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You might have heard people speak about “eating clean.” What exactly does that phrase mean?
Fortunately, the term has nothing to do with hygiene measures. Instead, it refers to making healthier menu choices that don’t harm your body but benefit it somehow. Here are six tips that answer the what is clean eating question while helping you improve your diet.
You might have heard of white flour referred to as the “glue of the gut.” If the phrase evoked paper mache nightmares, you aren’t alone — you can make a paste by just adding water. However, your intestines digest the glutenin protein in wheat that causes the adhesive properties. You won’t end up with a superglued colon.
That doesn’t mean you should break out the fried chicken and baked goods laden with the stuff if you care about clean eating. White flour is problematic because, unlike whole grains, manufacturers strip away the nutrient-dense bran during processing. Even if they later enrich the flour, your body doesn’t absorb added vitamins and minerals as effectively.
Another problem with white flour is that your body absorbs it quickly, leading to a rapid burst of energy followed by a debilitating crash. The boost comes from elevated blood sugar levels. When your levels plummet, you feel hungry again, spurring overeating that can lead to weight gain.
That isn’t the only way that white flour increases diabetes risk. When manufacturers bleach white flour, it produces a chemical called alloxan, which destroys your pancreas. That organ is responsible for making insulin that controls blood sugar, putting you at severe risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Therefore, when you ask what is clean eating, anything containing white flour doesn’t qualify — immediately eliminating many fast food meals. You’ll also want to reduce your consumption of commercially produced baked goods.
Sugar isn’t sweet when it comes to your health. Too much of the added stuff can damage your heart and liver while packing on excess pounds.
Excess fructose consumption — often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup — contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, so-called because it produces identical changes to the damage caused by alcohol. Sucrose, or table sugar, has an even more devastating effect in this regard.
What can you do if you like it sweet? Natural alternatives such as monk fruit and stevia won’t impact your glycemic index. However, your best course is to avoid added sweeteners altogether. If you must have something sugary to end a meal, stick with natural fruit. Even though it contains fructose, it has other substances that nourish your gut bacteria and mitigate the effects on your liver.
That “healthy” lunch sandwich probably doesn’t qualify as clean eating if you get it from a shop. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), processed meats like ham recently earned classification as carcinogens because of the changes such products undergo during processing.
Likewise, you’ll want to skip the steak, at least every night. Red meat also increases your colorectal cancer risk. If you must have the occasional burger, restrict your consumption to no more than once or twice a week.
Unless you pick an apple fresh off the tree and start munching, most of what you eat is processed. The term simply refers to altering food from its natural state — it can mean chopping, boiling or sauteing, not necessarily adding chemicals or additives.
However, any processing changes the nutritional profile of your meal. Therefore, try to minimize preparation by making foods fresh at home. Commercially prepared packaged versions often contain tons of salt, sugar and other additives that can damage your health.
Eating clean doesn’t only mean eliminating problematic foods from your diet. It also entails adding more of the good stuff.
At each meal, look at your plate as a clock and fill half of it with nourishing fruits and vegetables. Why? These foods are nutrient-dense and low in calories. You can eat quite a bit of salad without packing on extra pounds if you skip packaged dressings in favor of a hint of olive oil and balsamic.
Plants also contain phytonutrients, substances that benefit human health in various ways. For example, the anthocyanins in berries help control inflammation and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Each color indicates a different nutrient profile, so try to eat a rainbow every day.
You probably noticed the higher sticker prices on organic foods at your local grocer’s. What justifies spending the extra cash?
Farmers grow organic produce without the use of toxic pesticides, making your eating cleaner. These producers also shun the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If you buy organic beef, the cow didn’t eat a diet of GMO corn — it was probably grass-fed the way nature intended.
If you ever asked, “what is clean eating,” now you know your answer. Eliminating or reducing these problematic foods from your diet will enhance your health.