There may be a lot of disagreement in the fitness and nutrition communities over training protocols and macro percentages and a hundred other hot topics, but one thing everyone agrees on is that clean eating is one of the most important aspects of good health.
In the simplest terms, clean eating means getting rid of processed foods and avoiding preparation methods at home or in restaurants, which involve deep-frying, trans-fats and other unhealthy ingredients.
But if you really want to clean up your diet, you’ll need to take things one step further by ridding your pantry and fridge of foods, many of which have long been considered “healthy,” that your body really doesn’t need.
Here are six ways to do a deep-cleaning of your diet, none of which require you going without your favorite meals.
Get rid of: Multigrain and whole-grain breads, hot and cold cereals and white rice.
For years, the public have been told that a heart-healthy or weight loss diet needed to include plenty of whole grains breads and cereals. In fact, these foods are loaded with trans-fats and corn syrup. Even the “no high-fructose corn syrup” varieties are packed with sugar and excess carbs.
We strongly suggest quinoa as a great substitute for rice, but if you insist on rice, buy organic, brown rice and steer clear of the white varieties.
Instead buy: Sprouted-grain breads and cereals, steel-cut oatmeal, feekah, quinoa
Sprouted-grain products are made with just the spots of the plants and are actually vegetables. This is especially good news for people who are trying to cut back on or avoid legumes and grains for Paleo purposes. Ezekiel makes several breads and cereals from sprouted grains and they’re delicious.
Freekeh hasn’t gotten much attention yet, but it’s wheat harvested while still green and is then roasted. It has far less gluten yet retains more of the protein than mature wheat after roasting. It has a texture similar to barley and the flavor is a lot like bulgur.
One of the benefits of freekeh is that it has twice as much fiber as quinoa and three times as much as brown rice, but is much lower on the glycemic scale.
Quinoa is a seed, not a grain, and contains all of the essential fatty acids. It can be used in place of pasta or rice and also makes a really tasty hot cereal.
Fish and Shellfish
Get rid of: Farm-raised fish, shark, swordfish, King mackerel, tilefish
Farm-raised fish is most-often raised on a corn or soy-based feed that is loaded with antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides. Then, the fish themselves are given extra antibiotics to combat illnesses common to farm-raised fish due to diet and living conditions. If you need more convincing, farm-raised fish lack the Omega-3 fats that make fish such a great food.
Swordfish, shark, King mackerel and tilefish have all been listed by the FDA, the EPA and named in a study by Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research as having mercury levels far exceeding the one part-per-million tolerated by the FDA.
Instead buy: Wild-caught fish and shellfish, particularly Pacific salmon, Pacific halibut, catfish, striped bass, canned light tuna, shrimp, clams, oysters and mussels.
Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
Get rid of: White, brown and light brown sugars (even raw sugar) and any artificial sweeteners
We all know that refined sugars are horrible for us, but artificial sweeteners aren’t any better. In fact, they’re even worse. Aside from the carcinogenic properties of artificial sweeteners, numerous studies have shown that artificial sweeteners actually increase sugar and carb cravings and help lead to insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Instead buy: Honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and molasses
Agave, honey, molasses and maple syrup are all excellent substitutions for sugar in baking, though you’ll need to adjust the amount of liquid called for in standard recipes. Be sure you’re buying pure maple syrup, not the “pancake syrups” that fill the grocery shelves. These are made from high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars, with maple flavoring added.
Low-fat dairy products
Get rid of: Low-fat or skim milk, fruit yogurts and shredded or processed cheeses
Low and nonfat dairy products are a product of the same low-fat marketing as whole-grain breads and cereals, marketed as the healthy alternative when they’re actually not as good for you as their full-fat counterparts.
Full-fat dairy goes through no other processing than pasteurization. Low- and non-fat dairy goes through additional processing that robs the dairy foods of many of their beneficial nutrients, including their healthy fat content.
Low-fat yogurts are particularly sneaky. Not only do they lack healthy fats, they’re also loaded with sugar.
Instead buy: Full-fat milk, Greek yogurt, solid block cheese, cottage cheese
Whenever possible, choose organic dairy, which is free of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics and contains more healthy fats (especially Omega 3) than the foods from cows raised on GMO corn.
If you want to cut out dairy, unsweetened almond and coconut milks are both excellent choices.
Nuts and seeds
Get rid of: Roasted, salted and sugar-added nuts and seeds, peanuts and peanut butter
Yes, those honey-roasted cashews taste great, but they’re loaded with sugar and excess sodium and commercially roasted nuts are usually cooked in trans-fats. Peanuts are actually legumes and lack the healthy fats, many of the nutrients and additional fiber of true nuts and seeds.
Instead buy: Raw or dry-roasted nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and pumpkin, squash and flax seed. Instead of peanut butter, try almond butter.
These are much lower in sodium, contain no sugar and have more of the antioxidants and fiber that make buts and seeds a valuable part of our diets.
By switching out these six foods, you’ll be improving your diet significantly, without having to give up anything you love to eat. Being able to eat your favorite foods is a huge factor in how likely you are to stick with a healthy eating plan, so make these swaps and then find some great recipes for using things like quinoa in place of pasta or baking amazing brownies with blackstrap molasses. You’ll not only be eating healthier, but you’ll be able to enjoy it.