Clean eating (or eating clean) isn’t a “diet” or a food trend, like juicing or detoxing. And it’s not about washing your food really well. Instead, it’s a way of eating and living. Essentially, clean eating involves avoiding or limiting processed and refined foods and instead eating more whole foods (especially plant-based foods).
Does clean eating really help boost health?
The term “clean eating” may sound a bit trendy. Yet, the basic tenets of clean (healthful) eating are hard to argue with: an eating plan that focuses on plant foods, fewer additives and preservatives and nutritional balance most certainly can impact your health in a positive way. Proponents of clean eating believe that it can lead to weight loss, more energy, better sleep, skin and shinier hair and emotional well-being.
Sounds pretty good so far. Does it help with diabetes? That remains to be seen, but given that this movement promotes eating healthful, unprocessed foods, it certainly seems like a good choice for people living with diabetes.
Ten steps for clean eating
If you’re interested in “coming clean” with your eating, these steps will get you going.
1. Choose whole foods
It is important to eat foods in their natural state. This includes choosing to eat an apple rather than a slice of apple pie or prepare grilled chicken breast instead of processed chicken fingers.
2. Limit the processed foods
Foods that come in cans, boxes and cardboard containers are certainly fast and easy, and the reality is that we all need a little convenience now and then. For the most part, though, avoid packaged and canned foods like boxed mac and cheese or salty soup in a can that comes with a whole list of unrecognizable ingredients. Fresh is best.
3. Eat a lot of plant foods
That means eating vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. You don’t have to become a vegetarian. However, eating more plant foods can lower your risk of chronic diseases, and the fiber in these foods helps feed all those good bacteria in your digestive tract, which, in turn, can help you to stay healthy.
4. Read labels and ingredient lists
Look beyond the usual serving size, total carbohydrate, saturated fat and sodium. Of course, they’re important, but ingredients matter, too. Those processed, refined foods may be sugar-free or low carb and super quick to fix — the downside is that you’ll be ingesting a bunch of unpronounceable ingredients that often are the very ones clean eaters try to avoid.
5. Balance your meals
Include some carbohydrate, protein and fat at each of your meals. Many of us don’t eat enough protein, which helps sustain fullness so that you’re not craving something two hours after eating. The point is to eat a variety of foods so that you meet your nutrient needs and keep those nutrients in balance.
6. Space out your eating
Remember that food fuels your body. Skipping meals or eating at irregular intervals can sap your energy and make it harder to manage your diabetes.
7. Lighten up on the liquids
Chances are you’re already doing this, but it bears repeating: sweetened soft drinks, juices, sweet tea and sports/energy drinks are loaded with sugar and calories. Reach for water, seltzer water or unsweetened tea instead.
8. Plan and prep
Healthy eating is a whole lot easier when you take a little time to a) plan your meals for the week and b) prep foods for the week ahead. Set aside time for this on a weekend or on your day off every week. Doing so will make it easier to get a healthy meal on the table and limit the temptation to order takeout.
Take the time to eat slowly and enjoy your meals and snacks. Pay attention to your level of hunger and how you’re feeling. Doing so can help limit overeating and help you overcome temptations to eat when you’re bored or stressed.
10. Be realistic
Clean eating isn’t about deprivation. There’s room to squeeze in a favorite treat or a trip to your favorite burger joint every now and then. If you’re eating clean about 80 percent of the time, you’re a clean eater.