Autumn is well underway, so now is the time to clean up before the cool winter breezes usher us into the holidays. Now, I’m not just talking about raking leaves and busting out the seasonal decorations. I’m talking about cleaning up your diet to become an official clean food connoisseur. Here’s your how-to!
>> Eat Plants
Plants are the staff of life. They give us the tools we need to build complex nutrients to keep our bodies functioning optimally. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that participants who indulged in 7+ servings of vegetables and fruits daily had a 41-percent reduced risk of death from all causes compared with those consuming 1 serving or less.
Furthermore, boosting your consumption of produce and reducing your intake of livestock significantly benefits the environment. Industrial livestock practices increase the risk of land degradation, water shortage, antibiotic resistance, and production of anthropogenic gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. (Can you say global warming?) And don’t worry, you don’t have to become a vegan—even going meatless once a week has been shown to provide extensive health benefits and can reduce your carbon footprint. The bottom line when it comes to choosing plants: the more color and the less processed, the better!
>> Eat Organic (Whenever Possible)
Organic eating is a legitimate practice to ensure your food is clean. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Organic Program, foods containing the organic seal have been verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agency that their ingredients come from crops that are free from sewage sludge (a potential stew of asbestos, fungi, heavy metals, and industrial solvents), synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and ionizing radiation. For livestock, producers must meet animal health and welfare standards, eliminate use of antibiotics and growth hormones, use 100-percent organic feed, and provide animals with outdoor access.
A recent meta-analysis of 343 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition found substantial nutritional advantages to choosing organic vs. conventionally grown foods. Benefits include far less pesticide residue and greater concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenols. These power-packed compounds have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and other diet-related chronic diseases. Based on this study, a switch to organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals can increase your intake of antioxidants by 20 to 40 percent. Wow!
>> Eat Sustainably
When it comes to food, the term sustainable refers to the process of producing plant- and animal-based foods in an economical, environmentally friendly manner that is safe for current communities and consumers as well as future generations. Sustainable agriculture does not rely on toxic chemicals or practices that degrade our natural resources such as our water supply and soil.
An example of sustainable agriculture is raising free-range meat, poultry, and eggs. Free-range animals are raised on pastures where they can move freely, engage in instinctive behaviors, consume a natural diet, and avoid the stress and illness associated with confinement. These animals have also been found to have less fat, more vitamins and minerals, and a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio when compared with those that are conventionally raised. It all boils down to clean practices that produce clean foods and give us a clean bill of health.
>> Eat Locally
If you demand maximal freshness, nutrient retention, and great flavor, purchase your produce locally or domestically. A great way to make this happen is by joining a community supported agriculture program, or CSA. CSAs allow consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farm. In a nutshell, farmers enrolled in CSA programs offer a certain number of memberships or subscriptions to the public. Enrolled members receive a box, bag, or basket of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
While members are experiencing a whole new world of unique, delicious produce, local farms gain financial security in their threatened but life-sustaining vocation. Check out Local Harvest: Real Food, Real Farmers, Real Community at localharvest.org for a comprehensive directory of CSA farms throughout the United States. Keep in mind: no farms, no food!
>> Eat Seasonally
By eating produce at its peak time, you will be blessed with top taste, maximal nutrient density, and boundless eating enjoyment. Produce that is available out of season is often produced by extraordinary measures or shipped from faraway places resulting in not only lack of flavor and texture, but also loss of key nutrients.
Another option is to buy produce in bulk when it is at the height of its season and freeze it. Freezing soon after harvesting can result in greater nutrient retention than fresh produce that has been shipped across the country or world. To maximize nutrient retention, steam, microwave, roast, or use other cooking methods that use minimal water.
>> Eat Homemade
Get the home-cooking advantage! According to a study in Public Health Nutrition, those who prepared homemade meals six to seven nights per week consumed, on average, fewer daily calories, fat, and sugar than those who ate home-cooked meals only once per week or not at all. This makes sense: The average restaurant meal packs in more than 1,400 calories. In addition, joining your family and friends in the meal preparation process can be a great time to reconnect while allowing you all to enjoy the unprocessed fruits of your labor.
>> Eat Mindfully
Today’s world is constantly on the run: We eat in the car, at concession stands and fast food restaurants, lurking in the kitchen, watching TV, and in many other unrelaxing and nonmindful ways. When food is eaten in this manner, we are less present and don’t keep tabs on what or how much we eat. Part of clean eating is eating mindfully. Mindful eating allows you to chew, taste, and enjoy every bite in a seated, relaxed environment. Practicing mindfulness while eating allows you to detect and respond to natural cues of hunger and satiety rather than emotional and psychological banter.
>> Eat Whole
Hands down, wheat dominates in the marketplace. Unfortunately, wheat often gets naked in processing plants to make refined carbohydrate products, such as enriched white bread, flour, and pasta. Refined carbohydrates are stripped of valuable fiber, protein, healthy fats, phytochemicals, and antioxidants—rendering them nutritionally useless. To avoid “naked” wheat, choose food products that list 100-percent whole grain as one (if not two) of the top two ingredients. Also, try to avoid “enriched” grains, since this is a red flag that the grain has been refined.
Better yet, experiment with ancient grains such as quinoa (actually a seed), bulgur, spelt, barley, faro, millet, or freekah. In comparison to wheat, these grains are remarkably high in protein, have a low glycemic index (preventing blood sugar spikes), and have a favorable vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical profile.
>> Eat Balanced and Regularly
Clean eating and balanced eating go hand-in-hand. The clean foods you choose for each meal and snack should include high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of fiber. This combination will enhance satiety and prevent that 3 p.m. slump that often leaves you searching for a caffeine surge or a sugary pick-me-up. Aim to fill half your plate with colorful, non-starchy vegetables or fruit; one-quarter with whole grains, such as brown rice or any of the grains mentioned previously; and the remainder with lean proteins such as tofu, beans, Greek yogurt, fish, or chicken. Well-balanced meals (with fiber and some healthy fat) taste great, prevent energy nosedives, and keep cravings under wraps.
>> Eat, Drink Up, and Supplement
Thus far we have focused on the benefits of clean food to our body and our environment, but have failed to mention the critical importance of adequate hydration and supplementation. Proper hydration keeps us clean inside and out, helps us better manage our appetite, and gives a little kick to our energy levels. Beverages that qualify as “clean” contain low-to-no calories, additives, or preservatives and include—but are not limited to—water, regular and herbal teas, naturally flavored seltzers or seltzers with a splash of 100-percent juice, fermented nonalcoholic beverages (kefir or kombucha), and nondairy milk alternatives. (Watch the sugar content in these last choices carefully.)
Dietary supplements can also compliment your clean eating routine just as long as they have been NSF certified. NSF certification ensures that supplements are free of banned and potentially toxic substances, and that they will be absorbed in a timely, complete manner.
In short, clean eating is a lifestyle, not a temporary diet you follow for a few weeks to drop a couple pounds or detox. It entails indulgence in unprocessed, delicious foods that are oozing with life-sustaining nutrients without compromising the environment. It is also flexible and non-restrictive. Attention to clean eating, hydration, and supplementation will nourish your mind, body, and soul—and foster self-care. Don’t wait until after the holidays to clean up your diet; cruise through the rest of this year and into 2016 at the top of your game.
By Karlyn Grimes