Seven Principles of Clean Eating

We asked “clean eating” expert, Diane Welland, to break down the main principles of this buzz-worthy trend.
By Diane Welland MS, RD

The latest buzz word among health-conscious consumers, “eating clean,” is a concept that stresses healthy, whole, unprocessed foods. And, although the phrase is relatively new, the principles of this plan are not.

The principles are based on current nutrition science and are similar to recommendations made by public health organizations. This sound approach to eating and living well maximizes your energy and optimizes your health, making it more than just a diet. It’s a lifestyle, with built-in flexibility, meaning it can be adapted to fit most any kind of routine.

"Clean Eating" dates back to the natural health food movement of the 1960s, which shunned processed foods for the sake of moral and societal values (rather than health and nutrition issues).  Eventually it landed in gyms, where it gained momentum among body builders and fitness models. Recently, however, it made the jump into mainstream America, rejuvenating and inspiring a new generation of healthy eaters.

With each move, the clean eating concept became more refined and developed.  Here are the seven core principles of today:

1. Choose whole, natural foods and seek to eliminate or minimize processed foods.
Processed foods are anything in a box, bag, can, or package, and although there are always a few exceptions to the rule (like a bag of fresh green beans), the majority of your foods should be fresh.

2. Choose unrefined over refined foods.
While it may not be possible all the times, you can up your intake of whole grains like brown rice, millet, amaranth, and quinoa. Beans and legumes are also important. Clean sugars include honey, maple syrup, and dehydrated sugar cane juice.

3. Include some protein, carbohydrate and fat at every meal.
Most of us typically do well with carbohydrates and fat, but we often lack protein, especially in the early part of the day, like at breakfast and lunch. Protein is an important muscle-builder, and it can also help curb your appetite. When eaten throughout the day, it keeps us feeling full longer. Be aware of the kinds of meals you put together and space out your protein.

4. Watch out for fat, salt, and sugar. 
This is easier than you think, particularly if you’ve cut out processed foods, which are responsible for most of our excess calories and high levels of fat, sugar, and salt. Clean foods are usually naturally low in all of these ingredients.

5. Eat five to six small meals throughout the day.
This usually pans out into three main meals and two or three hefty snacks. Eating this way prevents you from skipping meals and overeating. It also keeps your blood sugar levels steady so energy doesn’t lag.

6. Don’t drink your calories. 
High calorie drinks like specialty coffees and soft drinks, on average, tack on an extra 400 to 500 calories a day. Choose water first, or my personal favorite, unsweetened tea (any flavor). Other clean drinks: low-fat or skim milk and 100 percent fruit juice diluted with sparkling water.

7. Get moving.
Regular physical activity is a must for many reasons. Not only does it decrease fat, strengthen and build muscle, and help you burn more energy at rest, it keeps your heart, lungs, and bones healthy and strong.

 

Diane Welland MS, RD is a freelance writer, teacher, and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean © 2009 by Alpha Books. Follow her on Twitter @eatcleanguru.