Thanks to weight loss and wellness bloggers who can’t seem to shut up about fruits and vegetables, it seems like the phrase “clean eating” is all the rage when it comes to weight loss and general overall wellness. But what is it? What makes it so important?
“Clean eating,” at its source, was originally a revolt against the chemical alteration of food in the later half of the 20th century. Prior to the 70s, any company that wanted to add chemical filler product to its supply to bring down costs and boost profits, had to include one simple key word: “imitation.” Thanks to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, if a food manufacturer decided to pervert our original understanding of what any given food was – no, there is no trans fat in butter – it had to be clearly labeled as such. Is your cheese no longer, well, cheese?” No worry – it’s labeled as imitation now.
Alas, thanks to the FDA allowing food manufacturers to turn meals into science lab experiments, 1973 introduced a new class of hyper-processed and hyphenated-ingredient-laden food-ish or food-esque products to the market, and to our homes, as well.
But the “hippies” weren’t having it.
No longer willing to gamble with their nutrition, enough was enough. No more chemicals! No more apple stock being artificially colored, flavored and jarred as blackberry, currant or plum jelly! No more fraudulent maple syrups!
And, so it began. A society hell bent on uncovering why people were developing co-morbidities like obesity and high blood pressure slowly started creeping away from processed foods. The introduction of books like In Defense of Food and Fast Food Nation coupled with documentaries like Killer at Large and Food, Inc. caused the clean eating crowd to grow tremendously, resulting in magazines, countless books and even, ahem, blogs committed to the cause.
What makes clean eating so important? Quite simply, the exclusion of processed foods comes with the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens carry all the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and gut flora that your body could possibly need in order to not merely survive, but thrive. Keeping your arteries clear, your liver free of excess fat, your pancreas functioning properly, and your body nourished, even a handful of extra vegetables can result in a massive change in how your body handles daily activity.
Not only that, but processed foods are actually deleterious to one’s health. Processed foods are engineered to cultivate overeating habits. The point is to eat it all – quickly – and then you have to go back to the store to buy more. The excessive amounts of salt and sugar might be great for extending shelf life, but are awful on your heart and blood sugar. With flavors that are crafted in a lab as opposed to a garden, they also can alter your taste buds in a way that turns you off from natural taste. When’s the last time you tasted a watermelon that tasted like watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers? I thought so.
Of course, now you’re curious. How do you make the switch over to processed-food-free living? A few simple tips for the neophyte clean eater:
1) Learn to read that label. Avoid any products with ingredients you know full well that you wouldn’t be able to buy in a store. If you don’t know what aisle has the cellulose, then it might be time to find a cleaner version of that favorite ice cream.
2) Whatever bottle of something-or-other that is on your desk? It’s probably not clean. Soft drinks, “fruit punches,” and other sugary-sweet drinks are highly unlikely to be clean, so consider weaning yourself off of them; try diluting them with water, more and more each week or, even better – start swapping glasses of the sweet stuff with glasses of water.
3) Learn to cook – that goes for everyone. Consider picking up How to Cook Everything: The Basics for a massive collection of clean recipes that are light on the wallet and heavy on the flavor.
4) Avoid the basic genetically modified ingredients: if you must have things like corn, soy, and all of its byproducts, get organic versions. Genetically modified foods are an absolute no-no to a clean eater. If you can’t afford to go organic, you’re far better off skipping the item and finding a clean replacement.
It’s no secret that the rise of processed food tracks right on target with the rise of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Do the smart thing – embrace clean eating. Your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs everything from fitness to food, weight loss to wellness, body image and even her own journey of losing over 150lbs. A trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching, she can be found taking over your Internet on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.