In its simplest form, clean eating is going back to foods that haven’t been tampered with, or very minimally. Off with the industrialized, processed, packaged foods, and in with raw, whole, natural foods. But beyond the theory of it, what are the health benefits of clean eating?
The whole idea behind eating “clean” food is to bypass any process that could have altered the whole, original food. So that food source is as close as possible to its original, preserving as much as possible of the vitamins and nutrients.
Sure, by removing processed food, eating clean automatically increases your intake of “good” food, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. And decreases your intake of “bad” food, such as convenience food, cakes and biscuits, and other sugar- and additive-laden industrial food. But how does that really measure in terms of health benefits?
First, let’s clear up the air…
I’m not talking here about any commercial diet or meal plan. I’m not talking about cutting out completely food groups. I’m not talking about a vegetarian or a gluten-free diet. I’m not talking about a new fad diet or the latest food trend.
I’m talking about eating real food. I’m talking about taking a good look at what you eat, what you like and what’s available in your neck of the woods, and making sure you get the best of those foods. I’m talking about avoiding or minimizing any process that could destroy vitamins, deplete nutrients, remove fiber or in any way lower the goodness of those foods.
Actually, I’m talking about eating the way we did before. Before we knew how to add chemicals and pesticides to the soil. Before we knew how to process food to keep it longer than its seasonal prime. Before additives, industrial food, imported food, ready-made, and convenience meals.
So we’re back to basics. Back to eating a balanced diet of whole food, in season, locally produced without the use of chemicals, and prepared in a way that leaves as many nutrients as possible. Clean foods are in every food group. No need to cut out any major food group or drastically change what you eat. It’s all about being mindful of what you eat, and what happened to your food before it got to your plate.
Therefore the health benefits listed here are not of the “instant weight-loss” type. We are talking about long-term habits, not a 3-week stint.
So here are 9 benefits of eating a whole, mindful diet.
Related post – Clean eating for beginners – How to clean your diet the easy way
1. More energy
This has been said time and time again, but sugar and refined starches play havoc with your blood glucose, giving you a spike of energy… only to send you crashing a mere hour later. And craving for more. Starches from whole grains and vegetables are slowed down by fiber, giving you a slow release of energy for hours on. Healthy protein and good fats also help you go through the day energized.
Eating a more balanced diet rich in whole foods also ensures that your B-vitamins and iron needs are fulfilled. Both of which you need to respectively release glucose and provide oxygen to your cells, giving you the energy you need.
2. Long-term health benefits and a strong immune system
Because you eat a nutrient-rich balanced diet, you will naturally feed your gut with the right food. Avoiding refined starches, ultra-processed food, and additives help to restore your bio flora. This is key to a strong immune system, a lower risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and reduced blood pressure. What’s not to love?
And as clean eating is a lifestyle rather than a short-term fad diet, you’re likely to reap the benefits over the long-term.
3. Reduced inflammation, chronic pains, and symptoms
By feeding the body with the nutrients it needs and improving your immune system, you will be generally decreasing your level of inflammation. This is super important. Inflammation in the body is like the perfect breeding ground for a whole host of more serious illnesses. Among which cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, or asthma. Scary stuff…
Inflammation is basically the response of the body to an injury, an infection, or a harmful substance. Sometimes, when it doesn’t have the strength to eradicate the source of the problem, and this problem keeps reappearing, the inflammation becomes chronic. Common symptoms are rashes, fatigue, sores, abdominal pains, among others.
Certain nutrients found in food have the capacity to help fight chronic inflammation. These include curcumin (found in turmeric), omega-3 fatty acids (in oily fish), lipoic acid (in yeast, liver, broccoli, spinach, potatoes), and some spices, like ginger, cayenne pepper or garlic. If you suffer from chronic inflammation (look it up), you will definitely benefit from including those particular foods in your clean diet.
4. Healthy weight
Following a cleaner diet can contribute to weight loss, even if it might not be your prime reason for making the change. You can read more about weight loss and clean eating here. With more energy, fewer cravings for sugar, it’s easier not to overindulge on food.
Bear in mind though, that eating clean is not about counting calories or weighing food. So if you are battling to lose weight with clean eating, you might have to rethink your portion control. Too much of a good thing might still be too much food compared to your energy expenditure!
5. Better brain function
A diet rich in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin E is necessary to help your brain function optimally and support healthy mental health. The MIND diet (aimed at reducing dementia and limiting mental decline) is based on the Mediterranean and the DASH diets. Both of which are based on whole food, nutrient-rich diets.
Focusing on healthy fats (olive oil, nuts), rather than saturated fats and trans fats, and getting enough antioxidants from fruits and vegetables help your brain stay healthy over time and limit cognitive impairment.
6. Better sleep
There is a link between a high-fiber diet and healthy gut bacteria. New studies suggest your gut plays a vital role in the production of serotonin, the sleep hormone.
When serotonin-rich food (like eggs, salmon or nuts) is combined with starches, they also help give you a serotonin-boost similar to that of serotonin supplements. So eating a clean diet with a variety of whole food is likely to improve your sleep pattern by regulating your serotonin levels.
7. Better mood
Because eating clean doesn’t involve counting calories or weighing your food, you’re also not restricted in the amount you eat. You thus don’t suffer from hunger or feel deprived.
Your brain will be the happiest when fed the right amount of vitamin C, B-vitamins, selenium, magnesium, and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. All of which are present in a balanced, clean diet.
Avoiding caffeine-laden drinks also help alleviate anxiety and depression. Clean eating will contribute to a generally happy mood by cutting out the type of foods linked to depression and general mental impairment:
- Caffeinated drinks, including coffee, tea, and soft drinks
- Sugary foods
- Fried foods
- Refined and processed foods
8. Glowing skin, strong nails, and healthy hair
Your hair and nails tend to be a reflection of how healthy your body really is. Lack of nutrients will quickly make your hair weak, limp and lackluster, and your nails brittle, ridged and discolored. With clean eating, the focus is on getting nutrient-rich foods. This is sure to show on your hair, your nails, and even your skin after a few weeks.
It’s actually not uncommon to experience a skin breakout when embarking on a clean eating journey in the first few weeks. Especially if you’ve opted for a drastic diet change. This is the body detoxifying and trying to get rid of toxic matters accumulated in your cells. Bear with it and you’ll soon see clearer skin, shinier hair, and stronger nails come through.
Carotenoids are present in bright-colored foods like carrots, spinach, kale, melons, mangoes or oranges, just to name a few. They play a role in eye health, among other things, but equally in healthy skin. So eat healthily, and bring on that glow, I say!
9. Healthier gums and teeth
The mouth is home to a wide variety of bacteria, bad and good, at any given time. It is however proven that sugar, in particular, plays havoc with the balance of good and bad bacteria in the mouth. Resulting in bad breath, plaque, cavities, and gum disease.
By avoiding a lot of the foods containing refined sugar and replacing it with whole fruits, your gums and teeth health will find itself improved over time. Some vitamins, like vitamin C, also play a vital role in healthy gums and can be obtained from a balanced diet of clean foods.
Related post – How to detox at home? Give your liver and your body a welcome break from toxins.
So now you know the many health benefits of clean eating
Over the years, a lot of research has been done on various “clean” diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, the Okinawa diet, or the more recent Nordic diet. The one thing all these diets have in common is that the food is by and far prepared from scratch. From whole, unprocessed ingredients.
I don’t believe there is such a thing out there as a “one fits all” diet, I do believe that everybody is different, therefore every body is different. So why not look at your current diet, take stock of the food you enjoy and find locally, and see if you can make it cleaner and get more nutrients in your body, the easy way.
In the meantime, if you’ve started eating a cleaner, more nutrient-rich diet, feel free to share your experience, discoveries and tips with us in the comments section below. And don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest!