When you make out your weekly shopping list, are most of the foods you go for in boxes, cans, or some other packaging? Are the foods packed full of ingredients that you can barely pronounce? If so, then you and your family might not be getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy. You may want to trade in those processed foods for whole foods and start eating clean.
Think of eating clean as cleaning up your life. Just as you’d like to live in a house free of clutter, you need to remove clutter from your diet. That means throwing out the junk foods, refined sugar, additives, preservatives, trans fats, white flour, artificial flavors, and toxins that can be so prevalent in processed foods.
Essentially, the eating clean plan calls you to do the following:
- Eat the foods made by nature, not man.
- Plan to eat five or six meals and snacks throughout the day.
- Avoid processed foods (in other words, anything in a box with a label).
- Use healthy cooking methods.
- Eat before you become super hungry.
- Stop eating when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
- Don’t count your calories, fat grams, or points.
- Enjoy and appreciate its flavor.
Remember, eating clean is not a diet. It’s a lifestyle. It does not include a complicated regimen that restricts entire categories of food. With fewer chemicals to deal with, your body becomes better able to concentrate on keeping you healthy.
Read on to learn about the ten foods you should always include on your eating clean shopping list. These foods are great because they have many uses in the kitchen, they’re inexpensive, and they contain the most potent phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to be at its best.
- Sweet potatoes are #1. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has ranked sweet potatoes as number one in nutrition, which is no surprise considering that these spuds are loaded with fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, potassium, magnesium, zinc, carotenoids, iron, and calcium. As a matter of fact, sweet potatoes have more than twice the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, more than 40 percent of the RDA of vitamin C, and four times the RDA for beta carotene. And each sweet potato contains only about 130 calories!Looking for great meal ideas? Bake your sweet potatoes, slit them open, and stuff them with some low-fat yogurt or Greek yogurt mixed with tomatoes and celery. Or cut the sweet potatoes into slender sticks, toss them with olive oil and paprika, and bake them until crisp. There are many delicious ways to prepare sweet potatoes, but however you decide to cook them, make sure you always eat the skin! Most of the fiber is located in the skin, and the flesh right under the skin is highest in nutrients.
- Get fishy with wild salmon. Wild salmon contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, protein, and vitamin D. It’s also a great source of niacin, selenium, and vitamins B12 and B6. Eating salmon also helps prevent heart disease and diseases caused by inflammation. Scientists have recently found that omega-3 fatty acids can help slow the degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These fatty acids can also help lower the risk of depression and aggressive behavior.With all these benefits, it’s no wonder that many nutritionists urge people to eat foods like wild salmon twice a week. Putting salmon on the menu twice a week can lower the level of triglycerides in your blood and can improve heart function. Remember, when you’re buying salmon, be sure to choose wild salmon rather than farmed salmon because the farmed fish can be high in mercury and toxic chemicals called PCBs, including lead and other heavy metals.
- Olive oil is the healthy way to dress up your food. You can use olive oil when sautéing foods, as the fat in almost any baking or cooking recipe, in salad dressings, and when frying foods. Most of the fatty acids in olive oil are omega-9 fatty acids, which are healthy monounsaturated fats that can help lower total blood cholesterol levels. Extra-virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of olives, without heat, so it’s high in vitamin E and phenols, both of which are powerful antioxidants. And it has a wonderful flavor. Use it mostly in salad dressings and when briefly sautéing foods.When cooking with olive oil, remember that unrefined extra-virgin olive oil has a smoke point (the point at which the oil begins to break down and emit smoke) of about 375 degrees, which is slightly above the ideal temperature for sautéing or frying food but lower than the smoke points of other oils. So use ordinary (not extra-virgin) olive oil, which has a higher smoke point up to 430 degrees, for frying and long-sautéed recipes. Save the extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings and baking!
- Don’t avoid cruciferous vegetables. What are cruciferous veggies and what makes them so great? Well, the category includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Kohl-rabi, cabbage, kale, and bok choy. And many studies have found a link between eating these veggies and protecting the body from cancer. Specifically, phytochemicals in these foods, including sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol, and crambene, help the enzymes in your body that destroy carcinogens before they can damage your cells. As an added bonus, these veggies are high in antioxidants, which help prevent oxidation and damage from free radicals.The key to getting the most out of these greens is in how you prepare them. Be careful not to overcook them. Because they have a high sulfur content, overcooking them releases that chemical and gives them a very unappealing taste. Steam them lightly or eat them raw to keep your body (and your tongue) happy.
- It’s okay to be a little nutty. Did you know that nuts are actually seeds? Well, it’s true; any one nut contains every nutrient needed to support the sprouting and growth of an entire young tree! The many nutrients that nuts provide offer plenty of benefits to you, too:
- Essential fatty acids and monounsaturated fats: Help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of blood clots
- Vitamin E: Helps reduce plaque development in your arteries
- Fiber: Lowers blood cholesterol levels
- Plant sterols: Lower blood cholesterol levelBecause nuts have so many health benefits and are so satisfying to eat, they’re a great choice for a healthy snack on the eating clean plan. The healthiest nuts include walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans. Why aren’t peanuts on that list? Well, this may surprise you, but peanuts aren’t technically nuts! They’re legumes, just like peas and beans. Also, keep in mind that nuts lose many of their nonmineral nutrients to oxidation when they’re roasted, so eat nuts raw whenever possible.
- Clean up sandwiches and salads with avocados. Avocados are a rich and buttery treat, and—as surprising as it may be—they’re very good for you! These fruits are high in vitamins E, C, and K, potassium, oleic acid, folate, antioxidants, and phytochemicals (which stop free radical damage). The fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which means it lowers blood cholesterol levels. Plus, avocados contain beta-sitosterol, which is a phytochemical that also reduces cholesterol.Use avocados as a sandwich spread in place of mayonnaise or butter. Just mash up an avocado with a little lemon or lime juice and spread it on whole wheat rolls or bread. Include avocados in your green salads, eat them plain as a snack, and use them to top burgers and grilled sandwiches.
- Go green and eat clean with these leafy greens. To get the most nutrients for the fewest calories, always put foods like kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and escarole in your shopping cart. These greens are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins C, K, E, the B complex, potassium, and magnesium, as well as phytonutrients, including lutein, quercetin, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene.A diet rich in dark, leafy greens can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease, prevent diabetes and osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of developing cancer. Eat the greens raw or cook them in soups and stews. Sturdy, leafy greens are delicious in stir-fry recipes, too. In fact, you can add leafy greens to a wide variety of lunch and dinner meals.
- Spice things up with curry powder. Curry powder is a blend of several different spices, all of which are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals. But the most important spice in curry powder is turmeric, which provides a yellow color and subtle rich flavor. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a powerful phytochemical.People who consume a lot of turmeric-containing curry powder have lower cancer rates, lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease, less inflammation, and improved memory. Curcumin has also been shown to slow the progress of prostate cancer. There are many delicious ways to incorporate curry powder into your meals. Sprinkle it on salads, use it in salad dressings, and add it to stir-fries and even your breakfast smoothie. You can find curry powder in mild and spicy blends, or you can make your own (just be sure to include plenty of turmeric!).
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with berries (especially blueberries). Berries are a wonderful sweet treat, and they make a delicious dessert all by themselves. Plus, they’re very good for you. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and contain phytochemicals that can help fight cancer. Blueberries, especially wild blueberries, are one of the healthiest foods on earth, with the highest antioxidant content of all fresh fruit.Dried berries have just as many nutrients as fresh. They’re higher in calories, though, because they have less water. Still, they make a wonderful snack when eaten in moderation. And don’t forget about frozen berries! These fruits are harvested at their peak and are often processed right in the field. Frozen berries can have more nutrients than fresh berries, which may have been shipped for miles. These fruits are also high in fiber, which can help you feel full longer and can reduce blood cholesterol levels. Add berries to green salads, fruit salads, use them to top your morning cereal, and eat them out of your hand as a tasty, sweet snack.
- Get to the root of clean eating with garlic and onions. These pungent root vegetables are good sources of allyl sulfides, which are phytochemicals that can help reduce the risk of cancer and calm inflammation in the body. These veggies are also high in polyphenols and flavonoids, which prevent oxidation and stop free radical damage. Garlic can help lower cholesterol levels, too.To get the most benefit from garlic, chop or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes at room temperature before cooking it. Doing so helps preserve the allicin content, even after the garlic is cooked. Because the flavonoids in onions are concentrated near the skin, peel your onions as little as possible to get the most health benefits.
Even though these foods are the cream of the crop in terms of nutrients, fiber, and good fats, don’t limit yourself to these choices. Instead, use them as a jumping off point. Experiment with new foods weekly to help you stay interested in your clean eating plan and to ensure that you’re getting as many nutrients as possible in every bite you take. Don’t be afraid to try new cuisines and new combinations, too. Combine leafy greens with curry powder, coat your salmon with chopped nuts before baking, and cook broccoli or Brussels sprouts with garlic and olive oil. The possibilities are endless!
Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, America’s top holistic doctor, is the author of several books, publishes the monthly newsletter Nutrition and Healing (with a subscriber base of over 100,000), and hosts the radio show Green Medicine.
Linda Larsen is a nutritionist, recipe creator, and the author of 29 books.