The start of a new year is a great time for wiping the slate — and your diet — clean. So if you’ve fallen off the wagon (or have never even managed to climb on) I have some great, practical tips and product recommendations that will make eating clean and gluten-free a snap.
Eating Clean Defined
Before we get into the details of my “starter package” of sorts , let’s first chat about what it even means to “eat clean”. It’s become quite the go-to term these days for everything relating to healthy eating. Google “eating clean” or “clean diet” and you can probably find 100 different definitions, but here’s how I break it down in its simplest terms: be most concerned with the QUALITY of the food you eat. This is a paradigm shift from the calorie and fat gram counting methodologies we’re commonly inundated with, but adopting this focus pays much bigger, long-term dividends to your waistline and overall wellness.
It involves enjoying foods that are:
1) without common allergens (e.g. gluten/wheat, dairy, corn, soy, yeast, peanuts, refined sugar). Most people don’t even realize they have sensitivities to such foods because symptoms can be so elusive. But regularly consuming foods that your body reacts to, even slightly, can put you in a constant state of inflammation. And inflammation is at the the root of many chronic conditions.
2) without artificial preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). This subject deserves a blog post (or 10) to itself, but the net net is that regularly ingesting such various toxins causes free-radical damage (read: premature aging of cells), hampers the immune system, can be carcinogenic, and prevents weight loss.
3) nutrient dense. think organic bright-colored fruits and veggies, whole grains and unsaturated oils that provide critical vitamins, trace minerals, fiber and inflammation-fighting essential fatty acids.
Optimally all foods would be local and and completely unprocessed, but like most of you, I’m a girl on the go and can only do what I can do. So, if there’s a great, respectable company out there whose already done the work for me, I’m gonna take advantage. Afterall, that’s how Clean Cravings was born, and we make good stuff. I’m a little biased of course, but I speak the truth.
So here you go — some of my best advice and product recommendations to to get you off to a Clean Start.
1. Be Prepared. I can’t emphasize this enough. When you’re on the go with temptation around every corner and an unfortunate, extreme lack of healthful convenient foods, having appropriate replacements at the ready is critical to avoid slip ups and feelings of deprivation. Do whatever you need to do – get a cooler for the car or the office, make extra food on the weekends to take during the week, get new equipment required to quickly whip up your favorite dishes, etc – a little prep up front will pay off big time down the road.
2. Educate yourself. I’ll be addressing many of these issues here in the future, but here are some great sources to get started if you are not yet familiar with these topics: gluten-free food guide from NFCA, dairy-free guides from godairyfree.org, non-gmo information and guidelines from the Non-GMO project, organic food guide from the Environmental Working Group. I’m also a huge fan of the straight shooting and well-referenced books: The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Skinny Bitch for a great introduction to the disturbing situation of our overall food supply and commercialized food industry. I also highly recommend using the services of a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist to guide you.
3. Once you’re knowledgeable on what you’re not suppose to eat, you need to find your clean substitutes. Here is a partial list of some of my favorite products and brands that have helped me make the transition. NOTE: I have no relationships of any kind with the outside companies/products I recommend — just lucky peeps I’ve found on my 3 year scavenger hunt for the best products that make the clean-eating lifestyle as simple and tasty as possible.
- Almond Milk (or hemp or coconut milk) to replace regular cow’s milk in ANYTHING. This former dairy loving girl can’t live without it.
- Clean Cravings Just Crust products. I’m biased, obviously, but honestly I haven’t found a better tasting, cleaner gluten-free bread product. And the Just Crust Minis are so versatile – keep them whole for mini pizzas, breakfast muffin, sandwiches, etc. or cut into 4’s for the perfect pita replacement. Small enough to fit in a regular toaster slot — the whole family uses them for everything. My fave is the rosemary flavor. Plus, they’re made with whole grains, vegan, use organic ingredients and have no common allergens.
- Brown Rice Tortillas. A little tough for burritos, but perfect for making your own corn-free tortilla chips. Fold into 4’s and pop in the toaster. For extra flavor, spread with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt before (and use regular or toaster oven). Even better, top with beans, avocado, sliced tomatoes and salsa for the perfect clean nachos.
- Organic, wheat-free tamari. As ridiculous as it is, regular soy sauce has gluten in it. This identical tasting alternative contains soy, but because its organic its non-GMO. San-J even has individual packets you can buy that can easily be whipped out of your purse or wallet when you dive into that salmon sashimi or California role (made with real crab, of course – imitation crab also has gluten). Its also sold in regular glass bottles in any health food store.
- Mary’s Gone Crackers original seed crackers and pretzel twists. Very tasty with a great crunch, high in fiber and quality ingredients (whole grain brown, flaxseed, quinoa). The Pretzel Twists are great for kids.
- Amazing Grass GREENSuperFood drink powder. Made with raw, organic greens & super foods + probiotics, enzymes and essential fatty acids, this is one stop shopping for your immune & digestive system support. Best of all, it doesn’t have that typical grassy taste of many green drinks and whips up in seconds with almond milk and a hand mixer.
- Larabars. The simplest bars you can find on the shelf. Dozens of flavors and made with very simple ingredients – primarily nuts and dried fruit.
- Redbridge Beer. Made with sorghum instead of barley, this won’t disappoint light beer fans. I fancied Amstel Light in my gluten-eating past, and this is a close replacement. There are plenty of other gluten-free substitutes for darker beers, but I’m not yet up on those. Any takers on a taste-panel party?
- Teecino herbal coffee alternative + So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer. Drinking daily since high school, one of my biggest hurdles was giving up coffee. But but I’m happy to report, I have been successful in kicking the habit. For those days I’m really jonesing for the whole coffee experience, I use this coffee flavored, all natural beverage and sweeten it up with the coconut based creamers (various flavors available, my fave is French Vanilla) . If you can’t yet fathom kicking the coffee habit, at least switch to a low-acid, organic version — check the aisles at your local natural food retailer.
- Zevia Soda. My biggest, and most shameful habit that remains toughest to kick is diet soda. Its gross, there’s no way around it. But despite my deep knowledge of the harmful ingredients it’s made with, it has some type of crack-like grip on me. I have recently found the all-natural, stevia sweetened Zevia soda (various flavors, including my new fave, “Dr Zevia”). While I’m a huge proponent of primarily drinking water, this is great to have on hand for those critical, about to cross the dark-side situations. I just brought a six-pack to a Sunday Football BBQ and stuck one in my purse yesterday when I went to lunch.
4. Relish the naturally clean foods you can indulge in. When first switching over to a completely clean diet, I discovered foods I had either inadvertently forgotten about or purposely limited because of my former, incorrect concerns over calories and fat grams. For example, baked or mashed yams/sweet potatoes with a bit of vegan butter are delish and more than satisfy those starchy & sweet cravings. And don’t forget about sweet potato fries (baked, not fried of course)! They beat the flavor of any fast-food fries out there (yes, even the fries at In-n-Out). And then there’s avocados. Whenever I miss cheese (especially with Mexican Food), I just pile on extra avocado and smile. I could kick myself for restricting my avocado intake all these years — what was I thinking? Also think indulging in nuts and nut butters (raw is best, dry roasted as an alternate) and unsaturated oils like olive, flax, safflower. Let go of the calorie and fat gram counter and let yourself start enjoying these foods again. Because your body will actually recognize these foods (and because they are high in fiber and essential fatty acids), they’ll be so much more fulfilling than that bag of Baked! Doritos. Your sense of satiety will kick in for intrinsic portion control.