Monday, September 12, 2016

Eating Clean

Last week I shared with you that I was going to be doing a clean eating challenge.  Well, that challenge is finally here and I have to say, Day 1 is off to a pretty good start.

Eating clean isn’t as confusing or restrictive as many people imagine. In general, eating clean represents a holistic lifestyle approach that emphasizes the intake of minimally processed foods, while avoiding ultra processed foods and beverages. Eating clean is a lifestyle, not a diet.

One of the most important factors when eating clean for optimal health and wellness is not the amount of calories – but rather, the level of food processing. Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. With that being said, it is important to understand that food processing occurs along a continuum – from minimally processed to ultra processed, and not all food processing is “bad.” In fact, nearly all food has been processed to some degree before we eat it. For example, washing, soaking, cutting, peeling, chopping, seasoning, mixing, cooking, freezing, and drying are all examples of food processing.

When describing food processing, it is often helpful to separate food into 3 distinct categories, minimally processed foods; ultra processed foods, and processed food ingredients. Minimally processed foods are those foods that still resemble the original food found in nature (i.e., they have not substantially changed from their raw, unprocessed form). As a result, minimally processed foods retain most of their inherent physical, chemical, sensory and nutritional properties.

Minimally Processed Foods

When I reflect on real food, the following characteristics come to mind:

Exists in nature;
Limited shelf life – real food rots;
Unadulterated and unrefined;
Free of food additives and other processed food ingredients;
Free of growth hormones and antibiotics;
Free of added sugar, sodium, and fat;
High in fiber, vitamins, and minerals;
Promotes optimal mental and physical health; and
Doesn’t encourage food dependence and food addiction.


Examples of minimally processed foods include the following when the food is in its natural state (i.e., unprocessed and unrefined):

Fresh leafy greens;
Raw fruits and vegetables;
Steamed vegetables;
Cooked root vegetables (e.g., potatoes);
Single whole grains (e.g., steel cut oats);
Beans and legumes;
Dehydrated fruit;
Fresh meat and dairy; and
Fresh seafood and shellfish.
Ultra Processed Foods

As you might imagine, ultra processed foods and beverages are the complete opposite of minimally processed foods (i.e., they do not resemble the original food found in nature and consist mostly of ultra processed food ingredients). It is important to limit our intake of ultra processed foods because these foods are often higher in energy, while lower in important nutrients including dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Ultra processed foods are also a major source of added sugar, fat, and salt. Steps that fall under ultra processing include refining, extracting, modifying, hydrolyzing, fortifying, enriching, chemically altering, packaging, and otherwise manufacturing.

Ultra processed foods are also a major source of processed food ingredients. Processed food ingredients are rarely eaten alone, and are instead, used in the manufacturing of ultra processed foods and beverages. For example, food preservatives, additives, flavors, sweeteners, oils, starches, dyes, emulsifiers, nanoparticles, and other substances approved for use in food.


In general, ultra processed foods are higher in energy (calories), while lower in dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Ultra processed foods are also a significant source of added sugar, salt, and fat. As you might imagine, individuals who consume excessive amounts of ultra processed foods are at greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Packaged, ready-to-eat foods;
Refined and highly palatable;
Long shelf life;
High in calories;
Source of added sugar, fat, and salt;
Inadequate in dietary fiber;
Inadequate in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; and
Consists primarily of ultra processed food ingredients (e.g., food additives).


Below are examples of ultra processed and refined foods and beverages. If you find yourself becoming discouraged after reviewing this list, stop and pinch yourself for me. You can easily make most of these foods at home using real, whole ingredients.

Ultra Processed Baked Goods
Ultra processed baked goods include chips, cookies, cakes, most bread products, pastries, donuts, biscuits, bagels, energy bars, protein bars, and many other packaged snack foods.

Ultra Processed Meat
Bacon, pre-packaged sandwich meat, sausage, hamburger meat, hot dogs, canned meats, frozen meats, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and many other ready-to-eat meats.

Other Ultra Processed Foods
Most edible oils and fats (e.g., butter and margarine), ultra processed sweeteners and sugar substitutes (e.g., Splenda, Stevia, and monk fruit), candy, canned foods, frozen meals, pizza, most fast food products, most ready-to-eat breakfast foods (e.g., sugary cereal), protein supplements (e.g., protein bars and protein chips), refined grains (e.g., white rice, pasta, and ramen noodles), and many other packaged foods.

Ultra Processed Drinks
Ultra processed beverages include carbonated drinks (e.g., regular and diet soda), dairy, chocolate milk, milk shakes, sugary juice, protein shakes and meal replacements, and most alcoholic products.

Ultra Processed Infant Foods
Infant and toddler formula, baby food, rice cereal, and other baby-specific foods and beverages.

I know the information is overwhelming but trust me, your body will thank you.  

Thanks for stopping in.  Our official day of school starts today (insert ugly cry) but I have a normal fall routine starting and I am super excited for routine.

See you tomorrow, have a great week.

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