Clean Eating Guidelines

cleaneatingIf you have followed my blog for a while, you probably have seen my philosophy on healthy eating change. I am a learner to the core (nickname Blonde Google) – always reading articles on nutrition, throw in taking some nutrition classes and then more reading and researching. It’s a passion for me. And it’s about way more than how I look. It’s about my health and how I feel. So in the process, I have been putting into practice what I am learning. As a result, I feel better and know that my focus on feeding by body a nutrient-dense diet is so important to my health and energy!

How have my eating habits changed over the last 3 years?
I went from a calorie-focused, big picture (carb vs. protein), balanced (throw in veggies) meal approach to a clean-eating (limit chemicals), more plant-emphasized (micronutrient) approach. I haven’t removed my older posts because healthy eating is a journey. It changes over time as we learn more and as we enter into different seasons of life. So I want to leave those posts for people in those seasons or parts of their healthy eating journey.

I had someone ask me the other day if I had lost some weight. I honestly don’t know. I don’t weigh myself regularly anymore, and I don’t track calories. Those were great strategies for me when my weight was not at a healthy place for me. But now, I focus on nutrient rich foods, balanced proportions of them (like more vegetables than nuts) and pay attention to what junk does to my body. And I revisit from time to time, reflections I’ve written down on how eating has affected my health to remind myself why I eat the way I do.

What are some clean-eating tips that have helped me?
I wasn’t sure about clean-eating at first especially because there are so many variations on it. I have seen so many stories though of how in some form it has helped people ditch the packaged junk, eat more nutrient dense foods, lose weight and gain health! For those that find this worth exploring, here are some guidelines that helped me along the way.

  • Watch your portion sizes. I love nuts, but I know what an appropriate serving is versus a serving of veggies. Don’t be fooled by the fact that just because a food is clean means you can eat as much as you want of it.
  • Drink lots of water. Water is essential for our metabolism. Set a goal of drinking water every day – and don’t include other liquids in this. Some people tell you any liquid counts but not in clean-eating. It’s extra work for the body’s metabolism to break down the H2O when it’s combined with other chemicals. Adding in frozen fruit is a great way to add in some flavor without overloading the body with chemicals.
  • Limit all packaged food (like crackers, cereal, etc) – even if it says organic. Also, organic packaged foods can still be overly-processed and nutrient-poor. Read the labels – look at the sugar content, fiber content. With clean-eating, you are better off preparing food in its original form before it has been processed. I’ve had pepole tell me, I don’t have time for that. Well, that’s okay because if it isn’t worth the time to prepare those muffins yourself, you probably don’t need them in your diet. Harsh? Maybe, but convenience packaged foods are not doing anything for your health. 
  • Natural on a label means nothing and definitely does not mean clean eating!!!! There are no regulations on this word in the food industry. So ignore this on a label.
  • Focus on eating LOTS of fruits and vegetables. Even if nutrition experts think the government’s MyPlate recommendations are low, statistically, most Americans are not even eating the MyPlate recommended amount per day. Vegetables for female adults from 2 – 2 1/2 cups per day. Fruits for female adults from 1 1/2 – 2 cups per day. Either way, focus on eating LOTS of fruits and vegetables each day and a variety (try mason jar salads as a way to eat more vegetables). Also, when available, choose organic options for those fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen Plus list. 
  • Tangent guideline, don’t be fooled by the idea that it is more expensive to eat clean. There are many affordable options. A bag of apples in season or on sale is a lot of nutrition compared to a bag of potato chips and the cost difference is not far off. Greg and I can consume a bag of potato chips much faster than a bag of apples. Also, of course buying healthy substitutes can be more expensive – like already prepared kale chips. However, homemade kale chips are very inexpensive. Buying certain items in bulk – rice, beans, etc is way more affordable than a bag of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets. Don’t let the cost of clean-eating be an excuse. We often compare the cost by item but not the ounce for ounce cost. Lots of great articles out there on how to eat clean on a budget. 
  • Eat whole grains – like brown rice, quinoa not refined grains. We don’t limit pasta either, but I find whole grain versions – don’t be fooled by the word “whole grain” on packages. Look at the fiber content for yourself to determine if it is really whole grains. I recently found out I’m allergic to rice, so we eat a lot of quinoa. It’s not only full of fiber but a complete protein and has a great nutty flavor. I cook it in low-sodium, organic chicken broth or low-sodium, organic vegetable broth to add flavor.
  • And that last one leads well into this guideline, watch your sodium content. Sodium slows down the metabolic processes in the body. It’s fine to use salt to complement flavors, but don’t overdo it. Use other herbs and spices to season food especially if you already have heart disease. 
  • Use shredded cheeses in limited quantities – some clean-eating plans limit it all together. We enjoy cheese, but try to use it conservatively. If you do use shredded cheese, choose a version where the cows are not steroid and antibiotic raised. This is an expensive option so that helps us limit how much we consume! And sometimes, if the organic version is not available, we use the non-organic.
  • Limit your sugar intake. It’s easy to go overboard on eating “clean” sugar options. Sugar is not a food group, so treat it like a splurge. Read the labels. Any easy way to see how much sugar is in something is to compare the grams of sugar to the total grams per serving. Like on a famous, supposedly, healthy food (ah-hem Nutella) where 21 grams of sugar per a 37 gram serving, we do some easy math to find out that 56% of this product is sugar. The World Health Organization recommends only 10% of our daily calories should come from added sugar. These new recommendations are based on growing research showing the strong link between sugar intake and heart disease and diabetes. 
  • Strive to eat clean, nutrient-dense foods 80-90% of the time. This allows for a meal out each week, an occasional unplanned splurge at a random event and also for those items that are not 100% clean, but are a smaller proportion of a meal (like shredded cheese) that you can’t find in a healthier option.
  • Follow people that inspire you with the lifestyle you want to live. Most of the time, you are not going to find it around you in abundance (the messages to eat healthy outweigh the ones telling you to eat unhealthy) or at least that has been my experience. But I follow people on Instagram that inspire me to continue my healthy lifestyle.

Here are some resources that have helped me find ideas along the way and are my go to websites:
*Not all these sites are focused on clean-eating necessarily, but all provide options that are clean and nutrient-dense.
Deliciously Ella – A friend gave me some of her recipes which I find to be so tasty. And even if you are not vegan (which I am not), her recipes are still helpful for incorporating more fruits, vegetables and nutrient-dense foods into your diet.
Fit Men Cook – This is a great website with recipes that incorporate more nutrient-dense foods and with the type of hearty-meals my meat-loving husband enjoys!
Dashing Dish – Great website for easing into healthy eating because she takes comfort foods and revamps them. She also has a recipe finder that lets you know which recipes are clean.

Some other go to sites/Instagram nutrient-dense or clean-eating INSPIRATION:
Tone It Up
Gracious Pantry
Sugary Joy
Dr. Axe

What’s your favorite clean-eating guideline or resource?


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