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Chaparral 2015-2016: 24.4 FitTips

FitTip (March 2016)

Fit Tip #9: Time for Spring Clean-Eating

by Erin Calderone


What does it mean – this trend of “clean eating”? It doesn’t have anything to do with washing your food! I always wonder where fitness and diet trends get their monikers, partly because I don’t believe any particular diet plan has the monopoly on health. Choose pretty much any balanced diet (no celebrity lemon juice cleanses, thank-you) on the market today and you’re bound to get a boost of energy, lose weight and feel better – at least for a few weeks. After that, it’s difficult to keep a diet going, especially if it restricts or eliminates whole food groups from your plate (like low carb diets for example). Proponents of clean eating claim that it’s not a diet however, but a lifestyle based on choosing more natural, minimally processed food sources. Essentially, it’s the opposite of the so-called “Standard American Diet”, (or “SAD” as it’s often called) of burgers, hot-dogs and TV-dinners.

            In doing a little google-searching, I found that this idea of “clean eating” is more like the general nutritional recommendations that I provide in my health class:

  • Choose real food – closest to its most natural state - instead of overly processed food whenever possible.
  • Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce added salt, sugars and fats.
  • Pick the food label with the fewest and most “understandable” ingredients.

Seems pretty straightforward, and really not extreme. You can “eat clean” on a continuum too: by simply making choices to substitute some less-healthy foods in your life for healthier ones.

Is it necessary to avoid all processed food of any kind though? The answer is no – processed food doesn’t mean “bad” food. For example: wheat is pretty hard for our bodies to digest and absorb in kernel form, but grind it and bake it into a nice loaf of bread and the carbohydrates, fiber and protein are much easier for us to take in. Grinding flour, fermenting yeast and baking bread IS processing it, a process that actually makes wheat better for us. Think about how deliciously satisfying a whole-wheat sourdough loaf smells and tastes right out of the oven. I’m hungry already.

But as you probably suspected, food companies like to cut corners and make the process faster, more appetizing (or addicting) and reduce spoilage. No longer is bread yeast fermented naturally (think a sourdough starter bubbling in a sunny window), but active dry yeast is used because it’s faster. The wheat germ and bran are removed from the grain – leaving only the starchy part of the wheat kernel, which is then bleached (instead of waiting for it to age to make it easier to bake) and then the grain has vitamins and minerals “enriched” back into it. Added to the final product is sugar (why do we need sugar in bread?) and preservatives to extend the shelf-life of the bread and prevent mold. Our bodies don’t need all this extra, super-processed foodstuff, and that’s what “clean eating” tries to avoid.

So here’s an example of what this clean eating swap might look like.

  • Pre-packaged Cesar salad kit
  • Frozen lasagna
  • Frozen garlic parmesan toast
  • Home-made salad including dark green lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber. For dressing, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with black pepper.
  • Baked or broiled organic chicken breast seasoned with Italian seasoning. (Or, for a meat-less version, use baked eggplant.)
  • Whole-grain spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, basil pesto, and mushrooms with fresh-shaved parmesan.

Sure, option 2 is going to take a little more time (although defrosting a frozen lasagna may take longer) and effort, but in the end you may find yourself enjoying the cooking process as much as the product. This idea of eating “clean” doesn’t really mean getting on a diet or counting calories, carbs, protein or fat grams. Usually what you’ll find is that healthier, more natural foods fill you up and taste better than the kind of food that can stay in a box on the shelf for several years. You don’t need to be extreme or only eat raw food to eat clean-er…  just be sure to wash those vegetables before you chop them up!


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