Clean eating uses fresh, wholesome ingredients over anything processed and packaged. The aim is to avoid anything refined, processed or anything that has been altered in such a way that its core structure and nutrients have been stripped away. The idea behind clean eating is to nourish your body and to gain something nutritionally beneficial from every single ingredient you use.
In a bit more detail…
Clean eating is a lifestyle commitment to using ingredients that are fresh or unprocessed, hence the term “clean”. As a rule of thumb, pre-packaged ingredients that are used should have little to no additives or preservatives and should contain ingredients that you know of and would use in your daily cooking. To do this, you’ll want to fill your pantry with wholesome ingredients that are unrefined, unprocessed and contain no artificial colors, flavors, additives, or preservatives. We’re talking about lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, 100% whole grain items, lean cuts of meats, lots of fresh herbs and spices, sweeteners that are directly from nature and ingredients that are minimally handled during processing and packaging.
You want to fill your cupboards with ingredients you can confidently pronounce, ingredients whose growth and process you understand. When you look at any packaging you should feel confident in the listed ingredients and most of all you should see the nutritional benefit each ingredient is going to provide your body with.
Here’s a shorthand clean eating checklist:
- Does the dish include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats?
- Are the ingredients wholesome? (are they in / close to their most natural state?)
- Can you pronounce most if not all the ingredients used?
- Does it contain ingredients you are familiar with and would typically purchase and use yourself? (eg: you would buy a bag of whole potatoes but you most likely wouldn’t reach for a pack of disodium 5′-guanylate)
- Do you know or have an idea how each ingredient was processed and what they contain?
- Are the ingredients unrefined?
- Are there any artificial colors, flavors, additives, enhancers, or preservatives present?
- If present: is the sweetener used naturally occuring in nature?
- If present: is the flour used 100% whole grain wheat?
- Can you see the nutritional benefits of each ingredient?
Does it have to be 100% clean, 100% of the time?
Really this is subjective, but the answer is essentially, no. Clean eating is a lifestyle and while you should strive to be as clean as possible, it may not always be possible to eat clean 100% of the time at every single meal, and that’s not something to beat yourself up about. Nonetheless, the goal is to keep your food as wholesome and nutritious as possible. Eating a piece of grandma’s pecan pie or sneaking a little sweet candy treat is not going to derail your life or undo your clean eating lifestyle.
Now that you understand a bit more about what this whole “clean eating” thing is, let’s take a look at how to get started on this journey…