Why You Should Eat Clean, and How to Check the Label
Posted on December 22, 2023
What is clean eating? In simple terms, it's eating food that is as close as possible to its natural state. It's eating food the way nature intends it to be, without all of the processing and artificial ingredients.
Clean eaters avoid heavily packaged foods and snack foods, and seek out things like fresh fruit, vegetables, and unflavored nuts.
The Benefits of Eating Clean
So, what can clean eating do for you? There are a variety of reasons why clean eating can help you stay healthy, and it can have other benefits too. Here are some of the top ones:
Avoiding Pesky Added Sugars
Sugar is not good for you. While it's fine to have some, the keyword here is "some." Sugars, however, are often added to things which aren't even sweet. In the U.S., this most especially refers to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is sometimes used to extend shelf life. If you read the label on bread, you will find many types of store bought bread contain either sugar or HFCS.
When you engage in clean eating, you can much more easily keep track of the sugars you are eating and most of the sugar you consume will be fructose, which spikes blood sugar less than sucrose. What sucrose you do consume will be naturally contained within fruits and vegetables, rather than being on its own and in excessive quantities.
When reading the label, any ingredient that ends with -ose is an added sugar! So is fruit juice concentrate.
Snacks may be delicious, but they don't match the flavor of natural foods. To start with, it might feel like you are depriving yourself, because we have an addiction to added sugars, but over time you will realize how good clean eating tastes. You can improve flavor further by buying food as locally as possible, which also reduces the need for preservatives and other techniques to improve shelf life.
Heavily processed foods can increase inflammation, which impacts your overall health and immune system. Refined carbohydrates, fried foods, soda, and processed meat can all increase inflammation. It's also a good idea to keep your consumption of red meat reasonable.
A clean diet, however, encourages foods that reduce inflammation, which include nuts, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and whole fruit. If you must cook in oil, choose olive oil or coconut oil as much as possible. Olive oil and coconut oil also make a good substitute for margarine or other heavily processed vegetable oils, which also increase inflammation.
Improved Weight Management
Eating whole foods can help you lose weight and keep it off. Clean eating helps with weight loss by avoiding processed carbs, which tend to go straight to fat, and by encouraging you to eat more fiber, which also improves your digestive health.
Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't also stay active, and thankfully clean eating tends to increase your energy levels so you can work out properly. This also means you can avoid energy drinks and large amounts of coffee (a reasonable amount of coffee, however, is actually good for you. It has been shown to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and heart disease).
Stronger Immune System
Yes, eating clean can keep you from getting sick with whatever respiratory viruses are circulating. Getting proper nutrients bolsters your immune system, making it better able to fight off what might be ailing the other people around you, as well as things you might pick up from the environment. If you do get sick anyway, you will likely recover faster. You'll stay healthier and have to avoid fewer social engagements.
You're also, of course, less likely to pass something on to the people in your life who might have a weakened immune system, such as elderly relatives or somebody's baby.
You're stressed, so you reach for a baked good. Unfortunately, those processed carbs increase inflammation and while you might feel better for a short while, you're actually making your stress levels worse in the long run.
Clean eating, meanwhile, improves your brain health. Your brain gets the fats it actually needs to function properly (these are called essential fatty acids) and your body has more energy. This makes you much better able to fight off stress and anxiety. You'll feel healthier and happier.
No Faddy Restrictions
Lastly, because clean eating is a habit, not a diet, it doesn't come with faddy restrictions. You aren't giving up entire swathes of food, you're eating everything, just going for less processed choices. You can decide for yourself how clean you want to eat and when it's okay to satisfy that sugar craving with a cookie (baking them yourself is, of course, better, if you can).
While you absolutely can also decide to give up gluten or dairy, you don't have to. If cutting something out helps your health and mood, then do so. If it doesn't, then don't worry about it.
You can even still have snacks...air cooked popcorn is considered clean by many people, or you can buy snacks that have been put together with clean eating in mind.
What To Look For On The Label?
For some people, clean eating means only buying raw ingredients and putting everything together yourself. That's not always practical! When something is advertised as "clean" then you need to check the label.
You can also look at labels on regular food to see how clean it is and whether it fits your regime.
Things to avoid on the label:
- Anything ending with -ose. This is an added sugar and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Color Number Whatever. Artificial colors are put in only to make food look "more fun." Avoid them when possible. If you have been diagnosed with ADHD or suspect you have it, or if your child has ADHD, take particular care to avoid Red 40, as there is evidence that it can make ADHD symptoms worse. But all synthetic food dyes are potentially a problem.
- MSG. MSG is used to enhance the flavor of processed foods, and can also cause headaches in some people.
- Sodium nitrate. This is found in processed meats, such as ham and sausages. If you absolutely love ham, it's possible to find nitrate-free ham. But for the most part, it's best to avoid ham, sausages, and bacon.
- Artificial sweeteners. Unless you're a type 2 diabetic, avoid artificial sweeteners. These can also cause headaches in some people, and they also train you to have more of a sweet tooth because they are excessively sweet.
- Sodium benzoate and other artificial preservatives. It's better to refrigerate food than buy something made shelf stable through the use of preservatives.
- Unspecified "natural flavors," which are not natural at all and are highly processed.
- Seed oils, which can lead to inflammation.
- Gums, which are preserving agents that can be bad for your gut health.
So, what do you want to see on the label? Here are some green flags:
- A short ingredients list. The shorter the list, in general, the less processed the food is. For some things, there should only be one ingredient, such as coffee.
- Ingredients you can easily identify the source of. For example, a protein blend that contains peas, rice, and pumpkin seeds is better than one which contains a list of separated proteins.
- The first ingredient is what you expect to see there. For example, if buying oatmeal, the first ingredient should be oats.
- Sugar, if present, should be well down in the ingredients list, and only in items that are supposed to be sweet.
In general, the label should be short, easy to read, and make sense. A lot of complicated chemicals indicates highly-processed food, while the names of natural things such as "apples" is cleaner. No matter what you are buying, get into the habit of checking the label so you can eat as unprocessed a diet as possible and also, if needed, avoid ingredients that make you lose energy, become hyperactive, etc.
Don't forget to check your supplements too. If you are eating clean, you should not need extra supplements, but if you do, choose ones which are natural and based on superfoods, not specific vitamins or minerals extracted and put in pills. Only take supplements if you really need them, and even then look to see if there's a way you can get them from food. (Some people have absorption difficulties that do mean they need to supplement).
Consequences of a Clean Diet
If you are dedicated to eating clean, then you need to make room in the fridge and learn to prepare more of your own food. Again, this is an ideal not all of us can reach; some people have the time and energy to cook every night, others not so much.
Make sure you don't become obsessed with clean eating. If the need to stick to a clean diet starts dominating your life, you need to back off or you can actually develop an eating disorder. If you find yourself going hungry while traveling because you can't find food that meets your standards, for example, you may have a problem. Instead, make clean eating a natural part of your life that you don't have to think about as much.
Remember you don't have to necessarily give anything up, just choose the simpler and healthier option. It's often the tastier option too! Your body will get used to the reduction in added sugars and flavor enhancers over time and you may find that processed food starts to taste bad. For example, if you give up processed meat and then have some ham, the nitrates in it will become much more noticeable taste-wise and you may find you don't actually want it.
Laird and the Competition
At Laird, we believe that you can eat clean and still enjoy your morning coffee and your snacks. We also sell high quality protein, prebiotic, and other supplements. For example, our dairy free creamer contains only coconut milk powder and coconut sugar. Compare this to Nutpods, which in addition to coconut and almonds, also contains acacia gum, dipotassium phosphate (a preservative), sunflower lecithin, and geitan gum. Whatever that is. As you can see, our creamer is much more natural (and we have flavored creamers too).
Or compare the 1UP Protein Bars...if you can. The only ingredients they admit to are whey crisp protein, but it also says it contains eggs. We don't hide anything! Our protein bars contain a blend of pea protein crisps, pumpkin seed, and hemp, as well as tapioca syrup and the flavoring ingredients. Unlike 1UP, which is described as resembling a dessert, the only sugar in our peanut butter chocolate chip protein bar is a small amount in the chocolate chips. Everything else can be traced to its natural source and everything is organic. And it doesn't nurture that sweet tooth...
Last but not least, our Daily Greens supplement contains greens, fruits, fruit-based fibers and mushroom extract. Our primary competitor, AG1, throws in natural flavors. Natural flavors aren't natural at all and are, in fact, highly processed. Add in artificial vitamin K and you can see that our product is much cleaner...for all of the same benefits. They have a longer ingredient list and more processed "stuff" such as lecithin and inulin.
If you are looking to eat a better diet, clean eating can help a lot. Whether you throw yourself into it or just make a few tweaks, reading the label will steer you to foods and supplements that keep you healthy and are less processed. At Laird Superfood, we believe in providing exceptional natural nutrition in convenient formats for people who are on the go. Whether you are looking for a creamer for your coffee that gives you a shot of protein, protein bars, or snacks that are healthier, we have what you need. You can even save money by joining out Daily Ritual Club and building your own subscription box. Club members get 20% off everything, early access, and a $10 coupon every quarter!
Check out Laird Superfoods for snacks, supplements and, yes, coffee creamers (we sell the coffee too) that will improve your mood, fitness, and overall health.