Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported that about three-fourths of Americans eat less than the suggested amounts of fruits, vegetables, and dairy, and more than half eat above the suggested amounts of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. The Eat-Clean Diet focuses on eating healthier foods that are fresh, clean, non-processed, and non-refined.
Evidence has shown that healthier, cleaner eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. Use these seven tips to help you follow a cleaner diet:
- Cook Your Own Meals. The best way to avoid processed and packaged foods is to cook your meals at home using fresh, clean, non-refined and organic ingredients.
- Limit Added Sugar and Saturated Fat. Cut down on processed foods that are full of added sugars and saturated fat. These include sweets, candy, baked goods, fountain drinks, sports and energy drinks, and other products. Always check the nutrition label to see how much added sugar and fat are in each portion of a product. The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars, as well as, saturated fat.
- Eat Less Meat and More Plants. Evidence shows that eating plant-based proteins are good for you and the environment. Choose lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, and soy instead of animal meats. If you do decide to eat meats, stay away from those that are processed such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and cold cuts. Instead, choose lean meats, poultry, and fish that are "grass-fed," "natural," or "wild-caught".
- Avoid Processed Foods. Foods that are processed usually come in packages. Limit the amount of packaged foods you buy. A clean diet avoids artificial ingredients, preservatives, and chemically-altered foods. Some packaged foods can be clean, so use the ingredient label as a guide. Watch out for long ingredient lists that have words you cannot pronounce.
- Navigate the Store. The freshest foods are often found along the parameters of the store, while the aisles are often filled with packaged and processed goods.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. Whole fruits and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial for the body. The Dietary Guidelines suggest 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruits per day. It is important to eat a variety of vegetables from different color groups (green, orange, red, and yellow). For an even cleaner diet, choose fruits and vegetables that are grown organically (with no chemicals).
- Replace Refined Grains with Whole Grains. Whole grains are the least processed of all the grains. They contain all three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains are missing one or more of these parts. During the processing of refined grains, key nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, and minerals are lost. Whole grains provide more fiber, and have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.