If “food is (but) fuel”, then eating clean is an unnecessary lifestyle choice. Fortunately, what we imbibe has an importance far greater than the kilojoules it provides. “You are what you eat,” and eating clean helps to make sure that what you put into your body is what your body needs, not what advertisers need you to want.
Eating clean doesn’t have to be difficult, nasty or expensive. It doesn’t have to be ascetic or drastic either — here, many roads lead to Rome. There are several tenets of eating clean, some of which could even save you money.
Sounds exciting? Let’s get started on what its means to “eat clean.”
Most basically, eating clean involves choosing the right foods to fuel your body with, and saying “NOT NOW, GO AWAY!” to the wrong foods. Imposing value judgments on food is not ideal for a healthy relationship toward food, but highly processed junk food is actually seriously unhealthy. Other “wrong” foods include things you may already have known about, even without knowing the extent of their harm.
Refined sugar has hardly any nutritional value, but is added into many products, such that the volume of sugar we consume (whether naturally occurring fructose in fruit or artificially-made sugars) is more than our body can handle. High fructose corn syrup, a processed industrial food product, is so rapidly digested that the fructose in it hits the liver fast, triggering lipogenesis (the production of fats), while the glucose in it provokes spikes in insulin (fat storage hormone). Next, refined carbohydrates are carbohydrates that have had their whole grain stripped away, removing its fiber and much of its nutritional value, including healthy oils, fat-soluble vitamins and B-complex vitamins. From cookies, candy and pie, to white rice, white bread and cereal, more-nutritious alternatives can be found, which is what we’ll move to next.
Whole foods are foods that haven’t been tampered with in labs or factories. Think: whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grass-fed and free-range meats, dairy products, unsalted nuts, and seeds! It is only in recent history that humans have been fed additives, preservatives and other man-made chemical compounds, so farm vegetables and fresh meat shouldn’t seem exceptional. Think of ways to increase the amount of whole foods in your diet. Instead of a frozen pizza with an expiration date of never, make your own from dough, real cheese and tomatoes! While eating clean may cost you more time —e.g. in cooking whole-grain pasta instead of microwaving macaroni— you gain so much more in nutrition.
Below is a list of some recommended groceries for eating clean:
- Fruits and Veggies: Unsweetened whole fruits, fresh squeezed fruit juices, sea vegetables (seaweeds), avocados, olives, and raw, steamed, sauteed, juiced, or roasted vegetables
- Grains: Brown, red, black and wild rice, millet, amaranth, teff, tapioca, buckwheat, quinoa
- Veggie protein: Split peas, lentils, legumes, bee pollen, spirulina, and blue-green algae
- Animal protein: Fresh or water-packed, cold-water fish (trout, salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel, sardines, pike, kippers), wild game (rabbit, pheasant, bison, venison, elk, etc.), lamb, duck, organic chicken and turkey
- Seeds and Nuts: Hemp, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, brasil nuts, cashews, macadamia, pistachios, nut and seed butters such as almond or tahini
- Drinks: Filtered water, green tea, white tea, herbal tea, mineral water, yerba mate, coconut water
- Milks: Hemp, rice, nut (such as almond, hazelnut, walnut, etc.) and coconut
- Condiments: Vinegar, all spices, all herbs, sea salt, black pepper, carob, stone-ground mustard, miso, coconut liquid aminos, wheat-free tamari and nama shōyu (soy sauce)
- Oils: Cold-pressed olive, flax, safflower, sesame, almond, sunflower, walnut, pumpkin, and coconut
- Sweeteners: Brown rice syrup, stevia, coconut nectar, yacon, whole/fresh fruit, dried fruit
In addition to including lean protein, complex carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats in each meal choice, remember to avoid saturated or trans fats, as well as high-caloric, non-nutritious foods.
Eating clean isn’t the easiest commitment to undertake if one is on the unlimited meal plan, because it would be hard to justify spending additional dollars on off-campus food when one has already paid for many, many dining hall meals. However, one thing “the unlimited” is good for is the ability to eat many small meals throughout the day. Having 5-6 smaller meals instead of 3 big ones stabilizes blood sugar levels, such that you’ll never be feeling so ravenous that you give in to whatever is before you. When hitting Carm/Dewick, fill your salad bowl, and have the dessert you absolutely love as an occasional treat.
Finally, on the cost of eating clean, it’s not all about imported pomegranates and organic grass-fed beef. Fresh seafood and meats at ethnic supermarkets are a great way to get good meat without bleeding your wallet. Eating less meat, or buying in bulk helps your budget as well.
Eating clean is treating your body to whole, real, fresh food full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. If you don’t treat your body right, no one will.
For meal suggestions, these links may be helpful:
-Min Yi Tan
Cover photo source.