Get the Skinny on Clean Eating, Whole Food, and Real Food
Unless you’ve been living under a rock and have never logged into Pinterest, you’ve heard terms like Clean Eating, Whole Food, and Real Food. But which items fall into the categories of whole and real foods anyway? I mean, if I eat a whole cupcake or even a whole pizza, that’s “whole food” right? What – don’t look at me like that. Whether you’ll admit it or not, you’ve probably eaten an entire pizza at some point in your life.. I definitely have so no judgment here!
Let me break it down for you, so you’ll get a better understanding of all this clean eating business. We’ll also look at some of the benefits of eating a diet packed full of whole foods. And let’s not confuse this as a “diet”. When I say diet, I’m not talking about yo-yo or crash dieting. This is not where you change your eating habits drastically for a short period of time to lose some weight. Only to go back to eating a crappy diet. I’m talking about a general, healthy way you should be eating every day, where there’s no end in sight. You know.. a healthy lifestyle.
Real Food vs Processed Food
Real food in the simplest definition is food that’s unprocessed or minimally processed. But now you may be wondering “Ok, so what exactly is considered processed foods then?” Here’s one definition from Eating Well: “They (processed foods) often come in a box or a jar, are or can be high in added sugars, low in fiber and whole grains, processed with sodium, high in fat or include trans-fat and lots of saturated fat.” If you’re still not sure, you can ask yourself if the food is something you would find in nature (i.e. whole food) and remember to read food labels – the fewer ingredients the better.
I’ve always loved this quote because it breaks it down so simply:
“Real food doesn’t HAVE ingredients. Real food IS ingredients.” – Jamie Oliver
But the truth is that there isn’t really one clear definition of clean eating. And we may never all agree on what eating “clean” really means. However, what I do know is that if the food you eat has no nutritional value and it’s been stripped down to a refined product (sorry white bread and snack cakes, I’m looking at you!) then it is processed. The closer you can get to eating foods that come straight from an animal, the ground, or water – the better the nutritional value you’ll get out of your food.
Whole foods have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients our bodies need to thrive. These are the types of foods that give us energy instead of leaving us feeling hungry again a short time later.
Some examples include:
- Animal protein
They can also help with weight loss or weight maintenance, as well as improve our overall health and feeling of wellbeing!
Tips for Practicing Clean Eating
So now you have a little better idea of what real food is and is not. If you’d like to try and adopt this healthier way of eating, below are a few other clean eating tips that might help.
Reduce Added Sugars
While trying to eat clean, another thing to keep in mind is to reduce the amount of added sugar we’re putting in our bodies. Removing refined sugars from our diets can be difficult because sugar hides in so many of our foods! Sometimes we can be tricked into thinking the foods we choose are healthier than they are because sugar has been added to it and we don’t even realize it!
You don’t always see the word “sugar” on a food label. This list is not inclusive, but sometimes you’ll need to keep an eye out for its other names, like these:
- Agave nectar
- Brown rice syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Malt syrup
Watch out for items that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients, or have more than 4 total grams of sugar.
You can make the argument that “sugar is still sugar” no matter what form it comes in. But depending on what type it is, natural or refined, it does have a different impact on your health. Natural sugar – like that found in fruit and dairy items – also has water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and nutrients that your body needs. On the other hand, refined sugar – like table sugar – is processed from beets or cane and all the nutrients are extracted out.
We’ve grown accustomed to sweeter things because so many of our processed foods have added sugar. It’s an addiction! So what can we do? The obvious answer is to try and reduce processed foods and opt for fresh, whole foods – ones that have naturally occurring sugars.
When in the grocery store, stick to shopping in the perimeter of the store to find your whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy, and try to avoid the center aisles. Yes, there are obviously some healthy things that come in a bag (brown rice, whole grain bread) or a box (whole grain cereal, steel cut oats). The gist is basically to try to eat less refined items and more complex ones for a bigger nutritional boost. In today’s day and age, it’s pretty tricky to not eat anything processed – but it’s worth a try!
Whole Food Snack Ideas
Eating a healthy diet full of whole foods it doesn’t mean you have to be bored or go hungry! Keeping healthy snacks in sight and within reach is going to make a world of difference when it comes to fueling your body.
These snacks are all easy to prepare and are great for healthy eating on the go:
- Baby carrots and cucumber slices with hummus
- Sliced or whole apples with nut butter or sun butter
- Clementine or mandarin oranges
- Sliced or whole pears
- Nuts and raisins (make your own trail mix)
- Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and/or sunflower seeds
- Whole Food Snack Bars (such as Larabar – look for the ones that only have fruit and nuts as ingredients)
- Cut-up rotisserie chicken
- Hard-boiled eggs
Clean Eating Basics
In working with my clients, I see how often they try to make this too hard on themselves, overthinking it. However, I tell them that the key to success is keeping things as simple as possible! Refer back to these basics when choosing what to eat to help you stay on track:
◊ Eat Whole Foods
◊ Avoid Processed Foods
◊ Reduce Added Sugar
◊ Shop the Perimeter of the Store
◊ Prepare Healthy Snacks
For more tips on changing your diet, you might be interested in checking out another article on 7 Tips on How to Improve Your Eating Habits. If you found article this helpful please share! Sharing is caring!