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Eating Clean and Planning for Optimal Health

Ian Kane

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When it comes to diets, you can count your calories or you can choose your foods more carefully

here are certain large, casual dining establishments I’m sure we’ve all been to that emphasize serving you lots and lots of food on family-sized platters. In doing so, these successful companies try to satisfy their customers’ desire for delicious value. But are we valuing the right things?

Similarly, a diet that is gaining in popularity, called the “If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM),” allows the people who follow it to eat whatever they want as long as they eat the right amounts of macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Nutrition takes a back seat to calories.

“IIFYM speaks specifically to fat loss from a macro nutrition and thus a caloric standpoint and is purely a means to improve body composition,” writes founder Anthony Collova on the official IIFYM website. He goes on to write that his diet “does not address health concerns of the heart, brain or other organs and does not put an emphasis on so-called ‘healthy eating.’”

On the opposite side of the spectrum is clean eating, in which the quality of the foods you consume is emphasized, instead of quantity. It also recommends guidelines on what types of foods to eat and those that should be avoided. This is backed up by the Harvard School of Public Health, which concluded that eating high-quality foods in appropriately sized portions is better for both optimal health and weight control.

One of the overarching tenets of clean eating is that people stick to eating all-natural, whole foods, and stay away from overly processed foods. It also advises folks to avoid foods with artificial ingredients, refined foods, alcohol, and soda pop.

Many advocates of clean eating will suggest that it’s not truly a diet, but rather a lifestyle, a habit of eating some things and not others.

As mentioned previously, clean eating is focused on food quality rather than quantity, so counting calories isn’t adhered to in this food intake philosophy.

“Fresh, natural foods tend to be more satisfying and rich in nutrients such as protein and fiber than processed ones,” acclaimed health expert and nutritionist Linda Foster points out. “These slow the breakdown of sugar into the bloodstream, keeping you fuller for longer and stopping those hunger pangs that leave you needing to snack.”

Clean Eating is Most Suitable For …

Clean eating is most suitable for folks who are more focused on the intrinsic health properties of certain foods, who don’t want to monitor and record the calories in their food, and who don’t mind some restrictions when it comes to their food intake.

The word “restriction” could be a red flag for some people, but clean eating actually allows for a generous degree of flexibility in the amount of food that people eat, and the timing and frequency of consumption. Also, with a little bit of diligence and self-discipline, clean eating can be utilized by a wide array of people with drastically different goals, such as gaining muscle, increasing cardio health, losing weight, etc.

Is Clean Eating Hard to Follow?

A clean-eating plan can be easy or more difficult to follow, depending on the type of person you are and whether you are open-minded enough to try something new. For people who are used to eating whatever they want, such as junk foods and packaged foods with lots of additives and preservatives, this might be more of a jarring, dramatic switch than expected. Therefore, a gradual shift over to fresher, whole foods may be warranted. But it’s worth it—because as a review published in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension points out, processed foods can lead to increased bodily inflammation levels and an elevated risk of heart disease.

For those who have some self-discipline and don’t mind eating within certain dietary boundaries, the clean-eating framework can be much easier to adjust to. After all, it’s not all about constant sacrifice—many advocates of clean eating allow for either an 80-20 or 90-10 guideline. This allows for people to eat whatever they want (i.e. splurge) from 10 percent to 20 percent of the time, respectively.

It’s All in the Labels

Read the labels of your store-bought foods and make sure they have recognizable ingredients. Try to prepare your whole food meals at home and avoid processed, junk, and packaged foods as much as possible.

For example, instead of eating a pineapple glazed pastry, add rolled oats to some Greek yogurt, and top with fresh pineapple chunks.

Eating this way will almost certainly help you lose weight, since processed foods are much higher in calories. But more importantly, it will give the electrochemical miracle of your body what it needs to carry you through a lifetime.