How to Sneak Clean Eating Into Your Diet

green vegetables

Written by culinary nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

A devout clean eater for 30 years, I chose this path to help resolve illness as a kid—terrible allergies, asthma, recurring bronchitis and pneumonia. After removing everything chemical from my diet including preservatives, artificial color, flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and even too much sugar, I felt that my health began to improve. Inspired by “Food and Healing” by Annemarie Colbin, PhD, I opted for a diet of whole fresh foods from fruits and vegetables, to grains, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as thoughtful animal foods and healthy fat. Once I made the switch, I knew I’d found my passion for food and the impact it had on health.

So I encourage all of you to opt for clean eating, understanding that even small changes in your diet can make big everyday differences. Here are several steps that you can take to make health your bottom line. Commit to change and start to get an edible education.

Understand the Basics of Clean Eating

Clean eating starts with being more mindful about the foods you choose. Instead of blindly opting into processed foods boasting health but filled with my “Top Rated Terminators”–chemical preservatives, artificial flavors and enhancers, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, sugar and its many euphemisms, trans fats (hydrogenated oils), chemical pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)–start to learn what these ingredients are and which foods they’re found in so you can begin removing them from your diet. Never forget that the ingredients lists tell the story of your food, not the banners on the boxes. If that list reads like a short novel and you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients, don’t buy it.

Consuming a diet comprised of whole fresh foods like vegetables, fruits, grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats, legumes like lentils, nuts, seeds, thoughtful animal foods and healthy fat is the foundation for clean eating.

Demand transparency and bring back basic!

Get Clean Into Your Morning Routine

Although mornings can sometimes feel like a mad rush, never begin your day without a glass of water with a splash of lemon. After a long night, a tall glass of H2O hydrates. If you need that cup of joe, eliminate your dairy or non-dairy creamers as well as sugar and its commonly used artificial counterparts. If you must, add a touch of organic milk and raw cane sugar or honey to your coffee.

You can also try green tea as your morning pick-me-up. It is loaded with antioxidants and catechins and may be good for your liver.

On the food front, a hardboiled egg mashed with avocado or a fruit and vegetable smoothie are nutritious and delicious choices.

Make Nutritious Meet Delicious at Lunchtime

Most are on the run during the day. So a quick fix for nourishment is in order for many. To keep your lunch choices as clean as possible, go for open-faced sandwiches (or wraps) without condiments like mayonnaise, ketchup and pre-made dressings. Most are loaded with excess fat, sugar (or the artificial sweet), salt and many of my Top Rated Terminators. If you need that creamy fix on your sandwich, smash a fiber-rich avocado into a “buttery” spread. For added flavor, drizzle that sandwich with some extra-virgin olive oil, douse with a little citrus like lemon or lime and add some fresh herbs like basil or dill.

How about opting out of the sandwich and going for a bowl of leafy greens with mixed vegetables, beans and some chicken or fish drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar? Most supermarkets and bodegas even have a salad bar these days.

I also love a good bowl of soup as long as it’s dairy-free. Have this with a slice or two of grainy bread and nutritious can meet delicious. But watch for too much sodium and other mystery ingredients in some of the store-bought options.

Swap Your Cocktail for a Mocktail

A cocktail is often the way for many to transition from a long day into a relaxing evening. It’s also central to many social situations. Given that I am not a big drinker, creating mocktails is my thing. This anti-inflammatory powerhouse is not only one of my favorites but also a crowd pleaser—Ginger Spice Mocktail.

Ginger Spice Mocktail (makes about 3 cups)

4 cups water, boiling

6 slices ginger (about 1/8 inch thick)

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons honey, optional

1/2 lemon, juiced

Fresh mint leaves, garnish

In a small pot combine water, ginger and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil in a covered pot then turn off the heat and let the ginger and cinnamon steep in the hot water for 30 minutes. Uncover pot and let cool to room temperature. Discard the ginger and cinnamon then add honey and lemon juice to pot, mixing well. Serve mocktail in martini or wine glasses with ice and garnish with mint.

Recipe © 2015 Stefanie Sacks

Do Dinner Differently

As pasta is often a go-to for most, how about replacing with spaghetti squash or zucchini “spaghetti” that can easily be made with an inexpensive spiralizer.

Like many families, both my husband and I work full time. But providing healthy homemade meals most nights is a must. Planning weekly dinners is part of our nourishment routine and I like to put a few hours aside one day a week (typically on the weekend) to prepare several dishes. In the fridge, foods like soups, stews or casseroles can last for three days and longer if frozen. Complement your meal with a vegetable and even some starch like a whole grain (brown rice or quinoa) or a starchy vegetable like a sweet potato. Welcome to the balanced plate!

Avoid the Post-Dinner Snack Attack

The “snack attack” is all too common post-dinner, pre-bedtime. Rather than having the second or third “dinner” (like my husband and 9-year-old), create an edible bedtime routine that begins with calming chamomile tea. If that doesn’t do the trick, snack on some fresh fruit or even some frozen berries–a great way to sneak clean into post-dinner snack time. Also, try to have some water before you go to bed since hydration is key to any healthy lifestyle and can help you feel energized and clear-headed in the morning.

Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN is a culinary nutritionist, author, radio show host, educator, speaker and consultant. Studying food and healing for 25 years, Sacks has her Masters of Science in nutrition education from Columbia University, is a certified nutrition specialist, certified dietitian nutritionist and graduate of Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. Her blog, What the Fork Weekly features her “Stirring the Pot” radio show that airs on Hamptons NPR, WPPB 88.3FM and via podcast. Her book, “What the Fork Are You Eating?” (Tarcher/Penguin Random House) is available wherever books are sold.