By this time of year, chances are your New Year resolution to follow that newest diet fad is now a distant memory – a blip in the radar on your quest for improved health. One option which has withstood several years in the spotlight, however, is the concept of clean eating. So what exactly is clean eating? Is it right for you, and how can you start making changes?
The concept of clean eating has a wide spectrum of gray area, so its definition varies by lifestyle and stringency. For a few, clean eating is interpreted as one of the strictest diets – eating only raw, natural foods that have not been altered – even simply cooking something or buying pre-cut items is considered processed. That extreme proves hard to sustain and limits other vital nutrients.
“In our society today, it’s almost impossible to completely remove processed foods from the diet. The fad diet of ‘clean eating’ is more about taking away highly-processed foods and focusing on minimal-ingredient items,” explained Alexis Schulte, RD, LD, CDCES, clinical nutrition manager for Trident Medical Center.
Even if you start with small changes, a move toward less-processed foods is proven to be beneficial to health. It improves a person’s digestion while decreasing the risk of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and hypertension. Research also shows that people who avoid processed foods experience improved energy and complexion.
“Clean eating – or reduction of highly processed foods, especially highly processed meats – has been shown to reduce the risk of cancers, especially colon cancer and other GI cancers,” Schulte said. “There is a high amount of research promoting an anti-inflammatory diet – one high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed sugars and grains, almost void of meats and high in fatty fish – in prevention of cancers, Alzheimer’s and other common diseases.”
Changing your lifestyle to embody clean eating requires motivation and readiness to change, and having support within your household is key, Schulte advised. While an entire switch to eating clean – even a relaxed version – may be complicated, she advised that starting small, even just by eating one clean meal a day or by cutting out all forms of liquid sugars like coffee, soda, energy drinks and juice, can make a big impact on your long-term health.
Some restaurants and meal preparation companies offer options for eating clean, making it more convenient than ever to stay on track with the lifestyle.
“Clean eating starts from the source,” said Gene Magliaro, chef and manager of Farm Fresh Fast in Greenville, a restaurant that specializes in dine-in and prepared meals that are locally-sourced and made fresh daily. “Where do your produce and meats come from? We’ve spent the last three years building and cultivating relationships with our local farmers to ensure that we are bringing in the best of the best. We actually don’t even carry butter or cream in the restaurant, and we’ve worked with dietitians to nail down the low sodium aspect. Customers know when they walk through the door that they are able to eat something that’s great for them as well as full of flavor!”
Customers can eat at the restaurant or order a week’s worth of meals to have on-hand at home, which immensely helps sticking to a clean eating concept. Its menu can be customized to accommodate any diet restrictions.
“So much of our lifestyle is centered around convenience, so ensuring you are set up for success will prove beneficial in the long run,” Schulte said. “Any change to healthier eating is beneficial.”
By Anne Shuler Toole