The potential health benefits of clean eating

You may be feeling a bit bogged down after overindulging during the holidays, but the new year symbolizes a fresh start, including in the kitchen. One way to begin a healthier diet is by clean eating — a focus on eating wholesome foods, in their most natural state.

Clean eating simply means eating more directly from the earth, while avoiding more processed foods. The idea of clean eating has grown in popularity in recent years with more people seeking to nourish their bodies with nutrient-dense foods that may deliver health benefits, help with weight management and increase energy levels.

While clean eating may seem daunting in our fast-paced world that prioritizes convenience, eating cleaner doesn’t have to be a huge lift. Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. Eat more fruits and veggies

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients like dietary fiber, potassium, folate, iron and a host of vitamins that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, they help keep you full longer, which may help promote weight loss.

If you’re not a fan of certain fruits or veggies, trying them in a new way – like roasting Brussels sprouts or putting spinach in your smoothie – may change your mind. Aim for two cups of fruits and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day to meet recommended dietary guidelines.

2. Choose plant-based options

Consider adding protein to your diet from plant sources like beans, lentils, peas, quinoa, barley or buckwheat. This may help you get the needed carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for better health, while giving you a boost in fiber. In addition, incorporating plant-based meats may help lower some cardiovascular risks when compared to red meat.

3. Avoid or limit processed foods

When hunger strikes, it’s easy to grab a bag of snacks or treats from the pantry for a quick fix. However, processed foods are often packed with sodium, chemicals or preservatives, which may lead to negative health effects like weight gain, inflammation and even heart disease.

Meal-prepping is one way to help you stay ahead of your hunger to avoid reaching for processed options. Consider making soups or stews in bulk and freezing for later. You can also cut up fruits and veggies so they’re ready to grab and eat.

4. Watch out for added sugar

Added sugar is easy to find in things like candy and soda, but it’s also hidden in foods that may not taste overly sweet, like salad dressings and sauces. In fact, the average American consumes 270 calories – or about 17 teaspoons – of added sugar a day, without getting any essential nutrients.

You can help reduce your intake by replacing desserts and cereal with fruit or swapping sugary drinks for water. And keep an eye on those labels. Added sugars go by many names like corn syrup, dextrose, lactose and more.

5. Don’t forget to hydrate

Clean eating isn’t just about the food you choose to put in your body. Making sure you are getting enough water is also essential to developing a healthier lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water helps your body maintain a normal temperature, cushions your joints and helps manage your weight. The amount you should drink depends on many factors like your activity level, climate and age. Some guidance suggests a daily intake of more than 15 cups for men and more than 11 cups for women.

One great way to remember to drink water is to always have it on hand. If you want to liven it up, add fruit or cucumbers for flavor.

By following these tips, you may be able to create better habits when it comes to your diet, potentially boosting your health and energy levels all year long.

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