For the past four weeks I have been trying as best as possible to “Eat Clean”. I have suffered with IBS for a number of years and it has worsened since having a baby. I have tried various things including excluding food groups from my diet and taking medication but nothing has worked out so far. After a bit of research online I decided to give clean eating a go- it seems healthy and although it’s not without its challenges it doesn’t exclude any major food groups and isn’t too difficult to understand.
Since starting clean eating I have had much less incidents of IBS, my stomach cramps have all but disappeared, I’m less tired and sluggish and I have lost 8 pounds. My intention was not to lose weight but to feel better physically and to stop my IBS, but the weight loss has been a positive side effect.
Not only has my health improved in this short period but I have become more aware of negative eating patterns such as my tendency to overeat when I’m stressed or bored and it has caused me to be more mindful when it comes to food and what I am putting in my body.
Now I regularly look on packets to read the ingredients and I am often shocked and appalled at the amount of additives, sugar, salt and E-Numbers added to every day foods that I used to eat regularly without thinking.
So, what is clean eating?
The basic principle behind clean eating is to eat whole foods, or “real” foods, foods that are unprocessed or have gone through as little processes as possible making them as close to their natural form when eaten.
Define processed food?
Processed food can be as follows:
- Containing additives of any kind — everything from salt, sugar, sweeteners, chemicals and fat to aid flavor and texture, to preservatives that keep food from going off, to vitamins artificially added to products.
- Changing the form of the natural food — for instance, removing the bran and germ from whole grains to create refined bread, refined sugar, white rice etc.
- Foods with components manufactured in a lab- for example if the ingredient list has stuff you can’t recognize or pronounce, that’s a pretty solid indication that it’s not natural.
Depending on how far you want to take it processing food can simply mean heating it up, mashing it or changing its consistency, that’s where people who eat only raw food get their ideas from- but for me I’m not too concerned about the cooking of food, as long as it’s not been injected with chemicals or stripped of all its natural goodness. The type of things to stay clear of in my eyes are not the homemade fruit smoothies that are “technically” processed if your’e being pernickety, but things that are ultra processed like cheese slices that resemble plastic sheeting, microwave meals pumped with additives, “diet food” laced with artificial sweeteners and chemicals and cakes that have a use by date four years into the future. It’s up to the individual how far they want to take it.
What’s wrong with ultra processed food?
You’re not a bad person if you eat processed food- most people have some choice over what they want to eat and what they choose to put inside their bodies. Unfortunately eating unprocessed foods can be expensive, but there are lots of websites out there that give advice on how to eat clean cheaply. Some of the reasons I have decided to cut overly processed food from my diet are as follows:
- Foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to cancer and infertility
- highly processed foods are stripped of nutrients needed for overall health
- heavily processed food tends to have additives that overstimulate the production of dopamine, the “pleasure” neurotransmitter. This causes addiction to foods such as refined sugar, salt and fat which ultimately leads to cravings, weight gain, tiredness and perpetuates a negative cycle of constant junk food cravings.
- I feel a bit weird now eating food that has ingredients in that I don’t even know what they are, where they come from or what they do. I’d rather eat “real” food than chemicals masquerading as food.
What are the positives of “Clean Eating”
- Multiple studies have shown that diets heavy on fruits and vegetables can curb or prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
- There’s research linking diets high in fruits and veggies to healthy weight management and glowing skin and hair. (Bonus)
- Better mood- Scientists found that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables resulted in more energy, calm, and greater feelings of overall happiness. They also noted that the effects were seen not only on the days more produce was consumed, but also throughout the following day.
- Better sleep- Numerous studies have tied better sleep to improvements in overall wellness, and more and more research indicates that eating the right foods can help.
- Improved brain function- A recent study from the National Institutes found that people who consistently adhere to a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to have brain infarcts, small areas of dead tissue in the brain linked to cognitive problems.
How do you eat clean then?
Eating clean involves eating whole foods and avoiding junk foods and processed foods as much as possible. Many people aim to eat clean 80% of the time and eat “normally” 20% of the time as no one wants to never eat a takeaway or a cupcake again.
Eat whole foods: Whole foods are foods that haven’t been tampered with, in the lab or the manufacturing plant. The foods to eat regularly are whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains (like brown rice, brown pasta, rolled oats etc) grass-fed and free-range meats where possible, full fat dairy products, unsalted nuts, and seeds.
Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are any food that has a list of ingredients that means there is more than one ingredient used to make that food. You don’t have to eliminate all processed foods (like whole grain pasta or natural cheeses), but if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label or its an E-Number then it’s best not to eat it.
Eliminate refined sugar. Refined sugar is just empty calories and causes addictions, bad teeth, weight gain etc etc. Other sweeteners can be used like honey and other NATURAL sweeteners, but try and avoid refined white sugar where possible.
Eat regularly and don’t go hungry. There’s no need to restrict yourself with this way of eating- if you are hungry then eat something healthy and unprocessed- you should not starve yourself.
Cook your own meals. Instead of buying meals in a box, from a takeaway or a packet. Cook meals from scratch- it takes a bit more effort and washing up but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
Eat all the major food groups. Don’t avoid fat or carbs or dairy unless you have a medical reason for doing so. Eat healthy fats like olive oils, (organic if possible) full fat dairy products, avocados, nuts, omega three from oily fish etc.
What about Clean Eating and Cystic Fibrosis?
What is healthy for one person is not necessarily healthy for another. Joseph has to eat a high fat diet due to having Cystic Fibrosis and is encouraged to eat high fat, high calorie, high salt foods such as chocolate, pizzas, chips, crisps, sauces and dips as well as full fat dairy products. This is because he has pancreatic insufficiency which means he cannot digest fat and vitamins from food easily.
Ideally I would like for joe to eat more unprocessed foods and have a “healthy diet” that reduces refined sugar intake but this is quite difficult to achieve when he risks losing weight and becoming ill. So I’m currently researching ways to get him to have a high fat/ high calorie diet without pumping him full of processed foods and chemicals and refined sugar. If anyone out there has any tips regarding this issue then please let me know! But for now I am concentrating on getting him to eat a variety of foods and not worrying about processes too much where he is concerned. I am gradually introducing more fruit and veg into his diet and experimenting with healthy fats- as he gets older and braver with food choices (hopefully) it will be easier to cook him high fat but nutritious unprocessed foods- for now though he still eats chicken nuggets, sausages and lots of chocolate cake!