It seems like “clean eating” has become a trendy term, one where images of fresh green smoothies and ginger shots come to mind. But for lack of a better definition, it’s really just a good, old-fashioned healthy diet.

Unfortunately, these days a healthy diet isn’t always self-explanatory for everyone. Believe it or not, eating healthy doesn’t just mean salads and zero sweets, it’s a little more complex.

Aside from consuming the necessary amounts of nutrients, the foundation of clean eating is eliminating processed or packaged foods completely. Processed sugar can be sneaky. It’s something manufacturers put in a lot of foods, even ones you believe to be healthy like granola bars and cereal. And though it makes things taste delicious, it’s not great for your diet or your body.

This begs the question, why is processed sugar bad for you?

Basically, all carbohydrates are sugar. But when in their natural state — like in fruits, veggies, grains or even cane sugar — they contain fiber. This fiber is what makes them somewhat beneficial to our bodies.

However, when fiber is eliminated during the refining process or even when passed through our intestines naturally, the only thing left is sugar.

In a normal, non-diabetic bloodstream, there is never more than about one and a half teaspoons of sugar at any given time. Yet one slice of white bread contains three tsps of sugar. A banana has five.

Therefore, the problem is that there are a lot of added sugars to our diet, as well as a surplus of “hidden” sugars that find their way in. Our bodies are then forced to deal with these excess sugars — mainly by converting it into fat.

And unfortunately, eating “fat free” foods doesn’t excuse us from this cycle, as they’re all loaded with both added sugars and hidden sugars. That’s just one of the reasons you should always read labels before purchasing or eating packaged foods.

Along with excess sugar, some clean eaters also get rid of red meat, gluten and dairy. Though if you intend to exclude entire nutrient groups, you should speak with a professional so you can strategize how to incorporate vital vitamins and minerals you need from said groups through other means.

Bottom line, a clean diet is all about simplifying your foods so that you get the most out of your meals. To use an automobile analogy, eating a vegetable-rich diet is like giving your car the purest fuel — it runs better and lasts longer. Whereas giving your body lots of processed sugars and heavy fat foods is like running your car on water-downed petrol. Not good.

It can be a lot to take in, but like anything else, if you set simple guidelines, you’ll be more likely to adopt the lifestyle. So to help simplify your diet (and your life), we’ve laid out a few steps.

Opt for “Real” Food

Read all labels and make sure there aren’t any added sugars, fats and sodium. Although canned and frozen foods are convenient, they’re often a breeding ground for unnatural additives — choose veggies and fruits in their natural, fresh state, and lean, unprocessed meats.

Reduce Added Sugar

I’m not sure I’ve met someone who doesn’t like sweet treats in some form or another, but as I said before, processed sugar is often more trouble than it’s worth. However, fruits can be a great cure for the common sweet tooth. After all, fruits are nature’s candy.

Minimize Caffeine Intake

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional cup of coffee, but the more you drink the more likely you are to experience side-effects like anxiety, stomach aches and insomnia. Plus, the extra sugar and cream many of us add lead to feelings of bloating and sluggishness.

Dine In

Eating out at restaurants is fun and easy, however, it’s impossible to know where all the ingredients come from. This means you’re diet is at the mercy of the chef, and that could lead to lots of unclean additives.

Know What You Eat

Before you put it on your plate, know what’s really in it. Sometimes cooking becomes a routine, and we don’t take as much care with the ingredients. But slowing down and taking the time to know what you’re eating can change the way you feel for the better. Simple ingredients, when cooked right, are more delicious than complicated recipes.

In the end, it’s really about simplification and moderation. And while guidelines help, they’re not always tangible enough. So to ensure you’re eating as clean as possible, combine these guidelines with clean eating grocery lists like this one: http://www.thegraciouspantry.com/clean-eating-shopping-list-for-beginners/ or use a cook book that enables simply, healthy eating habits such as this: http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Simple-Food-Revolution/dp/0307336794

Hope this helps!
wenzelDr. Aaron Wenzel M.D.| Founder of Bariform