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The beginner’s guide to clean eating

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A new approach to healthy eating and wellness, clean eating is about keeping things as natural and chemical-free as possible – food that hasn’t been made in a factory. The benefits? Weight- loss, disease reversal, hormonal balance, improved memory, happiness… and more. Hannah Swanston explains.

The term ‘clean eating’ is fairly ambiguous but the concept is focused around eating foods in their most natural state whilst avoiding anything processed or laden with chemicals, as well as refined grains and refined sugars.

You could also call it a ‘low HI diet’ or ‘low human involvement diet’ because the best food for your body is as close as possible to its natural, whole form with as little human interference as possible. Eating clean means eating mainly fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, poultry and seafood – organic is best to ensure you’re not filling yourself with pesticides and growth hormones.

The new approach is about making conscious decisions about what you’re putting into your body and taking responsibility for your long-term health. It isn’t a diet; it’s a lifestyle.

LOW HUMAN INVOLVEMENT

Many strict weight-loss diets will drop a few kilos before a big occasion but the reason millions of people are always looking for the next best solution is because each diet has one thing in common; they’re quick-fixes with strict and unsustainable guidelines that rarely consider your health so invariably the excess weight returns.

The exciting prospect of clean eating is that once you decide to make health your number one priority, you won’t ever need to worry about the risks to your wellbeing, let alone the need to diet ever again. In short, there is no diet that exists today that will do what healthy eating does. Skip the diet. Choose health, and have a balanced life instead.

CLEAN EATING BASICS

Want to try Clean Eating? Here are the basics: The key theme at the heart of the clean eating concept is ‘good health’ so before you eat, simply ask yourself: “Is this food going to nourish my body?

Getting clean might just mean tweaking what you’re doing now, or it may inspire you to turn over a whole new leaf. In either case, here are a few points to keep in mind when considering your new, healthier lifestyle:

  • Eat foods in their most natural state, or made with natural ingredients,
  • Avoid processed foods high in chemical additives, salts, trans fats and refined sugars,
  • Avoid artificial ingredients and preservatives including sweeteners
  • Keep your alcohol and caffeine intake low and avoid sodas and fruit juices,
  • Eat plenty of vegetables. If you’re watching your weight, get most of your carbohydrates from vegetables,
  • Avoid refined flour; white pastas and white bread,
  • Enjoy fruit but moderate your intake due to high sugar content,
  • Eat healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, nuts.
  • Drink two to three litres of water a day.

Research shows that eating fresh fruit and vegetables can aid in the prevention and control of weight
gain. Studies also suggest a diet rich in these healthy food groups can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and diabetes. Additionally, cutting down on the added salt and sugar is also integral to clean eating. Research shows a reduction of dietary salt intake can help delay or prevent hypertension and decrease the chances of cardiovascular- related health issues and death.

ENJOY THE PROCESS

To begin with, you may think that clean eating seems too much of a drastic change. But it’s not
about transforming your life (and cupboards) overnight; it’s about going at the pace that’s right for you. Make small changes; try new things; see what you like, and what you don’t. Remember, it’s not a set plan; it’s a healthier lifestyle, and the key to successful clean eating is making healthy decisions most of the time, but giving yourself some flexibility. This isn’t about being perfect. Give yourself an 80/20 balance. The 20 per cent gives you leeway to be human so if you really want a cupcake then have one.

GOING SHOPPING

Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body. So where possible choose organic and avoid processed foods, sugars, starchy carbohydrates, trans fats, chemicals, and where possible, have a healthy balance of caffeine and alcohol. When cooking try to bake, steam, grill or eat raw. If you get stuck in the supermarket, use your common sense or read the label: ‘Was this created in a laboratory or in nature? Will this food help to nourish my body?’

  • Fruit and vegetables: All seasonal, but eat more green veggies and lower sugared fruit. (Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42 per cent compared to eating less than one portion, reports a new UCL study.)
  • Protein: Free-range eggs, salmon, chicken, shrimp, white fish, tuna, turkey, tofu.
  • Healthy fats and oils: Avocado, virgin olive oil, flax and chia seed, all natural, (palm-oil free) peanut or almond butter (no sugar or salt)
  • Nuts: Raw almonds and sunflower seeds
  • Grains and complex ‘good’ carbs: Rye or spelt bread, quinoa, millet, brown rice, oatmeal, sweet
    potato, legumes.
  • Dairy: Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, almond milk
  • Coconut products: water, milk and oil.

BEAT YOUR SUGAR CRAVINGS

Luckily, the less you eat sugary foods, the less you’ll crave them. Sugar works like a drug so stop taking it to break the addiction. To take its power away, reach for healthier alternatives. Keep a variety of delicious, healthy snacks in your bag, or at your desk to stop you reaching for naughty treats. For example:

• Nuts, seeds, prunes and plain popcorn

• Raspberries, blueberries and chopped apple
• Bell pepper (capsicum) and cucumber sticks

But if one of those all-consuming sugar cravings does hit you, don’t panic, just try one of my favourite healthy quick-fixes:

1. Eat two to three pieces of organic dark chocolate (over 70 per cent cacao)

2. Fill a bowl with Greek yoghurt, blueberries and raspberries

3. Eat a tub of organic frozen yoghurt with prunes and bananas.

For more tips on preventing sugar cravings in the first place, here’s how to change your diet to give yourself the best chance of quelling those cravings:

Eat foods high in chromium: Broccoli, whole grains, sweet potatoes, apples, and pastured eggs. Chromium regulates cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Eat foods high in zinc: Whole grains, pastured eggs, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts and oysters. Zinc from animal sources is absorbed better because it does not contain phytates. Zinc is used for glucose and insulin utilisation.
Eat foods high in magnesium: Dark leafy greens, raw cacao, nuts and seeds, brown rice, quinoa, and avocado.
Extra-virgin coconut oil: Add coconut oil to soups, dishes, smoothies and stir-fries to help boost metabolism and reduce cravings.
Eat healthy fats with your meals: Nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut, extra-virgin olive oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, and natural fats from animal products such as wild salmon and pastured eggs. To provide satiety and keep your blood sugar stable. Sleep for 8 hours per night:
More if you need it. You can never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, when tired, we have the tendency to crave sugar, and slip back to old habits.

HANNAH SWANSTON is a full-time writer who divides her time between London and Dubai. Her first book is about life in Dubai and is coming soon.

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