By Jennifer Colosimo
In the last decade or so, thinking about what we’re putting into our bodies has gotten a lot more on trend. We seek out whole grains and lean meats, and we avoid processed and preserved foods. We take our health seriously and know that feeling good starts with the fuel we’re using; and the kind we’re using is getting a little … cleaner.
Unfortunately, clean eating is tricky with misleading marketing strategies that make you think what you’re consuming is healthy. How can you get healthier and feel better when the food industry makes it so hard? It starts with knowing how to read labels, learning what to avoid and not being afraid to ask questions. The result is an enjoyable, manageable lifestyle—free of junk—that we can maintain forever.
What Clean Eating Means
According to fitness competitor, radio personality and passionate healthy lifestyle advocate Madison James, the first key to taking clean eating to the next level is knowing where your food comes from.
“If you get meats, fruits and vegetables produced here, in Georgia, you know it’s cleaner because nothing had to be added to keep those foods fresh for the trip from the farm to your table,” James says. “Then, it’s important to know what kind of practices a farm uses on your produce. Think about an organic apple versus a nonorganic apple in the grocery store. The nonorganic apple is vibrant, shiny and looks like a brand-new car. The organic one doesn’t, but, it’s not supposed to. It took doing something to that nonorganic apple to get it that way—and then that is what goes into our bodies.”
“The same goes for restaurants,” she adds. “Clean eating doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat, but you do have to ask questions. Ask where their foods came from—most of the time they’re proud to tell you it came from somewhere local. When it does, and you know that the farm where it came from doesn’t use hormones, or inject other chemicals into their animals, then you know what you’re eating is clean.”
Flower Child, in Buckhead and Sandy Springs, is one of those restaurants where you can trust what’s on your plate hasn’t been pumped with extra additives.
“People tend to think that eating ‘clean’ means eating food that’s bland in taste,” says Flower Child brand chef Peder Bondhus. “Each of our wraps, salads, bowls and plates are built upon simple and fresh ingredients that work together to create a flavorful and delicious dish rich in colorful fruits and veggies.”
How Things Get Dirty
The bigger problem is in additives like sodium, sugar and manufactured flavorings. Even chicken—Americans eat an average of 87 pounds of chicken per person every year, and about a third of it has been synthetically saturated with water, salt and other additives via needles and vacuums to make it juicier, tastier and more tender, according to Cooking Light. In its 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. government recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. This means you can potentially rack up about a fifth of your daily allotment of sodium with “enhanced” poultry before you even think about adding your own pinch.
Tammy Stokes, a California transplant and founder of Cafe West Express, West Coast Workout, and author of “Live Your Healthiest Life,” offered her (dirty) laundry list of things to look out for. We already know to buy high-quality, grass-fed meats, organic eggs, small, cold-water fish that are low in mercury and natural sweeteners like honey, coconut nectar, molasses, maple syrup and stevia to boost eating for your health, but scary chemicals and additives are in a lot of foods we don’t think about. She pointed out some of the places where we don’t expect to see additives:
- Chlorine and aluminum: bleached table salt
- High fructose corn syrup: breads, candy, salad dressing, yogurt, cereal, ketchup
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Chinese food, chips, lunch meats, soups, broths
- Trans fat: fried and fast foods, margarine, baked goods
- Artificial sweeteners: gum, toothpaste, breath mints, chewable vitamins, tea
- Sulfur dioxide: beer, dried fruits, juices, vinegar,
- potato products
- Nitrates: lunch meats, bacon, ham, cured meats, smoked fish
- Food dyes: The worst ones are Blue No. 1 and No. 2, Red No. 1, Yellow No. 6
“I call it eating for your health,” says Raul Hiteshew, a self-named nutritarian, competitive bodybuilder and founder of HiveFit All Natural Supplements. “By avoiding artificial sweeteners, colorants, synthetic preservatives or anything that wasn’t intended by nature, clean eating naturally sets up our bodies to prevent illness and live a vibrant life.”
But sometimes, those additives are even in products customers are buying to actually “get healthier.”
“You are not required to list an ingredient in a supplement if it’s under half a gram (500 milligrams), or even list the amount used if it’s a nonactive ingredient,” Hiteshew says. “Some of these ingredients, a little goes a long way, and even half a gram is actually very unhealthy. Grab any protein powder and read the ‘other ingredients’ below the nutrition label. You will see fillers, anticaking agents, flowing agents and preservatives—and this is assuming you’re drinking a healthy product that doesn’t use artificial colorants and sweeteners.”
Our lesson? Look at the labels, and check the ingredients to reveal exactly what’s about to go in your body. If you’re opting for something packaged, choose those made with whole ingredients you’d be able to find in your own pantry.
How Eating Dirty Makes Us Feel
Why does it matter if we eat clean? When we’re overloaded on sodium, we retain water, making us feel sluggish, bloated, maybe even fatigued and depressed. It can give us headaches, muscle cramps and keep us from feeling like the best version of ourselves. Too much sugar can lead to skin problems, diabetes or obesity, even heart problems. Too much fat leads to high blood pressure, bad cholesterol and potentially serious heart issues. Many chemicals and additives have been associated with increasing the risk of cancer. In general, toxins lead to inflammation, and inflammation prevents our bodies from fighting disease, staying healthy and operating the way they were meant to.
“When you eat foods that are clean, like fresh produce and simply prepared proteins, you feel an energy that lifts you up and is more consistent over time,” Bondhus says. “Foods that are not clean have the opposite effect, weighing you down and taking away energy. Your body actually has a harder time processing all of the extra ingredients that it’s not familiar with and aren’t natural,” he adds.
“Clean eating is based on the foundation of eating foods that create health not deteriorate it,” says Stokes. “Food is either good medicine or a bad drug, and eating clean is the first step to better health.”
How to Beat the Tricks and Train Your Palate for Clean Eating
“The technology and psychology behind making packaged foods is shockingly advanced. You can control taste, reactions and emotions by modifying it genetically or simply adding sugars, MSG, phosphate salts, etcetera,” says Hiteshew. “It can get overwhelming quickly, but if you start reading labels before something goes into your shopping cart, you can beat the sneaky marketing strategies and fill your pantry with the right foods.”
“Once you stop eating so much sugar, salt and unnecessary fat in your food, you’ll actually be able to taste fresh, delicious pure flavors,” says Nancy Waldeck, a healthy chef and “partyologist” who turned her love for food and entertaining into a healthy lifestyle. “When eaters realize that they can make food at home that is delicious and tastes better than the food they have been ordering out, it opens up the possibilities to feel and look better.
“Being a label detective is the best way to shop,” she adds. “I often use a box of organic mac and cheese to illustrate this. That ‘organic’ product contains excess sugar, salt and loads of preservatives, even though you thought you were buying something healthy. When you make mac and cheese at home, you can make it super delicious and you get to be in charge of the ingredients.”
Stokes adds, “Clean food tastes real and delicious, because most of the time it is made with fruits and vegetables that are fresh and in season, so the flavors are at their peak.”
“Real clean eating doesn’t mean you have to eliminate whole food groups or never go out to eat again,” James says. “It’s simply about eating real, whole foods, and eliminating the junk that doesn’t belong in our bodies. It takes work and commitment, yes, but the people who do it have never felt better.”
Peder Bondhus, Flower Child, IAmAFlowerChild.com
Raul Hiteshew, HiveFit All Natural Supplements, HiveFit.com
Madison James, Instagram.com/MadisonJames404
Tammy Stokes, Cafe West Express, West Coast Workout, WestCoastWorkout.com
Nancy Waldeck, Taste and Savor, TasteAndSavor.com