Recently, a friend and I were talking about my FemFusion motto (“eat clean, move every day”) and the following question was raised:
“What is clean eating, anyway?”
WooHOOO!!! This is such a great question, since many people — including myself — throw around the terms “eating clean” and “clean foods” frequently but LOOSELY. We don’t always provide a solid definition of what eating clean actually looks like. I figured that if my friend was wondering, then other people are probably wondering as well.
I’ll get to the “definition” of clean eating, but first… A little story.
Although I ate a fairly healthy diet growing up, my first experience with (what I now consider to be) truly CLEAN eating was at Red Mountain Resort and Spa in St. George, Utah. I went there was I was 19 or 20 years old (I’m now 34). I’d saved up my $$ and embarked on a young single gal’s fabulous adventure that I expected to include massage and luxury and loads of delicious food. Although I got all of those things, I wasn’t expecting such SIMPLE fare.
Steamed vegetables that sung without any sauces or “extras” added.
Bountiful salads with simple oil and vinegar dressings.
Seared meats, cooked to perfection.
Sparkling water with a twist of lime.
I will never forget the meals that were so simple, yet so flavorful.
I’ll also never forget the cooking class I took at Red Mountain. The chef made an amazing sweet potato chiffon pie that was squeaky clean, and if memory serves me correctly, it was gluten, grain, and dairy-free. Of course, those things didn’t mean anything to be at the time… I just knew that it tasted amazing despite the fact that the crust was made primarily of crushed nuts and the silky filling was low in sugar and the ingredients were simple, raw, and from the earth.
At the time, I was NOT eating that way at all.
Although I loved fruits and veggies, I primarily shopped the interior of the store. Chips, bagels, and packaged foods such as Rice-A-Roni and Bisquick were staples in my college apartment.
Now, 15 years later, I know what clean eating is and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, why it’s so incredibly important for our health.
So… What is clean eating? What does it “eating clean” mean, and why should we care?
Like so many things in life, there’s no one definitive answer that fits ALL people in all situations. Clean eating has different meanings for different people based on the diet that works best for them. For people who follow a vegan diet (with no animal products), free-range chicken eggs and raw, unpasteurized honey will not be “clean.” If you’re Kosher, the most humanely-raised pork will never fall into your personal guidelines of eating clean.
But the commonality between all “clean” diets that answers the question, “what is clean eating?” is this:
It’s food that comes from the Earth. It does not come from a package or a box. It does not originate in a factory… It originates in nature.
And in general, it is found in the periphery of any grocery store.
Sadly, people tend to shop in the interior of the grocery store — winding their carts up and down the aisles — where all the prettily printed boxes and cans and cartons live. The ones with all of the health claims (most of which are patently untrue)… The same ones that are full of preservatives, chemicals, sugars, colorants, etc.
Humans were designed to eat FOOD. Real food. Not the highly processed “stuff” that’s pawned off as food in modern society.
And that is the basis of any “clean eating” diet.
I always like lists, so here’s a very simple list of some “clean” foods (biased toward MY diet, which is gluten-free and does include animal products). It is not all-inclusive, by any means, but it should give you an idea of what we’re talking about:
Here’s a (sort of sad and cynical) way to tell if a food item is “clean:” If you can find it in the coupons section of your Sunday newspaper, it’s probably not clean. The hard truth is that clean foods are often NOT on sale. But you’ll triple your savings if you eat clean by boosting your immunity, feeling “clearer” mentally, assisting your body in healing naturally, and overall staying out of the doctor’s office.
Here’s another way to tell if it’s clean: How many ingredients does it have, and how natural are they? Obviously, blueberries have a single ingredient (blueberries) and they are 100% natural… From the earth. But what about blueberry jam? You want a jam with minimal ingredients that are completely natural… Not a spread that contains corn syrup AND high fructose corn syrup (yes, Smucker’s® jelly contains BOTH).
Here’s a little “this, not that” guide that further explains clean eating. The differences are subtle, but significant.
The following is a traditional English breakfast with white bread, nitrate-filled ham slices, baked beans from a can (laden with sugar), eggs (I’m sure from caged hens), and a highly processed sausage link. This is NOT (what I consider to be) “clean:”
Then there’s my favorite “Paleo Power Breakfast.” It also has a sausage, but I searched out a nitrate-free sausage (nitrates have been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease). I used eggs laid by free-range hens (free-range, pastured eggs are higher in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids since the hens are able to forage naturally and eat the bugs and plants that they are intended to eat). I skipped the bread altogether, opting to get my carbohydrates from nutrient-filled veggies that were lightly sauteed in coconut oil. This is clean:
And NO… This does not have to take a long time to prepare. Cook up a big batch of chopped veggies at the beginning of the week, then reheat a portion as you’re frying up your free-range egg and nitrate-free sausage. A clean and healthy breakfast in under 5 minutes… Done!
Here are some more examples of clean meals (think SIMPLE, fresh, and unprocessed):
So WHY should you care about eating clean?
- Eating fresh, natural, unprocessed foods is what our bodies were designed to eat.
- Too many preservatives and chemicals can become toxic to our systems and cause all manner of unforeseen illnesses and chronic disease.
- Processed foods are often high in sugar and low in nutrients, causing our bodies to want (and crave) more and more and more… Often leading to weight gain (and under-nourishment).
- Clean foods are nutrient dense and naturally high in vitamins and minerals. They are packaged up in tidy little packets of goodness that contain everything that your body needs all in one place. For example, citrus fruits contain Vitamin C *and* the bioactive flavonoids to help you absorb it. They also contain fiber AND plenty of water to help you pass it! This is why whole foods nutrition is so much better than using synthetic supplements.
- You will feel better, look younger, have more energy, and have a solid foundation for better workouts (and better health) when you eat clean.
It’s truly the way to go.
And — best of all — once your tastebuds adjust to the lack of excess sugar and weird, synthetic chemicals that are lab-made (but taste “good”), you will never want to go back to the packaged/processed stuff again. Clean food tastes amazing. Try the Weekend Reboot and see for yourself, and check out my clean-eating shopping list here!