If you spend any amount of time on the internet and especially social media, you've probably seen the term “clean eating.”
For me, this conjures up copious feelings of guilt and remorse, since I personally don't embrace the newest fad of avoiding processed foods.
While eating clean isn't a new idea for the world at large (after all, our ancestors didn't exactly have access to prepackaged cereals and crackers), we are learning more and more about the havoc that consuming processed foods can have on our bodies.
So what are “processed foods?”
They are foods that are not found in their original form, and often purchased in cans, jars, boxes and bags. They usually have added preservatives and chemicals, and have been found to actually be addicting! According to many people, processed foods aren't really foods at all.
So why should I cut out processed foods if they are so delicious?
Research has shown that over-consumption of foods not found in their natural state can have serious consequences to our bodies and lifespan. Diseases like diabetes, strokes, cancer and heart disease have all been linked to the changes in our foods over the last century. Processed foods masquerade as healthy (low-fat, lite…) options but are full of artificial sweeteners, trans fats and preservatives that keep food from perishing quicker. All things that will end up in your body and all things you probably don't want there.
Real Food advocate Lisa Leake, spells all of this out for you over on her website, 100 Days Of Real Food.
Taking the plunge to avoid processed foods and begin eating clean can be overwhelming, especially if you're a self-proclaimed foodie. But it doesn't have to be! There are some simple steps you can take to clean up your diet, your body, and ultimately your quality of life!
1. Start Out Slow
The temptation to go “cold turkey” for eliminating processed foods can result in frustration if you cannot abide by all the rules. Instead, start out slow, by reducing your processed food intake one meal at a time.
Swap out your coffee creamer for some milk and cinnamon, and make it a goal to eat 2 fruits or vegetables at every meal. By filling up on whole foods, your stomach will have less room (and hopefully less cravings) for processed foods.
2. Read Ingredient Labels
You may be used to reading package labels as you scope out calories and carbs, but your new goal is to only eat packaged foods with 5 ingredients or less. Why? Because the more ingredients likely means more processed foods. In the long run, this will save you time because if your item has more than 5, toss it back on the shelf and keep moving!
3. Clean Out Your Pantry
A big pitfall to avoiding processed foods comes with moments of weakness, and all the cheat foods that are hiding in the back of your pantry. When you start your journey of eating clean and cutting our processed foods, purge your pantry of items that don't fall in the whole foods category. You'll end up educating yourself on just how much processed food you eat as you read ingredient labels, and set yourself up for success at the same time.
4. Switch to Whole Grain
While it may seem that eating bread or pasta falls into the processed food category, you can choose whole wheat options and still avoid over-processed foods.
First, make sure your “whole grain” products are actually real whole grains (The Whole Grains Council is a wonderful reference). Many large bread and pasta manufacturers advertise their products as containing whole wheat and grains, when in fact they use white wheat in addition to 20+ other ingredients. Check your bread ingredient labels for 100% whole wheat and only basic other ingredients, like water, yeast and salt. Lisa Leake has a great article on understanding wheat bread that will help you make the right choice when it comes to navigating your grains.
5. Cut Out Refined Sweeteners
Although it may seem painful at first to chop out your coffee creamer and refined white sugar from your diet, you will immediately notice a difference in your health and your energy. You can substitute with natural sweeteners, such as honey and pure maple syrup to curb that sweet tooth! You should still use unrefined sweeteners in moderation. If you need help eliminating sugar from your diet, you'll want to check out Dr. Frank Lipman and his ideas on saying goodbye to sugar.
6. Choose Organic and Natural Dairy Products
A common question about eliminating processed foods is whether you can still eat dairy products. The answer is yes! You just need to be smart about the types of dairy you buy. Make sure it is organic or natural, and has minimal ingredients. Avoid yogurts that are light, low fat and have added sugars and flavors. Buy organic milk (because true clean milk is raw and often difficult, if not impossible to find) whole butter and only blocks of cheese instead of packaged grated cheese. If you love dairy products, you will find you have plenty of options to eat clean and still have your cheese!
7. Eat More Whole Foods
Perhaps the most simple way to cut out processed foods is to simply eat the opposite: more whole foods. If you are supplanting your old foods with clean eating, your diet will have less and less room for processed options. Fill up on fruits, veggies, organic meats, whole grains and nuts instead of crackers, cookies and cereals. No amount of dieting can compete with feeding your body whole and clean foods.
I have to say that a quick glance in my pantry has already motivated me to make an effort to reduce my family's consumption of processed foods. While the idea of completely eliminating them seems daunting, starting out small will only help your health in the long run.
So, what do you say? Are you up to the challenge? Let us know in the comments below.