One of the main reasons to eat clean are the health benefits of consuming foods rich in nutrient content that have not been overly processed. Clean eating nourishes you with healthy nutrient-dense foods, filling your body with vitamins, minerals, high-quality protein and healthy fats, all of which improve heart and brain health, assist in weight management, build a stronger immune system and increase energy levels.
Choosing healthy options
It may feel overwhelming to change your diet. Consider different categories of food and then make small pivots based on what you like, what you are comfortable cooking and what may be in season. Consider these healthy, clean eating options:
- Fresh fruit: Apples, bananas, blueberries, grapes, oranges, strawberries or 100% fruit juice
- Vegetables: Avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green beans, mushrooms, lettuce, peppers, sweet potatoes or tomatoes
- Lean meats and proteins: Dried beans, eggs from grass-fed chickens, fresh fish, plain nut butters (no sugars added) or unflavored nuts
- Grain (cereal) foods: Those made with whole grains, air-popped popcorn, oats, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta
- Dairy products: Cheese, milk, plain yogurt or unsweetened nondairy products.
So, for breakfast, consider whole-grain avocado toast drizzled with olive oil and maybe some spices. Grab a banana, too. A glass of low-fat milk or a side of yogurt can give you a great protein and calcium boost.
As for snacking, it’s still important to reach for clean foods that will fuel your body with good nutrients. Consider how often you reach for snacks during the day. If you know you’re snacking often, plan out and prepackage snacks.
If you portion out healthy snacks and place them somewhere you will see them, it will be harder to overindulge. It can be very difficult to estimate appropriate portion sizes, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. Using the visual cues in the chart at right will help you get close to the actual recommended serving sizes.
Another helpful tip is to track your progress and choices. This can help to motivate you to keep going. Jot down daily the number of meals and snacks. Consider a menu or checklist of options. Track what you have selected, and then, at the end of the week, go ahead and indulge in a piece of chocolate or small scoop of frozen yogurt.
Be mindful also of when you snack. It’s very easy to turn to food when you are feeling stressed or bored, but this can lead to overeating, which can further increase stress levels with weight gain that may result.
If you are someone who craves sweets — which is a normal response to stress — reach for lean protein foods, such as hard-boiled eggs, tuna, cheese sticks, plain no-sugar-added yogurt or soups made with lots of vegetables.
Before you grab a snack, always ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry or am I just stressed?” You also can distract yourself with walks or something creative.
Remember that weight loss and diet changes take time. If you are going to weigh yourself, do so at the same time every day. To maintain weight, stick to eating 10 calories per pound per day. To lose weight, you will want to consume fewer calories than your body is burning. Find an app to help you track eating, calories and exercise to help keep you motivated.
Be patient with yourself. Research has shown it can take up to 66 days of consistently repeating a behavior until it forms a habit. Keep up with clean eating, healthy portion sizes and mindful snacking.
Eileen Dutter is a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Mayo Clinic’s Health System Weight Management Services in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.