By Michael Arp, MS.RDN/LDN
Clean eating revolves around eating a diet that’s mostly fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds/nuts, lean meats and fish. Clean eating also reduces the amount of processed foods (chips, snack bars, cereals, frozen meals, canned items) and significantly reduces foods high in added sugar. While this lifestyle can be challenging at first, eating clean is also easier than it sounds! One quick way to get started is by swapping a fresh fruit or vegetable for any processed snack item.
Interested in trading out mindless eating with sensible choices? Here are more ideas on how to get started on your clean-eating journey, as well as reasons why it’s so important to leave processed, high-fat and sugary food behind.
What to Aim For
Eating clean is an excellent way to take charge of your health and lose weight. It’s also simple to get started. Just remember this tip: When placing food on your plate for each meal, ideally ½ of your plate should have non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach), ¼ of your plate should be whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread) and ¼ of your plate should come from a protein source (turkey, chicken, fish). Whether you choose broccoli, beets, carrots, tomatoes or another vitamin-packed food, you should also aim for meals that include many different colors. By choosing a variety of plant-based foods with various colors, you’ll consume a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and fiber.
Increase Your Health Benefits
The many benefits to saying goodbye to foods with unhealthy fats, sugar, artificial ingredients and unnecessary preservatives include weight loss, decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes, decreased blood pressure, slower cognitive decline, increased bone health and reduced cancer risk. You’ll also feel more energetic when you eat clean.
Ideas for Swapping Out Unhealthy Foods
A few tips for replacing fewer desirable foods with healthier ones include:
Replace sugary sodas and juices with water. If you’re looking for more flavor, try enhancing plain water by adding lemon, lime or berries.
Reduce your consumption of red meat — pork, beef and lamb — by eating fish, turkey, tofu or chicken.
Substitute black beans and brown rice for beef on taco night.
Remember to load that burrito up with veggies and use a whole wheat tortilla.
Why not use a fresh avocado slice instead of sour cream?
Running low on fuel? Grab a handful of unsalted nuts.
Although processed snacks are tempting, eating nuts and seeds is a smarter choice. Don’t know which nuts to choose? Start with unsalted walnuts. They’re high in fiber, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation.
Remember to limit portion size to ¼ cup.
Eliminate desserts high in fat and sugar. Instead, reach for fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Substitute high carbohydrate snack items, such as chips or granola bars, with fresh fruit or carrots and broccoli dipped in hummus.
Switch refined grains for whole grains. Avoid carb-heavy white rice and bread by choosing small portions of brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat bread instead.
The Risks of Not Eating Clean
The biggest danger of not following a clean diet is an increased risk of major diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, kidney disease and cancer. By consuming a nutritionally inadequate diet, parents also may influence their children’s dietary habits, potentially increasing their risk of developing certain diseases too.
If you’re struggling with sticking to eating clean, don’t give up. The rewards are worth the hard work. Choosing a salmon salad over a cheeseburger or strawberries over cookies may seem tough at first, but healthy food swaps do get easier with time.