Before you embark on the latest diet fad, why not try simply making better nutrition choices? You can take one week to make changes that will last a lifetime with 7 clean eating habits.

Too often, people focus on a number (i.e., a specific weight) or on eating — or avoiding — a specific food. To be fair, it’s true that making just about any change is hard — but a good first step is to simply make one small change a day. Ah, but what changes to make first? For most people, the best food strategy actually is an idea known as clean eating. Of course, clean eating might sound like quite a challenge … if you don’t know the facts. Because understanding the clean eating basics makes it a fairly conquerable goal.

Fitness magazine calls clean eating a “deceptively simple concept” involving eating foods that have been minimally processed. Oftentimes, what makes eating clean so challenging is due to the fact that most Americans get their food from supermarkets rather than directly from fields. Food producers label their wares with healthy-sounding words, which serve only to confuse the average shopper: natural, organic, fat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, and the like. These terms have little value without being clearly defined. (For more on understanding these terms, check our previous post, “What’s in a Name?”)

To get started on a clean-eating regimen, give these tips a try:

  1. Minimally processed meat – Processed meats are meats that have been altered either for taste or to increase shelf life. Sometimes, processing is as seemingly harmless as curing or smoking a meat, but the World Health Organization has linked processed meats to cancer, so if you are a meat-eater, at least avoid processed meat. If you’re set on having it, buy organic, nitrate-free meat from the deli counter. Such meats sometimes contain fewer preservatives. And if you eat meat every day, consider going meatless at least one day a week.
  2. Unrefined grains – It is important to stick to carbohydrates which have not been processed, such as unrefined grains, because processing causes grains to lose valuable nutrients. Looking for the term whole grain on store bought items is a start. You can make healthy strides choosing whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals, for example, over their more processed counterparts.
  3. Minimally processed dairy – Any store-bought milk is processed, so unless you’re drinking raw milk (or having no dairy at all), you can’t avoid processed dairy. When shopping you can look for hormone-free organic milk sourced from grass-fed cows, though, for the healthy edge.
  4. Oils – Because of fat content, many cooking oils are not heart-healthy options. While olive oil is certainly a healthy choice, it may not fit your cooking needs as far as smoke point or taste. But check out other heart-healthy zero-cholesterol options and natural oils derived from coconuts and avocados.
  5. Fresh produce – Okay, this one is probably obvious: If you’re not eating enough fresh (or at least frozen) fruits and vegetables, start doing that today. Health.gov recommends five servings of produce (two of fruit and three of vegetables) per day. Buy local and in season for best prices and nutritional value. The longer the period from harvest to consumption, the more nutrients lost. On the flip side, know and avoid the supermarket “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables — those with the most pesticide residue.
  6. Limited Sugar – Limiting your intake of added sugar (sugar not occurring naturally) may be obvious as well — but also the most difficult. The average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar per day, but the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting consumption no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) daily for women and 9 teaspoons a day (36 grams) for men. (And another reason to avoid processed foods: they are chock full of sugar.)
  7. Limited alcohol – Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up alcohol entirely; just realize that certain drinks are high in carbs and calories. A 12-ounce margarita has a whopping 680 calories, while a six-ounce rum and (regular) coke has only 140 calories … so think fewer drinks and smaller pours if you don’t want to become a teetotaler.

Try to incorporate one tip per day so that by the end of the week you’ll be well on your way to clean eating.

Really want to make a change but need some help? In the Miami area, look to The Pickled Beet for healthy meals custom-prepared with the freshest ingredients to save you time and money. You’ll be glad you did.

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