What 'Clean Eating' Really Means

by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

You want to eat healthfully, so cutting back on salt, sugar and fat seems to make sense. But lately all of the talk seems to be about "clean eating" -- an older trend that's making a comeback -- and it has a few people scratching their heads (as in, the food I ate before wasn't "clean"?). "Clean eating means consuming whole foods that are minimally processed and have no additives," explains Eileen Behan, a registered dietician and author of For the Love of Food the Diet that Works. For example, a homemade stew made from beef and vegetables is clean, while a canned version with rehydrated potatoes, modified food starch, flavorings, caramel coloring, dextrose and monosodium glutamate is not.

Here's the rundown on how to eat clean and make clean eating a part of your daily diet.

Hit the Store

When you're shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store. Fresh items like dairy (milk, cheese, eggs), produce (fruits and vegetables), and fish and meats are usually found in the outer aisles, while less-perishable, processed foods tend to be stocked in the middle aisles. Flour, rice and other grains are fine to stock up on, too, though try to stick to whole-grain, high-fiber varieties.

Check the Labels

Clean eating includes "real" foods you would put on a grocery list or that are prepared from things on that list (eggs are clean, and so is the omelet you make with them). "We don't put high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), food starch or artificial flavorings on a shopping list," points out Behan. You can also hark back to your grandparents' days -- if they didn't eat it, chances are it isn't considered clean.

Size It Right

Consider eating five or six smaller meals a day, rather than three bigger ones. The idea is to stay ahead of your hunger so you won't be tempted to eat a pastry or chips from the vending machine (which are often full of preservatives, so they're not clean choices). Also, including some protein at every meal or snack will help to curb your appetite by keeping you feeling fuller, longer. Think peanut butter on whole-grain toast for breakfast or grilled salmon on your salad at lunch.

Downsize Drinks

Sodas and other pre-sweetened beverages contain all kinds of unpronounceable ingredients and therefore shouldn't make it into your clean grocery cart. Ditto for high-calorie coffee drinks (some add an extra 400 to 500 calories a day!). It may sound boring, but reaching for good ol' H2O when you want a drink with a meal or snack is the cleanest choice you can make. If you tire of water, unsweetened tea, skim milk and 100-percent fruit juice are also fine clean beverages.

Reap the Benefits

Whole foods are more flavorful, usually a better source of fiber and lower in salt, says Behan. You'll also consume more nutrients if you focus on choosing a wide variety of clean foods. Desserts made from scratch with real sugar, instead of processed ones with HFCS, have a more satisfying flavor. And you just may be able to control your weight better on a clean diet -- choosing processed foods may lead to overeating, while eating clean can help to naturally balance your food intake.


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"What 'Clean Eating' Really Means"