Not so long ago, eating food was a pretty simple activity. It grew in the ground. We cut it down or pulled it up, chopped it, cooked it, and ate it. Nowadays, between reports about cancer-causing additives and life-threatening pathogens, eating can be downright scary. Based on newspaper headlines, you’d think we’d be better off starving.
Is it possible to eat clean in a dirty world? We say yes! you can avoid polluted food and eat a (mostly) pristine diet. Clean up your act with these simple steps:
Be a (Mostly) Vegetarian
Saturated fat, added antibiotics, genetically engineered hormones, and the potential for pathogens—meat’s a pretty scary proposition these days. Eat only organic, grass-fed animals, and with great restraint; there’s no specific formulation borne out by scientific research, but a 3- or 4-ounce serving of meat is more than enough, and twice a week is plenty. Best yet, skip the flesh foods altogether or even go vegan. It’ll keep you off milk and cheese, further cleaning up your diet.
It’s the best way to minimize your chances of consuming pesticide residues and genetically modified ingredients. Certain produce is more likely than others to be contaminated with pesticides; these include apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. If you can’t find organic versions of these, look for frozen—or avoid them altogether.
Skip the White Stuff
Eating organic foods won’t save you from salt, sugar, and white flour—none of which are especially clean. High salt intake is associated with significantly increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Sugar is linked with obesity, high LDL cholesterol, and increased risk of diabetes. White flour—and even whole-grain flour—has a similar impact on blood sugar levels as white sugar. Avoid flour altogether and stick to less-processed whole grains, such as sprouted breads, quinoa, amaranth, wild rice, millet, and buckwheat.
Count the Ingredients
If you run out of fingers, skip the food. Highly processed grocery items—those with more than three or four ingredients—often contain saturated fats, trans fats, refined oils, sodium, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, stabilizers, and other nonfood ingredients. Then there’s the packaging issue. Besides the environmental impact, foods packed in plastic jars, containers, or cans may be contaminated with endocrine disruptors, compounds that are linked to reproductive abnormalities.
Look through each ingredient on the label, and make sure you know what it is. If you can’t identify it, don’t buy it. Some chemicals, such as sodium nitrite, propyl gallate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), have been linked to cancer. Others, such as sulfites, can cause severe allergic and respiratory reactions.
Eat the Whole Thing
Olive, coconut, and flax oil are considered healthful, but all three are highly concentrated sources of calories, with no protein or fiber. It’s best to get your oil from cleaner-burning sources. Focus on the whole plant—olives, coconuts, flaxseeds—instead of the extracted oil, and rely on avocados, nuts, and other whole foods to supply healthful fats your body needs.
Ban the Brew
Sorry, coffee lovers: it’s just not clean. One cup a day is probably okay—that’s an 8-ounce cup of organic coffee with a splash of organic cream, not a 24-ounce sweetened latte. Any more than that can upset insulin, raise cortisol levels, and increase abdominal fat. Green tea delivers a milder caffeine fix and body-healing antioxidants, and also appears to decrease belly fat. While you’re at it, skip the alcohol. It’s hard on your liver and kidneys, and upsets blood sugar. The cleanest beverage is water; invest in a high-quality filter, and drink at least 64 ounces a day.
The best advice is to eat an organic diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. Sound boring? The clean, beautiful recipes we’ve included here will change your mind.
American Produce: Nutrient-Poor?
We think we’re shopping healthfully when we load up on fruits and vegetables each week, right? But the shocking news is that conventionally grown produce is cheating us of our nutrients. A study published last year in the Journal of HortScience reveals that produce in today’s American supermarkets has 5—40 percent fewer vitamins and minerals than it did in 1950. A typical example is broccoli, which, according to USDA calculations, contained 130 milligrams of calcium in 1950. Today? 48. We may be seeing bigger, prettier produce these days, but it contains more “dry matter” (carbs) than anything else—the dozens of nutrients and thousands of phytochemicals haven’t increased along with the size.
But there is a solution: buy organic. Hard evidence that organically farmed foods contain more nutrients is mounting rapidly. Organic fertilizers, derived from living matter, increase the organic content of the soil and enable it to provide more essential nutrients. The soil remains airy, retaining water, absorbing oxygen, and providing adequate drainage. Organic fruits and vegetables have to work harder for their nutrients—and we’re the ones to benefit. —Tina Rubin
Tip: If you’re just starting to “eat clean,” try incorporating one or two of these recipes into your diet this week!
Spinach and Sweet Potato Kinpira Gobo
1 Tbs. sesame oil
2 small burdock roots (about 1½ cups), peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 Tbs. minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium sweet potato, cut into matchsticks
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
3 Tbs. mirin
2 Tbs. tamari, divided
6 cups baby spinach leaves
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. black sesame seeds
1 Tbs. white sesame seeds
(1 g sat fat); 25 g carb; 0 mg chol; 582 mg sod; 5 g fiber; 8 g sugars
Portobello Burgers with Red Pepper-Chipotle Spread
2 roasted red bell peppers, packed in water or brine, drained thoroughly
3 small garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium canned chipotle pepper, seeded and chopped
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium Portobello mushrooms, stems removed
4 sprouted grain rolls
1 cup packed baby arugula leaves
½ medium avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
4 Tbs. organic mascarpone cheese
Sea salt and pepper to taste
per serving: 400 cal; 13 g prot; 22 g total fat (6 g sat fat); 43 g carb; 19 mg chol; 417 mg sod; 9 g fiber; 4 g sugars
with Wild Mushrooms
and Ginger-Mirin Sauce
1 8-oz. package soba noodles
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 large bunch scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts)
2 small red peppers, cored and cut into ¼-inch strips
1 pound wild mushrooms (shiitake caps, oyster mushrooms, lobster, or others)
2 Tbs. coarsely grated ginger
¼ cup mirin
1½ Tbs. tamari
¹⁄8 to ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. white pepper
2 cups snow peas, trimmed and sliced ½-inch wide on a strong diagonal
3 Tbs. black sesame seeds
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
per serving: 409 cal; 12 g prot; 8 g total fat (1 g sat fat); 75 g carb; 0 mg chol; 396 mg sod; 9 g fiber; 15 g sugars