Nutrition and diet is perhaps more important in losing weight than exercise. With some adjustments to your diet, you can improve your overall health and shed those extra kilos.
Clean eating may sounds daunting and troublesome, but is actually manageable and easy to do. This phenomenon has become the craze for many who wish to shed some weight and feel better. However, while this is diet trend has caught on quickly and widely, many people may still not know what “clean eating” is exactly, or how to start cleaning up their diet.
What is clean eating?
Simply put, clean eating is consuming more healthier options in each food group and less of the unhealthy ones. More specifically, it means choosing whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, and cutting down (not eliminating!) on processed foods such as refined grains, preservatives, and unhealthy fats.
A lot of clean-eating diet plans tend to eliminate entire food groups such as dairy, carbs and more. But this can backfire badly — not only do they take away the enjoyment of eating, they can also deprive your body of essential nutrients.
It helps to find a clean-eating plan that works for you, even if it includes having a “cheat meal” from time to time. Your body will thank you for making the effort to cut back on processed foods and replacing them with healthier options. Here are some clean eating tips to get you started:
1. Consult the food pyramid
The Food Pyramid is like your grocery list — vegetables, fruits, proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy oils should make the list every week, along with a little dairy if desired. It is a visual representation of how many servings of what foods to eat in a day. The base, which constitutes the largest portion, are foods that should be eaten more. The peak, which is narrower, are foods that can be indulged on, but in limited quantities.
The food pyramid makes clean eating much *simpler — eat more of what is at the bottom, and less of what is at the top. To none of our surprise, fruits and vegetables dominate the bottom layers, and fats, oils and sugar are found at the top. So the first clean eating tip is to remember to consult the food pyramid to see if you are consuming the right things! More specific details below.
*Note: Different iterations of the food pyramid order different classes of food differently. Consult your doctor to learn what types of food you should eat more, and which kinds to cut down.
2. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables
The base of the pyramid is fruits and vegetables. Besides being a great source of vitamins, fibres, antioxidants and much more, fruits and vegetables are an integral part of a diet. They are low in calories and packed with nutrients.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are in fact just as nutritious as fresh produce. However, (another clean eating tip!) beware of certain foods that are disguised as being healthy.
Fruit juices, which are often marketed as healthy, often contain high amounts of sugar. Scary! Most of these pure juices also lack the much-needed fibres that fruits provide. Dried fruits should also be eaten in moderation as their nutrients are concentrated into a smaller package. This makes it easier to accidentally over-consume on fructose and exceed caloric thresholds.
Try to aim for at least two servings of fruits, and two servings of vegetables each day. That can mean two medium apples, two cups of leafy greens, or one full cup of broccoli. Of course, nothing is holding you back from consuming more fruits and vegetables.
3. Choose complex carbohydrates
Next, we have our carbohydrates. Carbs are our main source of energy, and it powers us to walk, run, and even breathe. Many people associate going on a diet with cutting out carbs — that’s one of the 21st century’s biggest myth! Carbs are an important part of any diet. The problem comes when one consumes too much of unhealthy carbs.
Instead, a clean eating tip is to opt for healthier options like wholegrains over refined grains. That means brown rice over white rice, or wholemeal bread over white bread. Wholegrains are minimally processed and are more nutritious than refined ones.
As delicious as rice or pasta can be, remember to not overload on these simple carbs. If you are diabetic, eating too much carbs may raise your blood glucose quickly.
Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. Why? Because the body uses more energy to break down complex carbs. The more complex the carb, the better — we’re talking oatmeal, barley, beans, and also wholegrains. Simple carbs are higher in sugar and should be eaten in moderation.
4. Reduce meat intake
Next, we have our proteins — they come from meat, fish, eggs, beans, and even tofu. Proteins is necessary for growth and development, and they help make us stronger.
While most meats contain protein, they are not created equal. Lean meats such as chicken and fish provide more protein per calorie than fatty meats like beef brisket and T-bone steak. Always opt for lean meats so you get your protein without clogging up your arteries.
The way your protein is prepared matters too. Opt for grilled fish, steamed chicken or pan-fried tofu, and ditch the fried chicken, greasy steaks and processed meats. Processed meats, while convenient and cheaper, are full of additives and preservatives which we should avoid.
In recent years, there has also been a call to reduce meat intake. Besides the negative health impacts of consuming too much meat or processed meats, the industry (meat and fish production) has also been a major contributor to environmental problems. If you can, why not choose a day or two to go meatless? If this sounds tough, we have another clean eating tip for you. Read on!
5. Consider plant-based proteins
As mentioned, not all protein comes from meats and fish. Beans, nuts and legumes are also rich sources of protein. Beans come in many forms too – soybeans and its tofu, black beans, kidney beans… the list goes on. Going meatless doesn’t mean sacrificing protein — you can get your fair share of it from these alternative sources.
If you can’t completely give up meat, you may consider plant-based meats. These innovative, ground-breaking foods tastes and feels just like meat, but actually aren’t.
These “meats” are made from beans, mycoproteins, legumes, and other healthier, plant-based choices. Iron is added to these foods to give you the satisfaction you get when eating meat. However, be sure to check the food labels when buying plant-based meats.
Sometimes, artificial “plant-based” meats may be jam-packed with all sorts of chemicals that we may not want in our bodies. Tip: If it looks a bit too questionable? Go with your gut and opt for natural plant protein instead.
6. Hold back on dairy products
Next on list of clean eating tips is the dairy section. While milk, yoghurt and cheese are excellent sources of calcium and nutrients, they may contain undesirable amounts of unhealthy fats. Much of the fat in milk and dairy foods is saturated fat.
For older children and adults, eating too much fat can contribute to excess energy intakes, leading to becoming overweight. A diet high in saturated fat can also lead to raised levels of cholesterol in the blood.
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If possible, always choose low-fat options, and enjoy cheese in small amounts. Switch out your sugar-loaded yoghurts with greek, and your cow’s milk with plant-based milk if you can. Other things to note is to go for lower-fat butter and spreads, and to cut down on the amount of cream in your diet.
7. Watch the fats and oils
Oils and fats, as undesirable as they sound, are an important part of a healthy diet. However, it is the unhealthy, saturated fats that are the leading cause for heart diseases. Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels, and are found in butter, lard, fatty meats, and palm oil.
Highly-processed foods are also a source of these unhealthy fats — they include hot dogs, french fries, donuts and other snack foods.
What needs to be done? First, reduce the amount of fats and oils you consume. You can still reward yourself to a Krispy Kreme or a side of fries, but in limited amounts. Save these indulgences for your cheat days. Secondly, opt for unsaturated fats.
These can be found in some nuts, avocados, and non-hydrogenated margarine. Lastly, watch the oil. Instead of regular cooking oil, get olive oil, canola oil, or peanut oil. These have unsaturated fats.
8. Cut down on sugar
A good dessert is needed to end off a wonderful meal, or is it? Sugar is another component to watch as you eat clean. Sugary drinks are not only excessively sweet, but they are packed with calories too. Instead of your usual sugared beverages, choose diet sodas and zero-calorie options instead.
It’s also time to watch your bubble tea, frappuccino, and fruit juice intake. These beverages are high in sugar, and causes your body to produce high amounts of insulin as your blood sugar rises. Once again, you can continue to have these in your diet. Just keep them to a minimum!
Cakes, ice cream and even white rice are also sources of sugar. Remember to eat them in moderation, and choose the healthier alternatives.
9. Eat the rainbow!
Not literally… but we’re talking eating a variety of food groups. Eating clean and healthy doesn’t mean eating boring and bland “rabbit food”. There’s a wide variety of healthy, tasty food to choose from! For example, instead of brown rice and wholemeal bread, opt for: Wild rice, black glutinous rice, brown rice bee hoon, whole-wheat pasta, soba, thosai or chapatti.
And eat a rainbow of fruit and veggies, from reds like papaya and peppers, greens like kiwi and chye sim, and purples like grapes and brinjal.
10. Watch your calories (but don’t go crazy)
Calorie deficit is the key to weight loss. This means to consume less calories than your recommended daily intake (RDI). For men, the RDI is around 2,500 kilocalories, and the number is around 2,000 kilocalories for women.
Of course, this number varies with age, physical activity and genes. There are many apps and platforms online that help you with tracking calories. Most food products also print nutritional labels which inform you of calorie content as well as the ingredients used.
With that said, getting too obsessed over calorie-counting is counterproductive and isn’t the best for mental wellness. We say: Do what feels right in moderation. Excessive restrictions do more harm than good. It’s okay to indulge a little every now and then. After all, you’re only human!
Clean eating is a marathon, not a sprint
To sum it all up, clean eating is all about doing what is sustainable: Choosing healthier alternatives and holding back on the not-so-healthy foods. Continue eating more fruits and vegetables, go for wholegrains over refined grains for carbs, and vary your sources of protein.
Consume dairy products sparingly, and reward yourselves with some sugar and fats only from time to time. Remember these clean eating tips and you’ll be well on your way to feeling better about yourself!
Is this the secret formula to losing weight? Well, not quite. Clean eating is a necessary step towards shedding some pounds and making yourself feel better.
At the end of the day, when you consider the science behind it – calories count, but they’re not the only factor. Eating well, regular exercise and recovery, getting enough sleep, managing stress, stay hydrated are important factors too. Because a healthy lifestyle is after all, a culmination of everything.
This article was first published in The Finder.