Organic vs local food – which is best?

We buy and consume every day a large variety of foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, bakery, drinks, frozen foods, yogurts, preserves, and so on. The USDA calculated in 2011 that the average American ate 1996lbs (905kg) of food per year. This is about 38lbs (17kg) of food per week and per person, around 6% of our expenses and $2,392 per year on food. In other words, buying food is big business!

Food shopping is also an opportunity to question how we should shop, especially when trying to be a responsible consumer.

How can I buy better, to suit my lifestyle and my family?
Which one is best, organic vs local food?
Is organic really better for health?
Are organic products more expensive?
How to identify the exact source of fresh produce?
Have they been treated with pesticides?
Should I choose honey from my home country or South America?
Or just from anywhere, as long as it’s fair trade?
Is it sensible to buy organic green beans from Kenya?
Are there producers who can supply me in my area?
How to be sure that fair trade money goes to the producer?

And many, many more questions.

In this post, we’re trying to shed some light on buying sustainable food, organic farming, local production, and we’ll add fair trade here. The idea is to give you, as a consumer, the tools to be able to make the best choice for you and your family. Based on where you live, what is available around and how you eat. Based also on your individual choices and the importance you give to the environmental and/or ethical and/or health aspects.

What is organic food?

Organic farming is a mode of production based on cultural and livestock practices respectful of natural balances. Thus, it excludes the use of synthetic chemicals, GMOs, and limits the use of non-organic inputs. “Inputs” means anything added to the land: fertilizers, pesticides… Organic farming follows strict specifications. Those favor, at all stages, the respect of the farmer, of nature, of the animals, of our environment and of the general health.

In organic agriculture, synthetic chemicals are not allowed, animals have enough space to live, the systematic addition of antibiotics to animal feed is prohibited, and so on. In practice, organic producers will use the following:

  • Long and varied rotations, food autonomy for their herds (link to the ground),
  • The economy of inputs,
  • Risk prevention, for animal and crop health or weed control.
USDA organic logoCertification and labeling

Products from organic farming are controlled and can be identified thanks to specific labels.

Organic labels differ depending on:

  • the type of products they cover (food, textiles, etc.),
  • the social, ecological and economic criteria checked,
  • the inspection body granting the certification.

Other private logos identify “brands” of organic products.

Us organic logoSome numbers. Organic represents between 1 and 3% of the total cultivated surfaces in the US. This may not sound like much, but organic farmland experienced a double-digit growth over the last few years. And the sales of organic products, food and non-food, have grown much faster than standard products overall.

Side note – However, the demand for organic products far exceeds the current 1-3% of certified organic soil in the US. To be certified organic, a produce farmer will have to transition for 3 years. This period is required to allow for the soil to be rid of any chemical residues and to go back to an organic state of health. This deters a lot of farmers, and a large proportion of organic food is imported to meet consumer demand.

 Some large producers, like General Mills, have heard their consumers demand for more organic products. They are now increasing their range, encouraging more farmers to make the transition to organic.

Is organic more expensive?

Yes, organic products are usually more expensive, but not always. Let’s clarify this:

  • The extra cost is due to a smaller production scale and sometimes increased labor costs. Indeed, the cost of transporting imported products is sometimes offset by cheaper labor. A fair trade label could guarantee the social conditions of production, at increased cost.
  • Studies show that households who shop in specialized organic grocery stores or directly from the producer spend less money on food. Why? Because they are more in tune with their real needs.
  • We underestimate the price of conventional foods because it does not take into account their environmental and health impacts. For example, organic foods contain fewer pesticides, residues of veterinary drugs and nitrates. This reduces their water pollution control costs. Source – FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
  • Some organic products are more expensive than their non-organic counterparts, like meat. The solution here might be to consume less meat but of much better quality!
  • Organic meat and vegetables do not melt or dry up like “traditional” foods and are richer in nutrients, containing from 20% to 75% extra vitamins, proteins, trace elements, mineral salts…

Related: the Dirty Dozen list or when to buy organic


The case for local food

Fruit and vegetable marketThe “ideal” product would be a product where the raw material would be produced and processed locally. It would be directly sold by the producer to consumers according to the concept of “short food supply chain”. This makes it possible:

  • to reduce the transport and storage of the products,
  • to better remunerate the producer, since there are no intermediaries,
  • and to create a direct contact as well as a relation of trust with the producer.
Local food can take many forms.

The most common is probably the purchase of local products through conventional distribution channels (grocery stores, supermarkets, etc.). To promote the short food supply chain, we can turn to:

  • collective purchase groups, who collectively manage the purchase of local products.
  • solidarity purchase groups who voluntarily support certain producers.
  • direct purchase from the producer on a market or at the place of production.



What is fair trade?

Fair trade USAFair Trade products counted just a few thousands of products 20 years ago. You can now count over 200 million fairly traded products in multiple stores and outlets. They can be now found through fair trade organizations, committed stores, or even supermarkets.

According to the World Fair Trade Organization:

“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.

 Fair Trade organizations have a clear commitment to Fair Trade as the principal core of their mission. They, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

Fair Trade AmericaThe basic principle of fair trade…

is the guarantee given to small producers to commercialize their products at prices that cover the costs of sustainable production from both a social and environmental point of view.

It is also a guarantee of relative price stability. As well as the implementation of favorable conditions of payment. And even pre-financing opportunities. These prevent farmers and tradesmen from having to sell their products short or getting loans from predatory lenders.

Fair Trade products and organizations follow a set of criteria. They are also recognizable by specific labels, logos, and brands (see opposite).

Tips for a sustainable clean diet

The good news is, you don’t have to choose between the three. Organic farming, fair trade and a diet based on local products are an integral part of a sustainable diet. These concepts reinforce each other.

The notion of fair trade implies requirements of economic and social guarantees for small producers. Like the payment of a fair price, multi-annual commercial contracts or the granting of development premiums. Those requirements go in parallel with strict environmental practices (ban on GMOs, environmental impact reduction, sustainable management of natural resources, etc.).

The term “local product” refers only to the notion of proximity from the place of production. Despite common beliefs, a local product provides no environmental, health and social guarantees. Unfortunately, the environmental impact of agricultural food products depends more on the mode of production than the transport itself.

This goes in favor of organic products:

  • They do not require fertilizers or synthetic pesticides (whose production generates significant greenhouse gas emissions),
  • and preserve water quality and biodiversity.



The optimal solution is the one that works for you

Fresh marketIt is less a question of “choosing” between these products than “reconciling” these products. Based on your personal values and realistic opportunities in your area. The valorization of organic, equitable and local products is also a great way to encourage family production methods and small-scale agriculture.

For example, you could try prioritizing your clean shopping like this:

  • Think before you buy…

    to match quantities to your needs, do a shopping list, use up leftovers, etc. to avoid waste. That’s when real savings happen. It is also a chance to identify seasonal fruits and vegetables, or to consider a small kitchen or backyard garden to grow your own produce.

  • Prefer organic products…

    that are at the same time local products, when possible. Transportation is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Long distances between the grower and the consumer also mean long storage. Your products are less likely to have been picked at their ultimate level of ripeness, but rather green and left to ripen in containers. Bulk products should also have your preferences to reduce packaging waste.

  • For products from the Southern hemisphere…

    opt for organic and fair trade products: coffee, bananas, oranges, tea, etc.

  • Be choosy! 😉

    Be more picky about your food. Prefer quality over quantity. Spend a bit more on better quality products, and learn to savor every mouthful, rather than devour. Your taste buds (and your waistline) will thank you for it.

And you? How do you decide whether to spend your hard-earned money needs on organic, local or fair trade products? Please share your tips in the comments below for your fellow readers. 🙂

How to eat more whole grains in 5 steps

Despite popular “low grain” trends over the last few years (read gluten-free, low-carb and Paleo diets), whole grains are seeing an increase in popularity. So much so that more and more products are now labeled as containing “whole grains”. But in all this marketing hype, we’re left to figure out how to eat more whole grains.

This is the second part of my series on whole grains, the first part (why eat whole grains) covered the meaning of whole grains, as well as their benefits. In this section, we’re going to see how to eat more whole grains in 5 easy steps.

1. Understanding whole grains

To recap quickly, a whole grain will contain the whole kernel, i.e.:whole-wheat

  • The bran – the outer layer.
  • The endosperm – the main part of the grain, which can be ground to make flour.
  • The germ – the component which will germinate if planted.

Refined grains will consist mainly of the endosperm, which is made by and far of carbohydrates, a few vitamins and minerals, and very little fiber. With the industrial revolution and the motorization of mills, came the realization that refined flours were easier to cook with, had an improved texture and taste, and had a longer shelf life.

However, in the process, almost all the fiber and a large portion of the vitamins and minerals are lost. And a few good decades later, a whole lot of studies are confirming that those are actually the ones conferring grains their health properties.

2. Know your portion size

The recommended daily amount of whole grain, according to the USDA, ranges between 6 and 7 “ounce equivalents” respectively for adult women and men. They define one “ounce equivalent” as containing 16g of whole grains. In layman terms, this translates as:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereals (puffed or flaked)
  • ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereals
  • 1 biscuit, mini bagel, small muffin, pancake, small flour tortilla, full-size corn tortilla

They also recommend that 50% of our daily intake should be made of whole grains. Unfortunately, there are several pitfalls out there:

Whole grain label starts at 51% whole grain

According to the FDA, to be labeled “whole grain”, a food must contain at least 51% of whole grains by weight. This does, however, mean that 49% can be junk (see Learn to decipher labels below). A whole wheat cookie is still a cookie…

Recomposed whole grains rather than a whole kernels

In most processed products (all bakery products, for example), the final “whole grain” is actually a combination of bran, endosperm, and germ that were initially separated, then mixed back together. Those processed whole grains have a lower content of fiber and nutrients than their original intact kernels.

“Whole grain” doesn’t always mean “rich in fiber”Burger with whole wheat bun

A whole grain product is not a guarantee that you will get optimum fiber intake. So if increasing your intake of fiber is one of your prime concern, be aware that eating processed whole grain products will not be enough. You’ll need to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Processed whole grains will still trigger blood sugar spikes

Even though these will be less than for refined grains, they will still send you reaching for your next sugar/starch fix sooner than whole kernels (think porridge oats vs. steel-cut oats).

Watch out for the Whole Grain Stamp

The basic Whole Grain Stamp, although confirming that the product contains at least 8g of whole grains per serving, doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a whole lot of sugar, solid fat, salt, and other additives. Look out rather for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp, which will contain a minimum of 16g per serving, i.e. 1 of your 6 or 7 whole grain daily recommended servings.

We don’t need to eat more grain products

Americans, by and far, eat too many grain-based products on a daily basis, so the idea here is not to add whole grains to your diet, but to cleverly substitute some of your refined grain products for healthier whole grain ones.

3. How to spot the right whole grains

Step 1. Think.

No matter how many claims of “high-fiber content” and “whole grains” a highly-processed, nutrient-poor product can make, it remains a highly-processed, nutrient-poor product. Breakfast sugary cereals for kids are a prime example. A lot of them have jumped on the “whole grain” bandwagon, yet their first ingredient is sugar and they’re loaded with additives and colorings. Same for biscuits and other snacks. If this isn’t a product that would qualify as unprocessed, clean and nutrient-rich otherwise, being labeled “whole grain” will not change that.

Step 2. Learn to decipher labels

Now that we’ve eliminated the wolf-disguised-as-lamb gang, let’s focus on those products like bread or pasta. Those are processed food, but they will naturally find themselves in your pantry. When shopping for them, make sure that the whole grains are top of that list, or second, just after water.

whole wheat bread ingredients

Step 3. Aim for the whole kernel.

The ultimate whole grains are, well, grains that still look whole. If you compare porridge oats (which are steamed and rolled) and steel-cut oats, you can clearly see that the latter still look like a whole kernel, cut in pieces. Same for rice. If you can still see the bran on the grains, you’re on the right track. Millet, buckwheat, and quinoa, for example, are prepared whole. This makes popcorn (minus added butter) is the ultimate whole grain snack!

4. An easier approach: the magic carb-to-fiber ratio

The theory

Ok, by now you can see that adding whole grains to your diet might not be as easy as it first seemed. Luckily, Harvard researchers studied over 500 grain-based products in two major grocery stores and came up with an easier solution. They found out that the healthier products had a minimum fiber to carbohydrates ratio of 1:10.

In practice

What does this mean? It means that if you check any whole grain product label, you can just focus on the grams of carbohydrates given for 100g, then check the fiber amount.

Example 1: Ancient grains whole bread

Ancient-Grain-Nutrition-PanelIn this example, the carbohydrates total 38g per 100g of product, and the fiber, 7g. Divide the carbohydrates by 10. We obtain 3.8. So there must be *at least* 3.8g of fiber in this product.

At 7g, this product easily passes the test. This is incidentally a whole grain gluten-free bread. Being gluten-free, it contains quite a few added ingredients, some of it being refined starches.

Ingredients – Water, whole grain brown rice flour, tapioca starch, corn starch, whole grain millet flour, whole grain sorghum flour, whole grain teff flour, egg whites, corn dextrin, cane sugar, canola oil, potato flour, honey, rice bran extract, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, whole grain quinoa, whole grain teff, ground flax seed, flax seeds, whole grain millet, whole grain amaranth flour, hemp seeds, baking powder, yeast, xanthan gum, salt vinegar, enzymes (calcium sulfate & enzymes)

 

Example 2 – Whole grains English muffins

Whole-Wheat-Bread-LabelHere, the carbohydrates per serving are 29g. Based on this, the amount of fiber should be 2.9g. Instead, the fiber content is only 2g. It’s not a large difference, but enough to flag potential no-nos here.

When checking the ingredients list, the whole grains only appear after the enriched wheat flour (refined flour enriched in vitamins and minerals) and the water. The muffins also contain some preservatives and other additives.

Ingredients – Enriched wheat flour [flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid], water, whole wheat flour, farina, sugar, salt, yeast, calcium propionate and sorbic acid (to preserve freshness), wheat gluten, soybean oil, grain vinegar, monoglycerides, soy lecithin, soy, whey (milk).

 

NB – I have actually really battled to find any bread that was labeled “whole grain” and did not meet the above guideline, which is fabulous by my standards. I didn’t check any cereals, snacks or biscuits though!

5. How to add whole grain to your diet

Based on the fact that the average American diet already contains enough grain-based products, the main idea to increase your whole grain intake is to replace some (half, ideally) of your refined grain products by 100% whole grain ones. Or three-quarters of your refined grain products by 50% whole grain ones.

This doesn’t have to be done overnight, but here are some pointers to steer you in the right direction.

  • Swap your white bread for whole wheat bread. If you don’t care much for the taste of whole wheat bread, look out for a 50/50 bread with maximum fiber content.
  • Swap your normal pasta for whole wheat pasta. It is a bit of an acquired taste, but I find that, in most recipes with sauce, the difference in flavor disappears.
  • Swap your white rice for brown rice. It does take a little longer to cook though, so bear this in mind.
  • Swap porridge oats for steel-cut oats. Again, they take longer to cook so give yourself a little bit more time.
  • Start experimenting with seed-like grains, such as quinoa and millet, instead of rice, couscous, and porridge.

Replace refined flour in your recipes with whole grain ones. Be careful though, unrefined flours are heavier than refined ones and will change the texture of your cakes and biscuits. Start with replacing a quarter of your refined flour and increase the quantity from there on. Or simply look out for new recipes using whole grain flours.
Those will also bring a different, stronger (more nutty) flavor to your baking. Recipes who will do well with the change include cakes where the amount of flour is minimal (typically less than 150g of flour per cake), which contain nuts or which use spices for added flavors.

Have you figured out how to eat more whole grains yet?

I hope so, but if I have missed any tip or advice on how to eat more whole grains for your fellow clean-eaters out there, please send them in the comments below so we can all benefit.

Remember one thing though. These are vitally important changes to make for your health. Yet, they are easy (whole grain products are everywhere and are on the rise) and cheap (they actually don’t cost that much more than your refined products). And because whole grains fill you up more than refined grains, you might end up eating less, recouping the little extra cost. Win-win.

And if you’ve missed the first part of my Whole grains series, Why eat whole grains, be sure to catch it there!

Why eat whole grains? Understanding their health benefits

Grains in seem to be having a hard time lately, with gluten being blamed by some for major health problems and new grain-free diets springing up every year. So one can easily wonder why eat whole grains at all, as recommended by health authorities everywhere.

However, according to Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and author of two long-running studies, eating 70g of whole grains per day could reduce your risk of dying by 5%. With each additional 28g serving, the risk of dying of heart disease is reduced by 9%. The study also found that replacing refined grains and red meats by whole grains in equal amounts could potentially increase your lifespan by 8% to 20%.

There is so much to explain about whole grains that I have split this subject in two. Part 1 covers Why eat whole grains, and Part 2 deals with ways to eat more whole grains.

What are whole grains?

Mixed whole grainsGrains, also called cereals, are the seeds of some grasses, which are cultivated for food. The following are all grains you’re likely to come across in the shops, although not all in the form of whole seeds (alternative names in brackets):

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat (or kasha)
  • Corn (hominy, popcorn, maize)
  • Millet
  • Oats (oatmeal)
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt
  • Teff
  • Wheat (triticale, semolina, seitan, farro, kamut)
  • Wild Rice


Whole grains vs. refined grains

A whole grain will contain the whole kernel, i.e.:

  • The bran – the outer layer, which contains vitamins, minerals, and fibers.
  • The endosperm – the main part of the grain, which can be ground to make flour. Initially destined to feed the embryo, the germ, when it develops into a new plant. Contains carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
  •  The germ – the smallest component of the kernel, which is supposed to germinate if planted. Contains proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fat.

100% whole grains will contain all 3 parts of the kernel (the bran, the endosperm, and the germ). To obtain refined grains, whole grains are milled to remove the bran and the germ. The end result is of finer texture and keeps for longer. The process removes, however, a lot of the nutrients, in particular, fiber.

Wheat fieldWhole grains can still be milled, rolled, crushed or cracked. As long as the whole of the kernel is present in the end product, they are still “whole grains”.

Note – when we eat refined grains, our bodies actually use nutrients to digest these nutrient-poor foods, which leaves us poorer in nutrients than before eating them!

Note 2 – This is why you might come across the terms “enriched grains” and “fortified grains”. “Enriched grains” means some of the nutrients lost during the milling stage are replaced, such as vitamins. “Fortified grains” means that some nutrients that were not initially in the kernel have been added.

Whole grains and fibers

As you can see from the Nutritional info above, one of the main nutrient to be removed during the refining process is fiber. It’s the part of a plant food that the body cannot digest. As it moves through our digestive system, it absorbs water and helps the body eliminate food waste quicker.

A higher consumption is linked with a lower risk of heart disease, as it helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and stabilizes blood sugar. It also fills you up and is an essential tool for weight loss and weight management.

whole-wheatThere are 2 varieties of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Good sources of insoluble fiber in grains are whole wheat and popcorn (minus any added butter or sugar), but also teff, spelt and millet. Barley and oatmeal, as well as amaranth, contain soluble fiber. The body needs both in equal measures for optimal health.

The current recommended intake of fiber ranges from 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men. However, the vast majority of us only get to about half of that amount per day, mostly thanks to our highly processed diet of refined grains and our low intake of high-fiber food such as fruits and vegetables.

Check my next post on How to eat more whole grains to figure out how to increase your fiber intake the easy way.

So why eat whole grains?

The higher fiber content of whole grains is linked with lowering your general risk of mortality, but that’s not the only reason why eating whole grains is beneficial to our bodies. The bran and germ of grains also contain a whole range of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, as well as proteins, all playing a beneficial role. Let’s list a few of the main benefits here:

1. They slow down digestion,

…stabilizing your blood sugar and insulin levels. When ingested, refined grains break down immediately into glucose, much the same way as pure sugar. This sends your blood sugar rocketing, then plummeting, later on, causing sugar crash and cravings.
Whole grains are broken down more slowly, keeping you full for longer.

2. They have been found to help with weight management

…by not sending you reaching for the next sugar or starchy fix, three servings per day being associated with less abdominal fat.

3. Whole grains, therefore, help with preventing type 2 diabetes

…through healthy weight control and stabilization of your blood sugar levels. Those benefits kick in from only two servings per day (read my post on How to eat more whole grains to figure out what a serving is). This could be due to their high-fiber and high-magnesium content, both linked with better carbohydrate metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

4. Whole grains can help lower blood cholesterol,

Whole grain breads are best…oats being a real champion in this category. Their higher soluble fiber content helps with eliminating cholesterol, by binding the cholesterol and its precursors together in the digestive tract and eliminating it quickly. The antioxidants found in oats also play a role.

5. They can help decrease your blood pressure,

…in particular, whole grains with a high soluble fiber content, such as barley and oats. Their antioxidants help improve cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation.

6. Numerous studies on more than 20 types of cancer

…have found a link between eating three servings of whole grains per day and a reduced risk of cancer. This is in particular valid for gastrointestinal cancers and cancers of the oral cavity, such as pharynx, esophagus, and larynx.
Whole grains offer protective nutrients, such as fiber, antioxidants (vitamin E and selenium in particular) and phytochemicals which can help suppress the growth of cancer cells, block DNA damage and prevent the formation of carcinogens.

And if the benefits of whole grains start at just two servings per day, research has shown that the health improvements increase with each extra serving, to reach the 3-4 servings of whole grains recommended daily by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The take-home message: load up on whole grains for optimal health

How to do this? There are a lot of easy ways to identify whole grains in your food and increase your intake. Read up on those in my next article on How to eat more whole grains.

Eating clean for beginners – 6 steps to wholesomeness

Eating a healthy diet should be a no-brainer, since it is linked with important health improvements, such as a lesser risk of premature death, heart disease, cancer, and chronic diseases, just to name a few.

A clean, healthy diet should be focussed on eating food as close as possible to their original state and reduce the intake of industrially processed food to a minimum.

Ultimately, eating clean means avoiding anything packaged.

Sounds extreme? In those days of supermarkets, long shelf life and convenience food, that’s how it looks.
Sounds impossible? Not really. This is a guide to start eating clean for beginners in 6 easy steps. Follow them, and you’ll be well on your way to new clean eating habits.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Alan Lakein

As you’ll see, the best way to start eating clean is to prepare for it. This doesn’t need to take long, but this Eating Clean for Beginners post will equip you with the right tools to change your habits in the long run and make the most of your new diet.

Step 1 – Decide Why

Before you embark on your clean eating journey, ask yourself why you want to do this.

This is a vital step. Deciding on why you want change to happen will keep you motivated when your willpower is being challenged.

  • How to plan for clean eatingHave you got health problems that need you to change your lifestyle?
  • Did you sign up for a sports challenge and could do with adjusting your diet?
  • Have you decided to take charge of your health in the long run, to age gracefully?
  • Is someone close to you embarking on the same journey and you feel compelled to join them?
  • Do you want to teach your children how to eat healthier?
  • Do you want to lessen your environmental footprint?

Whatever the reason why you want to start eating clean, pinpoint it. Better still, write it down somewhere. So you can revert to it when you’re feeling in doubt.

Step 2 – Decide How

As I have covered in this post on Starting clean eating, there is more than one way one can kick-start their healthy eating journey. But not all of them will fit you and your lifestyle. Read about them, think about them, and decide on the best method to clean up your diet.

This is particularly important if you are starting from a highly refined, industrial diet. Your body will need time to adjust to your new meals and cleanse itself inside out. Give it time, allow for it to be de-gunked gradually, one step at a time.

Also, if you decide to start with just a clean breakfast, for example, it will also allow you not to feel guilty about your evening meal being still highly processed. Instead, you will feel proud of your achievement so far and this will spur you on.

Step 3 – Give yourself SMART goals

SMART goals for successOh, you’ve heard about those before, the corporate world loves them. But there is some definite truth behind them, and reasons why they work so well. Let’s go through them, applied to your new clean eating resolutions. Try and make your goals:

Specific

Once you’ve picked a method to start eating clean, decide on which meal or food to change first. Or which shop you will do your shopping in from now on. Or which industrial food you’re going to replace by a cleaner one.

Measurable

This one is a bit more difficult here as we’re not dealing with numbers or hard facts. But you can still set yourself targets and check against them. It could be sport-related since a healthy diet will improve your endurance and your energy. Or if you buddy-up (see Step 4), you can decide on the next common “challenge” to tackle. Or decide on the weight you’re aiming to get to.

Achievable

Be realistic. Yes, some people have managed successfully to use the Great Purge method, radically changing their lifestyle. But I don’t know any who didn’t battle with it, and I’m pretty sure this “All or nothing” approach is the reason behind quite a few failures.

It takes time to make effective long-lasting changes. For a start, your body will detox, which can lead to a few uncomfortable days or weeks. The more gradual the changes, the shorter these will be.

You might also end up giving up on some of your favorite food. And they are so because their composition makes them so addictive. Think sugar-salt-fat, add a bit of MSG for the umami flavor, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a food you just won’t be able to stop eating.

Clean eating will help you get rid of those cravings. But if you remove these highly processed foodstuffs all at once, you’re setting yourself up for junk food withdrawal symptoms. And for failure, if those become too strong.

Relevant

If you decide to eat clean, focus on this. Eating clean and going vegan at the same might be just too much at once. Or eating clean and gluten-free.

The idea is to give your body (and the environment) a rest from added processes and additives. If you introduce too many changes at once, it might be more difficult to stick to your new habits. Give yourself a chance and make one change at a time.

Read my post about starting clean eating for ideas on how to introduce those changes.

Timebound

Be realistic about how quickly you will manage to implement those changes. Once you’ve decided how you will transition to clean eating, think about how long each change, big or small, will take. Based on your life, your family, your work, etc.

But once you’ve set those timeframes, try and stick with them. Write them down somewhere. You’re more likely to stick to resolutions if they’re written down in your agenda.

Step 4 – Buddy up

Cooking clubWe all know that it’s easier to stick with changes when you are part of a team. Why? Because the goals are set together, everybody works toward the same targets and this holds you accountable. It is particularly important when introducing major changes in your life.

There are bound to be times when you will feel tempted to fall off the wagon. And in those times, remembering that you are part of a team and that you’ll have to somehow “report” to them will make a difference.

Your clean eating team can be real and close to you, like family members or friends. This makes it easier to go shopping together, team up to trawl farmers’ markets and sample each other’s’ recipes.

But in this era of all things virtual, it can also be a Facebook group, an online challenge group or an app like MyFitnessPal (see below). The main point is to be inspired by others, to be reminded of your goals, and to have to “report” regularly, through weigh-in or another progress report.

It’s also important to get regular reminders and feedback from others going in the same direction, facing the same difficulties and asking the same questions.

Step 5 – Get the Right Tools

Starting to eat clean by yourself can be daunting, especially if this is a new concept for you. So here are a few free apps to help you along (please note that, being an Android user, the links are for the Google Play store, but all these free apps are also available on iTunes for Apple users):

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal…is a great one to get started. It’s user-friendly and allows you to log in a meal in a couple of clicks. Plus, its food database, with over five million entries, is sure to contain just the one ingredient you’re eating or want to eat.

Although it’s more of a calorie-counter and diet-tracker, it’s easy, free, comprehensive and a great tool to check your nutrients. You can also easily link up with fellow buddies, exchange tips and follow each other’s progress.

Yummly

Yummly…allows you to get healthy recipes based on dietary and taste preferences, and even shop online for them with Instacart.

You can select what’s currently in your fridge/pantry and get ideas of meals to do with it, based on your cooking skills, your personal taste preferences, and your dietary requirements.

DietsSuckdietssuck

…is a simple app that encourages you to introduce little healthy changes every day. It’s fun and easy, and it sends you reminders to drink more water or eat fruit throughout the day. You can also use it to give you easy meal plans.

The Thrive Market

The Thrive MarketThis app allows you to order healthy foods online at wholesale price. What’s not to love? If your local supermarket isn’t particularly well stocked up in healthy food, this could be your next best option.

Fooducate

Fooducate…helps you decipher labels and tells you how good or bad a specific food is. It reads a barcode to access the info for that particular product, so it’s great for any packaged item you still need to buy. Or if you’re just starting and ponder how “clean” your standard shopping basket really is.

Dirty Dozen appThe Dirty Dozen app

…lets you know exactly which fresh produce you should buy organic, and which ones are pretty much devoid of pesticides, even if grown traditionally. Not sure what I’m talking about? Read this post to find out more about the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.

The RealPlans app

RealPlans app…takes the hassle out of meal planning. You can even upload your own recipes, remove the ones that you don’t like, select specific diet preferences. It gives you the shopping you need, and with Instacart built-in, even gets your ingredients delivered to your door!

RealPlans is a monthly subscription, but if you buy the Healthy Meal Planning Bundle, you get 1 month free. Long enough to try this app and see if it works for you, methinks.

Step 6 – Learn about clean eating food, shopping, cooking etc.

Educate yourself.

The prospect of switching from a highly processed diet to a cleaner one can be daunting. But if you take baby steps and understand the logic behind it all, it actually makes a lot of sense.

So stick around. Read up a lot about the ins and out of clean eating. SimplyGoClean is here to help you with just that.

Follow your Why.

This is an important step (see Step 1 above). You might want to lose weight, improve your general health, teach your kids how to eat cleaner food, save money on food or lower your environmental footprint. These are all valid goals.

Depending on your target, you might not approach clean eating in the same way. Lowering your footprint might involve eating more local and organic food and reducing packaging to its bare minimum as a priority. Whereas teaching your children to eat healthier will have you focus on finding tasty and easy recipes to satisfy their taste buds.

Figure out How.

Figure out what will work for you in your current situation. Then research this. Chances are, somebody else will have been in the same situation and will have found the answer. This is how Simply Go Clean was created, to pass on all the answers I came across. So keep on sharing, using the Comments section below.

If meal planning is an issue, this meal planning tool might just be the solution.

Savor it.

Clean eating is not about eating plain food day in day out. It’s about discovering new ways to cook and taste whole natural ingredients.

There are loads of delicious clean recipes out there, should you want to stick to your old favorites, or try out new flavors and textures. Follow me on Pinterest, I try my best to select clean recipes for you.

Treat yourself.

You’ve thought about your SMART goals (see Step 3), and you’ve worked hard toward reaching them, whatever these might be. When you get there, be proud of it. Shout it out on your clean eating network (real or virtual). Take a minute to reflect on how hard or easy it was getting this far. On what you had to change. And how you changed it. This will help you plan your next move and reach your next target.

Got another tip? Share it here.

Create your teamEverybody’s clean eating journey is different because we’re all different. Feel free to share your journey or give us more tips on eating clean for beginners in the Comments below. They’re bound to be useful to someone else out there.

And if you liked this post, please share it on Facebook or Pinterest to inspire others.

Clean eating for beginners

How to start clean eating

Eating clean is simply eating more natural, healthy, wholesome food, and less processed, nutrient-depleting, industrial food. Put like that, it sounds easy, doesn’t it? But how to start clean eating, for the majority of us out there, can be daunting. Processed food (anything with a packaging, really) is the norm, it’s what we grew up on and it’s the only food that’s (seemingly) available in the shops.

So do you start eating clean? Do you go T-total, or try a more gradual approach? It will depend on you and your circumstances, and I believe there are ways to go clean to suit everybody. I have listed few tried and tested methods below, from the most radical to more moderate approaches.

Option 1 – The Great Purge

This is the most radical approach to quickly purge your kitchen, pantry, fridge, and freezer and start from scratch. Not really suited to families though.

Market stall full of fruits and vegetablesSome folks out there go for a radical, uncompromising approach: they throw away all their foodstuff that isn’t considered clean and start with a clean slate. The idea is to purge your pantry and your fridge of all food that would detract you from eating clean, so you are not tempted to eat something processed or refined from there on.

The pros – it allows you to start from scratch and stick with your new clean diet quickly, simply by removing the temptation at home. This might work well for people that need to radically and suddenly change their diet, for serious health reasons, for example.

The cons – while the temptation might not be at home unless you know exactly what to eat and how to eat it, you will likely fall back on old habits the next time you shop or go out. So a fair amount of research must go in hand with the purge.

You might also get the dreaded detox flu as your body has to get rid of vast amounts of toxins in a short period of time.

The risk is also to end up removing a lot of junk food, but without knowing what clean food to add back into your diet, and not eating enough. Eating clean is not a restricting, short-term diet, it’s a lifestyle. Deprivation and calorie-counting do not belong in a clean eating diet.

It takes a good few weeks (some say 3, but evidence shows that even 21 days is not enough for massive changes like this) to set up habits, and unless you have a major reason to do this, this method is more likely to fail as you battle through your new way of eating.

Good for – the Adventurers, the Radicals and the Highly Motivated

Option 2 – The Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner approach

“Clean” one meal at a time, breakfast, then lunch, then dinner is a gentler approach. This is the one I personally followed, without realizing it.

Breakfast
How I did it

I started with the breakfast, which was giving me a lot of grief. Being French, I grew up on “tartines”, French bread smothered with butter and jam, or sugar-laden breakfast cereals, with a cup of hot chocolate as a child, then coffee or chicory as an adult.

And at 10 am, I would crash. I would get brain-fog and cranky at school. In my teens, the sugar crash would actually cause me to feel faint if I didn’t eat anything by 12. I actually passed out a couple time during my student years, because I had forgotten or hadn’t had the time to eat anything by lunch. Did I learn from my mistakes? Nope, I just carried on glucose tablets in my bag all the time!

Eggs on toast with saladI later alleviated the problem somewhat by switching to good old porridge oats in the morning, but I would still need a snack at 10. I only switched to a protein-based breakfast after the birth of my second daughter, when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and had to forgo oats. The relief was immediate and immense. I could just have 2 eggs and a tomato and carry on with the same level of energy until 12. I stopped feeling faint, I didn’t need to permanently carry glucose tablets or snacks with me. and I lost the sugar-induced brain fog. My hunger signs became, well, normal “empty stomach” hunger signs, rather than crankiness and faintness.

Apologies for the long personal digression, but this was truly my turning point. And given that most people’s breakfast is sugar-laden, I’m guessing it might be the same for a lot of people out there.

Why start with changing your breakfast?

Breakfast is also an easy meal to turn clean first, because it usually happens at home, is quickly prepared and is by far a personal affair. So, you don’t have to find recipes to please a whole family. It’s just you, your taste buds and your appetite.

But being the first meal of the day, if you find the clean breakfast that works for you, it will make a huge difference in how comfortable and productive your mornings are. Basically, that’s half of your day sorted. There and then.

Lunch

…will naturally be next, again because it mainly involves you. It typically requires a little more prep at home, if you’re bringing your own lunch, or being savvier with your choice of bought-out lunch. But you only have to cater for yourself, and you, therefore, have a lot more options.

If you haven’t done so naturally by then, snacks should probably be your next target, to make sure you don’t ruin your clean day by snacking on the wrong kind of food after work or when in need of a pick-me-up.

Dinner

…will probably be the most challenging meal to swap to clean food. Not through lack of delicious options, but simply because it usually involves other people, their taste buds, and their culinary expectations. Serving a whole plateful of healthy, natural greens to your kids every evening is not likely to earn you any brownie points.

Chicken kebabs with vegetablesBut by then, you are likely to have a good idea of what foods are allowed in a clean eating kitchen and how to prep them. My honest advice here is to involve the rest of your household. There are plenty of recipes that allow you to replace the family favorites with cleaner versions. Your children are also more likely to try your new meals if they have chosen the recipe and some of the ingredients. Or, even better, if they have helped prepare it.

How long should it take you to change every single meal? As long as you need. Everybody is different. This is not a short-term fad diet, but a new way of eating. Set yourself realistic targets and stick to them. Remember the 80/20 rule. It might be that clean eating works for you during the working week, but that you need to relax it a bit at the weekend. Or all the time, apart from lunches with clients. My kids know that they’re allowed a “naughty” in their lunchboxes on Fridays.

Good for – the Inadvertent Clean Eaters, the Morning Slumpers

Option 3 – One food category at a time

Or how to swap one food category for a cleaner version at a time, starting with the worst offenders.

This is another stepped approach that can work well to change from a drastically processed diet. It consists of identifying the industrial food that needs to be removed from your diet. Then the clean food that needs to make its way into your diet. Then decide to make one change per week or per month.

Fresh clean water is bestFor example, the first change could be gradually cutting out sugary drinks and drinking more water. The second one, replacing refined starches with whole grain ones. The third one, adding an extra portion of vegetables per meal. Then replacing biscuits, cakes and sugary treats with fruits or clean snacks. Switching to cleaner protein sources. Cutting down/out shop-bought prepared meals and takeaways. Etc.

The key here is to seriously take stock of what you are currently eating, and making a plan to stick to, with realistic timeframes for you and your family.

Good for – the Organised, the Reluctant Families

Option 4 – The Meal by Meal approach

Change one meal at a time: take each of your meals and try and go cleaner every time. In small baby steps.

This is a very gradual option: you consider each meal and replace it with its cleaner equivalent.

Breakfast bowl with granola and fruitsFor example, replacing your breakfast cereals with organic granola, or your morning toasts and jam by rye bread and plain peanut butter.

For lunch, you can just switch to wholegrain bread for your sandwiches, and choose chicken over salami. Or pick a quinoa salad, rather than your usual pasta salad. You could replace your usual chips with vegetable chips or plain corn or potato chips.

And instead of cheese macaroni at dinner time, try whole wheat pasta Bolognese for a healthier option. Soft drinks can be replaced by 100% fruit juices, then diluted juices, then water.

The idea is to constantly try and go cleaner and more natural. Until you reach a point where the vast majority of your food is untampered with and free of added sugar or additives. Hint – to get to that stage, you will have to buy whole products and prepare them from scratch.

The good thing about this technique is that the changes will be very gradual. You keep your favorite meals, just tweaking the recipe a bit. Sor it’s great if the rest of the family is initially not so keen on changing their eating habits. But it will take you much longer to arrive at a stage where you only feed your body whole natural ingredients.

Good for – the Hesitants, the Reluctant Families

Option 5 – The Cleaner Shopping option

Basically, you replace the content of fridge and pantry with cleaner ingredients as you go along.

This probably goes along the previous method. Every time you run out of something in the pantry or in the fridge, replace it with a cleaner version. Again, the changes are gradual and will allow you to eat the same food, to a certain extent, just cleaner.

On the plus side, there’s no wastage, as you get a chance to finish what you have at home before buying new cleaner groceries.

Grocery basketThis approach will still get you to look at cleaner options out there and checking out ingredients list, which is a good start.

But the risk is to only clean up your diet so far, as shop-bought options can only be that clean. Ultimately, you want to get rid of all processing, and this involves buying raw, unadulterated ingredients and cooking from scratch.

To avoid this, this approach is best combined with Option 6 below.

Good for – the No-Wasters, the Careful Shoppers

Option 6 – Change your Favorite Shop

Swap you main shopping haunt for another one offering more natural, whole products.

Make a point of buying food in shops or places that offer cleaner products. You’ll automatically end up discovering new ways of eating and trying more wholesome food.

Cleaner supermarkets

Whole Foods Market seems an obvious choice. Trader’s Joe comes up time and time again in clean eating food blogs. But there are other supermarkets out there that are just better stocked with fruits and vegetables, offer lesser processed foodstuff and more geared towards natural and organic products. Look out for them and try them.

Don’t forget to shop online too. Thrive Market allows you to buy clean, organic products at a fraction of their retail price.

Farmers’ markets

Fresh marketIf you are lucky to live near a farmer’s market, this could become your favorite place to stock up on fresh local food. We belong to those lucky ones. Since we have to cook everything from scratch, it makes sense for us to source the best and cheapest fresh products out there.

Farm-to-door boxes

Farm-to-door services are also a great solution to make you get fresh organic fruits and vegetables delivered regularly. Some cover an extensive area in the US, but I would favor local ones, simply to reduce the transport and storage.

Good for – the Undecisives, the Marketing Junkies

Whichever the option you decide to go for…

…education is key

Unless you know who the Bad Guys are and who the Good Guys are out there, there’s a high risk you will just end up piling up on junk food labeled “natural” or “healthy”, because their packaging (and their clever Marketing Managers) says so.

You can educate yourself about clean eating before starting, or as you go along, there isn’t any right or wrong method here. But read, read, read. Know what constitutes processing. How it affects the food and your environment. Know what your motivation for eating clean is. Learn how to read labels. Become addicted to shopping lists. Master your way around the different aisles of your supermarket.

Oh, and keep reading Simply Go Clean.

I have tried to cover various methods to embark on a clean eating journey, but please feel free to tell us how you have started and how it worked for you in the comments below.

And if you believe these tidbits could be useful to others, don’t forget to share! Oh, and follow me on Pinterest for more tips and hacks!

How to start clean eating
How to start clean eating
How to start clean eating

Clean Eating Food List – What’s on your Grocery List?

Eating clean means eating real food, as close to their natural form as possible, either unprocessed or with minimal processing. So what does that leave you with? Let’s go through a typical clean eating food list, to help you get started with your next shopping trip.

The list below is by all means not exhaustive but should be getting you well on your way. If you’re unsure about what kind of food are clean, and why, you check my grocery tips here. The foodstuffs are classed per category, like starches, proteins, drinks, etc. and explain what to look out for.

Need a shortcut? Scroll down for your free downloadable/printable Clean Eating Grocery List to stick on your fridge or take shopping!

Vegetables

Vegetable skewersAim for seasonal fruits and vegetables, preferably organic (especially the ones included in the Dirty Dozen list, like spinach). If you aim for the recommended intake of 5-a-day, this is 400g per person per day. 10-a-day would be 800g per person per day. So count how many meals you need vegetables for, and buy as many servings, allowing for a bit of shrinkage during cooking.

Smart tip – You don’t have to buy different vegetables for each meal (although a bit of variety is nice). Actually, vegetables are so versatile that it’s quite easy to cook them differently without meals getting boring. Think of carrots, for example, which can be eaten:

  • in soups, with other vegetables
  • as a salad, simply grated with chopped walnuts and mayonnaise
  • as a mash, by itself or teamed up with swede, with a dollop of butter
  • stewed or braised
  • baked in home-made carrot cake or other carrot muffins
  • juiced or blended to make delicious vegetable juices or smoothies
  • … just to mention a few recipes.

Another smart tip – buy in bulk, when in season. This saves on processing, as the out-of-season produce doesn’t need to be imported and stored. And it’s usually much cheaper. More tips on how to make the most of your fruits and vegetables here.

Ideally, your basic vegetable grocery list should include a mix of fresh produce that keeps well (like carrots, onions, potatoes, and squash), some vegetables that can be eaten raw, like salad stuff, and seasonal vegetable. So it could look like this:

  • Leafy greens, like kale, cabbage, spinach, preferably organic
  • Lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes and/or sweet potatoes
  • Squashes and/or pumpkin
  • Avocado, when in season
  • Tomatoes (plum, beef, grape, any kind)
  • Any other seasonal vegetables
  • Garlic
  • Fresh herbs – cilantro, parsley, basil, oregano etc.

Whole grains and pulses

Clean grains, such as brown rice and quinoaThese will probably find their way into most of your cooked meals. So choose the ones that suit your household best: do you need quick-cooking grains? Grains and pulses that can be used in salads for easy lunches? Beans that can be cooked in bulk at the weekend for use in various recipes?

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Black beans
  • Cannellini beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas

Proteins

Salmon dishCount how many portions you need before going shopping. As these can be expensive, especially if looking for grass-fed or organic, bulk-buying is a great option here. I’m of the view that less is more here. I tend to only allow for 100g of meat or fish per person. I will balance this out by buying good quality meat, organic or grass-fed, and full-fat so the flavors get imparted to the vegetables served with it. It saves money on our weekly shop and we’re doing our bit to reduce water consumption, as the water footprint of protein food is the highest.

  • Eggs, organic or pasture-raised preferably
  • Meat, organic, free-range whenever possible
  • Fish, if wild, aim for the Marine Stewardship Council label (MSC) label or another sustainable label,  if farmed, aim for organic, responsibly farmed, certified sustainable or other similar labels.
  • Tempeh
  • Cheese, organic
  • Plain, full-fat cottage cheese or yogurt

Nuts and seeds

Bowl of mixed nutsAll nuts and seeds, preferably raw (you can always roast them and flavor them at home).

  • Almonds
  • Pecan nuts
  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed

Oils and butter

I have left almond butter here, although it can fairly easily be made at home, as it’s possible to find some plain ones in the shops, with nothing added.

  • Butter, plain
  • Coconut oil
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Unrefined safflower oil
  • Unrefined walnut oil
  • Unrefined Canola or rapeseed oil
  • Almond butter
  • Tahini
  • Peanut butter, no sugar added (a bit of salt is OK)

Condiments and spices

  • Spices jars on a shelfSalt, preferably a raw, unadulterated source, like raw sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • Black pepper
  • Herbs and spices, non-irradiated
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Cayenne pepper or another non-irradiated chili
  • Maple syrup
  • Raw honey
  • Stevia
  • Dijon mustard
  • Olives
  • Apple cider vinegar, unfiltered
Fruits are high in sugar, so you should try and stick to one or two servings per day.
  • Lemons
  • Oranges and other citrus fruits
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Any other fruits, in season
  • Pure fruit juices, without preservatives
 Beverages
  • Water
  • Coconut water, no added sugar
  • Tea, herbal teas
  • Coffee
  • Raw milk, or organic, full-fat milk
  • Almond, brown rice, soy or hemp milk, unsweetened and GMO-free (for the soy milk)
  • Coconut milk or cream, the canned variety, as long as it’s BPA-free and doesn’t contain preservatives, emulsifiers, and other additives

Processed food

Healthy wholegrain breadSome processed foodstuffs will inevitably find their way into your trolley, so just read the ingredients list carefully and avoid anything that contains added sugar or additives. How to spot additives? They are basically the kind of ingredients that you would not have at home and would not cook with.

Each store will have different “clean” products, so once you’ve identified the cleanest bread in your go-to store, take a picture of the label or write the name down for future reference.

  • Bread – this is an example of the ingredients from a clean bread: Sprouted Organic Whole Wheat Berries, Filtered Water, Organic Wheat Gluten, Organic Oat Fiber, Organic Dates, Organic Raisins, Yeast, Organic Cultured Wheat Flour, Organic Vinegar, Sea Salt, Organic Barley Malt, Organic Sunflower Oil.
    This one is also all organic, which is a big bonus.
  • Crackers and chips – try and find plain nacho chips or other plain snacks, preferably organic. Their ingredients list should look something like this: Corn, Vegetable Oil (Corn, Sunflower and/or Canola), Salt.
  • Steel-cut oats or plain rolled oats
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Canned food – these are processed by definition and should be kept to a minimum (I will confess to buying chopped tomatoes, for their sheer time-saving benefits). Also, make sure that they are BPA-free and don’t contain any added sugar and additives. After opening, they need to be decanted in a suitable container for storage.
  • Ketchup and other sauces. Clean versions are exceedingly hard to find, and I tend to just make my own.
  • Flours. Although processed items, you will need them for your clean baking. Aim for wholewheat flour, brown rice flour, or grain-free flours like almond flour or coconut flour. Gluten-free flours, however, are usually made with highly refined flours and are therefore not that clean.

That’s still a long clean eating food list…

If you were worried about not having anything left to eat when embarking on a clean diet, this should ease your mind a bit.

And to make your life even easier, I’ve created a nifty Clean Eating Grocery List, free for you to download!

To get it, simply fill in the form below and access your printable Clean Food Shopping list in PDF format.

In the meantime, feel free to add in the comments below which clean foodstuffs are essentials in your pantry and your fridge, and where you actually shop for them!

If you’re unsure about how to identify those clean foodstuffs in the supermarket, this post on clean shopping will send you in the right direction.

Or share more tips in the Comments below with your fellow clean eaters (sharing is caring)…

And don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest for more Clean Eating Hacks!

Great vegetable juice recipes

The vast majority of us fall way short of the recommended 5-a-day intake of fruits and vegetables. And juicing (or blending) seems like a convenient and easy way of increasing our daily intake of raw vegetables. To help you along, I have compiled a few great vegetable juice recipes, as well as tips on how to create your own.

Of the health benefits of vegetables

First, a quick recap of the reasons why we should eat (or drink) more fresh produce, and in particular vegetables. Although the recommended intake is 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day for adults (that’s 400g/day), their benefits really start kicking in when you hit a 10-a-day target (800g/day). According to a research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on February 22, 2017, this quantity is linked with a 28% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 31% lower risk of premature death.

I have listed below the most beneficial fruits and vegetables highlighted in the study, as well as their health benefits:

Green leafy vegetables and salads

Leafy greens and saladKale is high in iron, vitamin K, and vitamin A, and is loaded with antioxidants.

Spinach is loaded with vitamins (especially vitamin A and C) and minerals, as well as antioxidants.

Lettuce, preferably the Romaine or cos type, is rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as omega 3 and potassium

Wheatgrass is a powerhouse of nutrients and antioxidants and is particularly rich in proteins and amino-acids

Tomatoes are rich in vitamins A, C, K, and potassium, as well as the prostate-cancer fighting antioxidant lycopene.

Cucumber is rich in vitamin K and polyphenols, and thanks to its 95% water, is a good way to increase the volume of your juice without the flavors too much.

Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetablesCabbage is packed with some of the most powerful antioxidants among cruciferous vegetables, as well as vitamin K and C.

Broccoli contains twice as much vitamin C as an orange, almost as much calcium as whole milk (whilst being better absorbed) and is rich in selenium and folic acid.

Cauliflower is packed with vitamin C, as well as a lot of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Yellow and green vegetables

Yellow and green vegetablesPeppers are very high in vitamin C, as well as vitamins and minerals such as thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium, and copper

Carrots, which gave their name to beta-carotene, are extremely rich in vitamin A and contain also other useful nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Green beans contain large amounts of antioxidants and flavonoids, as well as vitamins A, C, and B, among other healthy nutrients.

Sweet potato is extremely rich in vitamin A, as well as vitamin K and B6. They also help regulate blood sugar.

A few beneficial fruits

Beneficial fruits for juicingApples are loaded with natural fiber, as well as vitamins C, A, B vitamins and other minerals.

Pears are beneficial all-rounders and contain a fair amount of all the nutrients your body needs, as well as loads of fibers. Most of those are in the skin though, so refrain from peeling them.

Berries are effective immune boosters and are rich in antioxidants, offering a good variety of nutrients. Try and pick different varieties when in season to make the most of them.

Citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are renowned to be rich in vitamin C, as well as other nutrients.

On a side note, tinned fruits were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality, whereas cooked vegetables and potatoes were linked to lower risks.

How to create healthy fruit and vegetable juices?

Fruits, even beneficial, have a higher sugar content, so the idea is to create delicious juice recipes that include at least two of the above beneficial vegetables, plus one of the beneficial fruit. I use a slow juicer and can’t really handle the amount of fiber in smoothies. But feel free to compare both options and try blending and juicing.

Feel free to pick some of the fruits and vegetables listed above to create your own tasty juices or read on for a bit more inspiration. I have grouped a few recipes by color, to stimulate all the senses.

If you want to find out a bit more about the benefits of a specific fruit or vegetable, feel free to check the Mercola Food Facts here.

Most juicers have a fairly narrow chute and you’ll need to chop your fruits and vegetables roughly before loading them in. This is especially important for stringy vegetables, like leafy greens or celery. The easiest way to juice leafy greens is to mix them up with the rest of your ingredients.

When trying a new recipe, you can tweak it as you go along, by leaving the juice in the juicer chamber to mix all the ingredients well, and tasting your juice now and then. The juice yield will vary depending on the size of your fruits and vegetables and their freshness, so the quantities below are a guide only.

Green juices

Perhaps the most famous of healthy juices due to their high vegetable and high nutrient content. They usually involve some leafy green vegetables, and apples or some other sweet fruit, like grapes or pear, to take the bitterness away.

Green juice recipeTry this:

  • 1 cup of spinach or kale
  • 1 apple, cored

Use this as a base, then add another vegetable to taste:

  • ¼ cucumber, for a refreshing drink
  • ½ stalk of celery
  • ½ cup of sweet potatoes (the white type), for a more filling juice
  • lemon juice or a few pieces of ginger, peeled, to taste

Or check out those awesome juice recipes using wheatgrass as a base.

Yellow juices

Pineapple is a great way to sweeten your vegetables, while still adding plenty of nutrients to your juice. Try this:

  • 1 cup pineapple pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger

Or check the After-workout Hunger Buster from Health Ambition.

Orange juices

Carrot juiceI love carrot juice. By themselves or combined with other fruits and vegetables, carrots just hit the spot for me, with the right level of sweetness.

Try this:

  • 3 carrots, peeled or scrubbed
  • 1 apple, cored
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled

Or this one:

  • 2 carrots, peeled or scrubbed
  • 2 cups of pumpkin
  • 1 apple, cored
  • cinnamon, ground
Red juices
  • 1 beet*
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 red apple, cored

* Juicing beets with their skin on will give a slight earthy taste. If you don’t care much for it, peel it first.

Or the old favorite, for a sober Bloody Mary:

  • 2 large tomatoes
  • ½ celery
  • salt and Tabasco, to taste
Pink juices

Pink smoothieThose are firm favorites with kids, although you might have to add fruits to disguise the vegetable taste a bit more.

  • 1 beet
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 orange

Or this one:

  • 1 beet
  • 1 medium-size sweet potato
  • 1 pear, cored
Purple juices
  • ½ cucumber
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ pomegranate arils
  • ¼ lemon juice

Or check this Super Purple Juice from Nosh and Nourish

Found your perfect vegetable juice yet?

vegetable-juicesThere are loads (and I mean, loads) of juice and smoothie recipes on the Interweb, but I’ve found this website quite useful: https://juicerecipes.com/. You can create your own recipes and check out their nutrient content or look up specific recipes using ingredients you have at hand, and even save your creations to make sure you can enjoy them again.

In the meantime, feel free to check out my basic juice recipe (as recommended by my doctor, when I got started with juicing).

And please do share your favorite recipes in the comments below!

Great vegetable juice recipes
Great vegetable juice recipes

Hurom slow juicer review – Is the Hurom HH Elite right you?

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please check my Affiliate Disclosure page.

Juicing is a great way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables with minimal effort. You basically load your 5-a-day in your juicer, and out comes your vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, in a ready-to-drink format. Sorted. I can even juice beetroot and carrots to make a pink juice that my kids actually drink [smug mummy smile here].

I actually own the Hurom HE but bought it a while back and it doesn’t seem to be sold anymore. So this Hurom slow juicer review will focus on my experience and will give you a more detailed review of a similar Hurom model, the Hurom HH Elite.

What are the benefits of a slow juicer?

Freshly prepared fruits and vegetablesIn the US, over 90% of adults don’t eat enough vegetables. That is, they don’t eat their 5 servings of vegetables per day. According to the Harvard School of Health:

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower the risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.

However, if we were to hit our 10-a-day target, we might lower our risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% and our risk of premature death by 31%. This is according to a research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on February 22, 2017.

According to that research, not all fruits and vegetables are beneficial to our health in the same way, and, because *every body* is different, every single one of us has got different needs. The most beneficial fruits and vegetables include:

  • green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce etc.),
  • cruciferous vegetables (that’s your cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower),
  • yellow and green vegetables (including peppers, carrots, and green beans), and
  • apples, pears, as well as oranges and the citrus fruit family.
These are the facts…

…but in reality, how many of us actually get around eating that much fruits and vegetables? This is around 5-6 cups of the stuff per day, 2 cups per meal. I can easily fit in my 3 cups of vegetables per day, but 6?

Healthy freshly pressed juicesThis is where juicing comes in. A juicer will allow you to take 3 cups of fruits and vegetables, extract their vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and cram them in a large glass of delicious juice. Like that.

You can also choose to blend them in. The resulting smoothie will be a lot more filling, but you’ll get all the fibers in, which play an essential part to stay healthy. If you’re not sure which method would suit you best, check my post regarding blending and juicing.

For me, it was a bit of a no-brainer. There was no way I could possibly eat that many fruits and vegetables per day, let alone get my kids to eat them. So, in came the Hurom slow juicer, which came recommended by my doctor.

How I use it

I don’t always have time to juice every day, and I admit to not always having the right fresh produce at hand to juice. But we try and fit in a juicing session whenever we can.

What I like about it
Hurom HE slow juicer

The fact that there are only 4 mobile parts is a big plus for me. Easy to assemble, easy to wash, easy to put back together.

I like the fact that I can just scrub the fruits and vegetables clean, chop them roughly (down to a quarter of an apple), and just pop them in.

If you add leafy greens, like spinach or wheatgrass, make sure you mix them with the rest of the fruits and vegetables. This dislodges the fibrous matter and makes the juicing easier. The reverse button comes in super-handy when some of the fibers get stuck. Just pop the juicer in reverse for a bit et voilà.

I also like the fact that it’s easy to clean (by my standards, compared with my old centrifugal juicer). When I’m done, I run a glass of water in the juicer, closing the juice cap, to remove any bits of fruits and vegetables left in the auger. Then I drop the washable parts in a bowl of water. No need for soap. The chute only needs rinsing, so only the auger, the strainer, and the bowl need a little wash down to remove any fibers still stuck there.

What I don’t like about it

The pulp it creates. It does create very little pulp, I must admit, but still. I do try to reuse most of it: vegetable pulp gets seasoned and covered with beaten eggs and cheese for an impromptu crust-less quiche. And the fruit pulp usually ends up in the worm farm or the chicken coop.

Now and then, I also have to give the washable parts a good scrub (with the brushes provided), to make sure all the residues are gone. Although apparently, you can use a baby-bottle cleaning solution to do that for you.

The price tag. It is a bit of an investment. The HH Elite model sells for around $300 on Amazon. Admittedly, this newer model is more versatile and combines juicer and blender in one. They have proven their reliability over the years and are juicing workhorses, but it is an investment in your health. On the plus side, it forces you to use it as often as possible to get the maximum ROI.

Hurom HE features, and new features in the HH model

Hurom HE juicer partsAccording to the Hurom website, both models offer the same basic features:

  1. Slow rotational speed -The HE turns at 80 rpm. This means that although the cells are broken down to release all the nutrients, there is no heat generated, and no subsequent loss of nutrients.
  2. 350-milliliter chamber capacity – That’s a beer glass, basically. But thanks to the juice cap, you can just empty your juice in the provided jug and carry on juicing.
  3. High-strength auger – Made of heavy-duty Ultem® resin. I wouldn’t try to pop frozen food in there, but it crushes through carrots like a breeze.
  4. Versatile juice cap for convenience
  5. Two types of fine and coarse strainers – You can change the strainer depending on the pulp content of your fruits. I hardly ever use the coarse strainer, which is more for pulpy fruits like mangoes, papaya or guava, or if you just want more fibers in your juice.
  6. Convenient handle – The HE doesn’t have a handle, but since it weighs around 6kg, it usually just sits nicely on my counter.
  7. Low-noise, low-vibration AC motor – The motor holds a 10-year warranty and is definitely very quiet compared to my old centrifugal juicer. It also only uses 150 Watts of energy.
Added HH features:

  1. A slow rotational speed of 43 rpm – Instead of the 80 rpm of the HE. Which means even less loss of nutrients. The slower speed is balanced by the improved auger.
  2. 500-milliliter chamber capacity – Meaning that you can really add all your ingredients before pouring the juice. Particularly useful since this model boasts being able to do smoothies and juices.
  3. Double-edged, high-strength auger
  4. Adjustable Control Lever to accommodate different ingredients – This is to allow more fibers to be left in your juice, thereby turning your juicer into a smoothie maker. The best of both world, if you ask me.

The Hurom website also states that the Hurom HH Elite juicer will juice soft and hard fruits, vegetables, leafy greens and wheatgrass, but also nuts and soy to make non-dairy milk or tofu.

Is this product right for you?

The Hurom HH slow juicer might be ideal for you if:

  • You want to eat more fruits and vegetables, but don’t know how to convince your family to eat more of them.
  • You buy high-quality fruits and vegetables and want to make sure you get all the goodness out, without destroying the nutrients through cooking or other methods of juicing.
  • You often buy loads of fruits and vegetables, but don’t always have the time to prepare them and loathe to see them going to waste.
  • Your kids are picky eaters and will not eat vegetables.
  • You just want to increase your health levels by eating more raw fruits and vegetables.
  • You want a steady, reliable juicer, quiet and easy to clean.

So there you are…

I haven’t tried any other juicers and can’t compare. So far though, the upright Hurom slow juicer is doing the job just fine for us. It’s easy to use, extracts a lot of juice, leaving very little pulp, and is quick to clean and pack away. And it’s great for those bowls of fruits or bulk purchases of vegetables that are threatening to go past their prime…

I hope this post answers some of the questions you might have had about this juicer and will have convinced you further of the benefits of juicing (or blending). You can find my basic juice recipe in this post if you need something to get started.

Feel free to ask any questions regarding this juicer, I’ll do my very best to answer. And please share with us which juicer or blender you use, and what you like (or dislike) about them.

Clean eating dinner ideas

For most households, dinner is the time when everybody stops running around and slows down. It’s expected to be a safe and satisfying moment, for the stomach as well as the soul. The last thing we want is kids complaining they don’t like vegetables. Or adults moaning that the food is not rich enough. Or the family cook exhausted from having slaved over hot stove all evening.

So I’ve come up with some easy-peasy clean eating dinner ideas to satisfy everybody’s taste buds and give the cook a breather. Eating clean just means eating whole food, with the least amount of processing. So let’s keep it whole, with the least amount of processing in the kitchen too.

How to prepare a clean dinner at home

Make it family-friendly

Family cooking togetherFirst of all, don’t reinvent the wheel. Take stock of your family’s favorites. Stick with what you usually eat and just tweak it to make it cleaner. Fancy recipes and new flavors can wait. If your children (or your other half) don’t entertain vegetables, don’t start loading their plates with the green stuff.

Most kids don’t like green vegetables, especially the leafy ones, but will tolerate sweeter ones, like carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Or “funky” ones, like peas, cherry tomatoes, or vegetables cut in chips, sticks or spaghetti. Roll with it. Pick their favorite (or least disliked) ones, and cook them.

Roasted vegetables are always a hit at home. Our current chill-beater is sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions cut into chunks. Sprinkled with Italian herbs and baked for around 1 hour with a little olive oil. And if you want a super easy meal, cover this with lamb chops, chicken pieces (preferably with the skin on, to avoid drying) or a piece of beef to roast. If preferring fish, you’ll need to add it 30 minutes in, so it doesn’t dry out too much.

If the texture is an issue, try mash or soups. My mum used to make funky mashes of various colors:

  • yellow (potatoes with a hint of mustard),
  • orange (carrots and nutmeg),
  • green (broccoli and cheese)
  • and even pink (cauliflower with tomato and paprika).

It’s a bit more processing, but still better than turning every dinner into a fight.

Easy-to-prepare works best

Salads are always easy, and they don’t have to be just “rabbit food” (my husband’s term). You can sneak in some raw food (perfect clean food, no processing involved, full nutrients guaranteed). Then load them up with more wholesome garnish. Some examples:

Full salad with potatoesStart with a starchy base: potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains. Then add on:

  • You can add spring greens, hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise for a classic potato salad.
  • Tuna, hard-boiled eggs, tomato slices, pepper strips and olives for a French-style salad.
  • Or even cooked chicken breast, carrots, petit pois, gherkins, and mayonnaise for a Russian twist.
  • I recently found a Portuguese recipe involving roasted sweet potatoes and onions. Loaded, still warm, onto a plate of baby spinach, peppers, fresh cheese, and almonds, drizzled with orange juice. It is delish.
  • Quinoa tabbouleh (with tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, and olive oil) is the ‘in’ thing for a hearty vegetarian salad. Just add chicken for meat eaters.

OK, enough with the salads (did I tell you I love salads?). If you need a warm cooked meal, pick a whole grain starch or a tuber, a source of protein and some vegetables to suit the family. Cook it all together or separately, but prefer products that are quick to prepare and to cook. If you need ideas or recipes, look out for Paleo or primal recipes out there, and add some whole grains.

When shopping for vegetables, whole grains, and protein, try and choose, by and far, the ones that need the least amount of preparation. If buying food that will take a little while to prepare, make sure that this is part of your weekend menu.

How to eat out, but still eat clean

You know, deep down, that preparing your food from scratch is the best way to know what you put inside your body. But there will be days where it will just feel like too much. Or nights where the fridge is looking too bare to bear. Or other celebratory nights. It’s fine, it’s part of life.

So here are a few pointers to eat as clean as possible when out and about or to pick the cleanest takeaway.

In restaurants

Grilled salmon in a plateFocus on food that will be as unprocessed as can be. Forgo breaded or fried chicken, but opt for roast chicken or chicken breast. Fish fingers are out, but grilled (not fried) or steamed fish is in. A burger might not be on the cards, but a steak is.

Ask for vegetables instead of the usual starchy side. Even better, ask for a salad, so you know exactly what’s on your plate.

Most puddings will be loaded with sugar and refined starches. If you do have the willpower to resist the rest of the dessert menu, check it out. Aim for sorbets, smoothies (no added ice cream and sauces) or other fruit-based option. And if there’s nothing of the sort on that menu and you absolutely need something sweet to round up the meal, go for a cappuccino or flavored coffee.

Takeaways and other fast food

This is where it gets tricky, as most takeaways are full of refined, highly processed starch, fat, and sugar. In all cases, swap your fries for a salad on the side. Then, aim for real food, the one that looks as close to its natural state as possible. Let’s go through a few popular choices:

Burgers

Look out for lettuce-wrapped options, like the one offered by In-N-Out. If no such option is available, have your burger without the bun. And check that the patties are 100% beef. Skip the bacon and the creamy sauce too.

Pizzas

Healthy pizzaThis is a tough one as the base *is* made of refined wheat flour. Look out for Paleo options, which will use flaxseed and other lesser-processed ingredients. Otherwise, opt for the thinnest base possible, for a bit of damage limitation.

The toppings should be as unprocessed as possible. Meat pieces, rather than salami or bacon, loads of fresh vegetables and as little cheese and sauce as possible.

Mexican

Again, the wraps, burritos, and fajitas will be highly processed, although the rest of the ingredients might not be. Beans, meat and fresh vegetables are all good to go. Forget about anything fried and/or crunchy and opt for a soft tortilla instead. And don’t go near any dip that isn’t salsa.

Chicken

Anything fried, crumbed or otherwise reformed is off limits. But there might be a roast chicken or whole chicken pieces on the menu, so look out for those, with a salad on the side.

Sandwiches

At the deli, start by choosing whole grain slices of bread. Then select food as unrefined as possible: salad vegetables, of course, chicken or beef slices, eggs, and other natural-looking ingredients. Avoid cold meat, which is loaded with added salt and preservatives, and stay away from creamy sauces, preferring olive oil and vinegar.

Entertaining with clean food

Between kiddies’ parties and friends get-togethers, it might be hard to stay away from convenience food when you have to cater for a larger crowd with probably not-so-healthy expectations. Although this might not be an evening thing, it still involves pleasing the crowds and can be a challenge. My personal strategy is to divide to conquer. I split the whole meal into several manageable and clean dishes.

Starting with… salads and raw vegetable finger food
Make-your-own-salad, easy and fun

Whether these end up as my starters, on the party buffet table, or as a make-your-own side salad option, they’re here. Think cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumber or baby marrows in sticks, baby corns, mange-tout, pepper strips, and even grapes and apple slices.

Team them with yummy clean dips, either home-made or shop-bought (if available). If chips *have* to be somewhere in the picture, aim for plain corn or potato chips.

Or go for a large Cobb salad in the middle of the table. Go easy on the bacon, though, and prefer clean jerky.

For kids parties, I usually offer one hearty, filling option, in case the critters haven’t been fed before coming to my house. I make one large batch of grain-free savory muffins or mini-quiches. Or enroll my kids in making mini- kebabs with cheese/pickled onions/tomato/chicken/grapes/etc.

All-in-one dish…

For more grown-up or sit-down parties, one single dish with your vegetables and your protein is a good option. It can be prepared a couple of hours ahead of time and doesn’t need any further work. Depending on the number of guests (or your oven size), the starch component of your meal might have to be cooked and served separately.

Paella dishSome ideas:

  • a pot roast (in a crock or in the oven),
  • chili con carne,
  • jambalaya (with brown rice),
  • or even lasagna, replacing the pasta with strips of zucchini.
… or separates?

If you feel ready for a little bit more preparation (or, like me, you are limited by the size of your oven), you can separate your protein, vegetables, and starches. This takes usually a little longer, but it gives your guests more flexibility. They can then happily skip the vegetables without being rude, for example. Or avoid the meat or fish if they’re vegetarian.

It also gives you more leeway, as you can create a whole meal based on what you have at hand, instead of following a set recipe. To create some sense of unity, use similar flavors and spices. For example,

  • lemon chicken in the oven,
  • served with steamed veggies with a drizzle of olive oil and Italian herbs,
  • and brown rice cooked with chopped tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf on the side.

Clean puddings to round it all up

I’m not much of a baker but over the years, I have gathered a few clean recipes that are easy to make, involve simple ingredients. Oh, and are always a big hit (meaning: I don’t have to find new recipes all the time). Such as coconut brownies, Portuguese almond cake or Italian orange cake. Or the old favorite, chocolate mousse.

Fruits saladsBut I’ve also found that after a rich meal, sometimes the simplest and the most welcome dessert is a colorful fruit salad, drenched in fresh juice.

And you? What’s your favorite clean dinner? Please give us your family’s go-to healthy meals in the Comments below.

Check out my clean breakfast, lunch and snacks recipes for more ideas. And don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest for the widest choice of Clean Eating recipes!

Clean eating dinner ideas
Clean eating dinner ideas