Healthy eating is a simple concept often misinterpreted, or worse, made too complicated. Nutritionists will agree that to eat healthy isn’t all about eating less amounts of food than you are used to (hence starving yourself). It also isn’t all out how many calories you eat or what food group you choose to avoid altogether, but rather about being more mindful of the actual food on your plate; from its origin to its journey onto your plate.
At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods: which are either minimally or not at all processed, refined, or over handled, rendering them as close to their natural form as possible. This often means sticking to the basics: fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meats, and wholesome nuts. These food groups alone rarely make you full, but the secret is in knowing which ones among them are the most filling so you can stock up on as much of them as possible.
Multiple studies have shown that diets heavy on fruits and vegetables can curb or prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Plus, there’s research linking diets high in fruits and veggies to healthy weight management and glowing skin and hair — as if you needed more motivation.
Here’s your guide to start eating cleaner and healthier without starving yourself to death:
1. Whole Grains are your friends
Whole grains that have retained their original point of harvesting state are the ones you want in your body. Oats, quinoa and wild rice top this list. If buying packaged grains, pay close attention to the packaging labels. The ingredient list should be short, jargon free and simple with minimal or no added sugars.
2. Shift things on your plate
No need for you to move to the countryside to reap the benefits of clean eating. Making a simple swap from refined carbs like white rice and flour to whole grain can make a world of difference. Also aim for whole-wheat products. Simplicity is always the key. Sometimes all you need to have for a hearty lunch is a slice of avocado on whole meal toast or a light bowl of pasta. Unrefined carbs means more fibre, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients in your system. Eating more whole grains has been seen to make it easier to lose weight and keep it off long term.
3. More fruits and Veggies
Most of us aren’t getting enough a day. Yet, eating more fruit and vegetables can help significantly reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and several types of cancer. Fruits and vegetables should ideally take up at least half of your plate. Eating fruit shortly before a meal can enhance weight loss as it helps you fill up on low calorie, high fibre foods. Conversely, eating fruit at the end of a meal can help curb a sweet tooth.
4. Eat Less Meat
Research continuously suggests cutting back on meat is healthier for you and the planet too. While turning vegetarian isn’t a must in this case, eating less meat has a boatload of benefits for your body. Eating more plants increases the fibre, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals in your diet. The daily global recommended amount of protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This translates to around just 56 grams daily for men and 46 grams daily for women. This is quite possible for a vegetarian diet. Eggs, dairy, beans and nuts all offer excellent protein options. Cleaner eating also means cutting down on those delicious processed meats like cold cuts, sausages and yes, bacon.
5. Watch that sugar and salt
Most people consume too much added sugars in various forms. Men are recommended a total average amount of 9 teaspoons per day while women get 6. Cut down your added sugars by limiting soda, sweets and baked goods. This also goes to your grocery list. Hidden sugars exist in condiments like ketchup, breakfast cereals and tomato sauce and supposedly healthy drinks like yoghurt and certain milk products. Look for items with no sugar as part of the ingredient list and if any, you should ensure that the sugar is listed towards the bottom, which means less of it is used in the food.
In total, you should consume only about one teaspoon of salt and lower as you age. Once again, this means you need to cut down the processed foods you eat as most packaged foods contain more sodium than fresher options. Minimise salt while you cook by flavouring your food with herbs, spices, natural citrus and vinegar. Salt is essential for bringing out the flavour in foods, but it is important to use it cleverly and sparingly. Coarse sea salt or kosher salt contain less sodium compared to table salt.