Bestselling author Ian K. Smith, MD, has cooked up a smart program for people looking to eliminate processed fare in favor of nutrient-rich food. And The Clean 20: 20 Foods, 20 Days, Total Transformation! promises long-term results.
While researching the sugar content of various foods for his book Blast the Sugar Out, “I also found all of the other artificial ingredients that are in our foods—things like coloring, dyes, and quote-unquote natural flavors, preservatives, and additives,” Smith says.
And when a friend who had trouble losing weight followed Smith’s clean-eating ideas—within 10 days she reported weight loss and “energy levels through the roof,” he adds—“I thought, geez, maybe I need to write a book teaching people how to eat clean in a way that isn’t intimidating.”
The Clean 20 guides readers to incorporate health-boosting foods into 60 simple recipes. Smith’s Facebook group, TheClean20, offers advice from readers with varying incomes. “I want people to realize that clean eating isn’t reserved for the upper echelon of society. All of us can eat clean if we think about it and prepare.”
What is the Clean 20 program’s basic premise?
The idea is that for 20 days you choose 20 foods that work for you. Everyone can have a different Clean 20 list, but it will come from the same list of clean foods. There are also “basket buddies” you can swap in and out. What people have told me they love about the program is that whether they’re vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, carnivorous, gluten-free, or diabetic, the plan’s flexibility allows them to customize it for themselves. And by the way, the average weight loss (among my Facebook followers) is about 10 lbs.
What other health benefits does this way of eating offer?
I’m not advocating for anyone to eat perfectly, but given how processed most of our food is, giving the body a break from this kind of artificial stress is very cleansing. Not just physically but also mentally. People report increased mental clarity, their skin is better, and they talk about their blood sugars, cholesterol levels, and blood pressures dropping. Hitting that reset button allows our body to clear the canvas and reintroduce powerful natural foods that are full of fiber, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Once you reset, you will drift into areas that aren’t the healthiest, but I think the drift is less because people want to make better choices.
Where do dairy and grains fit in?
Dairy and grains aren’t inherently unclean. A whole grain is very clean. And dairy that doesn’t have antibiotics and hormones in it is also very clean.
But when we age, we have inflammatory responses to dairy and to grains. And if you have a response to either, then it shouldn’t be on your list. But to automatically delete it and say it isn’t clean food is incorrect. My simple tip is if a packaged food has more than five ingredients, it’s unlikely to be clean. It’s probably full of a lot of additives.
What are your favorite Clean 20 breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Oatmeal with fresh berries and bananas is a tremendous way to start the day. I get my sweetness from the fruit but also get my whole grains, including with 100 percent whole-grain toast. Lunch is a grilled chicken sandwich with sliced avocados and tomatoes. The book has recipes for homemade condiments. For dinner, I like whole-grain or whole-wheat pasta with seafood or chicken. I believe you should put protein in as many meals as you can.
You allow foods like cheeseburgers to be slowly reintroduced after Day 20. What if someone opts for drive-thru convenience before then?
This is a very forgiving, understanding program. These foods can be found almost everywhere. And they’re affordable. The minute you see the words “clean eating,” you might think, ‘Oh, I have to be a foodie.’ But there’s real food on this.