Clean eating is a loosely interpreted buzz term. It’s like the word natural. Neither are legally regulated nor scientifically defined. I often get asked things like “am I eating clean if I choose the natural Oreos instead of the regular ones?” Maybe.
I’m here to clarify what eating clean actually means and how it impacts everybody. It is not something meant only for certain crowds – if you’re a human being, nutrition applies to you.
A FEW BASIC PRINCIPLES OF CLEAN EATING THAT NUTRITION EXPERTS AGREE ON
EAT MORE WHOLE FOODS.
Have you ever heard that you should shop the perimeter of the grocery store? That’s because the produce, meat, seafood, and dairy sections are located there. Most of the foods in those sections are “whole,” meaning very little has been done to them and they’re close to how you would find them in nature. However, there are some healthy, whole foods in the aisles too, such as nuts, seeds, grains, and beans.
EAT FOR FUEL.
We eat because our bodies need nutrients to function. When you’re hungry, eat foods that your body can break down into nutrients rather than filling up on things that your body wasn’t wired to process (like Oreos).
HEALTHY EATING IS ONE PART OF A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE.
Along with good food choices, moving your body during the day, getting enough sleep at night, and managing stress are all important components of overall health.
Some of the looser interpretations of clean eating include:
AVOID FOODS WITH ADDITIVES.
Additives can be anything from preservatives, flavors, colors, thickeners, sweeteners, or even vitamins and minerals. Some people avoid foods with any additives because they believe the food is not in its cleanest, most natural state. There are certainly several additives to avoid, like chemical preservatives, artificial colors, and highly processed fats and oils. However, a food like orange juice that has Vitamin D added is just more nutritious, not less clean. Many foods with beneficial additives are still healthy foods.
PRODUCE MUST BE ORGANIC.
It is true that pesticides are harmful chemicals that we don’t want to ingest on purpose, but what if you can’t afford or access organic produce? Prioritize buying organic for just the dirty dozen. Washing and peeling can also greatly reduce the amount of pesticide residue. Bottom line: eating lots of fruits and veggies is incredibly important for overall health, and the benefits of eating them far outweigh the downsides of being non-organic.
AVOID MEAT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.
There is growing research on the vast, lifelong benefits of eating plant-based foods. However, there are many essential nutrients in animal proteins that we can’t get from plants, such as absorbable iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and DHA/EPA omega-3 fats.
While those guidelines range from sensible to debatable, it is all relative to your starting point.
IF YOU’RE NEW TO CLEAN EATING, HERE’S WHERE TO START
Eating clean looks different for everyone, but truly, the point is to just to eat quality foods. The closer they are to their whole form, the higher quality they are to your body.
Learn how the food has been modified from whole by reading the ingredient label. Also, do not be fooled by “clean” marketing and food claims on that label. A product with agave added is biologically no different than a product with cane sugar added. A product with coconut oil has more saturated fat than a product with sunflower oil. Cold-pressed juice still has none of the fiber that makes whole fruits and veggies so good for you.
Eating more whole foods is likely to increase the amount of fiber and antioxidants in your diet, as well as reduce the amount of harmful fats and chemicals from processed foods.
SHIFTING TOWARD CLEANER EATING MAY RESULT IN FEW THINGS
Nutrients are most effective at getting energy to your cells and brain when consumed from whole foods, so you could feel more productive, alert, and energetic. Fiber also helps keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevents spikes and crashes in energy.
A HEALTHIER HEART
Cleaner eating is likely to result in a shift toward healthier fats, which can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Fiber also helps improve cholesterol levels.
REDUCED CANCER RISK
Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which help protect your body from diseases like cancer.
A diet high in Vitamin C and E can help strengthen your immune system to better fight off seasonal sicknesses.
WEIGHT LOSS OR BETTER BODY COMPOSITION
Whole foods tend to be lower in calories and sugar than processed foods, which can result in weight or fat loss. Fiber can also make you feel full, reducing total calories consumed.
Processed foods are typically full of inflammatory ingredients that can cause acne and rashes, so replacing them with more whole foods can reduce inflammation throughout the body, especially the skin.
The friendly bacteria in our gut thrive on fiber, which in turn improves digestion, reduces bloating, and can actually affect our mood
Not only due to improved gut health, but a stable blood sugar and the omega-3s found in whole foods can help stabilize mood and lead to increased production of dopamine and serotonin.
HOW TERRITORY CAN HELP MAKE CLEAN EATING EFFORTLESSLY EASY AND DELICIOUS
Eat clean, feel better. Territory makes it easy to eat clean. Every meal is made fresh with whole, minimally processed foods, making any Territory meal an excellent (and delicious) support for anybody’s clean(er) eating journey.
Looking to commit to clean eating for the long haul? With our 4-week Clean Eating Program, learn how to eat an anti-inflammatory diet with delicious food and helpful advice, so you have the tools, practice and power to sustain clean eating for the long-term.