Clean eating has become one of the popular buzzwords in the nutrition and diet world. There has been so much talk recently about eating clean but many of the people I talk to don’t really understand what it means and therefore don’t realize how easy it can be. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what clean eating really means.
Here are some of the misconceptions about clean eating that I have run across:
- Clean eating has to be all organic foods
- You can’t eat meat and eat clean
- Clean eating means no sweets and no dessert
- Eating clean is a big sacrifice (and very expensive)
- You have to eat clean 100% of the time
First, let’s define what clean eating really is and then we’ll debunk the misconceptions. Clean eating is simply eating foods in their most natural form. The most natural form is without pesticides, preservatives, hormones, additives, antibiotics or anything else that has been used to alter the foods. Eating foods in their most natural form is essential for our overall health. Our bodies were not designed to process foods with added chemicals and preservatives – those are things that food manufacturers have added to create larger crops, protect the crops from unwanted pests, quickly fatten up animals, reduce production costs, and extend that food’s shelf life. While the reduction in production costs translates into savings for the consumer, it is often at the higher long-term price of our health and wellness.
So how do you eat clean (and clear up the misconceptions)?
- You do NOT need to eat all organic foods. It is best to buy organic whenever possible but sometimes that is a little too cost prohibitive. If cost is a consideration, buy organic for the produce that you would leave the skin on and meat and dairy items. Fruits such as bananas and watermelon are fine to buy conventionally because of the thick skin. But for produce such as apples, grapes, cherries, spinach, kale, and green beans, it is best to buy organic because you are consuming the skin.
- You CAN eat meat and still eat clean. This requires a little more knowledge though to make the healthiest choices. Because there are not many regulations in the US over words like “free range”, “natural”, and “antibiotic free”, we sometimes make assumptions that these are good for us. For beef, grass-fed organic beef is best. Corn feed is not something that cows would naturally eat. Cattle do not need to be given antibiotics or growth hormones to fatten them up quickly. Allowing them to graze in their natural environment leads to healthier, disease free beef. With poultry, you want to look for free-range organic chicken. As with beef, these chickens are not given growth hormones or antibiotics and are leaner than caged animals (and healthier). With fish, wild caught is preferable over farm-raised. Ideally, look for meats that are raised in the most natural environment as possible.
- Perhaps the best news of all is that you can still eat clean and enjoy dessert! SWEET! The key to keeping sweets clean is to use natural sweeteners. On packaged goods, be sure to read labels carefully. Sugar is often cleverly disguised as many different ingredients such as sugar, corn syrup, or cane juice. Even though these things are not called sugar, that is what they really are, just in different forms. However, there are many natural sweeteners that can be substituted for artificial sweeteners. Organic honey, organic maple syrup, and stevia are excellent substitutions.
- Eating clean not a big sacrifice and will save you money in the long run (not to mention reduce the impact on our environment). Adding more real foods to my family’s diet was much easier than I thought and didn’t cost us any more money or any additional time. It’s just as quick and easy to slice up and saute a few vegetables and cook some quinoa (here’s my recipe for quinoa and veggies) as it is to whip up a box of macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is just a side dish while quinoa and veggies is a complete meal and easy enough to double the recipe to make extra for leftovers. There are several other quick and easy clean eating recipes on my blog. For some families, eating clean is a big change but you definitely don’t have to make a big sacrifice for it. Bags of frozen vegetables are even a good way to make it simpler and less expensive to eat clean. Just be sure to read the ingredients list to make sure nothing has been added. My local grocery store has bags of frozen vegetables for $1 a bag. I prefer to eat fresh foods but I keep several frozen items on hand for the times I can’t eat fresh for whatever reason.
- Eating clean 100% of the time is ideal, but any little substitution you can make is great! Over time, your body craves these healthy foods. That might seem a little unbelievable depending on your current diet, but it’s true. I was shocked when it happened to me! I never thought I would crave certain foods with meals (like sauteed spinach….yum!). But it happened! All it took was making gradual substitutions and trying new things. After a while, you’ll be eating more clean foods than unclean and loving it! Start with one substitution and go from there!
A very short book I just read has more detailed information on eating clean and shopping for clean foods. It’s only $2.99 from Amazon (click on the picture if you want to find out more about it or order) and gives many useful tips to help you eat clean when the majority of people don’t.
Does your family eat clean? What changes can you easily make to start eating better today?