Friday, 27 February 2015

What is 'clean eating'?

We often get asked what we eat and what we don't eat (and why).  For a while we just said we were gluten free and dairy free as this covered the key things.  Gluten free is commonplace these days and quite a few people avoid dairy. However we then complicated things by telling friends and family that actually we do eat some grains now, we can tolerate sourdough bread, we refuse to eat commercial gluten free products as they are full of crap and that we make our own yoghurt - no wonder they looked confused!  When we realised what we were doing was closest to being called 'clean eating' we realised this was not a very helpful term either - infact most people now thought we had gone vegan which is ironic as air dried beef is one of my children's favourite snacks!

'Clean eating' is not about avoiding meat, eating only raw food or going macrobiotic!  It is not a strictly defined diet but rather a set of principles (and even some of these are disagreed upon!)  

The overall aim is that you eat food in its most natural state possible with a lot of home cooking.  
It is essentially how most people ate a few decades ago before processed food became so readily available and cheap and before grains, fruit and vegetable were industrially farmed 

You can choose from a range of nutritionally dense food - good quality meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and grains. By reducing the toxic load going into the body it makes it easier for the body to operate and to cope with the natural stressers such as stress, environment and illness.   

It's not about perfection but trying to improve your diet and make informed choices about what to buy.  

No-one can eat like this 100% of the time and still work / go on holiday / join in on family occasions. It's about doing your best given the circumstances. 

Some clean eating proponents suggest how many times a day you should eat and when.  I believe that is too restrictive.  We all need to find an eating routine that suits us and works around our commitments.  However it is good sense to not eat anything too heavy before bedtime so your body can take a break from digesting and get on with doing all the other good stuff it needs to do whilst you are asleep.  

There are also some principles we have adopted that are additional to a clean eating mantra which includes increasing probiotic food and avoiding certain grains that we find we don't tolerate well.  It's an old fashioned piece of advice but we also find that getting out in the fresh air every day for a walk and trying to get a longer walk in the weekend helps our digestion (and helps to detox us after a boozy dinner party on a saturday evening!)

Our 'clean eating' food principles are:

 Remove processed food from your diet  This does not just mean taking out the biscuits, the ready meals and the Fish-Fingers, it might mean clearing out baking ingredients, stock cubes, packet sauces etc.  It's about reading labels and looking out for long lists of ingredient and avoiding additives, colours and preservatives that the body doesn't know what to do with. It doesn't necessarily mean throwing out anything that comes in a box or packet or cooking absolutely everything from scratch - for example organic frozen peas are a staple for us and we still buy good quality rice pasta and buckwheat noodles.   We would also buy bread from a local bakery who bake themselves. 

 It sounds complicated and friends often say how do I know what to look for on a packet - in essence if there are more than a couple of ingredients,  if any of the ingredients listed is not a real food, or if there has been a long industrial process to create the food its likely not to be great for you.  There are some foods that by their very nature now are heavily processed such as white flour, corn and soy.  We would avoid these too.  Removing or reducing processed food is the most important step and will allow your body to recalibrate and for you to start to know what foods your body actually needs at any given time.  For example we don't worry about our fat and salt intake - we believe now we have taken out the majority of 'hidden' fat and salt our taste buds will tell us when we have had enough!

 Eat organic fruit, vegetables and grains whenever possible.  Organic sounds elitist but before mass production pretty much all fruit and veg was 'organic'.  I will write another article on organic but safe to say from the research its not just the pesticides that are on non-organic fruit and vegetables that are an issue, its to do with the lack of vitamins and nutrients in produce grown that way.  

Most clean eating guidelines will say to up your fruit and vegetables and we have incorporated a larger and wider variety in our diet.  However there are a couple of caveats to this.  It's no good getting your five - nine a day if its mostly fruit as that is still a lot of sugar, even if it is natural sugar.  Secondly if it came to a choice between affording a larger quantity of non-organic fresh produce and affording a smaller amount of organic fresh produce we would generally opt for the latter.   

Eat high quality meat, fish, dairy and eggs.  If we can't get organic we look for grass fed beef and lamb and free range chicken and pork.  Buying meat direct from farms or good quality butchers should ensure the animal was reared to higher welfare standards with a good diet and minimal antiobiotic ingestion. Try to buy wild fish instead of farmed.  Organic eggs are preferable, otherwise always free-range.  Some people on a clean diet avoid dairy, others only use raw unpasteurised dairy.  We find different family members have different needs but we look to buy goat or sheep products for making yoghurt and choose organic and or unpasteurised cheese and butter when we can.

Eat the whole food and choose whole grains   This means you eat apples not apple juice, you eat the chicken breast not a reformed chicken slice.  Lots of clean eating proponents would also talk about the importance of wholegrains but I would temper that with caution as some people find it hard to digest whole grains including wheatgerm, granary, brown rice etc so its about what works best for your body whilst eating something as nearest to its natural state as possible.  Some people for example cannot tolerate brown rice but do well with basmati which spikes the blood sugar less than other white rice. If you eat gluten its generally accepted that most white flour does most people very little favours and its worth trying more traditional grains like spelt, rye and einkorn.  

Avoid trans-fats and industrialised oils.  There is no room in a clean eating plan for products like sunflower oil, margarine or hydrogenated fats.  Some clean eating enthusiasts talk about avoiding saturated fats but I think there is no clear line between saturated and unsaturated - olive oil is high in saturated fats!  We use solid fats that are stable at high temperatures for cooking such as dripping, ghee and coconut oil  and butter, olive oil and flaxseed oil for other purposes.  We also eat lots of nuts and seeds and avocados which are naturally high in fats. 

Limit or avoid refined salt, sugar and sweeteners.  Basic table salt has had all the minerals stripped out of it and is best kept for gritting icy roads.  Try good quality sea salt or rock salt - you will also need less salt if it is good stuff (but don't be too paranoid as we all need salt for our bodies to function properly).  With regard to sugar its old news that it is not good for kids teeth and can lead to obesity etc but what is just as bad is that to process this sugar their bodies need to use up magnesium.  It may be preferable to sweeten food with honey and fruit. Some others find they tolerate maple syrup or molasses well.  I am reserving judgement on other 'natural' sweeteners such as stevia.  Any fake sugar or sweetener is just another processed food that should be avoided.  Frankly I would rather eat an occasional pudding with cane sugar than some chemically derived crap as at least my body has some inkling of what to do with real sugar. 

Eat naturally probiotic food.  We want to add to the good bacteria in our gut and help our digestion.  In basic terms there are lots of fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi and fermented dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir (that maybe tolerable even for those with lactose issues)  Aged cheeses are in theory easier to digest. 

Take time to eat and relax around food.  We try to ensure we all eat sitting down and as much as possible, eat together as a family.  We know from bitter experience that rows at the table really do affect your digestion so we try to not raise marital / behavioural issues during dinner!  

Keep hydrated and choose drinks wisely.  A nutritionist recently told me that if her clients were only going to make one change she would ask them  cut out fizzy drinks.  We all know they are not good and neither are cordial, energy drinks,  nut milks with added ingredients etc.  Again its about going for the simplest choice with the least ingredients.  Even then natural fruit juice is very high in sugar without the benefit of fibre and is not necessary for our diets. Children in our house are given water. Fresh juice, Feel Good or Appetiser is an occasional treat if we are eating out or entertaining.  We are realists and we still have some caffeine and alcohol.  However we aim to reduce caffeine to a couple of cups a day and avoid instant coffee.  We drink less alcohol and when possible buy better quality alcohol such as traditionally brewed beer, pressed cider and organic wine.  

Avoid contaminants from your cookware / crockery.  Again it would need a separate article to go through all the wheres and whys but we try to use traditional ware such as glass, steel and ceramic. Glass is great for cooking and storing hot or cold food (and can be used in freezer).  We use steel baking trays or line aluminium baking trays with non-bleached paper.  We choose BPA free plastic for lunch boxes and water bottles and avoid heating anything up in plastic or storing hot food in plastic.  

Limit chemical cleaners in the home and especially in the kitchen.  The media feed us scary images in attempt to sell lots of cleaning products but there are natural alternatives that can be used and still maintain sanitary standards! Plus we all need to build up some resistance to bacteria.  

No comments:

Post a Comment