Clean Eating: The Simplest Way to Improve Your Diet and Health
Date:Sunday January 1, 2023
There are hundreds of diet programs, plans, and products out there that all claim to help make or keep your body healthy. There are so many to choose from that it can become extremely confusing to figure out which is best for you–especially when so many of them contradict themselves in their advice and definition of what is “healthy!”
There is one rule you can sink your teeth into, though, that is universal among nutritionists and dietary professionals: eating food that is as close to its natural state as possible is best for your body. Often called “eating clean,” this means avoiding heavily processed foods, things like frozen pizza, microwavable entrees, chips, crackers, candy, and foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture, such as sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives, include jarred sauces, canned soups, salad dressing, yogurt, cake mixes, etc.
Instead, clean eaters opt for minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruit, salads, and roasted nuts, which are as easy to grab and snack on as potato chips. Other good choices include homemade meals like simple grilled meats and veggies, homemade baked goods, unsweetened dairy products, and many more foods that can be found in an unprocessed or minimally processed form. Even foods that are packaged, but done so at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness like canned tomatoes or tuna, or frozen fruit or vegetables, would be considered healthy additions to “clean” diet.
Why Eat “Clean”?
The more unprocessed foods you can work into your diet the better off you’ll be. Here are a few reasons why:
1. No additives. When food is packaged, preservatives, flavor enhancers, and trans fats are often added to keep the food tasting good for a longer time. These ingredients add toxins to your body and can have negative effects on everything from your mood to liver health.
2. Reduced inflammation. A May 2019 study in the BMJ assessed the effects of ultra-processed foods on cardiovascular health. The study showed that a diet high in processed foods had a 12% greater risk of developing overall cardiovascular disease and a 13% higher risk of coronary heart disease. However, eating mostly unprocessed foods reduced the risk of cardiac events. There are other health concerns with highly processed foods as well. Another recent study in the BMJ found that eating a diet consisting of heavily processed foods may increase the odds of developing cancer, including breast cancer, by 10%.
3. It’s cheaper. Eating fast food is certainly convenient, but with rising food costs and inflation, its more expensive than ever to eat out. Cooking at home and bringing a lunch, even something simple like a sandwich or salad, can save you significant amounts of money over time.
4. Reduces empty calories. Processed foods make you feel full, but many are lacking in the meaningful nutrients that your body needs. Whole, unprocessed foods contain micro- and macro-nutrients as well as vitamin co-factors that work together to help your body absorb what it needs to thrive and feel satisfied.
5. Clean Eating is Universal. Whether you’re vegan, paleo, keto, low calorie, intermittent fasting, or just trying to not be hungry during your shift, there are so many options available. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods include a wide variety of foods that offer the protein, carbs, fiber, and vitamins our bodies crave, and can fit into just about any healthy diet or lifestyle choice.
Label Reading Hacks
Avoiding processed foods sounds pretty simple, and it is, but here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re out shopping or grabbing a quick snack:
- If the label has ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it back.
- If the label has more than five ingredients, consider putting it back.
- If the item is something your great grandma wouldn’t recognize as food, put it back (Here’s looking at you, margarine and Cheese Whiz).
- If the item has added trans fat, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, or monosodium glutamate (MSG), put it back.
Being healthy doesn’t have to be hard. The best part of trying to eat a more natural diet is that it doesn’t have to be absolute. Every time you choose fruit over chips, or make dinner at home instead of driving thru, consider it a “win.”