What Is Clean Eating?

You’ve seen the term in Oxygen a million times, but now we break it down for you.
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What kind of diet promises weight loss for life, plenty of food from all the food groups and the body you’ve always dreamed of without breaking bank? Can’t think of one? That’s because most diet plans want you to eliminate one food group altogether. Not long ago, the Atkins diet fad wanted you to avoid carbs but eat an abundance of fats. You can probably think of 100 other diets where sacrificing an entire food group is the “secret” to losing the weight. Sure, you’ll lose the pounds, but that’s just simple math. Avoid one food group and you’re taking away the calories associated with those foods, so your weight will decrease. The truth is, none of these incomplete diets promises long-lasting results. The only way to do it is to eat clean.

What Is Eating Clean?

First of all, clean eating is not a diet; it’s a lifestyle. That means you have to make a full-time commitment to this way of eating rather than go on a weeklong crash diet to squeeze into a dress for an occasion. It’s not about denying yourself or going hungry; it’s about eating with careful thought, planning and throwing in a dash of discipline. Physique enthusiasts practice this all the time because they never want to be too far away from their ideal shape. They rely on superior nutrition to keep their bodies tight and lean. Although you may not want to look like they do — seeing as muscularity is an acquired taste — everyone wants to have more definition and less fat. By adopting clean-eating habits, your body will reach its all-time best in the healthiest way possible.

Eating Clean Principles

So what’s it all about? Clean eating involves several basic principles that are as simple as starting a car and heading to the gym or boiling an egg for six minutes. Anyone can do it! You’ll have to eat more, stop starving yourself, throw out the junk food that lingers in your kitchen and get excited about the new and improved you.

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Start by trashing the notion that you must eat only three times a day and that the biggest meal of the day should be dinner. Eating clean involves eating several smaller meals throughout the day. This way, you don’t go hungry and your metabolism burns steady and strong all day long. If you do it right, you won’t experience those horrible hit-the-wall feelings that leave you reaching for a caffeine or chocolate bar hit. Dinner should not be the biggest meal of your day. Really, if you think about it, does it make sense to fill yourself up with calories that you won’t burn off after dinner? Instead, consume foods like breads and starches at the beginning of the day, when you are more likely to be the busiest. Also, eat light at dinner because you’ll be in bed not too long after the meal.

Foods To Pair Together

The reason you feel lethargic at mid-morning and mid-afternoon is because your blood sugar levels are falling and insulin levels are swinging wildly. When you’re eating clean, each meal should contain both lean protein and complex carbs because together they offset this phenomenon, prolonging digestion and slowing the release of sugar into the bloodstream. The result? Insulin levels stay low and steady. “By eating protein with your complex carbs, you’ll slow down the carb-to-fat conversion process even more,” according to Lee Labrada, a legendary fitness expert and author of The Lean Body Promise. “This is why you should never eat complex carbs alone — always pair them with protein.”

Like A Fish Out Of Water

Water is the miracle liquid. Because more than two-thirds of the human body is water, it’s important to be sure that you’re drinking enough. The average person loses 2.5 liters of water every day — more if you’re active , athletic or sweating pro­fusely. Water is the essential nutrient involved in every bodily function.

Drinking two liters of water just satisfies your daily needs, but three liters is better. Don't know if you're getting enough? Persistent headaches, tiredness, constipation, recurrent kidney infections and poor concentration are classic signs that you're water-deficient. Don't hold back — drink up now!

Sugar Shock

If you're reading this at 7 a.m. over a loaded Starbucks latte and a sugary muffin, get ready for a shock. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As most of you know, many North Americans think of breakfast as a cup of Joe and a gooey pastry. But more people think the way to lose weight is to skip breakfast altogether. Both of these habits are great ways to gain weight, not lose it. Breakfast is the morning meal that loads you up on proper nutrition so that you can get through your day. If you're really eating clean, you'll be so hungry after a good night’s rest that you can hardly wait to fill your tummy with a steaming bowl of high-fiber oatmeal topped with berries.

Skipped Meals = Bad

Skipping meals is the surest way to destroy any effort toward renovating your current physical state. A missed meal sends a signal to your brain that there isn't enough food to function properly, so it slows down your metabolism and holds on to every single calorie. That's why people continue to gain weight, even though they virtually don't eat. You've got to keep your metabolism in high gear for maximum fuel and fat-burning efficiency.

Pack a Cooler

Take your cooler with you if you're going to be a successful clean eater. How else do you think you're going to nourish yourself every two or three hours? By having clean-eating foods handy in a cooler, you’ll always be prepared and less tempted co eat the wrong foods or skip meals.

If your place of work has a refrigerator, you’re in luck — stash your clean eats in there. Prepare the cooler with clean­-eating foods the night before, or grab last night's leftovers. Always have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in the fridge so that you can pop them into your cooler. For example, raw, unsalted nuts are great snacks to keep you going, as are nut butters — all of which are quick and delicious sources of protein.

Not So Sweet

Love your soda? That could be six-pack suicide. Regular soda contains an average of four tablespoons of sugar. Diet alternatives contain fake sugars. No sugar is beneficial to the body unless it comes from fruit or dairy. Acquiring a taste for sugar is an addictive habit — the more you eat, the more you want.

It's difficult for the body to both digest and process sugar. In fact, as sugar moves through the digestive system, it removes essential nutrients from the body, weakening organs and bones. Excess sugar ends up as fat. Clean eating doesn't encourage the consumption of sugar. It's best to avoid it altogether and develop a taste for natural, whole foods.

A Matter of Fat

Fat has gotten a bad rap lately, but it's important to understand that some fats are good for you — it's just a matter of knowing which ones to consume.

Fat is an important source of fuel for active people. Of the three kinds of fats— unsaturated, saturated and trans fats —only unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest — although in excess, these, too, cause weight gain. Try to consume plant-based unsaturated fats, such as olive, flax, sunflower and corn oils, as these provide energy and essential fatty acids, which have been linked to improved health. A diet high in animal or saturated fats has been linked co an increased risk of disease. The same is true of trans or man-made fats, and both should be avoided.

Portion Control

North Americans love to get more bang for their buck. I suppose that's why we love buffets and super-sized servings. Unfortunately, all that super-sizing is catching up to us as our waistlines expand uncontrollably. One simple way to get things under control is to relearn proper serving sizes. When you're eating clean, you must commit to measuring and weighing foods until you get the hang of how much you should be eating. You'll soon learn that a five- or six-ounce portion of lean protein is about the size of your hand, a serving of complex carbs from fruit or vegetables is a heaping handful, and a serving of complex carbs from whole grains or starches is the size of a tennis ball.

The Taste Test

A good rule of thumb when you're eating clean is that if it tastes really good, it's probably bad for you. That may get you thinking that eating clean is boring, but that's not true. Wholesome, fresh foods are literally bursting with nutrition, and you will quickly develop a love for them as you begin to feel better. You'll gain tons of energy because you're giving your body good-quality fuel. Soon you'll notice how good you're starting to look, too.

Clean-Eating Principles

The soul of eating clean is consuming food in its most natural state, or as close to it as possible. It is not a diet; it’s a lifestyle approach to food and its preparation, leading to an improved life – one meal at a time.

  1. Eat five to six small meals every day.
  2. Eat every two to three hours.
  3. Combine lean protein and complex carbs at every meal.
  4. Drink at least two liters, or eight cups, of water every day. See Are You Drinking Enough Water? for more on this. 
  5. Never miss a meal — especially at breakfast.
  6. Carry a cooler loaded with clean-eating foods to get through your day.
  7. Avoid all over-processed, refined foods — especially white flour and sugar.
  8. Avoid all saturated and trans fats.
  9. Avoid sugar-loaded colas and juices.
  10. Consume adequate healthy fats, or essential fatty acids (EFAs), every day.
  11. Avoid alcohol — another form of sugar.
  12. Avoid all calorie-dense foods that have no nutritional value.
  13. Rely on fresh fruit and vegetables for fiber, vitamins and enzymes
  14. Stick to proper portion sizes — forget about supersizing!

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