What is clean eating?
Let me again start this by saying I am not a personal trainer (yet), a nutritionist, a medical professional or a certified genius when it comes to exercise or food. I am a normal human being. I am not saying that there is only one way for everyone to eat, my family, and I eat clean, so what do we mean by clean eating?
Good question, but I don’t think that there is a simple answer. There are a few elements that make up clean eating, it can be different for different people, but for us a way of defining clean eating is;
- Thinking about the food you eat
- Knowing where your food is coming from
- Knowing what is in your food
- Knowing what works best for you
- Knowing it’s not a diet
The first three elements for me go hand in hand. Sadly, we seem to have stopped thinking about the food we eat, where it comes from, and what has been put into it. Until a few years ago, I was just as guilty as everyone else of going to the supermarket and picking food off the shelves that I didn’t look at or think about and serving it up to my family. We all do it; we leave thinking at the door and allow decisions about our meal content to fast food restaurants or companies that mass-produce food for profit. We are not taking responsibility for our food choices or making informed choices about what we put in our mouths.
Clean eating is about understanding what we are eating, what it contains, and where it has come from and then making an informed decision about what food you will buy and eat. Just looking at the back of the foods you are picking up at the supermarket can be eye opening and being honest a little scary. Once you start to look at what is in the food, you will start looking for alternatives. I don’t think anyone wants the kind of foods that contain ingredients you can wax your car with or the same resin used in your nail polish! This doesn’t just apply to the ‘processed’ foods, the ones you probably already know are not that ideal for you, it's things like bacon, cheese, yoghurt, sausages, bread, I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.
Once you start thinking about what is in your food, you will start thinking about where it comes from, which again, in turn, paying, even more, attention to what you want to eat. Tracking down suitable replacements can take time, but it will be worth it in the end.
Knowing what works best for you is something that will come with time and plenty of trial and error. I think about clean eating as a journey, it is one that is often filled with exciting discoveries. Our journey started 3 years ago, we have learnt a lot along the way, and the journey is by no means at an end, there are always new things to learn and try. There are so many ways of eating clean including;
- Dairy free
- Grain free
- Sugar free
- Meat free
- Gluten free
- Legume free
- Nut free
- Fruit free
- Chemical free
- Nightshade free
- Organic only
- Seasonal only
- Free range only
- Grass fed only
- Fair trade products only
I am sure that there are a heap more of these that could be used to describe clean eating, but the truth is ‘clean’ is whatever you want it to be. The journey is about moving along the path at your own pace, and at the level, you feel comfortable at and suits your needs.
I don’t believe in the one size fits all solutions in life, we are all different, we want different things in life, have different goals, strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. One way of life for everyone is not how it works, the same applies you food, we don’t all like or eat the same things so how can one way of eating clean be right for everyone.
Even in our house clean means different things, for me clean is a way of eating that removes chemicals and processed foods, nuts, grain, sugar and minimised intake of legumes and nightshades. For my partner in crime, it is a way of eating that removes chemicals and processed foods, sugar and decreased intake of grains, legumes, and nightshades. We have different tolerances and sensitivities to work with, we have discovered over time what works best for us and built it into our lifestyle.
It is not a diet, I think that is one of the most important things to recognise, a diet is something people do to reach a short-term goal, and in my experience, diets are not sustainable or enjoyable. Making a change to eating clean is actually a change in your lifestyle. It’s about making yourself responsible for your food choices, knowing where your food is coming from, it’s about changing the products you buy, knowing what you are putting into your body, places you shop and the way you plan out your week.
Here are a few simple steps to making clean eating part of your life:
Start slowly. When you start down the path of clean eating, it pays to keep in mind that making a significant change in your life rarely works, make small changes and building them into your routine usually works out better in the end and gives you a better chance of success. Remember it is a long journey so take your time.
Removing processed foods - I can recommend that you don’t start by looking at the back of every product you buy all at once, this will lead to a reasonably empty looking trolley and hungry people. Pick one item that you want to remove or replace. I found two things made it easier to remove processed foods.
Look for an alternative product or one that has fewer ingredients as a starting point. When at the supermarket I would compare products to find the one that had no or fewer additives/chemicals and go with that, a great example is tinned tomatoes – a very well-known brand product contained tomatoes, acidity regulators, sugar and two flavours. The supermarkets own brand contained tomatoes. If I have to buy, pre-packed products or tinned foods I work on the principle of any more than three ingredients don’t buy it.
Figure out if you can make it yourself – tomato sauces for pasta are a great example, store bought sauces have lots of extras that you don’t need. When looking at the sauces try to figure out the ingredients and if you can make it yourself, for the most part, you will find a pasta sauce is easy to recreate- tinned tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, oregano, salt and pepper – you may then find that making it yourself will save you a few $’s too.
Look at where your food comes from - We are fortunate in New Zealand as many of the products we can buy in supermarkets are grown or raised here. That doesn’t mean that everything is coming from a good source, look for grass fed, free range and organic products. Local fruit and veg store have more local and seasonal produce than the supermarket, also check out your local farmers market, they tend to have the freshest produce you can buy.
Find out what works best for you. It may take some time to figure out what your version of clean eating may be, don’t be afraid to move outside your comfort zone and try something new, if it doesn’t work out it’s no big deal, you will never know until you try. It pays to remember when you start eating clean;
- Add more vegetables – they fill you up and give you lots of important vitamins and minerals.
- Make protein your friend – if you are not eating bread/pasta/rice you need to make friends with protein and possibly increase how much protein you are eating, this will all depend on you as an individual and your activity levels.
- Change your point of view on fats - Fat is not bad for you, it’s actually good for you, including more fats in your diet can help to fill the gaps left by processed and bulky foods like sugary sauces and dressings.
- Look how sweet it is – sugar is added to nearly everything, if you are removing sugar from your diet be sure to check your food, the sugar crash (and nap that immediately follows) are not pleasant and easily avoided.