthy, clean eating doesn’t restrict such fats. It requires us to shift our perspective to see processed fats and carbohydrates as bad or dirty. That is because processed fats cannot be broken down by the body in nutrients it can use, so gets stored. Clean eating is particularly useful in dealing with fat, as it also encourages consumption of “healthy fats”, which can be found in nuts, oily fish, and avocados.
The amino acids in these sorts of foods help break down and process saturated fats, which can have a positive effect on weight and cholesterol management.
A similar issue happens with processed carbs. Sugar-rich food travels into the bloodstream quickly, the body is then unable to use such an enormous amount of energy in one go, so stores it as fat. Also, because of the speed that processed sugars hit the bloodstream, they cause a spike or sugar rush. While it can feel good temporarily, these carbs leave as fast as they came. Leaving you feeling sluggish and unwell. You end up reaching for another sugary item to get that feeling back. This results in a cycle of sugar added that’s hard to break and disastrous for your health.
Good for you, better for the planet
How our food is manufactured and processed is different from how the human body was designed. We mass-produce everything. The ingredients added, bulk out food to make it more appealing, which makes it cheaper for the manufacturer to make. It increases their profits, and at heart, our food system is a profit-making venture. That means that most items that are ready-made contain other processed ingredients as filler.
Therefore, it is much better to cook your food from scratch to see what goes into your meals and limit any processed ingredients. You will also find that many processed or dirty foods have significant amounts of refined sugar. Sugar in this form can be dangerously addictive, with lab rats responding to cocaine and sugar in the same way. By cutting sugar out of your diet, you will be doing yourself a huge favour. Have patience with the process as you may feel some withdrawal symptoms at the beginning.
There are also a few pioneering whole food companies out there that do produce cleaner products. These companies review both their farming and production processes from the ground up, to fit with a cleaner ethos. Check out their websites and social media for more information. A good start is to read the Hampton Creek details on their Facebook page or check out the Epicure website.
While you need to stay away from processed sugar when eating clean, don’t think that you have to cut out all treats – you don’t. Making your treats and snacks from scratch is an excellent way of sticking to the clean eating plan, but eating realistically. Clean eating replacements are the watchwords here. Use beans instead of flour, agave for sugar, avocado for margarine. Baking in this way provides delicious treats that are higher in fibre and nutrition and help cut out “dirty” foods.
How is clean eating different from all the other diets out there?
While clean eating is similar to the Paleo diet in the sense that it encourages the intake of vegetables and unprocessed meats. In clean eating, you can also include the two primary food groups of dairy and legumes, which provide much-needed fibre and protein. Clean eating is different from a carb-free diet because you can eat carbs! Yes, you have to avoid processed carbs, but you can eat whole grains. Whole grains are products where the grain hasn’t been split during the process.
Think quinoa, bulgur wheat, Freekeh, and Amaranth. The occasional use of wholemeal, where the grain has been divided into bread, flour is acceptable in clean eating but should not become a regular thing.
It is always good to have a balanced approach to eating, and a good way of integrating clean eating into your life is to try the 80-20 principle. Eat clean for 80% of the time and be more chilled for the other 20%. It can be hard to eat clean all the time in our modern world, and this approach gives you the flexibility to have the occasional treat when you need it.
This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.