(If you haven’t read the introduction to The Case for Eating Clean series, you may do so here.)
Before we begin, what the heck do you mean by “eating clean”?
“How do I know what qualifies as clean food?”
“What if there’s an ingredient in there that’s not clean… And I don’t know about it?!”
“You don’t mean making sure that the plate is clean… Do you?”
(About this last point: I kid! I kid!)
The phrase is admittedly vague, but it’s also relatively easy to unpack. (And no, it has nothing to do with the cleanliness of your plate, although hygiene is generally a good idea.) Taken literally, ‘eating clean’ can be understood to mean avoiding foods that ‘pollute’ your system and/or eating foods that are free from stuff that ‘pollutes’ your system. This just means that one needs to choose foods that have greater nutritional value over those that just fill you up without much nutrition (or worse, lead to long term health issues because having these pollutants in your system means that the system is less efficient and more likely to break down. 😦 )
A commonsense indicator of which foods have greater nutritional value is the comparison of the amount of nutrients* in the food. And this step, although rather intuitive, does require a bit of information. For instance, if you were to be choosing between a slice of white toast with jam and a banana and an egg for breakfast, you’d have to think about which of these options has more nutrients. One of these is made up of refined flour and sugar (stripped of nutrients, which cancels the fruity goodness the fruit may have had), while the other is rich in vitamins and good fats. Since vitamins and good fats are nutrients we want in our bodies, the latter — the unadulterated banana and egg — is more nutritious, and therefore, the cleaner option.
With this working principle of eating clean at the back of your mind, this diet and lifestyle change is pretty simple to implement.
Reason #1: Simplicity
If your guiding principle when it comes to food is eating clean, you don’t need to find out how many calories there are in a banana or an egg versus jam on toast, and you don’t need to know how to calculate the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in either option in order to make the change. You also don’t need to know how much protein and carbohydrates you need each day, neither do you need to figure out how long you should fast on an intermittent fasting protocol. All you need to figure out is whether the food you’re thinking of eating is nutritious (or, more nutritious than that other food you’re contemplating). This is what I mean when I say that it is simple. It’s straightforward and you don’t need to learn a whole new language to get started.
There are a couple of ways to start implementing this principle in your life and the internet is rife with advice.
Some good starting points are:
- Eat whole foods over of processed foods with eating clean because whole foods still retain their nutrients whereas processed foods don’t. Also, the preservatives in processed food could possibly cause long term health problems, which is kinda nice to avoid if possible. (Incidentally, I count fat-free stuff as processed foods because that shit ain’t fat-free naturally, yo.)
- Eat your greens. Make sure you do! Vegetables have all sorts of micronutrients that do your body good. So eat them.
- Avoid refined food, such as white bread and white sugar, because every food you eat with refined (and thus, less nutritious) ingredients could be replaced with a version that contains a less-processed (more nutritious!) ingredient. If you were choosing between cookies and an apple, every cookie you eat is one less bite of that apple. But every bite of that apple has more nutritious goodness than every bite of that cookie… So… Yeah.
- Heck, just avoid sugar. Period. There’s a lot of literature on the harms of sugar overconsumption and a post on that is in the pipeline. If you’re keen to read up first, check out Sugar Shock by Connie Bennett or Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss.
Once you have the hang of it, you can move on to other strategies such as figuring out which foods irritate your system, such as gluten, lactose, and cutting them out of your diet. (Link to lactose intolerance and egg allergy mention.)
As you can see, eating clean can be very progressive and you don’t need to overhaul your life necessarily. This is why my second reason in the case for eating clean is that it is scalable. That post is underway as you read this!