Clean eating involves selecting foods that are in their whole, natural form, or close to it. These foods are minimally processed, which helps preserve the beneficial vitamins and minerals they provide. In addition, a clean eating lifestyle generally involves sustainable foods that are free of preservatives and harmful toxins.
What’s more, you don’t have to feel limited by a strict and confusing diet that works only for a short period of time. In fact, clean eating isn’t a diet at all. Think of it as a lifestyle choice. It’s simple, straightforward, and easy to maintain over time.
Curious about clean eating but not sure how to start? Here’s help.
Benefits of Clean Eating
Of course, one of the most talked about advantages of switching to a clean eating plan is weight loss. Seeing the numbers on the scale fall is just one of the many benefits of eating clean, however. In addition to weight loss, clean eating has been shown to benefit gastrointestinal functioning, reduce inflammation, improve mood, promote better cognitive functioning, enhance sleep quality, and lead to younger-looking skin. Many find that clean eating also gives them more energy and greater productivity.
How to Get Started
Many diet plans have a long list of do’s and don’ts that make them difficult to sustain over the long term. The simplicity of clean eating is one of the many reasons it works. All you need to do is identify a few small, healthy changes.
Select Real, Whole Foods
Buy foods that are found in nature. This means no foods or snacks from packages or boxes. Real, whole foods haven’t undergone excessive processing or genetic modification. They include fresh produce, whole grains, grass-fed and free-range meats, dairy, and nuts and seeds. You’ll usually find these foods by sticking to the perimeter of your grocery store.
Check the Labels
The key to eating clean is consuming foods in their natural state. To do this, you will need to be vigilant about reading labels. Many foods that seem healthy have tons of added ingredients like colors, preservatives, and sugars. Even nuts may be processed in hydrogenated oils. For that reason it’s best to purchase them in their raw form.
If you’re following a clean eating lifestyle, water should be your beverage of choice. The body needs water for proper organ functioning and to keep skin lustrous and moisturized, so drink lots of it. Plus, when you reach for plain water, you won’t have to worry about the empty calories and added sugars found in many other beverages. Strive to drink half your body weight in ounces daily.
Go Crazy With Fruits and Veggies
Fresh produce should take up about half of the space on your plate at each meal. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of phytonutrients that fight disease. Use a rainbow of colors in your meals, but make a commitment to cook with more greens like Swiss chard, collards, kale, and spinach. They contain dietary fiber that promotes healthy digestion and keeps you feeling full longer.
Stop Eating Sugar
Sugar is harmful to the body in a variety of ways. Sugar is addictive in nature, which means you eat it, crash, and reach for more shortly after. Plus, sugar has no real nutrient profile, so it’s not really needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Steer clear of sugar in its many forms, even artificial sugar and sweeteners. Be sure to check labels, since sugar can hide behind a variety of names.
Rethink Alcohol and Coffee
Although red wine may offer some cardiovascular benefits, alcohol is basically empty calories — it has no nutrient profile. More importantly, alcohol has been linked to numerous health concerns, including liver disease. Coffee — without added sugar and cream — has also been associated with some health benefits. But if you are sensitive to caffeine, it may be best to remove it from your clean eating plan.
Know the Facts About Meat and Dairy
Most meat and dairy sold in stores is sourced from factory farms where animals are raised in poor conditions. These animals are injected with antibiotics and hormones to influence their growth. Such animals (and their products) have a lower nutrient profile than meat sourced from grass-fed or free-range farms. Choose these options to be more consistent with the clean eating lifestyle.
If your budget allows for it, the best way to reduce your toxic load and truly eat clean is by purchasing organic foods. Certified organic foods typically retain all their nutrients and may even have a more robust flavor than non-organic choices. In addition, by switching to organic, you’ll minimize your and your family’s exposure to pesticides, harmful chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones.
This story originally appeared on Well Within Beauty. It has been reprinted with permission.