Eating clean may seem like a buzzy new idea, but really it’s about going back to some basic healthy-eating principles. Clean eating means filling your plate with real, whole foods, eating a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and eating moderate amounts of lean meats, sustainable seafood, dairy, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. Notice how you don’t eliminate food groups? Eating clean also means choosing foods that are in season and limiting processed foods, salt, added sugars and saturated fats. So what are you waiting for? Here are five key principles to help you eat cleaner for a healthier you. If you already follow these these principles, think of this as a helpful reminder.
1. Limit processed food.
The key to limiting processed food is to know how to pick out which packaged foods are healthy. Some packaged foods, like yogurt or bagged salad greens, contain only whole ingredients, and are nutritious and good for you. Others are packed with preservatives, added sugars or refined grains and are lacking nutrients. To pick healthy processed foods, look for whole foods in ingredient lists. If an ingredient sounds suited for a chemical lab, think twice.
2. Watch the sodium.
Many Americans regularly eat 1,000 milligrams more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg, mostly from processed foods and restaurant meals. To watch the amount of sodium you consume, cook from scratch as much as possible, so you can control the amount of added salt, and be creative with how you flavor foods. Use plenty of spices, fresh herbs and vinegar or citrus.
3. Eat less meat.
While meat offers protein, iron and vitamin B12, it’s also a source of saturated fat and cholesterol. You don’t have to cut out meat entirely to eat healthy; you just need to be aware of how much you eat. Rather than serving meat as a main course, use a small amount to flavor largely plant- or grain-based dishes, like seasoning vegetable soup with bits of chicken or jazzing up a stir-fry with shreds of pork.
4. Eat more vegetables.
Low in calories and packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals, vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. Eating more veggies in small amounts here and there will add up quickly and help you get the 2½-3 cups per day that’s recommended for most adults. Blend spinach into smoothies, tuck snap peas into wraps and sandwiches, double up vegetables in stir-fries. When dining out, start your meal with a salad or order a vegetarian entree.
5. Choose whole grains.
Replace refined grains with whole ones to benefit from the nutrients and fiber in the bran and germ parts of the grain. Start your day with steel-cut oats, add cooked quinoa or barley to salads and try wild or black rice with dinner. When shopping for grain-based products, like bread, look for ones that are made with 100-percent whole grain, or that have whole grains or whole wheat listed first on the ingredients list.
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