Monday, June 20, 2011

Learning to Eat Clean

Imagine not having to begin your day with a cup of coffee, tea, or anything with caffeine.  If you feel run down in the middle of the day, and don't feel like buying five hour energy shots, then you may want to consider some dietary changes.  Don't worry, there is no carb counting or starvation required.  In fact, this is not really a diet at all, but rather a healthy eating plan for your lifestyle.  Follow these simple rules and you will soon be more energetic, thinking more clearly, have healthier looking skin and hair, and put an end to fluctuating waist lines.  

The first rule is to clear your foods of all chemicals, including sweeteners, food colorings,  preservatives, anti-caking agents and anything else that is man-made.  Go into your pantry and pull out the first thing you see.  How many items in the ingredients list are one of these? Food colorings have been shown to be neuro-toxic, and can cause hyperactivity, ADD or ADHD symptoms in children.  Certain food colorings have also been banned in parts of Europe for this very reason (check out news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7340426.stm).  Sweeteners can be equally as dangerous.  When Aspartame is broken down in the body, its chemical formula turns into formaldehyde.  Another popular sweetener, Splenda, is made from taking away parts of the sugar molecule and adding chlorine (the hydroxyl-OH groups, for you fellow chem geeks, are replaced with Cl atoms). Now imagine what these things are doing to your body, and how they are affecting your everyday life. When you are eating healthy foods everyday, these foods don't even taste good anymore, they taste artificial. 
The next rule is that you try to eat six small meals a day, or every 2-3 hours.  You want to include a complex carbohydrate (more about those later) and a lean protein with each meal.  You are probably thinking, "Hey, won't I gain weight?" The truth is that you will actually lose weight if you need to lose it, and gain if you need to gain it. Basically, your body will find its natural balance, and you will look amazing. Watch your portion sizes, if they are too large then you really will gain weight. For example, breakfast can be 3-4 egg whites and a cup (cooked) of oatmeal with cinnamon, honey, flax seed, and berries. Three hours after that you could have a fruit smoothie with peanut butter, then chicken breast and vegetables for lunch, and so on. You don't have to eat these specific foods, but they serve as good examples.  You should never be hungry on this eating plan.  In fact, you will feel like you are eating all the time!
The third rule covers what foods should be eaten. Let's start with fruits and vegetables. Your body needs these. They should be incorporated into every meal you eat, and will add a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other great things to your diet.  Many people are afraid of fruits, under the misconception that the sugar in fruits will make you gain weight.  Actually, the whole fruit (not juice) contains enough fiber and enzymes to slow the digestion of the fruit, and help digest it properly.  Of course you want to eat these in moderation, but you should not be afraid of eating them altogether, as they offer substantial health benefits.  Particularly berries, which are packed with nutrients your body needs. 
Another food to try is whole grains. Most people think of whole wheat, but remember not to limit yourself. Try quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice and other nutritious (and great tasting) grains.  Adding variety to your diet is very important.  Whole grains provide B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, selenium, and other essential nutrients.  They also help prevent cardiovascular disease and promote weight loss.  
Dairy should be used in moderation, around two to three servings per day.  Dairy can also be high in calories and saturated fats, so try to stick with the low or fat free variety.  Yogurt with honey, oatmeal and berries is a nutritious breakfast choice, and will give you a great energy boost to start the day.  Cottage cheese is another good dairy choice.
You should have some form of protein every time you eat.  Lean meats and fish are good sources.  Salmon is packed with omega-3's, which help in weight loss, joint health and even keep your hair shiny.  Lean chicken is one of the best sources of B12, which helps keep your nervous system healthy.  For vegetarians, soybeans (tofu) are a complete source of protein.  Other good options are beans and nuts, which are also great sources of minerals and other nutrients.
What is a complex carbohydrate?  What makes a carbohydrate simple or complex has to do with its chemical breakdown.  Basically, a complex carbohydrate takes longer to digest than a simple carbohydrate.  Your body breaks either carbohydrate down into sugars.  The longer a natural carbohydrate takes to digest, the better it is for weight loss and to keep your blood sugar regular.  Complex carbohydrates are foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables and some fruits.  These foods also have the enzymes and fiber it takes to digest more slowly.
Try to incorporate some of these healthy eating habits into your daily lifestyle.  Soon you will be bursting with energy all day.  When you sleep, you will wake up feeling rested instead of exhausted.  Your skin will be clearer, and your waist line will be smaller (or bigger, if you need to gain weight).  You will be stronger, healthier and more alive than ever.  Treat your body right and you will soon see the benefits.

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