What is ‘clean eating’ and how to start

It’s January. And after the excesses of Christmas the prospect of a detox is probably at its most appealing. But instead of jumping on the usual flurry of faddy January diets, could ‘clean eating’ be the answer?

We look at what it is and how you can start.

Clean Eating: the basics
Clean eating has increased in popularity, championed by American health writer Tosca Reno. It’s not so much a diet as a lifestyle choice which shuns processed foods and refined sugars in favour of whole, natural foods. And you can incorporate ‘clean eating’ into any diet - if you’re vegetarian, vegan or need to eat gluten-free you can still eat clean - just remember that if you do eat meat and dairy they should be eaten in their natural, unprocessed form.

Fans of clean eating also say that it can reward you with clearer skin, more energy and deeper sleep. It can also help you lose weight - not surprising as you’ll have ditched processed foods that are often calorie-laden and low on nutrients.

So how do you get started? There are just a few steps you need to take.

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Eat whole, natural foods

First, all foods must be eaten as close as possible to their natural, unprocessed state. You can eat brown rice, oats, quinoa and buckwheat to your heart’s content. White rice and white flour though, which has been stripped of much of its fibre during processing, is out. But it’s not all as bad as you’d think. Fancy chips? Just chip the potatoes - or your favourite root veg - drizzle in a little oil, and bake in the oven.

Avoid processed foods and refined sugar
There’s been a long debate over whether highly processed foods could be harmful to our health over a long period of time. In any case, we all need fresh veggies and natural sources of protein to thrive. Switching to wholesome foods will provide all the natural fats, vitamins and proteins that you need. Avoiding refined sugar is also important - although clean eaters often swear by maple syrup and honey in moderation.

Eat more regularly and cook it yourself
There’s only one way to know what’s really in your dinner and that’s to prepare it yourself. One of the key parts of the clean eating plan is to eat smaller meals, and more regularly, too. If you imagine even the snacks as a little meal, it becomes easier.

Half an avocado with some leftover cooked, roast chicken will keep you going until dinnertime, for example, meaning you’ll be less likely to crack open the crisps or biscuits halfway through the afternoon. You will be cooking a lot more, but save time by batch-cooking and stocking up the freezer with soups, patties and stews that you can reheat easily when you need to.

Eat a balanced diet
Not all fats are bad. Our bodies need healthy fats from foods such as sardines, eggs and avocados.  Add these healthy fats to natural protein, unrefined carbohydrate (for example brown rice or sweet potato) and plenty of vegetables and you’ve got a clean and balanced meal.

So there you have it. Clean eating may help improve your health. But you may have to shun many of your favourite takeaway meals and sweet treats, replacing them with plenty of fruit and veg, fish, meats and wholegrains. For some, this can mean a real shift in eating habits, so they might choose to start clean eating slowly. Others decide to go cold turkey and take it on straight away. It’s important to note though that everyone’s dietary requirements are different, and it could be worth having a chat with your doctor before you start.

Do you fancy trying a clean eating plan, or do you follow one already? And do you think it’s realistic to follow in this modern age of convenience foods?