The What and How of eating clean.
Clean eating to achieve better health is where it's at. Even if you're happy with your waistline, filling up on the right foods is linked to feeling-better and being-better. It decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease - high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke - the biggest killers in today's society, as well as helps you avoid those typical lifestyle diseases - diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Eating clean is investing in your body's long term health and quality of life.
The fundamentals of eating clean encourage you to consume more nutritious, fresh whole foods — such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats — and limit highly- processed packaged foods, alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
Did I lose you already? There's no need to go cold turkey! Often you increase the likelihood of sticking with your new wholesome eating habits if you ease into it and don't get overly restrictive. Long-term goals require living out small commitments... day by day.
Processed Foods 101: Before you do a pantry, fridge and freezer overhaul, keep in mind that "processed" is a very general term.
Any time we cook, bake or prepare food, we're processing food. "Processed food" includes food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. While some processed foods should be consumed as least as possible, some actually have a place in a balanced diet. Here's how to sort the nutritious from the not-so-nutritious.
It's probably best to consider processed foods on a spectrum from nominally to heavily processed. I like to think of processed food as having degrees:
Minimally-Processed - bagged spinach, cut fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and meats are often simply pre-prepped for convenience.
Peak-Processed - foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness like canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
Mid-Processed - contain added ingredients for flavour and texture (sweeteners, oils, colours, vitamins and preservatives) include jarred sauces, oils, yogurt, milk,
nut butters, dry mixes and tofu.
Highly-Processed - ready-to-eat foods, such as breakfast cereal, salad dressing, bread, crackers, granola bars and cured meat.
Ultra-Processed - foods processed to within an inch of their life are not limited to pre-made frozen meals like pizza and microwavable dinners; many snacks like muffins, cookies and potato chips fall into this category as well.
Simple Ways to Start Clean Eating Today:
1. Start slowly. Results don't happen overnight; take small steps toward a less processed diet. Keep your goal in mind and be gracious with yourself!
2. Supplement your meals with fresh foods. Include a banana or apple at breakfast or as a snack, or a vegetable at lunch. Simply adding a freshly-prepared salad to a meal makes it better for your body.
3. Make water your go-to beverage. Water is your main drink when following a clean eating lifestyle. Substitute some coffee with the decaffeinated variety and moderate alcohol intake with carbonated water spiked with fresh citrus.
4. Stop adding salt to foods. If you need an extra flavour boost, dust with Qspice.
5. Choose whole grains. Go with the least processed kinds of grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, steel-cut oats and sprouted grain bread.
6. Avoid cured meats. Bacon, ham, weiners and sausage contain many harmful chemicals that aren't present in fresh meat.
7. Plan ahead. Make your own convenience foods by setting aside portions of trail mix, carrots and celery with hummus, yogurt, and fruit with natural nut butters so they are ready to grab and go. Base meals around fresh vegetables, whole grains and protein.
8. Find substitutes. Instead of potato chips, try air-popped popcorn; it's whole grain and a good source of fiber that still gives the crunch you’re looking for. Or replace breakfast cereal with unsweetened oatmeal and add fruit for sweetness and flavour.
9. Make homemade versions of traditional convenience foods. Consider homemade guacamole, granola, mayonnaise and salad dressings.
10. Make healthier frozen meals. Try batch cooking on the weekend or double up recipes for quick weeknight meals.
11. Don’t be fooled by the advertising. Countless products in the grocery store proclaim endless health benefits. Read the ingredient list on packaged foods, and look for a list that reads more like a recipe rather than a pseudo-science experiment. Shelve products with added sugar by any name.
If you want to make fresh, simple ingredients the focus of your diet, expect to do more food prep and cooking at home. When approached the right way, cooking can be an enjoyable way to spend time with your family and relieve stress. Whether it's with a group or on your own, cooking does more than fill your belly. It can also promote mental and physical health — benefits you’ll enjoy long after the meal is over.
The less obvious reasons to reduce your reliance on packaged foods and restaurant fare that are good for your well-being:
When you're part of meal process start to finish, from the grocery store to the plate, you're far more in tune with the food you're putting into your system. Home made food tends to be more nutritious and with fewer calories.
When you're sitting down to a plate of food you've prepared, chances are you’ll eat more mindfully, noticing each flavour and ingredient you included in your meal.
When you spend time in the kitchen with others or share meals together, it makes you feel more socially connected.
When you use different parts of your brain learning new cooking skills and tasks or experimenting with ingredients and creating dishes, you boost mental health.
Follow along with my cooking stories on Instagram and see our easy salad dressing recipes plus hundreds of real food recipes in the Cookery at Qspice.ca. Qspice brings out the goodness of food!