Clean eating is key to have a healthy life. Carry on reading if you want to find information about the benefits of doing this clean eating diet, what is clean eating, a food list that will help you follow this diet correctly and the most important a reason why these foods are better than processed foods.
What is clean eating?
In those days, trees whispered and there was a good chance that people heard. Stars shone brightly in the night sky uncontaminated by the light from industrial activity or the daily cycle of city life. Apart from the delicate perfume of a distant volcano or the organic breeze flavour from a herd of aurochs grazing boundless plains, the wind blew fresh, free from the fumes of millions of cars or emissions from chimneys manufacturing processed foods and countless products for limitless consumption.
When humans started walking the faint path of survival, the earth was older than could ever be truly visualised. We can only imagine what life for our early forebears must have been like but, in the absence of evidence, out come the rose-tinted glasses. We often to think that life was simpler, that there was none of the stress that accompanies modern living and that the food we ate was unadulterated, fresher and cleaner. Indeed, this was a time when plastic had not yet been invented; a time when, even with the most careful preparation of the food we ingest, the average person did not consume significant quantities of micro-plastics whether they liked it or not.
Benefits of following a Clean Eating Diet:
The rise of health consciousness is of course, not new. It has been known for many decades that our health is directly related to what we choose to eat. But it has only recently been appreciated that with the massive production of plastics, micro-plastics are entering into our diet even when we are not aware of it happening. This, together with the certain knowledge that the more food is processed the higher the chance of there being a price to pay in the long run, has made awareness of what we eat a hot topic.
It is now almost universally accepted that fresh organically produced food not only tastes better but is much better in terms of how our organism interacts with the environment. Our skin is smoother, our breath is fresher, our eyes sparkly more and our bones are stronger. And, if we source the food we eat locally, taking care to minimise plastic packaging, we can feel good about reducing our impact on the environment by minimising our personal carbon footprint. What’s not to like?
Other Alternatives to Clean Eating: Paleo Diet
Recent trends are towards an even simpler approach to the preparation of food and some modern dieticians like to try to visualise what our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have eaten. They point to the time when people walked unspoiled forests and gathered fresh, dew-kissed berries or ate freshly hunted meat and fish.
So the paleo-diet was born and became very popular as more people realised that eating as we were originally designed was, in all probability, better for our organism.
But what is clean eating, and why is it so popular?
Most of us, at least those lucky enough to live in a relatively developed society, are used to eating three meals a day. Our food is prepared for us and nicely presented in gaily coloured plastic trays or paper bags in supermarkets or speciality shops. But when our ancestors walked the planet thousand of years ago, before the development of farming techniques or animal husbandry, there were no handy shops into which to pop for a quick appetiser before lunch on the lawn.
Back then people had to rely on their wits and the availability of what they could find around them. They also had to rely on cooperation because, at times, competition would have been fierce and, very probably, deadly.
The diet of these long-gone people is one that would have depended on what was locally available and there is no doubt that food would have been unprocessed and as close to its natural state as is possible. The fire was something that was developed at a late stage in human evolution and cooking, at least until experimentation had resulted in the discovery of how food could be prepared, would have been basic, probably over an open flame.
Trying to emulate this ancient diet is of course, fraught with difficulty as there are few records of how people lived but, by studying the available evidence augmented by the use of our fertile imaginations, and approaching the problem from first-principals, modern dieticians have surmised that the basic diet for our Palaeolithic ancestors would have consisted of small quantities of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs, some spices and natural fats and oils. No processed foods such as sugar, soft drinks, prepared grains such as bread, pasta, barley, oats and rye, most dairy products, artificial sweeteners, legumes, vegetable oils, margarine or trans fats would have been consumed.
An easy way to look at it is to think that if it has been prepared by an industrial process or in a factory, it is not eaten.
Advantages and disadvantages of following a Clean Eating Diet and/or a Paleo Diet?
The advantages, disadvantages, and myths of a paleo diet have long been discussed, and many are the commentators who poo-poo the diet as a fad that does not provide the essential ingredients for our modern-day human organism, far evolved beyond that designed for living the hunter-gatherer existence. Because, is it not true that we live much longer than our distant cousins? Is it not the case that many more of us survive childhood and go on to live long into old-age?
The counter to these arguments is that, on the whole, we suffer a range of diseases today that were unknown in ancient times. Things like obesity and diabetes, cancers and bone conditions could all be linked to eating processed foods over many years.
With the clean eating and the paleo diet, the intake of dietary fibre is much higher in natural as opposed to processed foods. For example, fruit contains nearly twice as much fibre as whole grains and up to seven times more than refined grains!
Protein too is an important dietary addition the requirements of which are more than met by the clean eating and the paleo diet. Higher levels of protein are provided by meat, fish and seafood and, together with the high fibre content of vegetables, leads to blood sugar stabilisation. It’s easy to consider that if there are no blood sugar spikes, such as are caused by consuming processed foods, the diet can help in the prevention or indeed the stabilisation of diabetes.
The advantages of ‘eating cleanly’ or incorporating aspects of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle into our diet have been written about elsewhere but, because we think they are highly relevant to anyone seeking to improve their diet and consequently their health, a summary of these important aspects can help to highlight some of the beneficial effects of taking care of what we eat.
Beneficial characteristics of the clean eating and paleo diet include:
1. Hunter-gatherers probably had a much higher protein intake than we have today. This comes from eating lean meat, fish, and seafood.
2. Lower carbohydrate intake from eating fresh vegetables will result in a stabilised sugar balance and reduced spikes in blood sugar levels.
3. Fruits and vegetables, and not a wholemeal grain, are a much richer source of fibre essential for good health.
4. Cutting the trans fats and eating more Omega 3 will reduce the intake of cholesterol producing fats responsible for cardiovascular disease. Foods that contain much of this essential fatty acid include most types of fish, cod liver oil and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds.
5. Too much sodium and not enough potassium means that our internal organs do not function properly together. Unprocessed fresh foods contain much more potassium than sodium and help to balance our body salts.
6. Digestion is an important part of the dietary cycle and overloading with acid foods such as grains, legumes, cheese, and salty foods can often cause an excessive burden on the kidneys. Over time, this could lead to bone and muscle loss, high blood pressure and an increased risk of kidney stones. Also, it could aggravate asthma and cause exercise-induced asthma. Alkaline foods such as fruit and vegetables can help to balance our bodily chemistry.
7. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant phytochemicals are all important in the wellbeing of our organism. Processing food causes many of these essential elements to be lost from our diet meaning that many people have to take vitamin supplements to compensate.
And what of the myths surrounding a rejection of processed food?
In reality, and because of the widespread acceptance of healthy eating, the myths of the paleo diet can be relatively easily dispel. For example, there is no need to live like our ancestors as most of the foods that are recommended are now easily available and there are many outlets for organic, freshly prepared local foods.
Another myth is that by removing dairy foods from the diet we don’t get enough calcium, which is essential for the healthy growth of bones. Hunter-gatherers did not have farms, there was no such thing as cheese and yet we know that, as long as they survived childhood, many of our ancestors went on to live as long lives as we do now with no calcium deficiency in their bones. The reality is that you can get as much of this essential mineral from eating green unprocessed vegetables.
And, perhaps the greatest myth is that people of the hunter-gatherer generations lived far shorter lives than we do now. It’s not too hard to visualise that life in a time before recorded history was a pretty dangerous affair. There were no hospitals, doctors or nurses and people were not aware of the dangers of the lack of sanitation. Under normal circumstances, if you were damaged during the course of your life, your chances of survival were much less than today. But, even though few people lived to old age, there are many examples of those who did; some much longer than we do now. Also, archaeology has shown that these early peoples didn’t suffer from obesity or diabetes or any of the many diseases that we suffer today.
Having said all this, it has to be said that I am not a doctor or a health specialist. I can only point to the growing body of evidence that shows that a lifestyle based on a healthy diet, some call it the paleo diet, others that it is simply ‘clean-eating,’ ensures that you feel better and, in all probability, will suffer less from the diseases now commonly associated with a modern-day diet of processed foods.
The fact that a healthy diet not only looks better and tastes better but also makes you feel better is also a prerequisite for recommendation.