With many people working from home, it seems that this comes with its fair set of challenges regarding balancing work and life. Boundaries have been blurred and most are working more than their usual hours, often neglecting their health and family time.
As much as demands have increased during this chaotic time, it is very important – perhaps now more than ever as this may be the ‘new normal’ for some time – to maintain somewhat of a balance in terms of self-care, maintaining good health, and keeping immunity levels up.
During these stressful times and with being at home, food can be an easy source of comfort and it is easy to build unhealthy habits by not being mindful of what you eat and snack on. Understanding the idea of ‘clean eating’ – a term based on the book by the same name authored by Terry Walters – may therefore be useful.
The basis of clean eating is consuming primarily whole, unprocessed foods. It revolves around maintaining a balanced and personalised diet of fresh, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. For some, it may also include eggs, meats, fish and dairy.
When choosing to eat clean as a sustainable lifestyle shift, many advocates cite clearer skin, weight loss, increased energy, stronger hair and nails, improved mental health and even better sleep.
Below are five ‘clean eating’ tips to incorporate into your daily diet.
- Keep it whole Stick to whole foods – those that occur in nature and which are ideally not processed at all or minimally processed so that it still resembles its natural state. Examples include fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed and free-range meats, dairy, eggs, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Clean eating also embodies minimising on packaging material where possible, particularly single-use packaging.
- Experiment with home cooking Even though most of us are exhausted from home cooking and craving that take-out or a meal from your favourite restaurant, you are almost guaranteed a more nutritious and wholesome meal when you cook for yourself using the other principles of clean eating. Foods from restaurants are often higher in sweeteners and salt compared to foods you might prepare at home. It is also often difficult to know the quality of the ingredients used in a restaurant setting. Keep it simple and build your cooking repertoire as you learn more.
- Limit refined carbohydrates Ideally you should attempt to remove or at least reduce the amount of so-called ‘white’ or ‘refined’ foods from your diet. This includes food made from white flour, white rice, maize meal and potatoes, particularly if deep-fried. Examples of such foods are pasta, pastries, breads, cookies and cakes and − needless to say − most dessert items.
- Maintain consistent eating times and try not to skip meals Keeping your blood sugar stable greatly contributes to healthy food choices. When you wait too long between meals or eat processed or high-sugar-containing foods that spike blood sugar – thereafter leading to an energy ‘crash’ – you are more likely to reach for foods high in sugar, fat, or caffeine to keep up your energy. If you continue this cycle of highs and lows, you may feel irritable and exhausted. By eating whole foods every few hours, you avoid extreme peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels. Additionally, nutritious food choices help support stable blood sugar regulation, which has also been shown to reduce overall inflammation and cortisol (a stress-hormone) levels.
- Balance your plate You should aim to get some combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat in every meal. This will create optimal blood sugar levels and as such meals will keep you fuller for longer, they may stave off cravings or brain fog. Some examples of great protein sources include grass-fed meat, fish, tempeh, and legumes. High-quality fat options include avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds – preferably avoiding those roasted in oil and salted. When reaching for complex carbs, try whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat and vegetables like sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts or artichokes.
Making such big changes at one go can be quite overwhelming and often are difficult to sustain. But by taking baby steps and slowly incorporating small, barely noticeable changes such as replacing a bag of potato chips with a handful of nuts as a snack or eating one cookie less with tea or coffee you will take a huge step towards respecting your body and taking care of your health.