Clean Eating is Easier Than You May Think

You’ve probably heard that clean eating has significant health benefits. But for those not familiar with the particulars of clean eating, it can seem overwhelming. Many believe it’s an expensive and difficult change of habit. The truth is it’s less complicated and more affordable than you may think.


One misconception that can turn people off is that clean eating is too complicated. Like any lifestyle change, it takes some initial effort. However, it is not complicated. The effort comes from changing the way you look at food and getting used to cooking whole meals instead of using boxes and jars.


The easiest way to begin is by making a few food swaps. What you’re trying to achieve is replacing processed food with whole, natural food. Evaluate any processed food you have in your kitchen. These may include frozen meals, boxed pasta meals, and jars and packets of sauces. These have many ingredients that you don’t need and can damage your health. These include added fat, sugar, sodium, chemicals, and preservatives. Imagine what whole ingredients you can put together to achieve the same flavor profiles you find in processed food. The flavors you can create with a few whole ingredients and little time may surprise you.


Start by leaving boxed pasta and rice meals on the store shelves. Cook plain pasta and rice with raw vegetables, spices, and herbs. Make your own spice mixes instead of using ready-made packets. Use plain oats. Add fresh fruit, pure honey, and cinnamon. Ditch the chemically processed vegetable and canola oils, as well as margarine. Opt for cold-pressed coconut and olive oils that are high in quality. Replace flavored yogurt with plain yogurt and mix in fresh fruit. Instead of drinking fruit juices loaded with sugar, eat whole pieces of fruit. Then, enjoy a crisp glass of water or a cup of tea. Processed meat is another food you’ll want to avoid. Choose grass fed meats that are free of hormones and antibiotics. Search for clean marinara sauce recipes. You’ll find most are simple, timely, and much better than the jarred stuff.


Once you’ve decided on swaps, you’ll need to approach shopping a little differently than usual. At the grocery store, read labels on everything you buy. Make sure packaged, canned, and frozen foods have few ingredients. Long lists of ingredients that you have trouble understanding are red flags. Aside from unpronounceable chemicals and preservatives, beware of trans fats, salt, and sugar.


Expense is also a concern for many people while shopping for healthy food. The general belief that clean eating is expensive has some foundation. Past studies have shown that processed food costs less per calorie than whole foods cost. But that’s not the whole story here. Processed food can have negative impacts on your health. Over time, disease prevention and treatment can cost more than eating healthy food. Also, other studies have shown a decreasing gap in price points with rising demand for nutritious food. Affording healthy food is also a matter of arming yourself with information that allows you to shop and eat smart.


One of the most obvious ways to save money on groceries is also one of the simplest ways: buy in-season produce. Two major factors make produce more expensive when out of season than when in season. The first is the excess cost of shipping from a place in which the produce is in season. The second is the high energy cost of forcing growth of produce that is out of season. Local growers must replicate natural environments to bring this produce into stores.    


Because of these reasons, you’re always going to save on in-season produce. During fall and winter, pick root vegetables. Choose greens such as Brussels sprouts, collards, and cabbage. Buy apples, oranges, grapefruits, and pears. In spring and summer, pick vegetables such as corn, eggplant, asparagus, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Stick with fruits like nectarines, watermelon, apricots, plums, and strawberries. Apples are typically in season all year, though they tend to be least expensive during the fall. Many fruits and vegetables also overlap seasons, so look out for price trends.


The next way to save money while eating well is to buy certain items in bulk. Dry beans, rice, lentils, barley, and quinoa are great options for buying in bulk. They’re often cheaper per unit of weight than small packages. Look at the price labels on the shelves of everything you buy. Compare the prices per unit of measure on bulk and non-bulk packages to determine the best buy.


Another way to stock up and save money is by buying canned and frozen fruits, vegetables, and beans. Look for varieties of vegetables and beans that advertise no added salt. Buy fruit in natural juices (not syrup). Try the store brand of these items, and watch for sales. This also reduces the waste that happens when produce goes rancid faster than you can use it.


Now that you have a pantry and refrigerator full of healthy food, make preparing your meals fun. Play around, and find what you love. You don’t have to be a superstar chef to create delicious meals with whole ingredients. Experiment with different flavor combinations, and think of it as healthful creation instead of a chore.


Clean eating does not have to be overwhelming. It’s easier than you may think to nourish your body with healthy food choices. Commit to informing yourself, cooking with whole foods, and shopping smart to stick within your budget.


Source: Mayuree Rao, “Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ Open, Accessed 5 November 2016

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