Nothing focuses one’s attention on the reasonableness of your own food choices like watching a first time mother (with a streak of obsessiveness) put together meals for her toddler who, left to her own devices, would eat anything even vaguely edible (like dog toys).
Said daughter, I mean new mother, has generalized the campaign for “clean eating” from noting that it’s her sacred obligation to curate Rowan’s intake, to mine too.
Magazines and online sites are awash with advice about healthy diets, often incorporating this concept of “clean eating.” On the surface, it may seem complicated, expensive and only within reach for the Hollywood elite or fitness fanatics and bodybuilders. In reality, clean eating is simple and may be less expensive than the groceries you’re already buying. Plus, when it comes to your health, clean eating can serve as the foundation for significant improvements in a lot of different areas.
Think of clean eating as a philosophy instead of a specific list of foods you should or shouldn’t eat. It’s simple to get started with small changes you can build on over time.
What is clean eating?
Clean eating is really about choosing whole, unprocessed foods rather than processed and packaged foods. Or, to think of it another way, clean eating is the act of being mindful about the pathway food takes from its origin to your dinner table – and opting mostly to eat foods that have gone through as few changes as possible during that journey.
The benefits of clean eating
Two of the core components in a commitment to healthful living are diet and exercise. Both are important, but a healthy diet may be even more essential than exercise if you’re trying to lose weight and avoid problems such as obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke.
I and many of my colleagues agree that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. So even if you’re spending hours at the gym, you’ll limit your benefits if you’re putting the wrong type of fuel in your body.
In addition to helping you reduce your risk for certain diseases, clean eating helps you avoid the blood sugar spikes and resulting fatigue associated with eating highly processed carbohydrates and refined grains.
How to eat clean
By keeping in mind a few basic principles the next time you shop for groceries, you can easily start eating cleaner without a lot of detailed planning. You’ll still eat many of the same things, they’ll just be a little less adulterated.
Here are the basic principles of clean eating:
* Avoid processed foods: Read labels and if the list is longer than five ingredients or has ingredients you can’t pronounce, choose something else.
* Eat more fruits and vegetables: Spend most of your shopping time in the produce aisle. Opt for organic when possible, especially for fruits and vegetables that don’t have a peel or rind.
* Reduce saturated fats: Saturated fats are found in cheese, red meat and butter. Instead, get most of your fats from fatty fish, such as salmon, and nuts.
* Avoid added sugars: Processed foods and sweetened drinks are loaded with added sugar. Keep added sugar under six teaspoons per day (24 grams) for women and nine teaspoons per day (36 grams) for men.
* Limit your alcohol: If you drink alcohol, stick to the recommended daily maximum of one drink per day for women and two for men.
* Avoid excess sodium: Most adults in the U.S. get more than the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium per day in their diet. Eating fewer processed foods will help reduce salt intake. Become familiar with labels and pay attention to them.
* Choose whole grains: Processing grains for use in foods like white bread removes some of their important nutritional benefits. Look for the word “whole” as the first ingredient when buying bread and pasta.
Being mindful of what you eat is the core of clean eating. A few simple changes to your diet can make a world of difference in your health, and in how you look and feel.
And remember, an occasional cannoli seems reasonable to me.
Dr. Alfred Casale is chairman of surgery for the Geisinger Heart Institute, co-director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for the Geisinger Health System and Associate Chief Medical Officer of the Geisinger Health System and Chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]