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 and refined 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. Steps that generally fall under ultra processing include refining, extracting, modifying, hydrolyzing, fortifying, enriching, chemically altering, packaging, and otherwise manufacturing.
In general, minimally processed foods resemble the raw, unprocessed food found in nature and retain most of their nutritional benefits. For instance, the antioxidant properties of fresh fruits and vegetables is strictly dependent on the level of food processing (source).
Ultra-processed foods, on the other hand, are lower in naturally occurring health promoting nutrients, while higher in added sugar, fat, and salt. According to recent research, individuals with high intakes of ultra-processed foods are more likely to be deficient in multiple micronutrients including vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, niacin, pyridoxine, copper, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Ultra-processed foods are also associated with an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Minimally Processed Foods
Examples of minimally processed foods include the following food groups (when minimally processed and unrefined):
- Fruits and Vegetables;
- Leafy Greens and Sprouts;
- Root Vegetables (Tubers);
- 100% Whole Grains;
- Beans, Peas, and Lentils
- Nuts and Seeds;
- Sea Vegetables;
- Fermented Foods;
- 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.
Examples of ultra processed foods and beverages include the following foods and beverages:
- Snack Foods and Junk Foods;
- Refined Grains (e.g., white bread, pasta, and rice);
- Processed Animal Products (e.g., bacon, salami, and cured meats);
- Frozen Meals and Fast Food;
- Refined Edible Oils and Fats;
- Dairy and Non-Dairy Milk Products;
- Meat Alternatives and Substitutes;
- Sweet Confections (e.g., chocolate, cake, and cookies);
- Sugary Beverages and Juice;
- Canned Foods and Beverages;
- Sugar Substitutes and Artificial Sweeteners;
- Fast Food and Convenience Food;
- Meal Replacements and Shakes;
- Protein Supplements; and
- Infant and Toddler Formula.
Eat Less Meat and Dairy
Contrary to popular belief, consumption of meat and/or dairy at every meal, or even daily, is not necessary for optimal health and wellness. In fact, diets high in meat – especially red meat and ultra-processed meat – have been repeatedly associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and premature death.
While it is true that animal products contain substantial amounts of protein and iron, these foods are also high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Being at the top of the food chain, agriculture animals also ingest and accumulate high concentrations of toxins from their environment, such as pesticides and heavy metals, a process known as bioaccumulation.
Tips for Meat Eaters
- Eat less meat, especially red meat and processed meat;
- Demand organic products that are raised humanely* without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, and GMO feed;
- Choose animal products that are naturally low in saturated fat (e.g., chicken, turkey, and fish); and
- Avoid fish and shellfish products high in mercury and other toxic contaminants.
If you choose to consume fish and/or shellfish, opt for sustainable seafood products that are low in mercury and other toxic contaminants; yet, high in omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. According to Seafood Watch, more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are now fully exploited or collapsed.
*There is no single definition of “humane meat,” and many animal advocacy organizations and activists believe that the term is misleading and an absolute myth (i.e. there is no such thing as “humane meat.”). Animals raised on factory farms are NEVER raised humanely, despite the use of labels such as “Cage Free,” “Free Range,” “Grass Fed,” “Organic,” and “Local.”
To view additional tips for meat eaters, visit the page titled Eat Green Tips for Meat Eaters.
Do you eat meat?
No, I’m vegan, which means I do not eat, use, or wear animal products. With this being said, it is important to understand that my goal in providing nutrition education to the public is to improve public health; which, can easily be achieved by providing science-based nutrition and fitness education and inspiration.
My point is, I am not here to argue with those who believe minimally processed animal products that are raised by small, local farmers who utilize sustainable and humane agricultural practices may be healthful when consumed as part of a plant-based diet. My hope is that everyone will choose to eat clean and green with great respect for the environment and rights and welfare of others.
“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.” – Amos B Alcott
Fats and Oils
Unfortunately, most edible fats and oils are ultra-processed and refined. Not to mention, treated with harsh chemicals and an obvious source of concentrated energy.
- Obtain dietary fat from whole plant-based foods;
- Healthy sources of fat include nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and coconut flesh;
- Avoid heating edible oils. Using heat – especially high heat – to prepare food with oil results in the formation of carcinogens and destroys the beneficial nutrients (if any) found in the oil;
- If you must use heat to prepare food with oil, use a refined plant-based oil that is naturally high in saturated fat (e.g., avocado or coconut oil) and use the lowest temperature possible; and
- When it comes to using oil at room temperature (e.g., for a salad dressing), opt for an extra-virgin plant-based oil that is unrefined and cold-pressed. For example, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), coconut oil, or avocado oil.
Natural sweeteners have been used by humans for food and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Examples of natural sweeteners include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Fresh Fruit and Juice;
- Naturally Dried Fruit (e.g., medjool dates);
- Wild Honey (unheated and unfiltered);
- Maple Syrup;
- Maple Sugar (granulated); and
- Coconut Palm Sugar (granulated).
Ultra Processed Sweeteners
Sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners are gaining in popularity due to growing consumer interest in “health” foods and weight loss. Unfortunately, nearly all of these magical sweeteners are highly processed and refined. Ultra processed sweeteners include sugar substitutes, high-intensity sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. Examples of ultra-processed sweeteners include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Agave nectar;
- Sucralose (e.g. Splenda);
- Acesulfame K (e.g. Sweet One);
- Aspartame (e.g. Equal);
- Luo Han Guo Fruit Extract or Monk Fruit (e.g. Nectresse);
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low); and
To learn more about natural versus artificial sweeteners, visit the page titled Natural Sweeteners.
To learn more about my lifestyle, visit the page titled Rebel Lifestyle.
To view photos of my grub, check out the page titled Rebel Grub.
To view meal planning information, head over to the page Meal Planning.
To view shopping lists, visit the page titled Shopping Lists.
Posters and Charts
To view my posters and charts, hit up the page titled Posters.
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Big hugs and rebel love,
Posters and Charts
Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. This means you are free to use my work for personal use (e.g., save the file to your computer or share via social media) as long as you do not use the image for commercial purposes. Enjoy! Big hugs, Dana
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