7 Tips for Eating Clean

If you want to get the junk out of your diet once and for all, commit to eating as many fresh, unadulterated foods as possible. It can be done.

You play a much bigger role than you may think in the control of the American food supply. Your shopping choices are like a vote. Do you want to eat foods that are known to contain ingredients that may be harmful to your health and possibly to the health of the planet? If you say "no," then cast your vote by simply refusing to buy these products for yourself. Instead, shop for a clean, green, healthy diet in the supermarket and health food store, and especially at local green markets and farm stands.

  • Eat as many single-ingredient foods as you can. A fresh peach, steamed baby spinach or a broiled wild salmon steak is a much "cleaner" bite than, say, peach jam, creamed spinach or frozen breaded fish sticks.
  • Avoid processed foods that are high in simple carbohydrates like candies, sodas, cakes, pastries and other baked goods made strictly with white flour and white sugars. Simple carbs are easily converted to triglycerides (fats) in your body that end up in your bloodstream and on your thighs. When you choose commercially prepared foods, try to get away from sugar and as close to the whole grain as possible.
  • Eat as many organic foods as you can to eliminate as many pesticides in your diet as possible. The conventionally grown fruits and veggies that score the highest pesticide load, as ranked in 2009 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes and carrots.  The "cleanest" produce, with the least number of pesticides and lowest levels of residue in the EWG study, included onions, avocado, pineapple, mango, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya and watermelon.
  • Buy from local farmers, whenever possible.  The closer your food source, the more accountable the growers, and the less your food has to travel to get to your plate, which usually means it's fresher and handled by fewer people. As a bonus, whenever you buy locally produced foods, you support members of your own community, rather than supporting large, distant industrial farms and food manufacturers. When considering imported foods, keep in mind that food handling regulations and organic standards vary widely around the world.
  • Eat a plant-based, or mostly vegetarian, diet.  For protein, use legumes such as dried beans and lentils, minimally processed soy products, whole grains and nuts. Vegetarianism is good for your health because it eliminates a lot of saturated fat sources in the diet, and it's good for the health of the planet because growing animals and processing them for food uses up a lot more of our natural resources (land and water) than growing and harvesting plant foods.
  • When you eat animal foods, choose grass-fed meat and free-range chickens that are raised with organic feed and without the use hormones or antibiotics. If you drink milk or use other dairy products, choose brands that are made with milk or milk from organically-raised, hormone-free cows. Avoid processed meats like cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs and sausages, unless you're lucky enough to get specialty meats directly from a trusted, small farm.
  • If you don't like the idea of using foods that are produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), avoid processed foods made with any form of soybeans, corn, canola and cottonseed unless they carry a "non-GMO" label or state somewhere on the package that these ingredients are made without genetically modified ingredients.



Environmental Working Group: Shopper's Guide to Pesticides



Organic Consumers Association



The Non-GMO Project



The Vegetarian Resource Group



U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Organic Program



U.S. Department of Agriculture: Vegetarian Diets