You love the idea of clean eating, but with so many of our foods being increasingly sugar-laden and processed, how do you figure out whether a food you're eating is "real"? Certified dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD of Whole Health Nutrition shares these five questions to ask yourself before choosing foods to help clean up your diet and eliminate processed foods.
Does It Come From the Ground?
Doughnuts are made from flour, which is made from wheat, which was grown in the soil, so that counts, right? Of course you can try to convince yourself that a food came straight from the ground, but be honest with yourself and go for foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Choose "plant-based foods that are recognizable as a whole grain," such as quinoa, rice, and barley, as well as veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Not only are these foods less processed, but it also means they're rich in fiber, which helps with heart and digestive health. Also "the plant phytonutrients (colors) help reduce inflammation and many cancers."
Can You Pronounce and Recognize Everything on the Food Label?
Some foods seem healthy, but they can have hidden additives, which can cancel out all the good. Be an avid label reader and make sure there isn't some weird preservative, coloring, or processed sugar listed under another name. The best rule? "The fewer ingredients, the better."
Was Your Animal Happy Before It Went in a Package?
Animal welfare may not be important to you, but it should be, because if the animal was fed well and treated without hormones, it's much healthier for you. So if you do eat meat, make a point to buy organic. This also "increases the omega-3 fatty acid content" and decreases the not-so-healthy omega-6s.
Will This Fat Increase Inflammation in My Body or Decrease It?
Fat has a bad reputation, but not all fats are bad. Skipping hydrogenated oil and fried foods is a no-brainer, but you also want to limit foods processed with vegetable oils. Opt for unsaturated fats instead; "think of olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, and coconut oil as the go-to fats."
Does My Food Have Spices or Excess Salt?
Many packaged foods use salt as a flavoring, but too much not only causes bloating, but can also increase blood pressure. Try making most of your foods from scratch, such as soups, cooked grains, pizza dough, sauces, and salad dressings. It allows you to limit the amount of sodium and add healthy spices that have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Thyme, turmeric, cumin, garlic, cayenne, and ginger will add vibrant flavor without adding calories.