First off, what does the term “clean eating” mean? Depending on your background, beliefs, and diet, it may look different to you than it does to someone else! For example, someone following a vegan diet will not look at meat the same way as someone who eats fish or land animals. However, there are some general ideas that I think we can all agree on what types of foods are better for you than others.
Clean eating is about consuming foods in a manner that is closest to their natural state, meaning that minimal to no processing has been done to them. These “real” or whole foods are more nutrient-rich, thus providing more nutritional benefit for us.
Eat more whole foods- these are foods that have undergone minimal to no processing, and include all of the following:
Veggies and fruits- Consuming some vegetables and fruits raw provide greater nutritional benefits than cooked, but on the flip side, some nutrients become more bioavailable when cooked! The ADA recommends consuming 5-9 servings/day of a combination of fruits and vegetables per day. Be sure to mix it up and eat both cooked and raw fruits and veggies to maximize the nutritional benefits. Also, be mindful of fruit juices, if that is your go-to for getting your servings in. Often, fruit juices are sweetened and thus, have very high sugar levels. Choose instead to go for whole fruits to get additional nutrients that the juices have lost from being processed.
Lean proteins- Lean proteins are foods that are primarily made of protein, with low levels of fat and carbohydrates. Many meat-based proteins are higher in saturated fat, which is linked to cardiovascular diseases. Here are some healthier, lean protein alternatives: white fishes like cod and halibut, plain Greek yogurt, white poultry like chicken breast and turkey (skip the dark meat and go skinless to reduce fat intake), egg whites, and pork loin just to name a few! If you’re a beef lover (you’re not alone!), stick to the cuts that are 90% lean or greater.
Whole grains- Most grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates and also provide important minerals and vitamins as well as fiber to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Whole grains are the best choice of all grains because they contain all parts of the seed and thus maintain a better nutrient profile when compared to enriched or refined grains which have been stripped of some of their nutrients during processing. Whole grains include popcorn, brown rice, whole wheat flours, and buckwheat. Enriched and refined grains may be fortified with nutrients that were either lost during processing or don’t naturally occur in those grains. Refined grains include white bread, white rice, and white flour. Many kinds of cereal, pastries, and desserts as well as bread are made with refined grains.
Healthy fats- “Bad fats” aka trans fats and saturated fats are associated with high cholesterol, heart disease, and other cardiovascular issues. Trans fats can be found in highly processed foods. While many products no longer contain trans fats, some products like fast foods, frozen foods, snack foods, and desserts may still contain trans fat content. Saturated fats are present in many foods including butter and cheese, fatty beef, poultry with skin. The American Heart Association recommends that only 5% of your total calorie intake should come from saturated fats.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are considered healthy for you. They promote heart health, nervous system function, and have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties! Unsaturated fats can be found in avocados, whole eggs, fish, and nuts, and olive oil. Approximately 25-35% of your daily calories should come from these types of healthy fats.
Reduce your intake of the following:
Processed foods typically contain higher amounts of fats (usually saturated fats), sugars, salt, and artificial ingredients. Their nutrient profiles are typically poor, meaning that they’re not providing you with the optimal fuel you need and they leave you hungry and feeling full for shorter amounts of time. They can also cause blood sugar spikes and are associated with increased risks of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and other metabolic conditions. Ultimately, the common profile of highly processed foods is high sugar, refined carbs, low fiber, saturated and/or trans fats, high in artificial ingredients, and low in nutrients. Examples include soft drinks, bacon, sweetened breakfast cereals, artificially flavored snacks like chips and crackers, fried chicken, many candy bars.
Be mindful of portion sizes. A simple way to reduce portion sizes is to use smaller dinnerware! In addition, a simple way to gauge how much of each food group you should be eating is to use your plate as a guide. Approximately half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables, one quarter should be protein, and the last quarter should be complex carbs. While adding in high-fat foods sparingly.
Keep up your water intake! Most adults do not consume the recommended amount of daily water. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine say that daily fluid intake should be approximately 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women. These numbers include all fluids. Approximately 20% of fluid comes from foods. So sticking to the 8 glasses of water per day is likely to be adequate for most people, as a minimum amount. Keep in mind that water intake should be higher than this if you’re exercising daily!
Reduce the frequency of eating out. This will save you both money and numbers on the scale. Eating out is so tempting because oftentimes the food is packed with sugars, saturated fats, and cholesterol making it taste so good while simultaneously being so bad for us! Additionally, portion sizes are usually bigger than what is recommended, further packing in the calories. A higher frequency of eating out is associated with heart disease and stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. Saving those meals for special occasions is going to help save money while improving your health!
Kelly Wild (@kellywild8) is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy. She also is a National level Olympic Weightlifter and former 3 time CrossFit Games athlete. Kelly also played Division I ice hockey at The Ohio State University. Kelly believes that health care should be proactive, not reactive. This mantra has inspired Kelly to publish a number of online fitness protocols at Californiastrength.com that anyone can use to reduce injury risk and improve strength in order to continue to pursue all of your athletic and fitness goals!