You might have heard the term “eating clean.” What does it mean, exactly?
Various people have developed unique definitions of what qualifies as a healthy diet. It also seems like a new fad arises nearly every day. How can you sort through the hype and find a realistic eating style that works for your body? Here are nine ways to clean up your diet without counting calories or carbs, or breaking out the food scale.
1. Eat Less Processed Meat
According to the World Health Organization, processed meat ranks as a carcinogen, along with nicotine and asbestos. While one ham sandwich probably won’t kill you any more than a single drag, it’s better to avoid both.
What if your response is, “Hey, my favorite sandwich shop claims to be healthy, and I need lunch in a jiffy.” You could always brown-bag it, but you can also choose healthier menu items if time constraints have you ixnaying the meal-prep notion. Plain roasted meats like rotisserie chicken and roast beef are better bets because they aren’t cured.
2. Reduce Your Red Meat Consumption
While red meat doesn’t get as negative a mark as its processed cousin, it’s nevertheless not wise for you to eat a Beef ‘n’ Cheddar every day for lunch. When your gut breaks down a chemical called haem in red meat, it releases N-nitroso chemicals that can damage the cells lining the bowel. As a result, your colorectal cancer risk increases.
You can still enjoy the occasional steak, but keep it to a rare treat as a way to clean up your diet — “rare” here referring to the frequency, not the meat’s doneness. Aim for no more than one or two servings weekly and pay attention to the size. A sensible serving is a 3-ounce filet, not a 32-ounce porterhouse.
3. Increase Your Fish Intake
If you don’t follow a strict vegan lifestyle, increasing your fish intake offers a host of health perks. The most beneficial may lie in raising your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which do an impressive job of improving cardiovascular health.
Omega-3 fatty acids benefit your heart in the following ways:
- They decrease triglycerides: These fats can’t transport themselves, so they create lipoproteins to do the job. The problem is, those substances can cause your arteries to harden.
- They lower blood pressure: Omega-3s gently dilate blood vessels, easing high pressure that can lead to heart damage.
- They reduce clotting risk: These slippery oils prevent your platelets from bonding into clumps.
- They smooth irregular heartbeats: Omega-3s inhibit L-type calcium channels, reducing the chances of arrhythmic events.
4. Replace White Flour
Some people refer to white flour as “the glue of the gut,” and you understand why if you’ve ever gotten a damp bit of it caught in your hair. Is it really as bad for your insides as papier-mâché paste?
The problem with white flour is that it contains zero fiber and offers little nutritional value — it’s basically empty calories. It also slows down your digestive process, leading to weight gain, headaches, and fatigue. Manufacturers strip away the bran and germ that give wheat its vitamins and minerals, and many folks can’t absorb “enriched” nutrients the way they can when they’re in their natural form.
5. Understand Sneaky Sugar
You might not add sugar to any dishes while shunning cakes and pies — and you could still consume too much of the sweet stuff. This substance has a tricky way of lurking in processed foods like canned pasta sauce. It may add flavor, but it increases Type 2 diabetes risk.
Learn how to identify various sugar forms on food labels. Start by checking the total sugars, then recognize the types in the ingredient list. Terms like rice syrup, corn syrup, and evaporated cane juice can indicate added sweetness.
6. Avoid Artificial Anything
Scores of labels indicate “natural and artificial flavors” without telling you what they are. This ambiguity causes problems if you try to avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which may increase your appetite, even though organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider it safe.
Besides, foods that boast “artificial flavors” on the label probably fall into the highly processed category. You should minimize your consumption of such products anyway.
7. Look Out for Added Salt
The next time you feel like nuking a can of soup when you feel sick, check the label first. Some brands can contain half or more of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium. Other varieties blow past the limit in a single bowl.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, and ideally, no more than 1,500. However, many Americans get more than 3,000 milligrams daily, often because they rely on processed convenience foods.
Too much salt pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing pressure. Over time, this strains your heart and can lead to permanent damage.
8. Up Your Fruit and Veggie Consumption
Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients, which are chemical compounds that often benefit human health. Lycopene is one notable example — you can find this substance in red fruits, like tomatoes. Plus, plant-based foods are lower in calories, making this a smart way to clean up your diet if you hope to shed a few unwanted pounds.
When you sit down to a meal, think of your plate as a clock and fill half of it with salad or cooked fruits and veggies. Leave a quarter for protein and the remainder for whole grains.
9. Eat the Rainbow
To maximize your phytonutrient intake, Mother Nature provided a convenient color code. The same chemicals that produce health benefits also give plants their vibrant hues. Therefore, if you get fruits and vegetables in every shade imaginable, you stand a better chance of getting everything you need for good health.
Sprinkle some blueberries on your breakfast cereal. Add radishes and carrots to your lunchtime wrap for crunch and color, and start your dinner with a bowl of 12-vegetable soup. Having broth before the main course can help you consume fewer calories overall by making you feel full.
Try These 9 Ways to Clean Up Your Everyday Diet
You don’t have to toss out everything in your fridge and pantry and adopt the latest fad to “eat clean.” Use the nine ways to clean up your everyday diet above, and you’ll enjoy improved health and energy.