New Healthy Eating Trends Point to Clean Foods

New Healthy Eating Trends Point to Clean Foods

What are clean foods? They go by other names … whole foods, organic foods… plant-based foods. They’re often used interchangeably with slight differences in meaning. All reflect a style of eating that promotes health when foods are grown, raised and prepared properly. So to use the broadest descriptor, let’s call them “clean foods.”

Clean foods embrace the concept that foods should only clean up your diet to make you healthier, but use less energy to grow, transport, and get to consumers. The idea is that we should give as much attention to conserving our environmental resources as we do to cleaning up our own bodies.

Do you know what represents one of the biggest threat to clean foods? Agriculture. The energy used to grow, process, and transport foods; the use of massive amounts of water; and practicing unhealthy factory farming and over-fishing upsets the natural balance of plant and animal life – including us.

 

What Does Clean Eating Look Like?

One focus of clean foods is fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – but why? They are high in fiber and good for your gut. Fiber helps maintain a high level of healthy bacteria, build immunity, reduce inflammation and autoimmune diseases, reduce the risk of chronic diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease), fight infections, and in general, help you feel and think better.

Eating fruits and vegetables whole means we’re being more efficient eaters. We get all our fiber, vitamins, enzymes, energy-boosting natural sugars, and nutrients from just that food, with nothing else added. Crunching into a crisp apple, peeling and popping a juicy orange section in your mouth, biting into the dense natural sweetness of a banana couldn’t be more basic.

Then there are whole grains that give you the feeling of fullness and satisfaction. What a difference between tasteless white bread and flour and the textured complexity of whole, minimally processed wheat and other high-quality grains. White bread and flour are products of a machine stripping away parts of the grain like the bran, where much of the nutrition is, to make the grain look uniform and last longer on the shelf. Consider baking your own bread using other more nutritionally dense flours that are lower in gluten: almond, coconut, spelt, sprouted grains from reputable sources.

 

Eating Animals

Unlike other foods that can be eaten “live” like fruits and vegetables, meat consumption requires killing the food source. Big processing plants are usually required for that unless you run a cattle, pig,  or chicken ranch or are a hunter where you are directly involved in growing and/or preparing your own meat.

But if you’re the average Joe and purchase your meat from a store, reducing meat consumption can reduce your blood pressure, keep you from gaining weight, and keep you away from hormones and antibiotics – what animals are dosed with in large-scale commercial farming to keep them disease-free and fast-growing. If you’re a carnivore, it’s a good idea to choose, grass-fed, organic beef and chicken from local ranches and wild-caught seafood, preferably grown close to home.

 

Processed Meats

Some confusion exists with processed meats. What does that term mean? The average consumer assumes that means all meats, but that’s not so. Deli meats are a good example. They start out like fresh meats but then go through extra processing, conforming to uniform sizes and attractive packaging so they look pretty, last longer on the grocery shelf, and fit nicely on your sandwich bread or roll. Processed meats usually contain a lot of added salt and sugar, coloring, and preservatives like nitrates, which is a known carcinogen.

 

Added Sugar

What’s the difference between eating fresh and canned fruit? The biggest difference is usually added sugar. Unlike natural sugar, added sugar has a better chance of spiking your insulin levels. That’s a concern for diabetics and those who have problems regulating their blood glucose levels. Why? Whole fruits have fiber, protein, and fat that can buffer the effects of sugar on insulin levels with a slower release that doesn’t make your blood glucose levels skyrocket with one big sugar (energy) release.

How to avoid added sugar if whole isn’t available or convenient? Check labels. Look for packaged foods without sugar. If the product does contain sugar the better options are those products that have sugar listed near the bottom of the ingredients list. Why? Because ingredients are listed in order of highest to lowest as a percentage of the food’s total composition. If you must have something sweet, avoid products with added sugar and add maple syrup, honey, molasses, coconut sugar, stevia or other natural or plant-based sugars that are minimally processed and contain no additives.

 

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Oils and Fats

Healthy oils are those organically grown, non-GMO, contain no or low pesticides, and go through minimal processing, unlike unhealthy oils that often are treated with extreme heat and pressure and additives. Extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil, organic coconut oil, and cold-pressed avocado oil are healthier than oils. They don’t undergo high temperatures, don’t come from genetically modified seeds or plants, and are not heavily sprayed with pesticides.

Avoid corn oil and margarine. Ironically, margarine was once thought to be a healthy fat by consumers, but that’s the marketing hype. In fact, margarine is at the top of the list of unhealthy oils. It’s highly processed and contains many additives – so much so that it bears little resemblance to real food. Opt for a combination of saturated and unsaturated oils and fats and pure butter with no other ingredients or chemicals added such emulsifiers, which make them easier to apply or spread.

Another myth is that animal skin is bad for you. Grocery stores sell a lot of skinless chicken and lean meats when in fact animal skin contains a concentration of healthy fat in its natural state: right off the animal directly. Animal skin does contain saturated fats that can raise cholesterol levels but it also contains a good amount of unsaturated fats. Together, animal fats are essential to store and use several fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K). Eating the cooked skin from pastured chicken and cows is actually heart healthy (in moderation because it is higher in calories).

 

Canned Foods

Limit foods in cans and avoid heating foods in their plastic container. Canned foods are often lined with BPA, a known carcinogen. Even a non-BPA can might be made with chemicals that can transfer to the food as can chemicals used in the production of plastic containers. Canned foods are also less nutritional than fresh foods as they are cooked, packaged and are used sometimes months after harvest.

Frozen foods also undergo some nutritional loss but are a better choice than canned as they are usually packaged and frozen soon after harvesting and freezing can help retain more nutrients.

 

Sodium

Avoid or reduce table salt. Sodium can lead to high blood pressure and heart and kidney disease. Table salt is bleached white and most if not all of the nutrients are stripped out in the process. Use sea salt, Celtic salt or Himalayan salt, which does not undergo as much processing, contains less sodium, and retains many of the minerals found in salt’s natural state.

 

Get Away From Wheat

Non-flour Bread.  Use whole grains, nuts, and seeds instead of flour. They’re high in fiber and vitamins, and usually contain less or no gluten. Make muffins with gluten-free flours or nuts, oats, and raisins.

Be a vegan for a while. Eating vegan is good for your digestion, especially if you have food sensitivities or are recovering from an illness or have a chronic health condition. You don’t have to make it permanent. Taking a break from fowl and fish gives your body a break from foods that may be hard on your digestion and gut and are free from chemicals and hormones. It’s also a regimen adopted to prepare for a cleanse to rid yourself of toxins that have been building up in your body.

 

Lower Your Carbs

  • Substitute flours with nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, a Sola Bar),
  • add fiber with celery, root vegetables or psyllium husks.
  • Try rolled or steel-cut oats for breakfast instead of toast (buy organic in bulk or from a reputable source).
  • Add slices of fruit like mango, kiwi, or crushed nuts or some raisins or other dried fruit.
  • Eat pasta made from spinach, zucchini or carrots and season your pasta with fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, basil, coriander, crushed nuts like cashews or pine nuts or drizzle with olive oil or mix with pesto.
  • Add zing to dips like garlic, onions, grated ginger.
  • Make bean zip with tahini (sesame butter), garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. Note: beans are high in carbs but they’re a great substitute for animal protein.
  • Fix smoothies for breakfast or as a snack. Make a thick creamy shake with a banana, almond butter, coconut or almond milk, berries, ginger root, apple, carrot, spirulina, or greens like spinach, cucumber or kale. Mix different combinations of fruits and vegetables in your blender or juicer.

 

Nutrition-Packed Soups

Eat soothing soups like chicken or vegetable soup from fresh whole ingredients that are leftover from dinner. Slow-cook black, navy or pinto beans in a crock pot with onions, herbs and spices and a ham hock for flavoring and healthy fat. Other beans like lima beans, mung beans, split pea, and lentils cook up much faster.

And keep in mind, soups don’t have to be hot. Make cool soups like gazpacho, avocado or cucumber soup on hot days. One reason why soups are so nutritious is that you’re not tossing out the nutrients in the cooking water, you’re eating the vegetable and the water it’s been cooking in so you’re not letting the rest of the nutrients go down the drain.

 

Super-Sweet Sweet Potatoes

Cooked or baked sweet potatoes are very sweet by themselves and they contain lots of vitamins. They’re high in vitamin A, vitamin B5, B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, fat-free, relatively low in sodium and have fewer calories than white potatoes. Stuff a sweet potato with sea salt, onions, chili powder, avocado, and cilantro instead of cheese if you want a dairy-free meal. Squeeze with a little lime juice and eat it as a hearty whole meal or as a side dish.

 

Raising Quality of Life

If we make a shift to clean, local, and sustainably-grown farm animals, fruits and vegetables, we can reduce our carbon footprint and improve our own quality of life on a grand scale.