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Once upon a time, I thought I was pretty good at “clean eating”.

However, after some research, I realized I had a lot to learn and a lot to change in my life if I was going to abide by the “clean eating” rules. And that, my friends, is terribly daunting!

Let me explain.

To “eat clean” one must avoid all processed and refined foods. Fairly simple rules, however, when it comes right down to it, those foods are everywhere! EVERYWHERE!!

I took a moment to look in my pantry, because that is where a lot of processed and refined foods live. I think many of us know that boxed foods like mac ‘n cheese and skillet meals are highly processed foods and are not really a great food choice. Right? Well, if you didn’t, now you know!

But, did you realize that your favorite granola bars and heart healthy soups are likely highly processed and full of MSG like ingredients in addition to weird preservatives like BHT? We are frequently lured into security when we see words like, “fiber”, “heart healthy” and “natural”. And, many of us swoon at the boxes endorsed by our favorite famous athletic trainers and TV shows.

But, if it’s in a box, a bag, a jar or a can, it is in our best interest to go further than the trendy words or popular endorsements. It’s time to check out the ingredients and understand them.

The rules to “clean eating” are simple. If we were living in pioneer days or cave people days, we could follow those rules without thinking. However, we live in a world that has fast food, artificial food, fake food, questionable food…

So, it’s a bit more of a challenge. Not to mention, we are often tricked by some pretty savvy marketing into thinking some items are a great food choice when they are not.

“Clean eating” makes sense to me. I mean, why not? Eat fresh, eat local, eat what you know.

Sounds like the right kind of trend to follow if one is going to follow a trend, right? I mean, following an all carbohydrate diet or a carbohydrate free diet sounds silly to me. Not to mention, if I had to cut out carbs I would lay down on the floor and refuse to carry on! But, this, “clean eating”, fresh food eating, now that is reasonable. It’s something I feel like I can totally get behind.

Implementing this plan will take dedication, diligence, patience and probably, some changes in my grocery budget.

I suppose finding fresh food is fairly easy, it’s not frozen, it’s not canned, it’s not bagged. It’s, uh, FRESH.

Personally, I think the best idea is to visit the local farmers market with local vendors. Not only do I have access to food I know is fresh and seasonal, but it helps the economic growth for local farming businesses. Bonus!

Eliminating processed foods is where it gets a bit dicey.

We live in a country that promotes ease and convenience with food and food accessibility. Yet, as a population, we have a lot to learn about food and how to make our bodies better with food. I have friends that moved over seas and I yearn for the food opportunities they have there. They don’t have pantries in the homes there. Because they shop daily and make fresh choices. They have to make a lot of things from scratch because it doesn’t exist as a pre-made option. Food doesn’t last long because there are no strange preservatives.

The market set up in countries abroad lends itself to the “clean eating” philosophy. It’s not a struggle to eat clean, it is a way of life. That is what we are missing here. Eating clean is not the norm, it is tricky and challenging for us.

We live in a world of commuters and busy lives. Can you imagine adding a shopping trip to the market daily, sometimes twice daily? Probably not. I would be totally cool with it though! Instead of just stopping in to a coffee shop, I’d like to grab a cup of joe and make my dinner choice as I stroll through the market looking at the fresh, seasonal items that look the tastiest.

That little dream would serve many purposes for me. I could get the freshest food possible. I can be inspired by that food for the meal of the day. I can take time to slow down in a busy life. I can enjoy some culinary creative thinking without getting overwhelmed by planning a whole stinkin’ week of meals!

But, alas, this is not really a viable option for me where I live. Some areas of the country do have more access to this type of market shopping opportunity.

Here’s the real deal, I like the idea of “clean eating” and I want to incorporate it into my life. Simple as that.

I admit, that I have been at a loss as to how to do it and do it right. Going “all in” isn’t quite right for me. That’s a little too stressful for me. There are a lot of negative influences in our food lives as Americans. And, I think that switching to a “clean eating” lifestyle is going to require learning how to navigate around those influences, and that will take time and effort.

So, I will start with baby steps. Let’s be realistic, I can’t just throw out everything in my pantry and live off the land today! But, maybe, someday, I will be pretty close to that.

Here are some of the rules that I will follow in my efforts to adopting a “clean eating” lifestyle:

I intend to avoid anything in a box, bag or can. If I find it too hard to avoid, I will pay attention to the ingredients. Less is more. Simple, easy ingredients that I am familiar with, that’s what should be listed on the package, nothing more.

I will use more wholesome sweeteners, like maple syrup and honey. If I end up using sugar, I am going to look for less refined and organic varieties.

I will switch to full fat versions of everything! YUP, that’s right. Why? Because the low-fat versions are not miraculously born low-fat. They are processed into low-fat versions, scarcely resembling their former full fat selves. Often low-fat versions need to get beefed up with the nutrition they lost from the process of getting “skinny”.

If following the rule above, that means I will also need to work very hard on portion control. Moderation, moderation, moderation…oooh, say it again!

Fresh and local or organic produce will be on every shopping list. Bonus if I get them a the local farm stands.

I will seek out local and organic meats. The other day I was at the grocery store and I took a gander at their whole chickens. The store brand chicken had a label that read, “may be missing some of the giblets”. What? What does that mean? Why? Were they not born with them? Where have they gone? And, if I have to ask that many questions about the chicken why on earth would I want to eat it?

I will avoid canned veggies, sauces, beans. This is hard. I cannot tell you how often I use these items. In fact, I am not sure this rule is even a reasonable expectation for me! I do not think I can give up my canned or boxed tomatoes! How will I make tomato sauce? At this point, it is not realistic for me to make sauce for the whole year from fresh tomatoes. But, I can avoid pre-made, jarred tomato sauces. I can avoid condensed soups. I can purchase dried beans instead of canned. Baby steps, remember?

Last rule, sometimes, I will need a reprieve. I will need to cut myself some slack about whether or not I am making the right food choices. Occasionally, I will need to err on the side of convenience. And that is okay.

For me, it’s about doing the best I can to stay healthy. It’s about balancing out my life and easing stress. So, as time goes on, these rules may be easier to follow.

Not to mention, as a culture, it seems as though many folks are beginning to question what they are putting into their bodies. Folks are banning together and requesting more accountability from the manufacturers selling our food. Hopefully, as time goes on, making the right food choices may not be so hard for any of us.

Happy eating, cooking and well wishes to all! Here are the resources I used when I was researching “clean eating”.

Here is a cool app I have recently checked out, I bet my next grocery trip will be twice as long since I will likely be putting all kinds of things into the app! http://www.fooducate.com

I also found a couple of websites that have a directory for local produce, figured I would share that as well. www.buylocalpa.org and www.localharvest.org

I also bookmarked a few of the sites that have recently viewed that have “clean eating” tips and info. Take from them what you will.