Eating clean is a dirty, dirty business.
Eating clean isn’t a formula. It’s not merely calories in and calories out. It’s not just the nutrition label. It’s not skim milk, light “wheat” bread and Fiber One cereal tainted with aspartame. It’s not reduced-fat peanut butter solidified with trans fat and it most definitely is not cheese whiz from a can made with “real” cheese. Ummm? I can’t even.
Let me be frank here. I firmly believe that the quality of the calories we consume is just as critical (if not more) than the quantity. Though we’re different metabolically, we’re all still fueled by the energy we get from the calories in our food. And is it food that we’re really eating or merely a food product? I’m not so sure. It’s up to us to give our bodies real food with real inherent nutrients. Easier said than done, right? That doesn’t mean high fiber oatmeal pumped up with added oat fiber or high protein granola tainted with soy protein isolate. Nothankyewww.
Allow me to step on my soap box for a hot minute. Protein is a macronutrient found naturally in meat, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, legumes and soy. Appreciate granola for the carbohydrate that it is and the protein that it isn’t. Must we inject EVERYTHING with protein and fiber? The high-protein cream cheese stunt just about did it for me. Enough already!
Eat foods without labels.
Eat foods made of plants, not in them.
Eat foods with ingredient labels shorter than my hair.
Get out your microscopes and get comfy. Step into my office (or brain) and allow me to mentally walk you through the conundrum that is the grocery store. Watch me as I pick up a product (and probably put it right back down) as I look first and foremost at the list of ingredients. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to write a novel about why every ingredient is specifically detrimental to the diet. I merely want to provide you with a quick snapshot of how to make the cleanest decision when grocery shopping for your favorites.
I chose to take these pictures at Kroger (as opposed to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) for a realistic snapshot of the good and the evil out there. Some of the “good” versions happen to be Simple Truth, which is Kroger’s affordable, healthy house brand. Though I’ve done work for Simple Truth in the past, I am in no way being compensated by Simple Truth for this post. They just happen to have awesome versions of several products. This is all me, folks.
When it comes to yogurt, aim for simply milk and bacteria (acidophilus, bifidus, etc). Lots of brands contain thickeners like pectin and corn starch along with artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Some even contain whey protein in order to boost the protein content on the label. We want strained yogurt that’s naturally high in protein, not full of added protein. That’s a no no.
Ohhh buttah. Cutting fat and calories from a food that’s inherently all fat and calories means adding chemicals and flavorings to make up for it. Exhibit A. In order to slash calories by half, crap like modified food starch, monoglycerides and preservatives like sodium benzoate were added to the mix.
Vegetable broth is sneaky in that it often hides hidden sources of MSG, like yeast extract. Yeast extract contains free glutamate, the most active ingredient in MSG. Go for ones that are–welp, veggies and water. Pass on the dextrose, yeast extract and “natural flavors,” which is a code name for a list of hundreds of flavorings that aren’t required to be listed by name. The definition according to the Code of Federal Regulations is “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional (21CFR101.22).” Natural? I think not.
Everyone wants to stuff granola with protein these days. Avoid granola boasting “high protein” claims, since they’re likely amped up with soy protein isolate. Eating small amounts of organic soy in whole forms like tofu and tempeh is all fine and dandy. You don’t need it’s highly processed leftovers in your granola. Kapeesh? Go for one made with simple, wholesome ingredients like rolled oats, honey or maple syrup, nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
Please tell me you don’t pollute your coffee with this liquid poison every morning. Okay….a bit hyperbolic, I’ll admit. Jacking up your java with partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat) and a bunch of artificial sweeteners? I couldn’t think of a worse way to start the day. Pass on the preservatives and fake flavorings and go for creamers made simply with milk and cream. Coffeemate even makes a natural version now! Oh la la.
You’d think you could skip the label reading when it comes to a snack as simple as nuts…but these cocktail nuts are doused in hydrolyzed soy protein, maltodextrin, corn syrup solids and “natural” flavor. Stick with version that have only nuts as the ingredients (oil and salt are okay, too).
Also, a word on popcorn. Must we pop our popcorn in trans fat? Not if I can help it! Read the label and make sure partially hydrogenated oil isn’t on the list. The tolerable upper limit for trans fat is zero grams. It’s directly correlated to heart disease risk. Say no!
Ever wonder why “natural” peanut butters must be stirred? Traditional peanut butter is solidified with hydrogenated oils. Aim for the natural brands without trans fat. Peanut and salt are what we’re going for, here! The natural versions with palm oil are okay, too. This store brand natural version was under two dollars!
When it comes to bread, you definitely want whole wheat flour as the first ingredient. Go for versions with shorter ingredient lists and ones without high fructose corn syrup, enriched wheat flour (white flour), datem and calcium propionate.
Old fashioned oats (or better yet, steel cut) are less processed than instant, but sometimes we’re in a hurry and I get that. Lots of mainstream brands like Quaker have artificial sweeteners. As always, look for a wholesome ingredient list without added crap! It shouldn’t have more than four or five ingredients.
Processed meats get such a bad rep in the health field not only because of their exorbitantly high sodium content , but mostly because of the carcinogenic nitrates they contain. If you’re craving a hot dog, look for ones without those nasties.
You wouldn’t believe the places that trans fat hides. You’ll find it in some taco shells, Lawry’s garlic salt, and even cocktail nuts! What’s the message here?
Read the ingredient label! Eating clean is a dirty business, but reading ingredient lists makes the detective work a heck of a lot easier. Happy shopping! Muhaha. Questions? Comments? I’d be happy to answer them in a follow-up post, so leave one if you’ve got one!
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