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11 Simply Rules to Clean Eating

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By Franziska Spritzler

The term "clean eating" has become very popular among the health conscious.

Clean eating is an eating pattern that focuses on fresh, whole foods. This lifestyle can be easy and enjoyable, as long as you follow a few general guidelines.

This article explains what clean eating is and provides 11 simple tips to eat clean.

What is Clean Eating?

Clean eating doesn't have anything to do with food being clean or dirty.

And rather than focusing on tracking calorie, carb, protein or fat intake, clean eating involves choosing minimally processed, real foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits.

The idea is to consume foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Selecting foods that have been raised with integrity and protecting the health of animals and the environment is also part of clean eating.

Bottom Line: Clean eating involves choosing foods that are minimally processed, ethically raised and rich in naturally occurring nutrients.

1. Eat More Vegetables and Fruits

Vegetables and fruits are undeniably healthy.

They're loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that help fight inflammation and protect cells from damage (1).

In fact, many large observational studies have linked eating more fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and other diseases (2, 3, 4, 5).

Fresh vegetables and fruits are ideal foods for clean eating, as most can be consumed raw immediately after picking and washing.

Choosing organic produce can help you take clean eating one step further by reducing pesticide exposure and potentially increasing the health benefits of fruits and vegetables (6).

Here are some easy ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  • Make your salad as colorful as possible, including at least three different vegetables in addition to greens.
  • Add berries, chopped apples or orange slices to your salad.
  • Wash and chop veggies, toss them with olive oil and herbs and place them in a container in the refrigerator for easy access.

Bottom Line: Vegetables and fruits should form the basis of a clean eating lifestyle. They are whole foods that require little preparation and provide many health benefits.

2. Limit Processed Foods

Processed foods are directly opposed to clean eating because they have been modified, to some extent, from their natural state.

Most of them have lost some of their fiber and nutrients, yet gained sugar, chemicals or other unhealthy ingredients during processing. Processed foods have been linked to inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease (7).

Even if unhealthy ingredients aren't added to processed foods, these foods still lack many of the benefits provided by whole foods.

What's more, processed foods take less energy to digest and absorb than whole foods do, making them more likely to cause weight gain over time.

In one study, healthy adults consumed a 600-calorie meal containing either whole or processed foods. The group that consumed whole foods burned twice as many calories digesting their meals (8).

In order to eat clean, it's important to avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Bottom Line: Processed foods conflict with clean eating principles due to the loss of naturally occurring nutrients and the addition of preservatives and other questionable ingredients.

3. Read Labels

Although clean eating is based on whole, fresh foods, there are certain types of packaged foods that can be included.

Examples include packaged vegetables, nuts, meats and other foods.

However, it's important to read labels to make sure there aren't any preservatives, added sugars or unhealthy fats.

For instance, many nuts are roasted in vegetable oil, which can expose them to heat-related damage.

It's best to purchase raw nuts and consume them as is or toast them at a low temperature in your oven.

As another example, salad mixes that are pre-washed and ready to eat can be a huge time saver. However, be sure to check the ingredients label for additives, especially on the salad dressing that often comes with it.

Bottom Line: To maintain a clean eating lifestyle, read labels to ensure that packaged produce, nuts, meats and other foods contain no questionable ingredients.

4. Stop Eating Refined Carbs

Refined carbs are highly processed foods that are easy to overeat yet provide little nutritional value.

Research has linked frequently consuming refined carbs to inflammation, insulin resistance, fatty liver and obesity (9, 10, 11).

By contrast, whole grains provide more nutrients and fiber, and controlled studies suggest that they may reduce inflammation and promote better gut health (12, 13).

In one analysis of 2,834 adults who took part in a large health study, people who consumed mostly whole grains were shown to be less likely to carry excess belly fat than those who consumed mainly refined grains (14).

If you are going to eat grains, choose the kinds that have been least processed, such as sprouted grain bread and steel-cut oats. Stay away from ready-to-eat cereals, white bread and other refined carbs.

Bottom Line: Refined grains are inflammatory and lack fiber and other valuable nutrients. In order to eat clean, choose minimally processed grains or avoid them altogether.

5. Avoid Vegetable Oils and Spreads

Vegetable oils and margarines don't meet the criteria for clean eating.

For starters, they are produced by extracting oil from seeds and vegetables using chemicals, making them highly processed.

They also contain very high levels of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, which studies have linked to inflammation and an increased risk of weight gain and heart disease (15, 16, 17).

Additionally, the chemical structure of these oils makes them vulnerable to damage and rancidity, particularly under conditions of high heat or exposure to air.

Some margarines and spreads still contain artificial trans fats as well, though many food manufacturers have removed these fats due to health concerns (18, 19).

Although all vegetable oils and spreads should be avoided, it's important to include a moderate amount of healthy fats in a clean eating regimen.

Choose oils and spreads that are minimally processed and provide the greatest health benefits, such as extra virgin coconut oil, olive oil and butter from grass-fed cows.

Bottom Line: Vegetable oils and trans fats are highly processed, inflammatory and linked to an increased risk of disease. Opt for healthy, minimally processed oils and fats.

6. Steer Clear of Sugar in Any Form

Sugar is one of the most important things to stay away from if your goal is to eat clean. Unfortunately, it's found in many foods, including those that don't taste especially sweet, like sauces and condiments.

Both table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are high in fructose. Table sugar contains about 50 percent fructose, while high-fructose corn syrup contains about 55 percent fructose.

The results of several studies suggest fructose may play a role in obesity, diabetes, fatty liver and cancer, among other health problems (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27).

Depending on your health, you may be able to occasionally tolerate small amounts of natural sugar, such as honey or maple syrup, while following a clean eating lifestyle.

However, if you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome or similar health problems, it's best to avoid all forms of concentrated sugar, including those from natural sources.

Moreover, even natural sugar sources contribute very little nutritional value other than calories.

For truly clean eating, try to consume foods in their natural, unsweetened state. Learn to appreciate the sweetness of fruit and the subtle sweetness of nuts and other whole foods.

Bottom Line: Sugar is highly processed and has been linked to several health problems. Using small amounts of natural sugar occasionally or avoiding sugar altogether makes sense from a clean eating perspective.

7. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol is made by adding yeast to crushed grains, fruits or vegetables and allowing the mixture to ferment.

Moderate intakes of certain types of alcohol, particularly wine, have been credited with heart health benefits (28).

However, aside from the antioxidants in wine, alcohol does not provide any nutrients.

What's more, frequent alcohol consumption has been shown to promote inflammation and may also contribute to a number of health problems, such as liver disease, digestive disorders and excess belly fat (29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35).

When following a clean eating lifestyle, alcohol intake should be minimized, if it's consumed at all.

Bottom Line: Although moderate wine intake may help protect heart health, alcohol is also linked to an increased risk of several diseases. Alcohol consumption should be restricted when practicing clean eating.

8. Substitute Vegetables in Recipes

In addition to including more vegetables in your salads, you can bump up your veggie intake by using them in place of refined grains in recipes.

For example, cauliflower can be chopped finely to mimic rice, mashed like potatoes or used in pizza crust. Here are a few recipes that use cauliflower as a substitute:

Spaghetti squash is a natural replacement for pasta because it separates into long, thin strands after cooking:

Zucchini makes great "zoodles" and other alternatives to pasta and starches:

Bottom Line: When eating clean, replace pasta, rice and other refined grains with veggies that taste great and improve the nutritional value of your meal.

9. Avoid Packaged Snack Foods

If a clean eating lifestyle is your goal, packaged snack foods should definitely be avoided.

Crackers, granola bars, muffins and similar snack foods typically contain refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils and other unhealthy ingredients.

These processed snacks provide little nutritional value and fail to satisfy.

In order to avoid grabbing these items when you get hungry between meals, make sure to have snacks on hand that meet clean eating criteria.

Good snacks include nuts, vegetables and fruits. These foods are tasty, rich in nutrients and may help protect against disease (1, 36, 37).

Bottom Line: Instead of packaged snack foods made from refined grains, choose nutrient-dense whole foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables.

10. Make Water Your Primary Beverage

Water is the healthiest and most natural beverage you can drink.

There are no additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners or other questionable ingredients. It is by definition a "clean" beverage.

Water can also be consumed liberally as an excellent source of hydration. In addition, drinking plenty of water may also help you achieve a healthy weight (38).

By contrast, sugar-sweetened beverages have consistently been linked to diabetes, obesity and other diseases. What's more, fruit juice may cause many of the same problems due to its high sugar content (39, 40).

These are drinks that everyone should stay away from, especially those interested in eating clean.

Unsweetened coffee and tea are also good choices and provide several health benefits, but people who are sensitive to caffeine may need to moderate their intake.

Bottom Line: Water is free of ingredients that may harm your health. It should be your main beverage when following a clean eating lifestyle.

11. Choose Food From Naturally Raised Animals

In addition to fresh, unprocessed foods, clean eating involves selecting food that comes from properly raised animals.

These days, many animals are raised on large complexes commonly referred to as "factory farms."

Overcrowded, dirty conditions are the norm on these farms. To help prevent infection, the animals are typically given antibiotics and many are injected with hormones like estrogen and testosterone to maximize growth (41).

Moreover, most cattle on industrial farms are fed grains rather than their natural diet of grass. Studies have shown that grass-fed beef is higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and antioxidants than grain-fed beef (42, 43, 44).

The environmental impact of raising animals on large-scale farms is also concerning, particularly the high amounts of wastewater that result from this practice (45, 46).

By choosing to purchase meat grown on small farms that treat animals humanely, feed them their natural diets and don't use antibiotics or growth hormones, you can help support the health of animals and the planet, as well as your own.

Bottom Line: Choosing meat from animals raised naturally on small farms is consistent with clean eating principles.

Take Home Message

Clean eating focuses on choosing fresh foods that have been minimally processed and retain their nutritional value.

This way of eating can help you learn to appreciate the natural flavors of foods, as they were meant to be consumed.

In addition, it's a lifestyle that can help support the health of people, animals and the planet.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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