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A Brief Guide to Clean Eating

You may have heard the term ‘clean eating’ by now, and have possibly wanted to begin following a clean eating lifestyle yourself. To many people, this can seem to be a daunting task. However, the concept of clean eating is deceptively simple. Instead of concentrating on consuming more or less of a certain type of food, or counting calories and carbohydrates, you simply become more mindful of your food’s origin, and the path it travels between that origin and your dinner plate.

In the most basic of terms, clean eating is based on consuming whole, real foods. These foods should be minimally processed and consumed in as close to their natural form as possible. It can be a slightly challenging proposition in today’s times to consume only clean foods due to modern food production. Most shelves in the grocery store are lined with boxed foods laden with high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and artificial preservatives. However, it is not impossible. Read below to learn more about the basics of clean eating, and how it can fit into your lifestyle.

What is a processed food?
By its very definition, a processed food is a food that has been processed or manipulated in some fashion. ‘Processed food’ can mean:

Adding additional ingredients to the original food qualifies as being labeled as ‘processed’. This includes anything that has been added to the food to enhance flavor or improve its shelf life, such as fat, sugar, salt or preservatives. This can also refer to extra vitamins added to foods such as fortified cereals.

Changing the actual form of the natural food into a new food also qualifies as being ‘processed’. This can mean processing apples into applesauce, or removing the germ and bran from wheat to make white bread.

Any food that contains a manmade chemical ingredient is most definitely a processed food. This is self-explanatory. If the ingredient list on the food contains any items you cannot pronounce or do not know what is, this is a clear indicator that food has a processed.

Is consuming processed food bad for you?
Although processed food in general is bad for you, this is not always the case. Jessica Fanzo, assistant professor of nutrition at Columbia University, states that consuming processed food is not always bad. Fanzo states that some forms of processing remove bacteria and can allow us to eat certain seasonal foods in off-season times, such as home-canning fruit or pasteurizing milk. Processing can also make a food easier to consume, by altering its consistency. If you enjoy a delicious post workout smoothie every day, you are consuming a processed food. A smoothie consists of fruits or vegetables that have been processed into an easier to consume form. Therefore, it is technically a processed food.

Fanzo states that even though foods such as smoothies, pasteurized milk, and instant oatmeal are processed, this does not put them in the same category as prepackaged cookies or microwave dinners. The main rule of thumb is to avoid foods that have been ‘ultra processed’, which is any food that is ready to heat or can be eaten directly from the package.

A diet high in processed foods can cause illness and weight gain. Eliminating these types of foods from your diet and following a clean eating lifestyle can be greatly beneficial to your health.

What are the benefits of clean eating?
Whether you are looking to lose weight or simply increase your energy levels, clean eating can help you achieve it. By removing unhealthy processed foods from your diet and replacing them with healthy alternatives, you can increase your overall health and well-being. Following a clean eating lifestyle is beneficial for the following:

1) Improving cardiovascular health: Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamin C, which is an important nutrient that strengthens blood vessels. Their high fiber content is proven to reduce high blood pressure and protect against heart disease. Healthy fats, such as those found in nuts and avocados, fight cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels.

2) Preventing various forms of cancer: Cruciferous vegetables, such as kale and broccoli, contain high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients. These work to help reverse cellular damage caused by free radicals, which can be the precursor to cancer. A diet rich in processed foods can actually contribute to the development of various forms of cancer, whereas a diet rich in natural, nutrient dense foods can help prevent it.

3) Increased energy levels: Your individual energy levels depend on your intake of iron and B complex vitamins. When you are deficient in these particular nutrients, you may find that your energy levels have significantly decreased. A diet high in dark leafy greens can provide you with significant amounts of these nutrients and give your energy levels a dramatic boost.

How to follow a clean eating lifestyle
After reading over a few of the benefits of following a clean eating lifestyle, you may be wondering how you can get started. The following tips can help you learn all you need to know to get started on the path to clean eating.

1) Learn how to read labels. Any food that contains an ingredient list of more than two items should generally be avoided.

2) Avoid all refined and processed foods. This includes pasta, white sugar, bread and white flour.

3) Consume healthy fats every day, such as those found in nuts, avocado and salmon.

4) Do your homework. Look around online for clean eating recipes to help you get started. There are also plenty of cookbooks available dedicated solely to clean eating. Try as many of these as you can and make a list of your favorites. Always keep the ingredients for these recipes in your home to reduce the urge to purchase fast food or prepackaged meals.

5) Reduce alcohol intake. Following a clean eating lifestyle also means reducing the amount of alcohol you consume. Most mixed drinks contain large amounts of sugar, which can lead to weight gain and spikes in insulin levels.

Hopefully, the above guide has helped you to better understand how and why you should follow a clean eating lifestyle. Not only will it help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it will also help you achieve optimal health and wellness.

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