Eating Clean

Eating clean isn’t as confusing or restrictive as many people imagine. In general, eating clean represents a holistic lifestyle that emphasizes minimally processed foods, with avoidance of ultra-processed foods and beverages.

Eating clean is a lifestyle — not a diet. In fact, 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.

Minimally Processed Foods

Minimally processed foods are those foods that still resemble the natural food found in nature (unprocessed and unrefined). Minimally processed foods are higher in naturally occurring health promoting nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, and bioactive compounds (or antioxidants). More importantly, diets rich in minimally processed and unrefined foods and beverages – especially, whole plant-based foods – are associated with improved diet quality, optimal health and wellness, and less risk of chronic disease.

Examples of minimally processed foods include the following food groups (when minimally processed and unrefined):

Ultra Processed Foods

As you might imagine, ultra processed foods and beverages are the complete opposite of minimally processed foods – lower in naturally occurring health promoting nutrients such as dietary fiber, while higher in added sugar, fat, and salt. Diets excessive in ultra processed and refined foods and beverages are associated with reduced diet quality, poor health, and greater incidence of chronic disease (e.g., overweight and obesity, heart disease, and cancer).

According to recent research, individuals with high intakes of ultra processed and refined foods are also at greater risk of micronutrient deficiencies including vitamin B12, niacin, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Which, comes as no surprise considering ultra processed and refined foods and beverages are lower in naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.

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
  • Infant and Toddler Formula

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 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 consuming small amounts of minimally processed animal products (raised by organic farmers who utilize sustainable and humane agricultural practices) are 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 public health, the environment, and rights (and welfare) of others.

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.

Recommendations:

  • 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

Minimally processed sweeteners (or naturally occurring 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 (e.g., berries);
  • Fresh Juice;
  • Naturally Dried Fruit (e.g., medjool dates);
  • Wild Honey (unheated and unfiltered);
  • Pure Maple Syrup;
  • Granulated Maple Sugar; and
  • Coconut Palm Sugar

Ultra Processed Sweeteners

Ultra processed and refined sweeteners (or “artificial sweeteners”) include sugar substitutes, high-intensity sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. Unlike the naturally occurring sweeteners described above, ultra processed sweeteners do not exist in nature and have not been used by humans for thousands of years. Even more concerning, is the fact that recent research suggests consumers of ultra processed sweeteners may be at greater risk of obesity and metabolic disease – the diseases we’re trying to avoid. Examples of ultra processed and refined sweeteners include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Stevia;
  • 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
  • Neotame.

To learn more about minimally processed and ultra processed sweeteners, visit the page titled Natural Sweeteners.

Eating Clean 101

Learn More

Rebel Lifestyle

To learn more about my lifestyle, visit the page titled Rebel Lifestyle.

Rebel Grub

To view photos of my grub, check out the page titled Rebel Grub.

Meal Planning

To view meal planning information, head over to the page Meal Planning.

Shopping Lists

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.

Pinterest and Facebook

Don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest and/or Facebook.

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 modify the image or use the image for commercial purposes ($).

References:

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3. Monteiro CA. Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutr. 2009 May;12(5):729-31. doi: 10.1017/S1368980009005291.

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