I think everybody’s life journey is interesting. Mine, for example, lead me to making my passion my profession. I’m originally from Germany, and I grew up on the countryside in Bavaria. Growing up, I literally was never exposed to highly processed food or fast food of any kind. That was just not a thing. I’ve never even had a drop of alcohol in my life. I’ve never smoked a cigarette and never did drugs. I’ve never eaten certain foods like donuts or a Snickers bar. As a teenager and adolescent I became interested in bodybuilding, and a healthy diet was part of the deal to create and sculpt a great physique. I became a professional body builder and I’ve used that knowledge and experience my entire life, while continuing to educate myself. I’ve kept journals through my entire journey, and I’d like to share all that I’ve learned with you. Of course I’ve had my up and downs, successes and failures, but more about that later. After seeing so many people struggle, constantly fighting, burning themselves out, or making straight forward mistakes, I can tell you this: the more you keep your food simple and real, the more successful you will be living healthy and getting the body you want. You will have a food freedom you’ve never experienced before, as well as more energy, more power, and more glow. I decided in 2012 to switch to a plant-based diet. I have been vegan since and I genuinely enjoy it. Here are some tips for you to keep it real and simple and simply healthy:
1. Load Up On Fruits and Vegetables
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, most of us aren't getting enough. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76% of Americans don't get enough fruit each day and a whopping 87% aren't eating enough servings of vegetables. Eating more fruit and vegetables can help significantly reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. The fiber in whole produce also helps keep your microbiome (the collection of good bacteria that live in your gut) happy, which can reduce your risk for autoimmune diseases, fight off infections and even improve your mood. Choose organic fruits and vegetables where you can, focusing on buying organic foods from the EWG's Dirty Dozen list and cutting yourself some slack with the Clean 15 foods list.
2. Go Whole Grain
The cleanest whole grains are the ones that have been touched the least by processing. Think whole grains that look most like their just-harvested state, like quinoa, wild rice, and oats. While I abstain from eating any processed grains, I think that whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread made with simple ingredients can be part of eating clean. Sometimes you just need a hearty slice of avocado toast or a bowl of pasta. Don't get duped by "whole-grain" claims on labels though, to eat clean packaged whole grains you're going need to take a closer look at the ingredients. Whole grains should always be the first ingredient, the ingredient list should be short and recognizable, and it should have no added sugar. When you swap out refined carbs (like white pasta, sugar, and white bread) for whole grains you'll get more fiber, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. Plus, people who eat more whole grains have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off long term.
3. Eat Less Meat
More and more research suggests cutting back on meat is healthier for you and the planet. Veganism isn't a requirement for clean eating though-just eating less meat can help reduce your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease and help keep your weight in check. Plus, eating more plants helps bump up the fiber, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals in your diet. And if you're worried about getting enough protein by cutting down on meat-that shouldn't be an issue. Most Americans get much more than the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (approximately 56 grams daily for men and 46 grams daily for women) and it's easy to get that much protein eating a vegetarian or even vegan diet. Eggs, dairy (for a clean option, choose dairy with no added sugar and simple ingredients) beans and nuts all offer protein. See my list for vegetarian or vegan protein sources for even more options. When you do eat meat, choose options that haven't been pumped with antibiotics and even better if they've lived and eaten like they would in the wild (think grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon). Clean eating also means cutting down on processed meats like cold cuts, bacon and sausage.
4. Watch Out for Processed Foods
I am not opposed to all processed foods. Technically when we chop, mix and cook at home we are processing foods. The trouble is that so much of processed food at the grocery store is processed beyond the point of recognition. Nature certainly didn't color those chips that neon color of orange or make blue candy-colored cereal. Keep an eye out for anything with lots of sugar and refined grains, super-long ingredient lists with foods you don't recognize and anything with partially hydrogenated oils. Clean processed foods exist like plain yogurt, cheese, whole-wheat pasta, and packaged baby spinach. And while you can make salad dressings, pasta sauce, mayo, hummus and broth at home you can also find clean versions at the store. Just read the ingredient list. Our bodies digest processed and unprocessed foods differently. In the case of white bread vs. whole wheat bread, the machine has already started to process the white bread for you-stripping away the bran and germ-and leaving your body with less work to do. Limiting packaged foods can also reduce your exposure to BPA (found in some canned foods) and other chemicals found in plastics.
5. Limit Added Sugar
Most people eat too many added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. The average American gets about 4 times that amount-28 teaspoons of added sugar per day. To clean up your diet, cut down on added sugars by limiting sweets like soda, candy and baked goods. But it's more than just desserts-keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain), tomato sauce, ketchup, and cereal. Look for foods without sugar as an ingredient, or make sure it's listed towards the bottom (last 3 ingredients) , which means less of it is used in the food. And you don't have to worry as much about naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy. They come packaged with fiber, protein or fat to help blunt the effect of sugar on insulin levels. They also deliver nutrients so you're not just getting empty, sugary calories.
6. Keep an Eye on Sodium
Just like with sugar, most of us are getting far more sodium than we should. The Institute of Medicine recommends capping sodium at 2,300 milligrams daily, which is about one teaspoon of salt. If you're over 50, of African-American descent or have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes, you may want to go even lower, to 1,500 milligrams per day. 80 percent of the sodium in our diets is coming from convenience foods. Cutting back on processed foods will help you reduce your salt intake, as most packaged foods contain more sodium than homemade versions. To help minimize salt while you cook, flavor your food with herbs and spices, citrus and vinegar. Clean eating recipes can still use salt, it is essential for bringing out the flavor of foods, but we use it smartly and sparingly. Sea salt, Himalayan salt or kosher salt can add a punch when sprinkled on dishes at the end of cooking, and they contain less sodium (teaspoon for teaspoon) compared to table salt.
7. Consider the Environment
Clean eating is better for you and the planet. The food we eat requires many resources to get to our plate. According to some estimates, agriculture may account for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The meat industry is one of the biggest offenders. It takes a lot of resources to raise and feed an animal and the methane released from digestion and manure (especially for cows, goats and sheep) makes that carbon footprint even bigger. Some modern fishing practices have destroyed natural marine habitats and overfished certain species of seafood. Produce production can also take a toll with the types of herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers impacting water and soil quality. Eating clean comes in because going vegetable heavy and light on the meat can help preserve earth's resources. A vegetarian diet requires 3 times less water and 2.5 times less energy to produce than a meat-heavy diet. Broccoli has a carbon footprint that's 13 times lower than that of the same amount of conventionally raised beef. Shifting from a meat-forward style of eating to a plant-based style could slash greenhouse gas emissions-as well as add about a decade to your life, per a study in Nature. Choosing organic or grass-fed meat and purchasing sustainably-caught or farmed seafood makes your proteins a more environmentally-sound choice. Fruits and vegetables can be purchased organic, as well as local and in-season to help cut down on their carbon footprint.
If you have more questions, need a consultation, or want to get started to be healthier, I can help you to determine the right amount of macros, what kind of foods, and making the right adjustments during your Health journey. Check out my website for more information and guidance. If you’re interested in one-on-one training you can always message me, your personal training and health coach Angela Beyer