To celebrate March Nutrition Month, we’re going to touch on some of the latest, hottest topics about nutrition, diets, and feeling healthier.
Eating clean is one such trend, something we’ve heard from celebrities, nutritionists, dietitians and even our local, hip cafes. Eating clean, though, wasn’t a trend when our great grandparents sat down to dine. They may have lived tough lives, but their nutrition was privileged because it was, essentially, based on whole foods. (Whole foods meaning minimally or not processed at all). At its most basic level, clean eating is all about ingredient awareness.
Clean eating is a pretty simple concept, actually, as the focus of health has shifted from fat content and calorie counts, to the pathway food takes from its origin to our bodies. Clean eating means we ingest as few processed and refined foods as possible, instead eating whole foods. It just makes sense.
But in a world of fast food, packaged potatoes, and everything quick and easy, consumers are finding clean eating hard going. So here are some basic rules and definitions to help navigate your way through the supermarket on the road to clean eating.
Processed foods: Processed foods are not all evil. Some processing is necessary to take bacteria and germs out of our foods (think pasteurizing milk). So unless you have a goat on your balcony, you’re probably going to need to buy feta cheese.
Processed foods are:
- Any food with a label (which means more than one ingredient was used to make it.)
- Foods that have changed form from their original inception (like a banana smoothie, or applesauce, or taking bran and germ from grains to make refined breads etc.)
Processed foods diet guide:
- If you can’t pronounce something on a label, don’t eat it.
- If it comes “ready to heat up,” take care to read the label and make sure nothing artificial has been added. You can eat clean simply by avoiding additives and pesticides.
Refined sugars: Here’s the scoop on sugar. Sugar is not the root of all evil. We want to sift through misinformation and give solid, researched data about how too much sugar can be potentially harmful to our bodies. Sugar is not addictive like nicotine, heroine, and cocaine, but there’s a part of the brain that responds to the reward behavior sugar creates. So, though it’s not addictive, people do crave it. There’s something on our tongues called the brix factor that is sensitive to sugar, so the more sugar we eat, the more our taste buds will be sensitive to it. So, our bodies create cravings, not addictions. There is now large population of people xperiencing something called NASH, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or fatty liver disease, because of too much sugar in their diets. Moreover, worldwide, eating too much sugar in our diets has had a huge impact on obesity. An integral part of clean eating, then, is reducing our sugar intake.
Grocery Shopping: We’ve got aisles and aisles of packaged joy! Grocery stores (and the food labels on the products on the shelves) are deceptively enticing. So, a rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter – the outside-in. On the outside we have our fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products which should make up about 75% of what we eat each day. Then, when finished with the essentials, take a quick trip into the shiny packaged labyrinth to get products made from the whole grains aisle like pasta, barley, quinoa and possibly some dried or low-sodium canned beans. It doesn’t have to be costly to eat clean. It’s a matter of learning how to shop and being willing to return to the grocery store more often to replenish our fruit and veggie supplies.
It doesn’t need to be overwhelming. You can start by making small changes like reducing your intake of sugary baked goods and eating more fruit. You can start by cooking one to two meals a week and cutting back on pre-packaged meals. Before you know it you will have transitioned to a cleaner diet and you will feel more energetic and perhaps even drop a few unwanted pounds along the way.
Eating clean is trending. But registered dietitians everywhere hope this is a trend that’s here to last. The more consumers demand clean foods and transparency about GMOs in our food products (to be addressed in a later blog topic), the more companies will have to change. The more whole foods people consume, the more whole foods we’ll be supplied. In a scary age when we don’t know what we’re putting in our bodies, it’s time to stop, step back, and learn to eat better; learn to eat clean.
An easy, eating clean recipe, to get you started!
Feta Chicken with Zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 lb.)
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium zucchini
1⁄4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup (about 2 ounces) crumbled Feta
Heat the oven to 400°F. Drizzle 1⁄2 tablespoon of the oil in a small roasting pan. Remove the zest from the lemon in thin strips; set aside. Thinly slice the lemon. Place half the slices in the pan. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the chicken on top of the lemon slices and season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt. Slice each zucchini in half lengthwise, and then slice each half into 1⁄4 inch thick half-moons. In a bowl, combine the zucchini, parsley, pepper, and the remaining oil, lemon slices, and salt; toss. Spread the zucchini mixture around the chicken and sprinkle the Feta over the top. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Divide the chicken, zucchini mixture, and the lemons among individual plates and sprinkle with the zest.
Preparation time: 20-25 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings