Let me share with you an overview of what I believe about food, diet, and eating clean. This will give you a quick introduction to where I'm coming from. I credit eating this way to finally overcoming a decade of chronic illness. I call this my "Eating Clean Manifesto."
1. There is no one ideal clean eating diet.
I believe you can benefit from a cleaner, greener diet. But that doesn't mean you need to eat exactly what I eat. While there are some precepts for clean, toxin-free eating, there are many ways to eat healthy. I'm not into labels. This isn't about being a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian. The most important thing for a clean eating diet is simply to eat foods that make your body feel good.
2. Eat what's right for you.
I don't care what's trending or hot or highly recommended by the buzziest superstar or author. You are the expert on what you can eat. Your friend, trainer, or mom may swear up and down that unpasteurized dairy is the golden key to health, but if it makes you feel ill, pass it up.
Same goes for animal protein: some people swear you shouldn't eat it, but there's no need to feel guilty if you feel your best after eating a grass-fed burger. Food should make you feel satisfied and energized, not sick and sleepy.
3. Detox isn't a juice cleanse.
This is a common mistake. Take spinach, a powerhouse green and juicing favorite. It's also one the most contaminated vegetables when it comes to pesticides. It's on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Dirty Dozen list for that reason. Apples are another example of a healthy food used in juice cleanses that can be full of toxins. (Conventional apples rank No. 1 on EWG's Dirty Dozen list.) Putting them in a blender with other fruits and veggies and drinking the resulting mixture through a straw doesn't make them healthier. You're just delivering the toxins to your body in an easy-to-digest form. The best way to detox is to go organic and completely bypass the toxins that make you sick, fat, and bloated.
4. Detox is a way of life.
You can't detox over a weekend; there is no shortcut. If you care about your health, detox needs to become a way of life. Develop an understanding of the harmful environment we live in, and then bring that awareness to everyday life, gradually eliminating toxins from your body.
5. Go beyond Western medicine.
Western medicine (also known as conventional or allopathic medicine) has its place, no question. It saves lives every day. But where it excels in emergencies, it falls short on day-to-day lifestyle guidance. Why? Your physician does not go home with you. No one knows what you experience but you. Most doctors are highly skilled in one area, but don't have the time or expertise to know what lifestyle changes you need.
Do your homework on different kinds of integrative and functional medicine doctors. These are MDs who treat the body as a whole-not just the physical, but the mental and emotional too. (Check out thehealthyapple.com for information on integrative and functional medicine.)
One crucial thing to keep in mind: you're the expert on your body. Explore what methods and practices make you feel best, and share these notes with your doctor at each visit. You might just pass along something useful for someone else, and it will go a long way in enabling your doctor to combine his wisdom with yours.
6. Feed your body, not just your belly.
Hunger and appetite drive you to do one thing: eat. When you feel that pang of hunger, you know what to do. But eating is about more than just quieting your appetite. You do not subsist on calories alone; you need a spectrum of nutrients and vitamins to feed your body on a cellular level.
Foods have so much more to them than calories, and yet many people think caloric intake is the bottom line. Au contraire, my friend. A 100-calorie snack pack, for instance, is in no way equal to 100 calories of an avocado.
Counting calories is the last thing you should worry about when you're trying to eat clean. A handful of nuts may be calorically dense, but there's a lot of goodness packed in there. So choose foods based on how they nourish every cell in your body, rather than by how many calories you believe they will glue to your waistline. When you're a eating clean diet, believe it or not, those calories don't add up to love handles and saddlebags.
Food in its whole form is the healthiest version. That's my rule of thumb, and it should be yours. The majority of what you eat should have one ingredient. What's in cabbage? Cabbage. What's in an orange? An orange. If most of your meals come from a box, it's time to rethink your diet.
7. Pay now or pay later.
The point of eating organic isn't to reap more nutrients, it's to avoid toxins-pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and herbicides-that are found in conventional foods. Every time we pick up a fork, we choose whether or not to put chemicals into our bodies. You can live a healthy lifestyle, but if you continue to eat conventional foods and expose yourself to chemicals, you'll probably end up sick from toxicity at some point. It wasn't until after I started working with integrative doctors that I realized that biting into a conventional cucumber that had been sprayed with toxic pesticides was like eating something sporting one of those warning labels that you find on chemicals underneath the sink.
Somewhere along the line we've gotten the idea that food shouldn't cost us anything. But good, healthy food is perhaps the greatest investment you can make in yourself and your future. So before you give in to the urge to save a few bucks by opting for conventional strawberries or factory-farmed eggs, think about what you're worth. If your health doesn't seem worth it to you (and that's a whole other discussion), consider that you're paying not only for the quality of the food itself, but for the many hands that helped cultivate it in a way that's least harmful to the earth and to your family.
Did You Know?
September is Organic Harvest Month. To learn more about organic foods, get the latest research on organics and organic-themed events, and find recipes featuring organic ingredients, try organic-center.org.