Clean Eating 101, a Q&A with Kari
What is clean eating? The essence of clean eating is consuming and preparing food in its most natural form using whole foods and simple ingredients. It means shopping with a conscience, choosing organic when possible and getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Clean eating is not a diet. It is a lifestyle and way of eating that keeps you energized and feeling great all day long.
What should I include in my food choices? Keep it simple. Vegetables, fruits, non-gluten whole grains, and get plenty of healthy fats. Choose responsibly raised and humane meat, eggs and dairy products. Think about buying at farmers market for seasonal and local produce as it will be at peak freshness when being sold in markets. Obviously if you live in an area that has a winter season like I do, there isn’t a farmers market year round. Just make smart choices. Most grocery stores have a decent selection of organic produce and if organic isn’t in your budget, focus on getting plenty of fresh veggies in each meal. Eating plenty of veggies and some fruit is more important than buying organic if you have to make a choice. Along the same line of thinking: eating any veggie (even if it’s the same ones all the time) is better than none at all. Quantity outweighs variety so eat ‘em up! Drink lots of water to keep your body functioning at a high level and able to flush out any toxins. Fermented foods such as Greek yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut are also a great choice. Things to avoid when eating clean are processed and refined foods. This includes white flour, sugar, bread and pasta. If you do choose to purchase processed items, a good rule of thumb is to go with all natural ingredients and be sure your great grandmother would recognize everything on that ingredient list.
What?!?! No bread, pasta or donuts! Don’t freak out just yet. I didn’t say you can’t EVER have these items, just be smart and intentional with the choice to do so and limit it to a once in a while thing rather than having these foods daily. I thought it was going to be awful to eliminate most gluten from my eating style but it really wasn’t. There are tons of gluten free pasta options available at most grocery stores. Try a quinoa or rice based pasta, or at least go with a whole grain. I promise you won’t really be able to tell the difference. Or skip the pasta and go with spaghetti squash! Baking is a bit more challenging but I’ve actually had a ton of fun baking with new flours like rice flour, coconut flour, and I occasionally use a specific type of wheat flour called einkorn flour. For me, clean eating also means minimizing dairy. It was way easier for me to reduce my gluten/refined flours intake than eliminate dairy.
Whoa, this is overwhelming. How do I even get started eating this way? I completely understand. Transitioning to a healthier lifestyle and healthier foods can seem very overwhelming. I resisted for a long time even after knowing it was affecting my health. The way I see it, the change is dynamic and doesn’t have to happen overnight (unless you want it too, of course). Here’s 6 steps to healthy clean eating in order of what I think is the most important.
- Eliminate anything you’re allergic to. If you’re sensitive to it but not allergic, I’d try to eliminate it right away too. I had a huge problem with this. I actually ate dairy for years after I knew it was affecting me. It’s something I crave deeply and still do. I thought giving up dairy was going to be a miserable experience until I found some great dairy free recipes. The good news is that sensitivities can be healed in time through a healthy diet. I’ve come a long way and discovered I can now tolerate hard cheeses on an occasional basis as long as I’ve been eating clean but I still can’t tolerate any liquid or soft dairy products without it causing me trouble a few hours later.
- Add more vegetables to your plate. Aim for 2/3 of your plate to be veggies.
- Sweeten naturally without refined sugars. If you tend to drink sweetened beverages, switch them out with plain water, or coconut water, or water kefir. Don’t change to artificial sweeteners. Instead opt to lightly sweeten your morning tea or coffee or even lemonade with honey, turbinado (raw) sugar or maple syrup. Once you start cutting back on the sugars, you’ll notice your tastebuds will change and you will prefer things less sweet. Plus, you’ll start to notice all the wonderful nuances of individual foods, herbs and spices. Truly heaven.
- Add probiotics. Probiotics are SO important for maintaining your immune system and reducing the permeability of a damaged intestinal lining. This damage occurs from foods that typically cause inflammation like sugars, gluten containing grains, and possibly others if you’re sensitive to them. Protecting this lining works to prevent inflammation and damage from happening in the future. Some awesome probiotic foods are kefir, water kefir, Greek yogurt, coconut milk yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. You can also take a high quality probiotic supplement.
- Change up your snacks. If you snack between meals, choose fruits, veggies or nuts. If you tolerate dairy, a nice raw cheddar is also delightful.
- Watch your alcohol. Or eliminate it completely. If you choose to consume alcohol, choose dry wines as they have less sugar, or a dry hard cider. If you’re sensitive to yeast or molds, you’d be best to eliminate all alcohols as they typically do have some amounts of these items in them.
- Change up your fats. Healthy fats like the types found in avocados, nuts, olives, coconut and meats provide a great source of energy. Healthy fats are essential for proper body function and important things like absorbing vitamins, healthy immune function and cell structure. I personally cook with butter, olive oil (low to medium heat) or other monounsaturated fats like safflower or sesame oil and bake with coconut oil. Eliminate anything with trans and polyunsaturated fat. Be sure you’re consuming enough healthy fats in your diet and you’ll remain satisfied and avoid hunger.
- Eliminate gluten containing grains. For a sandwich, place your sandwich fixings rolled up into a large lettuce leaf. Or eat it like a salad. Or if you must, purchase a nice non-gluten sandwich bread and go with that. Spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini makes a great substitute for spaghetti noodles. Plus you get added veg! LOVE! Breakfast was my hardest place to get rid of wheat. I had breakfast cereal nearly every day. I started by just switching my cereal to Chex (they make a chocolate one that’s really tasty!) or a gluten free oat cereal. You’ll need to read the ingredients here as many toasted oat cereals do have wheat added to them. Switch your oatmeal to certified gluten free varieties. Try some yogurt with fruit and gluten free granola. Of course, there’s always eggs and sausage/bacon, and fruit. Now that I have a steady supply of eggs from my backyard flock, I have eggs and fruit nearly every day. Check out my breakfast recipes for fun muffins and pancakes too.
- Purge your pantry. Toss out (or donate) any unused portions of foods you’ve permanently eliminated from your clean eating lifestyle. Not only will you clean out your pantry, you won’t be tempted to use those items just because you have them around. Plus, if you’re the type that gets giddy over completing a task and organizing (I am!), it’ll give you great satisfaction.
- Give yourself a break. Yes, this is actually a tip. No one is perfect. Aim to follow a clean eating lifestyle 80% of the time (or 75% or 90%, whatever is comfortable for you) and allow yourself the other 20% for special occasions – like mom’s best apple pie, or a slice of birthday cake at your niece’s party, or that anniversary date with your hubby.
What benefits can I expect from eating clean? An apple a day…really does keep the doctor away. Since I’ve boarded the clean eating train, I as well as my family have been sick less often and when we are, it seems to be shorter in duration. Here’s a few other fun things to look forward to and these results are common among clean eaters on a low grain diet:
- The brain fog vanishes. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in mental acuity.
- Drastic increase in energy! Time to tackle that new project??
- Skin vitality and improvement or clearing of any skin issues. I’ve noticed my skin has a nice glow to it and looks much younger. The appearance of stretch marks has improved and that pesky cellulite is much less noticeable. My son’s eczema clears up when we eat really clean. My husband’s psoriasis has improved as well.
- Peaceful sleep. No more tossing and turning. No more mid-night wakings and less restlessness.
- No more headaches. I would typically get a few headaches a month, mostly sinus related but since eating clean. It’s been months since I’ve had one. When I do get one, it’s always because I went back to old eating habits and didn’t drink enough water.
- Little or no PMS symptoms. I used to get wicked cramps and headaches during that time of the month. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that they slowly vanished almost completely after I started eating clean.
- Better sun resistance. Having proper nutrients allows your skin to resist burning. We rarely need to use sunscreen anymore unless we’re out in the direct sun for multiple hours.
- Absence of food cravings. Weird but I have noticed that I don’t insanely crave certain foods like I used to and can easily say no to the unhealthier options when they are offered. It’s fantastic!
- Losing a few inches off that waistline and actually keeping it that way. It’s so much easier to maintain a healthy weight when you’re eating clean. Counting calories when you’re eating clean is not necessary as your body will naturally tell you when you’re hungry and you can actually trust that instinct.
- Improved blood profile. You can count on all of your blood profile numbers like cholesterol, glucose and triglycerides to improve significantly. I didn’t have bad numbers before but I’m definitely in the “awesome” range of the scale now and qualified for a significantly lower rate on my life insurance policy. Yay!
So Kari, what’s in your pantry (or fridge) these days? I’ve learned to love vegetables. Once I made a commitment to eating clean, I went to the grocery store and made a game out of trying vegetables that I had never tried or even heard of before. Spaghetti squash has become a new favorite as well as broccoli, and mushrooms. I only purchase meats from my family farm or ones that are organic and pasture raised. My go to cooking oils are olive oil, butter, and coconut oil. For baking, I almost exclusively use coconut oil. The flour I use most often is coconut flour and tapioca starch. When I need something sweet, I eat a piece of fruit. Instead of refined white sugar, I substitute maple syrup or honey in many of my recipes. I also eat a lot of healthy fats. I love eggs just about any way you can cook them. Avocados, olives, a handful of nuts and coconut milk are also ways I incorporate healthy fats into my diet.
I can’t afford to cook like this, won’t I go broke?! You will need to shop a little smarter if you don’t want to spend tons of extra dollars. I would recommend planning out your meals for the week at least a little bit so you only purchase the produce you’ll use up while it’s fresh. Check out what you have in your pantry first so you can plan around items you already have as well. Here’s a few additional tips that work for me to keep my food budget on track:
- Shop a discount food store. Get the items you can at these types of stores to save a few bucks. Stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi offer fun selections and ever expanding organic options.
- Rinse fresh berries in a vinegar and water bath (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water) prior to refrigerating to keep them fresher longer and reduce spoilage. Dry with salad spinner lined with paper towels and then store in a sealed container lined with paper towels.
- Shop for specialty items on Amazon or a similar online store. I often have found that my local co-op or grocery store has the items I’m looking for but it’s usually more expensive. I order a lot of my pantry staples on Amazon with free shipping.
- Buy meat in bulk from a local farmer who pasture grazes his animals and treats them respectfully. You will need to invest in a large freezer but this saves a bunch of cash in the long run. If you can find good quality meat at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club, buy in bulk and freeze the extra.
- Consider a CSA share for vegetables. You’ll get a weekly share of veggies that are fresh and in season to cook up. Or grow your own garden. It’s very rewarding to see your plants mature into something tangible you can eat!
- Keep veggie scraps and animal bones (like that chicken carcass from last night’s roasted whole chicken) to use in making homemade broth. Simply put them in a freezer friendly container and keep until you’re ready to make broth. Not only is homemade broth free if you use this method, it’s so much more tasty!
- Buy more herbs, veggies or fruits when they are in season (or on sale) and freeze, dehydrate or can them for later. Or make them into awesome sauces or salsas to freeze (or can) for later. Dehydrated fruits make for nice little snacks. Herbs freeze remarkably well. I like to chop up herbs like chives and put them in a freezer zip top bag. For herbs like basil or oregano, you can chop them and blend with a little olive oil. Then freeze them on a tray in tablespoon size portions. Once frozen, place in a zip top bag. You can also dehydrate herbs and put them in a spice jar.
- Weeknight timesaver tip: prep in advance. Pick a prep day and do all your chopping for the week and place it in the fridge for easy weeknight meals that can be whipped up in a flash! When you’re making a sauce, make a little extra and freeze it. This will save time in the kitchen and make a last minute meal that much easier. It’ll also prevent you from making that trip to the fast food restaurant down the road in desperation.
- Make some of your own condiments. Seriously. Mayonnaise is so easy!!! Try your hand at barbeque and ketchup while you’re at it!
- Keep in mind that when you’re cooking at home, you’re not spending money eating out. Plus you can be proud because you’ve created this fabulous, healthy meal and can share it with your family or friends.
What about the lifestyle component? I’m so glad you asked! Once you feel great about where you’re at with clean eating, try incorporating some clean living. By this I mean treating your body and living space in a manner that encourages and supports clean eating. Be sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and maintaining some kind of exercise. This doesn’t have to be formal exercise. Weeding the garden or playing with your kids in the yard qualifies as long as you’re moving. Also pay attention to what you’re putting on your skin as well as spraying into the air you breathe. Eliminate toxins that are in your skincare products (like deodorant) by making your own. Great quality cleaners are also incredibly easy to make, are often cheaper and work just as well as store-bought options but without the toxic chemical load so you can breathe easy. If you’re not into making your own, there are all natural options for both skincare and cleaning supplies available in most areas.
Cheers to your new adventures in clean eating and clean living!! As always, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org