One of my principles is to aim to eat 80% clean 85% of the time.
But what does 'eat clean' actually mean? It means unprocessed. Foods that are in their natural form. If something is in a tin or a packet then the likelihood is that it has been processed to some degree to provide a shelf life more than a few days. By rule of thumb clean and natural foods will decay over a few days, so if it lasts longer than a week then it's not natural and has some additives and preservatives (extra chemicals added to the food).
In this article are examples of clean v processed foods and my top 12 food hacks.
Examples of clean foods –
Meat cuts from animals like a rump or sirloin steak or a leg of lamb
Fish - fillets of fresh fish
Poultry - chicken or turkey
Fresh raw and cooked vegetables - potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, beetroot, lettuce, cucumber, peppers the list goes on and on
Fresh fruit - apples, bananas, melon, oranges, kiwis, grapes, lemons, limes, pomegranate, plums and the list goes on and on.
Grains - oats, beans, pulses, rice
Dairy - eggs
Nuts and seeds
Examples of processed foods –
Meat in ready meals such as wrapped in pastry, sausages, burgers, etc.
Fish in batter or sauces
Vegetables in sauces or tins
Fruit in tins
Readymade and packed oatmeal, rice, beans in sauces etc.
Dairy – yogurts, milk, cheese
Salted or speciality nuts, crisps, sauces, chocolate, sweets, ready meals, biscuits, most tinned foods, alcohol, sodas, squash, and the list goes on and on.
For me clean also means eating these foods as they are... not adding dressings or marinades etc. unless you add simple herbs and spices including salt and pepper.
I can't say I know anyone whose diet is consumed wholly from only natural foods. In fact, unless you are fairly health conscious, it is the norm for the majority of the average person's diet to be made up from processed food with the odd natural food thrown in. The modern western diet has evolved since the 1950’s to be heavily weighted towards convenience processed foods. In my view they cannot be the best for your health and we know that eating a diet consisting mainly of processed foods has contributed to an increase in obesity across the western world and an increase in heart disease and type 2 diabetes. That said I think it's entirely possible to consume a diet composed of mainly natural foods if you should so wish. Pre 1950s processed foods did not exist and people survived on a simpler cleaner diet.
In order to reach my goals and ensure that my diet is sustainable long term, I know that it's not feasible for me to eat clean 100% of the time. I know this because I have done it consistently for a period of 6 weeks. It does gets results, but for me it's not sustainable as a lifestyle, long term. I get miserable and a bit bored and have a personal aversion to being restricted. So I acknowledge that the best approach for me is to enjoy a diet that is 80% clean most of the time. What this means is that 20% of the food I eat may well be processed and that is certainly true for around 15% of the week, on average, over time. Some weeks, and some days, I may eat cleaner than others.
So, what does the 20% processed food look like and when and why do I apply it? Here are my top 10 food hacks.
These are the foods that I include in my diet because I’m not prepared to live without them. They satisfy a craving or are a lower fat or calorie version of a higher fat/ calorie original and so prevent me reaching for something worse. Everyone has a favourite food (mine is chocolate) and those foods are usually not that great for you - things that taste great usually aren't.
1. Dark chocolate – I eat a small amount of good quality dark chocolate rather than bars of milk chocolate.
2. Artificial sweetener - for coffee/ tea. I use Sweetex. Stevia is a good one but is not very sweet. I use zero calorie coffee syrups also.
3. Zero calorie sauces - I use various brands such as muscle food butterscotch syrups and Walden’s farm caramel sauce.
4. Zero calorie and zero sugar squash - I don't drink enough water at all and this helps me ensure I get my liquids. I mainly drink sugar free Vimto or soda water and lime cordial when I need more than water, but I avoid pop.
5. Spray coconut oil - I try to buy the 'one cal coconut oil' spray. I use this for cooking rather than olive oil, any other oils or butter.
6. PB2 - this is a substitute for peanut butter which you mix with varying quantities of water to make a spreadable paste or a drizzling sauce. You can buy plain or premium chocolate PB2. I order mine online.
7. Seasoning and spices - if you don't like plain foods then steaming vegetables with sea salt makes a big difference and adding spices to plain chicken breast can make things more palatable and interesting and literally spice things up a bit!
8. Protein powder - you can buy these in various flavours and I tend to go for a low carb, lactose and gluten free one (for reasons you will already be aware of if you use protein powder ;-) ), which enables me to increase my protein intake fairly easily without compromising too many calories and it is quite a sweet hit.
9. Spirits and low cal mixers - if I want a drink then I tend to stick to something I'm not going to drink too much of, in terms of quantity. Red wine perhaps, as it's quite heavy or gin and tonic, or vodka and soda.
10. 0% Greek yogurt or Quark - I usually eat these either mixed with protein or with fresh fruit for a filling dessert rather than other more processed yogurts.
11. Diary – I do eat dairy, usually small amounts of lower fat cheeses like feta or cottage cheese. If I want milk I drink almond milk as it contains less carbohydrate in the form of sugar that alternative variances of cow’s milk.
12. Some convenience foods - tinned tuna, frozen vegetables, frozen berries because they are a godsend when you need to stay on track and run out of fresh alternatives.
Additionally, if I want to have chocolate I have chocolate, but I choose dark chocolate which is quite rich, so you can't eat too much. If I want to have something then I'll have a small amount of exactly what I want rather than trying to substitute it with something completely different which leads to me eating for the craving anyway. Have you ever wanted something sweet and tried to quash the craving with other things only to have ended up eaten what you craved and half of the fridge on the way there? Sometimes it is better, if the nearest and closest substitute isn't cutting it in the first instance, to have a little bit of what you fancy, put the craving to bed and move on.
What does this mean? That I cheat? Not really, because I acknowledge the existence of the 20% foods in my diet and they are there to ensure that I maintain momentum and direction working towards my goals. I don't purport to eat 100% clean all of the time, since I'm not an on season competition body builder or a specialist athlete. This approach works for my goals and so far has ensured that I've hit my goals and continued moving my weight loss in the right direction. Make no mistake though, to maintain a diet that is 80% clean takes discipline!
If this helps others to identify similar goals and approaches, and helps others to understand how they can implement tactics that aid their health and fitness efforts, then great! I'm offering insights in to how my diet works for me. I’m not declaring that this is the best diet ever I’m just saying that these are the hacks that work for me :-)
Feel free to share with us your own hacks in the comments below!