It’s almost a daily occurrence that Kelli and I get asked what we are, in food terms. Vegetarian? Vegan? Raw? Paleo? A label would make it so much easier for them to understand, so we try. But whenever we say we’re “clean foodies,” we’re batting a thousand on getting a blank stare in return. Sometimes I’m tempted to say “clean foodists,” but that just sounds too much like nudists, and I just don’t want to even allow for any confusion there. [Hey, did you know know Brad and Kelli eat dinner naked? They say it’s the way to great health and a long life.]
Also, over the last two months we’ve had two sister-in-laws email us with food questions, stating that health issues had finally reached a breaking point. Both knew about our food philosophy in general, but both had a lot of confusion surrounding the whole concept.
After a conversation about high fructose corn syrup with one of them, she told us that she already knew all about it and knew where to look for it. We pushed her to do some more looking around her fridge and cupboards, and she was shocked by how many things HFCS comes in…yes, even the ketchup, cheap brands of spice mixes, and salad dressings. Even Kelli was shocked to find hydrogenated oil (aka trans fats) in our garlic powder when we cleaned out our kitchen a couple years ago.
It’s pretty obvious we have some work to do in getting the word out about clean eating. I promise we’re trying. It’s definitely possible we make it too complicated with our ambitions to continue trying new, unfamiliar foods and to dig deeper to learn more. The principles, however, are really straightforward and easy to understand, but powerful enough to literally have the most significant impact on your health than anything else you could ever try.
So what exactly is clean eating? In simple terms, it means eating a diet that is loaded with vegetables, supplemented with fruits, nuts, and seeds, and second, devoid of anything artificial or potentially damaging to your body. That’s it. Do that starting today and you’ll change your health forever.
How then does that translate into practical terms? What are the foods to avoid – and why? Let’s get into the application side for a bit.
To start with, eat your veggies!!! This can’t be stressed enough. Most Americans eat far too little fresh produce and our health is paying the price. This is where the majority of the clean diet is found. Vegetables are without a doubt the most nutritious foods on earth. If you say you don’t like them, you haven’t tried enough, or enough ways to prepare them. Or, possibly, your tastes buds have literally been corrupted by years of sugar and processed food consumption.
Give it a few weeks, experiment, and you’ll start finding yourself looking forward to finishing off the broccoli. One sister-in-law just reported back that sweet potatoes have become her new favorite food, and that’s after years of only liking them covered in sugar and marshmallows. Taste buds will reset if you give them a chance.
With vegetables as the foundation of your eating habits, throw in some fruit, nuts, and seeds for variety. A million and one snack ideas can be generated just from those three ingredients (check out the snack aisle at your natural foods store and you’ll see what I mean). You can mix them up so you’ll always have something new to try.
Add a serving of whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa, to your meals. You’ll get long-lasting energy from these guys and more fiber and protein as well.
Stuff your stomach full of veggies, fruits and grains, and you’ll hardly have to worry about what to avoid! Seriously, you can just focus on that, stop right here, and you’ll do wonders for your health.
If you’re curious and want more details, then let’s talk about some of the scary stuff for a minute.
First step to cleaning up your diet is going through your kitchen and throwing out anything that has the words Diet, Low-Calorie or Low-Fat on the front. Those words alone are enough to let you know you’re holding a chemical blood bath in your hands. You immediately know that there is very little natural substance to that product. Then turn the packages around and look at the ingredient list. The most common artificial ingredient today is high fructose corn syrup. It’s bad in itself, but it is always an indicator of other bad things to follow. As soon as you see it, you can toss that bottle in the garbage. It’s bad enough that it’s not worth keeping and using what you’ve already bought. Throw it out.
If you find anything that starts with ‘hydrogenated,’ or has words you can’t pronounce, it’s garbage. Check your oils and look for the word ‘refined,’ which means ‘refused!’ Don’t poison your neighbors or food bank customers. Just toss it. Refined also goes for the grains and sugars. White rice, white flour, white sugar aren’t the scariest of the bunch, but over consumption of these refined products can lead to a number of major health issues, diabetes being one of the most common.
If it has ingredients you’re just unsure about, or ones you don’t keep in your cupboard to use in your own recipes, take that as a signal that you should do a little homework. Some additives aren’t so scary. If you’re buying packaged goods at a store, there almost always has to be a preservative. Citric acid is one commonly found in healthy food options. It’s not ideal, but unless you can spend every day in your kitchen cooking every meal, you’re going to have to tolerate a couple additives. You just want to be sure they’re safe.
Another example of neutral food additives is vitamin fortification. A lot of natural products still have confusing words on the back (take a look at the back of a carton of almond milk), but the majority of them are simply vitamin additives. As a rule, we’re strong proponents of getting your vitamins naturally through their original sources as much as possible (bread isn’t supposed to have fish oil!), and we follow the advice of most alternative health care professionals who recommend taking a high-quality daily multivitamin. But in the current marketplace, putting the words “High in Vitamin X” on the front of the package is a strong seller. The fortification of vitamins and minerals will read like a tongue twister on the ingredient list, and though we’re not fans of fortification in general, it doesn’t hurt you.
The irony is that a lot of vitamin additives are rendered ineffective when added to the new base product (such as Vitamin D in reduced fat milk – without the fat to bind with, the vitamin D passes right through you), so there’s no real point to it. Whether it’s ignorance or succumbing to marketing pressure on the part of the food manufacturers, they’re going to keep putting artificial vitamins in their products for a long time. Just do a little research to understand what those unfamiliar terms are and which ones you’re willing to accept.
So that’s our spiel on ingredient labels. Notice that we mentioned looking at ingredient lists and not nutrition panels. Exactly our point. It’s the ingredients that rule. There is no need ever again to count calories or fat grams. It’s just pointless. Whenever we’re buying food we will ALWAYS read the ingredients list, then maybe take a look at the sugar grams to get an idea of how much is in there, and that’s it. Tell me that doesn’t take a huge burden off your brain. Eat clean, learn to listen to what your body wants and stop when you’re full, and you’ll never have to count calories or fat grams again!!!
Two common questions: Do I have to change where I shop? Does it have to be organic?
Remember, our goal is to eat food that is as natural as possible and chemical free. Most major grocery chains are starting to carry natural products, but it’s still going to be difficult to fill up your grocery cart with what they offer. Most packaged products in the regular grocery store are going to be heavily processed and contain gobs of preservatives and artificial colors and flavors. The stores will catch on as more and more people demand those toxins be removed from our foods, but until then, you may need to investigate a few other shopping options.
In addition, most conventional packaged foods contain some form of corn and soy, the two most common genetically altered food crops in America. Because our government doesn’t require food companies to tell us when they use GMO products, the only way to know for sure that the food you’re buying doesn’t have any is to buy organic.
What are GMOS’s and what’s wrong with them? Picture the offspring of a cow mating with an oak tree. Hard to imagine isn’t it? That’s genetic engineering in the food world; taking a gene from one species and splicing it into the DNA of another. It’s not like traditional intra-species breeding for desired traits that farmers have been doing for centuries (as many scientists and especially those supporting GMOs will say). It is mixing genes from species that would never, ever get together in the natural world.
Why do they do it? The first commercial application of genetically engineered crops was to allow the farmer to spray pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides as heavily as he wanted, killing every insect and weed in site, but leaving the desired crop intact. So think of that: buying a GMO product almost guarantees that it has been doused in a flood of chemicals while it was growing. That’s not something you can wash off. It is in the plant. The same company that engineers, owns and sells the seeds also engineers, owns and sells the chemicals (a convenient twist on their original product agent orange). How does that sound for a little salad dressing?
BT Corn was created so that the corn would automatically produce it’s own insecticide. Got that? Inside the corn cells is poison that kills bugs. So then the corn seed grows, yields a crop, and it’s for sale at the store. Is it corn? Not if you ask me. If it’s not corn what is it? Beats me. Will it kill me? Not today. Is it safe? Who knows. Am I willing to be the guinea pig? Not a chance. Hella scary.
What applies to the packaged goods also applies to the produce at regular stores. More and more commercial crops include GMO elements. The only way currently to avoid GMO’s at a regular grocery store is to buy organic. If you need to pick and choose, the foods (and anything that contain them) that are pretty much guaranteed GMO if they’re not organic are corn, soy, sugar, canola, and wheat. So do your best to buy those organic.
If you happen to shop at the farmer’s market and the guy says his stuff isn’t certified organic (it’s an expensive and arduous process), but he says he raises his crops naturally and doesn’t use any chemical spray, I’d probably feel alright about buying his stuff.
Typically organic is more expensive, though not always the case. For budget concerns, read our Dirty Dozen article to know which items you can get away with buying conventional and which ones you should avoid.
Ok now, what about meat? Whether your personal beliefs say its ok to eat meat or not, how the animal was raised and killed does play into how it will impact your body. Kelli and I are not vegetarians, though we eat so many vegetables and skip the meat so frequently that we’re often thought to be. In thinking about it while writing this, it dawned on me that we are more picky about the meat we eat than practically anything else. Why? Because one, there is an enormous nutritional difference between conventionally raised animal meat and the free-range organic options. Second, conventional meat is almost guaranteed to have chemicals and toxins in it. And third, and strongest reason for us, is that there is a moral aspect directly related to meat consumption.
When it comes to nutrition levels, there is just no comparison between free roaming grass fed/finished organic meat and the modern conventional alternative. Free roaming animal meat has more vitamins and minerals, more good fat, and less bad fat. Period. Study after study has confirmed this. The same is true for wild-caught fish versus farm raised.
Then, in conventional farming, where massive amounts of animals are crammed together in merciless conditions, they have to be pumped full of drugs to keep them alive. Here’s a tidbit for you: the vast majority of America’s antibiotics supply is used in our animal supply. (And we all thought it was the MD’s handing out too much of the stuff and creating drug resistance.)
On top of this, animals are commonly given growth hormones to make them put on meat faster, thus allowing the farmer to sell them at market more quickly. If the cow was pumped full of hormones, the meat and milk it produces that sit in the store freezer are in turn full of it. These hormones have been linked to the rise of early puberty onset in girls. So in simple clean eating terms, none of these additives are acceptable.
Then there’s the moral aspect to it all. I grew up around chickens, horses, goats, turkeys, and rabbits. Our animals roamed all over the yard, with plenty of opportunity to forage for their natural foods. We treated them well. We fed them well. And then one day, except for the horses (I’m pretty sure anyway…there was that one winter where money was a little tight 🙂 ), we ate them. Like Joel Salatin of Omnivore’s Dilema fame says, his animals have a great life and just one bad day. That’s how we did it.
Sadly, the meat you see in the regular grocery store has not been raised like this at all. For chickens and turkeys, it’s life in torturous battery cages in spaces so small they can’t spread their wings. Their beaks are riipped off as chicks, and male chicks are discarded in garbage sacks, slowly suffocating as more bodies get tossed on top of them.
Cows spend their last months of life on feed lots, standing in their own feces, eating a diet of things their bodies aren’t designed to handle – like corn – and being pumped full of hormones to make them put on meat faster and antibiotics to keep them alive. Their living conditions are so bad that they have to receive the heavy doses of antibiotics just to keep them alive.
Same goes for the pigs (tails clipped, crammed in tight cages), the ducks and geese (tight cages, force fed ungodly amounts of food to enlarge their livers), and the ever potentially explosive topic of baby cows [veal] (penned so they’re never allowed to use their muscles from birth to slaughter, lest they make their meat too tough).
Most of us would never treat animals the way they’re treated in commercial operations. We respect life and would never knowingly participate in the torture of animals. Unfortunately, these practices are so widespread that for Kelli and me, consuming conventional meat is just not an option. We simply don’t want to support the people and companies that are willing to operate this way. We’ve read many books that talk about this issue, but seeing it filmed in Food Inc should be enough scare anyone off it. Go rent that one if you haven’t seen it yet.
That being said, protein is critically important for your body and brain to function well, so it’s important to eat enough. If you choose not to eat meat, be very careful that you eat a very well balanced diet to consume adequate protein and nutrients, take a multivitamin, and be very mindful of your B12 intake.
So there it is. The clean eating mystery solved. Should we summarize it a bit? Put it in the shell of one of those healthy almonds we’ve all been snacking on?
1 – When putting together a meal, cover 75% of the plate with veggies. Balance the remaining 25% between a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, etc) and a clean protein (meat if you eat it, beans and lentils, tofu, etc).
2 – Snack on fruits, nuts, and seeds.
3 – Nothing artificial of any sort (colors, preservatives, flavors, GMO’s, chemicals, or hormones). If God didn’t plant it or create it, don’t eat it.
4 – No refined grains, oils, and sugars.
5 – Buy organic as much as possible
There it is. What is clean eating? It’s eating real food. Food your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Food that tastes good and is nutritious.
That’s the beauty of eating clean. It’s by no means a restrictive diet, it’s not even a diet. It’s a lifestyle change you can make and keep up with for the rest of your days. There are always clean alternatives to the foods you love if the standard varieties don’t necessarily fit the bill. I’m talking about everything, including dessert (you should see what Kelli can whip up…and don’t worry, we post the recipes!). Your taste buds will reset and you’ll start enjoying food in ways you didn’t expect, experiencing and recognizing flavors you never knew existed.
Just making these few changes to the way you eat will make an incredible impact on your health, and your wasteline. You’ll feel better, sleep better, have more energy, and you may find that some long-term nagging ailments simply go away. Your body is amazing and it knows exactly what to do, as long as you give it the right fuel.
We’re passionate about healthy food and healthy eating. As always, we’d love to hear from you with any questions you may have or your own personal experiences with changing the way you eat.
Making these changes is important and the great news is it’s not as hard as you may think. Make the commitment for your health and your families. We’re always here to help.