What it really means to eat clean

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If you’re trying to eat healthy, you may have heard the phrase “eat clean.” But what does that actually mean?

“Clean eating is just choosing whole foods over processed foods,” says Judy Porter, RD and Wellness Director for Fit Livin’, a company that provides corporate wellness programs around Indianapolis. “(You want to) choose real foods that are as close as possible to their natural state.”

Examples of whole foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and fresh meat. The act of processing those foods can be minimal or extreme. An example of minimal processing would be mashing apples and packaging them with no sugar added. An example of extreme or ultra-processing is removing the bran and germ from whole grains to create refined bread.

“Adding artificial colors to enhance the way something looks, adding artificial flavors or sweeteners to make them taste better – that’s processing,” says Porter.

Judy Porter, RD prepares a “clean” dinner featuring organic chicken breast, sliced sweet potatoes and fresh green beans with toasted almonds.
Judy Porter, RD prepares a “clean” dinner featuring organic chicken breast, sliced sweet potatoes and fresh green beans with toasted almonds.

Clean eating is the opposite of this — encouraging the consumption of foods that are whole, unrefined, unprocessed and as natural as possible. Anything sold in a package has experienced some level of processing.

“When you’re shopping at the grocery store and you’re looking at labels, one of the things you want to look for is a short ingredient list — one that does not include a long list of words that is unrecognizable to you,” says Porter.

Porter says you should be able to pronounce and know the source of everything on an ingredient list for it to qualify as clean eating and suggests it might be easier to avoid certain aisles.

“Shop more in the perimeter of the store and not so much in the center of the store,” says Porter. “A lot of your processed goods are in the center so if you can do the majority of your shopping on that perimeter, you’re probably doing a pretty good job.”

Porter recently wrote about clean eating in a blog post for employees of companies who participate in the Fit Livin’ wellness programs. Here are the steps she encouraged them to take:

  1. Try your best to eliminate processed foods from your diet (and pantry). Avoid foods with a long ingredient list full of chemicals and words you can’t pronounce.
  2. Choose whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, grass-fed and free-range meats, low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds are good choices.
  3. Stay away from refined sugars. These are empty and non-nutritive calories.
  4. Get comfortable in the kitchen. By preparing your food, you know what is going into the meal and have 100 percent control of ingredients. Wholesome meats and produce need little prep through sauteing or baking to make delicious and healthy meals that you (and your family) will love.
  5. Eat three meals, two healthy snacks and a recovery snack daily. By eating more frequently, our bodies store less excessive calories that can be ingested at larger meals. Listen to your body and be aware when and why you’re eating.
Judy Porter, RD places sliced sweet potatoes onto a baking sheet. She brushes the tops with coconut oil, then bakes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
Judy Porter, RD places sliced sweet potatoes onto a baking sheet. She brushes the tops with coconut oil, then bakes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Porter prepares an example of a clean dinner using organic chicken breast seasoned with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and sage. She serves two vegetables on the side – roasted fresh green beans tossed with toasted almonds and sliced sweet potatoes brushed with coconut oil.

“Usually when starting to eat clean, I often recommend that people start with the Environment Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15,” says Porter – referencing an annual list that highlights which produce items have the most and least pesticides.

To see the Environmental Working Group’s annual list, click here.

“Changing the way you eat can be overwhelming and dissatisfying at first, but over time your tastes will change,” says Porter. “Give yourself time and you will slowly begin to feel healthier — both mentally and physically.”

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