In today’s day and age, we cannot afford the luxury of falling sick. The pandemic has proved to be a humbling experience, as it taught a lot of us to treasure our bodies and our wellness. We used to lead a not-so-healthy lifestyle where meals were few and far in between. Many of us then made a willing shift towards a healthier diet, by eating supplements, going on juice detoxes and going out for walks. We still, however, need to address our ignorant choices towards what we think of as “healthy” food. Clean eating is helpful instead.
In a hyper-competitive food market surrounded by healthy claims, promises and solutions, how do we know what to trust? How do we find out which claims are genuine and which are not? Instead of choosing what might authentically be good for us, we drift towards what seems to be the ‘most popular’ choice.
What we don’t realise is that ignorance can have a major impact on our wellbeing; not just junk food, but also some ‘healthy’ foods can lead to obesity, memory problems, deteriorating mental health, and inadequate growth and development. It becomes critical to at least question the authenticity of the food we consume. We need to focus on food that is not just called “healthy” but is also “clean”
Clean eating, as a diet, has stood out as one that promotes a healthy lifestyle. It has taught us important lessons on what we need to survive and to stay the best versions of ourselves, to lead enhanced and longer lives.
Clean eating advocates the consumption of whole and natural foods and the avoidance of processed foods. Gluten and/or dairy products might also be excluded from some variations of the diet, which promote the intake of raw, unprocessed food. This diet has been recognised as one that connects us with our environment, from which we, as a race, have seemingly drifted. This movement away has been caused due to a lack of awareness and/or understanding that surrounds such a complex topic, and even because of myths surrounding the idea.
The most common myth is that “Clean eating is harmful as your body is being deprived of necessary nutrients required to function.” The fact is that a clean diet is among the best diets recommended by dieticians around the globe as it is tailored to fit your needs perfectly by providing you with a balanced diet, which, in turn, helps you receive your daily dose of nutrition. This is also one of the top recommended diets for recovering patients as it causes less strain on the body and aids optimal recovery.
Clean food goes hand-in-glove with ‘clean labelling’, a concept that brands around the world have started to adopt. It aims to create transparency and a safe space for consumers, in order to build trust between the brands and the audience.
Clean label food essentially refers to food that:
- Is processed only as much as necessary, without giving up its nutritional benefits or altering its essential properties
- Is as close as possible to its natural state
- Minimises the usage of artificial additives, preservatives, flavouring agents, bleaching agents and sweeteners, among others
So, the next time you are out grocery shopping, look out for brands that are ‘Clean Label’ certified as they are proven to have innumerable benefits for one’s mind and body. You can also look at the back of the pack and see if there are complicated ingredients being presented. That should set off alarm bells. Look for brands, instead, that come ‘clean’ (pun intended) before you.
WHAT IT REAL FOOD
No standard definition for “healthy” food actually exists, just like there’s no cookie-cutter definition for what it means to be healthy, but it shouldn’t stop us from defining what that means to us. “Real food” has no official definition but embodies what a general healthy eating pattern could look like without using airy terms like “balanced,” “honest” and “genuine” to describe it (because who really knows what they mean?).
Real food is simple.
It hasn’t gone through a ton of processing to get from the ground to your plate. Here’s what that looks like: fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans are all real food. Natural sweeteners, coffee, chocolate and wine count, too—just enjoy them in moderation!
Real food is not processed food.
Another way to think of it is this: Real food is not processed food. Processed food meets these seven criteria:
- consistent batch to batch
- consistent country to country
- specialized ingredients from specialized companies
- nearly all macronutrients are pre frozen (which means that the fiber is usually removed)
- emulsified (fat and water don’t separate)
- long shelf or freezer life
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, processed foods don’t sound so bad!” True; processed foods can be one of the safest foods on the planet in terms of germs, and that’s great for the short-term. Eating processed foods now and then won’t kill you, but you should really focus on eating mostly real foods if you’re concerned about your long-term health.
5 REASONS TO FOCUS ON REAL FOODS
1. Eat “healthier” without thinking about it. It’s useful to think of food as nutrients (macro- and micronutrients) so we can better understand our body. When it comes to healthy eating, it’s more useful to think of food simply as food. Choosing “real” foods lets you eat healthier from a nutrient perspective without thinking too much about nutrients.
2. Redefine your relationship with food. Do you find yourself labeling food as “good” or “bad” based on a predefined notion of what healthy eating looks like? Nothing should always be that black and white, least of all a healthy relationship with food. Choosing real foods forces you to reevaluate the foods you think are healthy (aka processed foods labeled “low fat,” “sugar-free” and so forth). That being said, if you’re willing to buy real food ingredients to bake a cake, you should be able to enjoy a slice of dessert without a side of guilt.
3. Get the most nutrients out of the foods you’re eating. Processing foods usually removes or destroys valuable nutrients. The two exceptions are fortified foods (think: orange juice with added vitamin D) and preserved foods (think: canned and frozen). Choosing mostly real foods helps you maximize the nutrients you get from the foods you eat.
4. Cook, connect and celebrate with friends and family. Real food means real cooking! Since real foods come in the most natural form, it pushes you to be creative in preparing and cooking your meals. Cooking is an essential skill when it comes to living a healthy life. Since good food is a cause for celebration, get your friends and family members involved if you can.
5. Live a longer, healthier life. “You are what you eat” is a simple mantra capturing the impact that diet quality has on your quality of life. Eating mostly real foods will decrease your chances of getting a debilitating chronic disease like heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. After all, the goal of being physically healthy is to live a long life whilst avoiding these pitfalls.
3 STEP PLAN TO CLEAN EATING
Home-cooking is at the heart of healthy eating, especially if it involves real food. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Save and organize your favorite recipes. Gather recipes from your favorite cookbooks, food bloggers or the internet at large. Rotate through the recipes as you plan your weekly or monthly meal calendar. If you’re not the planning type, having these recipes on hand will help inspire your cooking adventures.
Choose recipes that use healthy cooking techniques. Delicious food doesn’t have to be complicated; if you’re a beginner cook, choose recipes with 10 ingredients or less. To make your home-cooking even healthier, be mindful about how much sugar, sodium and cooking oil you’re adding to your foods.
Keep honing your cooking skills! No one is born an amazing cook, so if you fail at your cooking ploys, remember to learn from them. Stocking up on real foods is a good first step, especially if you plan to eat more of i
GROCERY SHOPPING WITH REAL FOOD IN MIND
Check out these pointers to help you shop real at the grocery store:
Skim the perimeter of the grocery store. It’s where real food lives. We suggest you prioritize the following aisles: fresh produce, whole grains and breads, milk and dairy, meat and seafood. After you’ve loaded your cart, you can proceed to the center aisle for other necessities, just be sure to keep your eye on ingredient lists. Less is more!
Go to the store with a grocery list. Grocery-shopping with a list is your plan for success, because you’ll know exactly what to grab and be less inclined to buy processed convenience food. Ideally, your list should reflect the recipes you intend to prep for the week.
Think outside the grocery store! If you live near a local farmer’s market, go check it out! Farmer’s markets are a good place for you to buy and support local produce, sometimes at a fraction of what you’d pay in a brand-name grocery store.
BE SMART WHEN DINING OUT
Grabbing food on the go can be unavoidable, and we get that. Here are some strategies to choose healthier dishes and keep your food real:
Avoid fast-food and chain restaurants. The majority of meals made by these establishments contain processed foods (nuggets, patties), that use additives, preservatives, flavor enhancers and artificial coloring. If possible, choose restaurants whose main selling point is local, fresh ingredients.
Use the cooking technique as your tip-off. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it works well when you’re trying to choose healthier fare. Choose dishes that are baked, steamed, sauteed, roasted or boiled. Try to avoid items that are fried, deep-fried or drenched in heavy, cream-based sauces.
Check out the menu before you go. If possible, browse through the restaurant’s menu online first. Choose two to three options that look good to you, making it more likely you’ll make the healthier choice.