I love spring. I love the freshness and renewal it brings. It’s like a new wave of hope and possibility washes over me when the snow starts melting, the sun stays out longer and the peeptoe shoes make their way out from the back of the closet.
Spring is a great time to start afresh in many ways, like cleaning out your closet or your junk drawers. Going through your stuff and donating or throwing out what you no longer need, want or use can be very freeing and refreshing.
So I want to bring that feeling to all areas of my life, including eating. Many of you know I’ve been a clean eater for a few years now, but I still need a good reminder every once in a while to stay on track. Spring is usually the time I give myself a good kick in the butt to quit the excuses and clean up the diet. Maybe it’s because I’m getting excited for local produce soon available. Like from my own garden. Or maybe it’s because I spent the last two months eating so much sugar that I feel lethargic.
Anyway, to keep myself on track, I remind myself of the tips that I’ve picked up here and there that have made eating clean really simple and easy. Whether you are looking to feel better, lose weight, or eat more sustainably, I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me.
At the end, I have included a recipe that I am really digging this week. I prepped Giada De Laurentiis’ Farro Salad with Tomato and Herbs from The Food Network. It was everything I was hoping: nutty, fresh, cool, delicious.
First, An Eating Clean Disclaimer
If you are new to clean eating, don’t freak out. This isn’t about counting calories, macros or micros. This isn’t about following a specific fad diet. This is about giving your body the best fuel to perform optimally. So start slow. Incorporate one or two tips into your daily routine and work your way up as you get more comfortable with it.
1. Pump Up the Greens
Veggies are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre, doing all sorts of great things for you. And with the few calories, you can eat as much as you want without worrying you’ll exceed your daily caloric intake (which you probably shouldn’t worry about anyway). Simple ways to add more vegetables in your diet include:
- add carrots and hummus for an afternoon snack;
- start your meal with a salad; or
- add roasted veggies to your eggs benny brunch.
2. Don’t Drink Your Calories
We often forget to remember that some drinks (lattes, frappes, juices, soda, mixed drinks etc.) contain calories that provide little to no nutritional value. Fruit juices, for example, offer all the sugar and none of the fibre that regular fruit does. Blended coffees are high in calories, fat and sugar. A 12 oz. Starbucks Caramel Macchiato clocks in at 180 calories, 5 grams of fats and a whopping 23 grams of sugar. Alcohol can add excessive calories. The point is to be aware of what you are drinking. Try and make water your first choice and choose it often.
3. Not So Sweet
This one is a monster, I know. Because sugar is so tantalizingly good. At times, it’s addicting. According to the American Heart Association, Americans (Canadians are similar) consume approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s a lot! The recommended amount for women is approximately six teaspoons a day. Eating too much sugar is obviously not good for you. It has been well-linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and much more.
But small steps can add up to big changes. For instance, if you are a soda drinker, try to reduce your intake by consuming one less can every day and choose water more often. When you crave something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit. You quell the sweet craving and you are getting some fibre to slow down the absorption of the sugars into your bloodstream.
Be aware of hidden sugars. There are many products on the shelves of supermarkets and health stores alike that contain an excessive amount of the sweet stuff. Some of the energy bars that I used to love, like Cliff Bars, have upwards of 20 grams of sugar, which is no better than a chocolate bar. Not so healthy.
My rule of thumb: when those sweet cravings hit, reach for a piece of fruit. (If it’s really bad, see tip #6.)
4. Pass (Over) the Salt
According to the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation, Canadians consume an average of 3,400 mg or approximately 1.5 tsp of sodium per day. The recommended amount is only 2,300 mg per day. High sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and other health issues.
You can reduce your sodium intake with a few simple tweaks:
- Cook fresh foods at home more often than going out;
- Season food with herbs and spices instead of salt;
- Learn to read food labels – the more you know, the easier it will become.
5. Plan. Prep. Repeat.
The number one thing that has helped me stay on track is meal planning. Eating clean becomes so much easier when you have planned your meals in advance, bought groceries specifically for those recipes and prep the meals beforehand so you have healthy meals ready to go. From planning to cooking, the whole process takes no more than a few hours. This is a snapshot of my routine:
- Thursday: find 3-4 recipes that make 3-4 servings each
- Friday: buy groceries
- Saturday morning: cook
This routine may not work for you or your family, so find something that does. I also plan out and cook every meal and snacks, so I have time during the week to commit to volunteer or hang out with friends or whatever else suits my fancy.
Not only does meal planning help you stay on track and save time, but it also saves you money – you only buy what you actually need, not what you might make during the week. It helps reduce food waste.
6. Eat the Cake
Clean eating does not mean you need to deprive yourself of foods you love. I love chocolate cake. Like, I could eat it ALL the time. Maybe growing up in a bakery had a little something do with it. I try to eat clean 85-90 per cent of the time. The other 10-15? I eat the cookie. I indulge in the cake. The key is moderation. So if you are really craving some, indulge a little with the operative word being “little”. Eat one cookie and really enjoy it, but don’t eat the whole dozen.
I hope you find these tips as useful as I have. If you have any tips or tricks you use to eat clean, post in the comments, share on Twitter or shoot me an email.
Farro is a new grain to me. I found this recipe while meal planning one day, and it is delicious. Fun fact about prepping this dish: I wore swimming goggles to keep my eyes from tearing up from the fragrant onions. Proof can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/brittanybrander/
Farro Salad with Tomato and Herbs
4 cups water
10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 sweet onion (recommended: Walla Walla) chopped
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the water and farro in a medium saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well, and then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Add the tomatoes, onion, chives, and parsley to the farro, and toss to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to coat.
The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Have a beautiful week!