How to ‘eat clean’

‘Clean Eating’ is trending in the world of nutrition.  It is not a fad diet; it’s a chosen lifestyle and celebrities like Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow are two of the many fans supporting this trend. So, what is ‘clean eating’ and how is it good for you?

Definition of ‘clean eating’?

Put in simple terms, ‘clean eating’ is the consumption of unprocessed food.  ‘Clean eating’ consists of whole food – real food – from its origin to your plate.

clean-eating-pyramid
Clean-eating Pyramid

It does not mean eating only raw food.  Some whole foods benefit from cooking because it removes toxins and kills bacteria.  However, with the exception of food like white meat (which needs to be cooked through), it is best not to over-cook your food cause you lose out on nutrients.

What are the benefits of ‘eating clean’?

Plant-based diets are good for you.  And ‘clean eating’ is mainly made up of fruit and veg.

A diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables

  • helps in reducing / preventing high blood pressure
  • prevents type 2 diabetes
  • prevents cardiovascular disease
  • helps you maintain healthy weight
  • gives you glowing skin and healthy hair

Is that a good enough reason to ‘eat clean’?

How do you ‘eat clean’?

If you would like to ‘eat clean’, avoid processed foods. ‘Eating clean’ begins at the supermarket.

Processed foods are stripped of all nutrients and they

  • contain salt or sugar or both
  • may contain fat
  • may contain flavouring
  • contain preservatives (those words difficult to pronounce or those E numbers)
  • contain added vitamins

Carlos Monteiro, professor at the Department of Nutrition at the School of Public Health, University of Sao Paolo says, processed foods claiming they contain “less fat”, “less sodium” or “vitamin enriched” are bad for you.  This is the manufacturer’s cunning plan to make highly-processed food look ‘healthy’.

“The key is to avoid foods that are ‘ultra-processed,'” says Jessica Fanzo, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the Columbia University. ” … basically, anything food-product-like or ready-to-heat.”

Foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are also a big NO NO! GMOs are linked to cancer and infertility.

Just in case you’re not put off by processed foods yet, bear in mind that additives in highly-processed food make you crave junk food.

What is considered to be ‘clean’ food?

‘Clean’ food is unprocessed food such as fresh fruit and veg, dried legumes, nuts and farm-fresh eggs.

In addition to the four groups of unprocessed food above, you can add the following food which is slightly processed

  • unrefined grains – as in wholewheat bread, pasta, oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice
  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • unprocessed meat
  • hormone-free dairy
  • oils

Organic food can be costly.  But when possible choose organic to avoid pesticides, hormones and chemicals in your food.

Wild and sustainably-caught fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Whilst grass-fed livestock is also rich in omega-3 fats.

If you are unsure of the origin of your food, ask where it’s coming from.

How do you cook ‘clean’?

Cooking ‘clean’ is easy.  The secret is – keep things simple and avoid fats.

Dos and don’ts

  • avoid sauces and gravies; go for simple olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice
  • do not deep fry
  • do not stew using animal or vegetable fat
  • do not over-cook your vegetables to a pulp
  • stir-fry or steam your food

You  will soon learn how to appreciate the good taste of ‘clean’ food.  Sauces and gravies musk the taste of your food and increase your waist line.

Food portions play an important part in your ‘clean eating’ lifestyle.  Do not over-eat; aim to have three fifths of your plate full of veg, one fifth of protein and one fifth starchy carb.

And you wondered how celebs look good?  Now you know how … enjoy!

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Understanding food labels

How many times were you tricked into buying a ‘healthy’ product?  You get to cash point and reach out for that cereal bar?  It contains oats, fruits and nuts; must be good for you.  Or that muesli packet with sugar and salt reduced? Surely, that’s OK?

Are food labels credible? Should you believe what they say?

Yes; if you read between the lines, you will find that what they say is correct.  You just have to understand what they say and the way they say it.

Manufacturers are smart.  They use words which grab your attention to make you believe the product is good for you.  They do not lie, because that would get them into trouble with the law.  They simply use generic terms and take advantage of any loophole in the law.

For example, if a packet of muesli says “no sugar added” that’s just what it means – no extra sugar was added.  That is not to say the product is not high in sugar.

If a product says “vitamin enriched” does that make it healthy? Not necessarily.  Have a look at the rest of the ingredients and check things like fat (especially saturated), salt and sugar.

What information should you find on a food label?

By law a food label should give you the following information.

  • contact details of the manufacturer
  • country of origin of the product
  • list of ingredients in descending order
  • allergens
  • processing
  • dates

You have a right to know where a product is coming from, especially if it contains produce such as meat or fish.  You should also find details of the manufacturer, should you need to contact them.

Look at the list of ingredients.  You will notice it is in descending order.  This gives you a clear indication of what are the main ingredients and their quantities. In the image below you will notice that the main ingredient in this quinoa porridge is not quinoa flour.

Flavouring does not mean the product contains that ingredient. A strawberry-flavoured yogurt will not contain strawberries; you will only find strawberry flavouring listed.

Check the ingredients in bold font.  These are the ingredients which you may be allergic to or cause you some form of intolerance.

The label should indicate any process the food has gone through.  Is the product dehydrated, smoked?

You will also find dates on a food label.  Very often you will have two dates – the manufacturing date and the “best before” or “use by” date.  These dates are meant to indicate whether the food is good for human consumption.  The “best before” date means just that – a product is best before the date indicated.  The “use by” date is used for perishables; food which will not be good to eat past the date shown.

What should you look out for in the nutritional information?

After checking the list of ingredients for allergens, go to the nutritional information and check the salt, sugar and fat content in the product.

Aim at keeping your sugar levels to no more that 5% of your total energy intake and salt at a maximum level of 6g per day.

Another ingredient to avoid is saturated fat.  These fats are harmful to the body and can cause heart disease.

Serving Size

More often than not serving sizes are misleading and far from realistic. You look at the front of a packet and think a bowl of cereal gives you 130 calories.  Take a closer look – it says “per 30g serving”.  Weigh 30g of muesli and let me know if you think it’s a realistic serving.

Very often, the serving size shown on the front of packet is misleading.  Follow the nutritional information per 100g of product for accurate data.

Know your terms

‘Low fat’ – < 3g of fat / 100g of product

‘Fat free’ – < 0.15g of fat / 100g of product

‘Salt reduced’ – < 0.5g of sodium / 100g product

‘Organic’ – a minimum of 95% organic product

‘Alcohol free’ – product can contain up to 0.05% alcohol

Are food labels a legal requirement?

Yes; food labels are mandatory by law.  As of 13th December 2016, new legislation has come into force in Europe to ensure that the information on food labels is clear and not misleading in any way.

My thanks go to:

The British Nutrition Foundation

The British Heart Foundation

European Commission