LEARN ABOUT CLEAN EATING:  FOR BEGINNERS

There is a never-ending quest for better health in society, especially now-a-days with the increase in illnesses and weight issues.  One of the topics that almost always arises during discussions of health is our eating habits. 

Enter the subject of Clean Eating.  You may be wondering, “What do I eat on a clean diet?”   After reading my blog post, you’ll have a base understanding of what clean eating is, how it can benefit you, and how to incorporate it into your life.

THE CONCEPT OF CLEAN EATING

Sometimes we tend to overthink or complicate things, but the truth is that the rules of clean eating are really very simple. Overall, you are merely adapting a diet that includes fresh, whole, healthy, foods that are low in saturated fats.

Instead of dining out, you will cook more homemade meals, which in-turn helps you avoid highly processed foods that are full of preservatives and, at times, chemicals. 

This also means eliminating canned fruits and vegetables and replacing them with fresh produce.

Another question that arises is, “Can you lose weight through clean eating?”  Well, by default, clean eating almost eliminates your need to count calories because your caloric intake per meal will naturally decrease.  The reason is that you will consume more wholesome, nutrient-dense foods that will nourish your body and help you to become more fit and trim.

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LET’S TALK ABOUT FRESH PRODUCE

Healthy baked spaghetti squash

If you choose to integrate a clean eating diet into your life, understand that fresh fruits and vegetables should comprise the bulk of your meals. 

Now, I realize that many people enjoy having a protein during their lunch or dinner, but for the most part, the largest percentage of your meals will include fresh produce.

You can really get creative when ‘eating the rainbow’.  Instead of having a typical garden salad that may only consist of lettuce and tomatoes, add some thin slices of red bell peppers, a small handful of blueberries, half a cup of diced fresh apples, and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds (providing you have no allergies to any of the suggested foods).

You will be surprised at how full your stomach will feel after consuming a well-crafted salad.

Whenever possible, try to purchase organic produce to reduce the intake of pesticides into your body.  During the summer and fall months, take advantage of the offerings at your local farmer’s markets.

WHY AVOID PROCESSED FOODS?

Plainly put, processed foods are whole, fresh foods that have been broken down and changed from their original version, loaded with preservatives (and possibly a few chemicals), and then packaged. 

Although processed foods tend to have a longer shelf life, keep in mind that the action of ‘processing’ the foods removes a lot of the nutrients from the ‘whole food’.  

If you want to ensure that the foods that you put in your body are conducive to good health, using whole, fresh ingredients is paramount. 

CHOOSE LEAN PROTEINS

Healthy Baked Red Snapper

You were probably under the notion that clean eating meant that you could not eat any protein.  Well, you are allowed to do so.  However, if you desire to include animal protein in your clean eating program, try your best to select low-fat cuts such as chicken breasts, fish, and lean cuts of beef. 

Remember, on a clean eating diet, your aim is to eat for better health.  The overall point about consuming protein is that it is a lean cut vs. one with lots of saturated fat.

Don’t be shy about consuming a healthy serving of a variety of fresh produce with your protein.  You can even substitute a garden salad with a fruit salad if you’d like.  The fresh produce will also help your body to better digest the protein you eat.

WHAT ABOUT THE ‘SUPERFOODS’?

Oftentimes, a new trend arises around a newly-discovered ‘superfood’.  Simply put, superfoods are foods that are nutrient-dense and therefore, very healthful for your body.

Some superfoods are easily accessible such as blueberries, avocados, broccoli, garlic, and dark, leafy greens. 

On the other hand, some ‘superfoods’ are not stocked at your local grocer’s produce section, such as goji berries, elder berries and boysenberries.  However, don’t feel that you must embrace every superfood trend that comes along. 

The truth is, since you are already incorporating more fresh produce into your clean eating diet, you are essentially adding more superfoods to your plate. 

Almost all ‘fresh’ produce is ‘super’ because they are ‘whole’ foods that have not been processed, and they still contain most of their nutritional content after being harvested and stocked at your local grocer.

MAKING THE TRANSITION

For starters, don’t feel like you must fully transition to clean eating overnight.  That would cause you too much frustration and possibly set yourself up for failure. 

For a successful conversion, take baby steps so that you can enjoy the process and the health benefits of this lifestyle for years to come.  Following are some tips to help you make the leap.

FIND RECIPES YOU WOULD ENJOY

Now that you have a working knowledge of what comprises clean eating, do a Google search to collect 10-12 clean eating recipes.  This will give you a variety of menus to rotate through so that you don’t become bored with eating the same thing too often. 

To ensure your success, be sure to choose recipes that you will really enjoy.  If you don’t enjoy your ‘clean’ meals, you will not continue with the program. 

There are some great blogs that are dedicated to clean eating as well.  They usually contain very creative meal ideas.  Also check Pinterest (one of my faves!).  Pinterest is loaded with recipes for all types of eating occasions.  You’ll certainly find a plethora of ideas there.

TAKE NOTE OF YOUR CURRENT DIET

If your current fare already consists of a lot of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and lean cuts of meat, very little will be required of you to incorporate even more clean menus into your diet.

However, if you struggle with eating lots of processed sugar, canned produce, meats that contain lots of saturated fats, and very little fresh, whole foods, you are a good candidate to begin enjoying the health benefits of clean eating.

Make small, gradual changes by replacing the less healthy foods with whole, fresh ingredients.  You don’t have to win this battle overnight, neither should you try to.  

Manage your progress by adding only one clean snack at a time, or just one clean meal at a time….per day.  After doing this for a couple of months, you will start noticing that your cravings for the unhealthy foods will diminish.

REPLACE REFINED CARBS WITH WHOLE GRAINS

Now, this is one of the effective ways to clean up your diet!  By cutting out the white processed carbs (such as white rice and white flour), you will be making a drastic difference in the quality of your eating habits.  

Processed, white carbs, when mixed with water, are sticky by nature.  Well, think about how that sticky substance will behave in the fibers of your body.  Not a good thought, huh?  It might be tasty in your mouth, but it totally conflicts with building lean, clean muscles. 

As much as possible, you can opt for whole grain or sprouted bread (vs. white bread), brown rice or quinoa (vs. white rice), whole grain pasta (vs. regular pasta made with white flour).

COOKING FOR CLEAN-EATING VS. TRADITIONAL COOKING

REQUIRES YOU TO COOK MORE AT HOME

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that eating clean means that you will have to cook more at home.  The majority of your meals will be cooked from scratch.  That’s the reality of it.   

However, once you have your arsenal of 10-12 ‘clean eating’ recipes, it should help to make your meal planning a lot easier. 

If you choose recipes that require a great deal of chopping and slicing, invest in a food processor.  It will greatly reduce your prep time. 

Keep in mind that while cooking, your food ingredients absorb some of the substance that your pots and pans are made from.  So, if you tend to run low on iron in your blood, lightly saute’ your meats or vegetables in a cast iron skillet to naturally add iron to your diet.

Healthy Baking Pans

If your recipe calls for baking, there are lots of glass, clay, or ceramic baking dishes that you can you use….and some of them are really pretty!  However, something to consider is that the glaze used to coat and seal a ceramic dish may include toxic lead. (1)

Cooking in an aluminum pan or pot will emit aluminum into your food.  Aluminum has long been thought to be one of the man culprits that can lead to brain fog and negatively affect your memory (2).  But, the jury is still out on this claim.

If your recipe calls for oil, opt for heart-healthy oils that are low in unsaturated fats.  Three examples of these types of oils are extra-virgin olive oil (3), avocado oil (4), and hazelnut oil (5).

Hazelnut oil in particular has a high smoke point, up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, hazelnut oil is a great option for baking and sauteing, and it does not impart a strong flavor into your foods like olive oil sometimes does.

REQUIRES ADVANCED PLANNING

I realize that most of us have busy schedules.  So, the thought of cooking meals from scratch may cause you to cringe because it takes more time and effort vs. buying pre-prepared meals fast food meals. 

However, with a bit of advanced planning, cooking from scratch can become a less time-consuming experience. 

If you set aside one day per week (ideally Saturday or Sunday) to do your meal prep, the days that you do your actual cooking will not seem as heavy a chore.

In fact, advanced meal prep may help you enjoy your cooking experiences because of speed at which you can then prepare healthy and tasty meals for you and your family.

Remember that food processor that I mentioned above?  Make good use of it on meal prep day by cutting and slicing any vegetables that your recipes call for. 

Portion out the measurements of meats from your recipes and freeze those portions in individual freezer bags.  Then, the night before you cook your meal, put the frozen meat in your refrigerator so that it can safely thaw and have it ready when it is time to cook.

SAVE EVEN MORE TIME WITH BULK MEAL PREP

Short and to-the-point:  Set aside one day per week to cook a week’s worth of clean meals and freeze them.  When you’re read to consume them, just heat and serve.  Voila! 

This is the perfect plan for those with busy lifestyles who truly want to replace the high-sodium, highly processed meals with meals that are made with fresh, whole, nutrient-dense ingredients.  

Also, cooking your proteins ahead of time and then adding a rainbow salad at mealtime makes cooking a snap vs. a daily chore.

SAVE MONEY, BUY IN BULK

Yes, meal planning for clean eating will require purchasing more ingredients, at least up front.  But consider the fact that most of your dry ingredients such as beans, pasta, some spices, rice, grains, and meats can be purchased in bulk. 

Buying in bulk helps reduce the per-serving cost of your homecooked meals.  And because you purchased them in bulk, each bulk ingredient will last longer in your pantry…..clean meal after clean meal.  Plus, you’re nourishing your body with better quality foods.

ARE YOU READY?

Are you ready to take the “clean eating” plunge?  If so, try not to be too strict on yourself when attempting to clean up your eating habits.  It took me about a year to get in sync with this lifestyle. 

Any self-improvement is going to require effort and time to see the desired results.  Adapting a healthier lifestyle of eating is no different. 

The main ingredient here is WILL POWER.  Once you become committed to taking action to see positive change, in whatever you do, you will be blessed with sweet results if you just stick with it.

Do you already have a clean eating diet?  Please share a tip or two with us below.

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