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How to Eat Clean

My last post was about clean eating, what it is and why it is so important. I thought I’d follow up with this post on how to eat clean… in the real world.

A lot of clean eating guidelines just aren’t practical. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be filling up on cheap but nutritionally devoid foods like white rice, pasta and white bread that offer us no health benefits. In an ideal world, we’d all be buying fresh, seasonal produce by the trolley-load, drinking cold-pressed juice daily and we’d all be fantastic home cooks and bakers with limitless free time to spend on preparing the best meals we can. But we don’t all live in an ideal world, we live in a world where good quality food is expensive, time is at a premium and it seems much easier to grab a piece of toast and rush out of the door in the morning than it is to knock up a almond flour pancake stack with stewed fresh fruit and homemade yoghurt.

The good news is, there’s plenty of things we can do to make our diet cleaner, whether we’re short of money, or time, or even motivation. Here’s a few ideas.

Be Prepared to Spend a Little More

It is definitely possible to eat clean on a budget, but you will need to spend more than the bare minimum if you want to eat fresh, clean food. For people who are genuinely struggling to make ends meet, clean eating may not be a priority. But for most of us, we have a choice about what we spend our money on. For me, eating good quality food is more important than spending money on an expensive phone contract or a magazine subscription. Our food is our health insurance. (In fact, as someone without health insurance, it literally is my health insurance.) That’s not to say we need to spend a fortune. Spending a little bit more in the right places goes a long way.

Organic versus Non-Organic

Organic food isn’t a modern concept or a fancy premium product invented for the rich. It’s how our grandparents used to eat, before modern unsustainable practices took over in the quest for ever increasing yields and ever increasing profits. Organic food is better for us and for the planet, and if I could afford to, I would ensure all of the food I bought was organic. Who wants to eat pesticide residues?! However, it can be seriously expensive!

Eating clean means eating fruit and vegetables untainted by pesticides. Pesticide levels vary on conventional produce from plant to plant, so some are safer than others. For those of us on a budget, the US-based Environmental Working Group does a fantastic job each year of telling us which ones have the safest levels and which ones are the highest risk.

dirtydozenIf you can’t afford to switch your entire shop to organic, try to switch the so-called dirty dozen (the ones containing the highest pesticide levels): apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, chillies, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, bell peppers/capsicum, kale and courgette/zucchini. If you can’t afford to purchase organic at all, try to limit how many of these foods you consume per week.

EWG found that people who ate conventional products daily from this list were ingesting 10 pesticides per day.

Ditch the Supermarket

Food should be exciting and inspiring! Supermarkets are soulless, depressing places… crowded, noisy and without natural light, where we are bombarded with “choice” yet can never find what we want. Yet, it is extremely easy to find all the processed overpackaged rubbish we don’t want – and no doubt it is on ‘special’ too. How many times do we buy things we don’t really want because we were seduced by the saving?! Special offers don’t mean money saved, they mean money spent. The best way to avoid temptation is not to shop there.

SPECIAL

There’s nothing ‘special’ about wasting our money on food that we don’t need and isn’t good for us!

In supermarkets, fresh doesn’t mean fresh. They have huge centralised distribution centres so “fresh” produce spends days on the road and days more in storage before reaching the shelves. It’s picked before it’s ripe so it lasts longer, but this impacts the taste. To top it off, it’s usually far more expensive than you’d pay at a farmers market or local farm shop… especially organics.

If you really don’t have any option available to you other than your local supermarket, try to keep to the edges and avoid the middle aisles. When buying fruit and veg, to get an idea of what’s in season, look at the country of origin and choose local.

Buy Loose

If you want to save money (and reduce your packaging consumption) find a bulk store where food is sold by weight and priced by the kilo. Prices are usually far lower than the supermarkets, and no endless fiddly packets either. The range is also far greater. Items that often appear on the exotic world food aisles with their exotic prices in supermarkets are a fraction of the price at these stores.

bulk1Shop Local

The Farmers’ Market is your friend. Fruit and vegetables are far fresher than those in the shops, they’re are seasonal, and far cheaper. Plus you can chat to the producers themselves! It’s not just fruit and veggies that you can pick up. Often there’s cheese, meat, fish, olive oil, eggs, bread and endless tasty wholesome treats to be had. Farmers Markets have a great atmosphere; they’re welcoming and relaxed, and make the whole shopping experience far more pleasurable. And that’s what food is about, right?

If you’re not a fan of the early rises that accompany Farmers Markets, let the shopping come to you! There’s plenty of local vegetable box schemes that deliver right to our doors, and they often deliver milk, eggs and grocery items too. If you lead a busy life, this can be a huge help, saving you time and energy.  And if you’re really not a fan of grocery shopping and tend to put it off until you literally have nothing left to eat, a delivery scheme ensures your fridge stays full and you don’t need to resort to emergency pizza to fend off starvation.

When we buy our food, we are making a choice about our future. If we want to live the fullest lives we can, to achieve all the things that we want to do, and be there for our communities, our children and our grandchildren, then we need to look after ourselves.

If we don’t look after our bodies, where are we going to live?

One reason why I don’t shop at Supermarkets

I no longer do a weekly shop at the supermarket. I haven’t taken part in this ritual since July 2012, when I signed up to Plastic Free July and pledged to stop buying disposable plastic forever. It wasn’t my plan to stop shopping in the supermarkets, but once I limited myself to items not packaged in plastic, it didn’t leave much left to buy. The odd jar, a bag of flour, that was about it. Once I’d traipsed up and down every aisle and only filled my basket with a handful of items, the novelty wore thin. We started shopping elsewhere, namely the markets and the bulk food stores.

I’d never liked giving my money to the supermarkets, but their convenience lured me in. I wanted to support local businesses, local producers and sustainable practices like organic farming, but it was a big change to undertake. Once the supermarkets stopped being convenient and I had a reason (along with the drive and motivation) to go elsewhere, I did, and I haven’t looked back.

It was only once I’d stopped going to the supermarkets that I realised that most of the food I was buying from there wasn’t food at all, but a mix of additives, preservatives and flavours that looked like food. The promotions would lure me in, even though it was the same things on offer, week in, week out. Things I didn’t need and didn’t want…but the bargain factor meant they often ended up in the trolley. Not such a bargain, buying things that I didn’t intend to buy, is it?! It was a habit, one that I didn’t know I had until I broke it.

If you happened to go into my local supermarket this week, this is what you’d be seeing in pride of place at the ends of the aisles on “special”. See if you can spot any real food amongst it all.

junk3 junk2 junk1 junk13 junk12 junk8 junk7 junk6 junk5 Once you’ve looked past the junk, preservatives, additives and over-packaged “food” you’ll find there’s not much left. Plus, you notice how all of that stuff is branded? That’s because companies pay the stores to put their products on display there. It’s why you rarely see non-branded goods in these premium spots.

Buying this stuff isn’t a bargain. It’s not real food. It’s bad for our health, it’s polluting the environment (did you see how much plastic there was?!) and it’s lining the coffers of the big multinational companies and the supermarkets at the expense of smaller producers, local growers and independent retailers.

We all want choice, right? Supermarkets aren’t giving us much choice. You may not live in Australia but I suspect if you went to your local supermarket the same things would be on offer. By giving our money to these places and these companies we’re only strengthening them and limiting our choices in the future.

Where we spend our money matters.

This weekend, visit your local farmers market. Seek out real food and meet the people who grow it, prepare it, make it and bake it.  Have a chat with them about what they’re doing, how they do it, why they do it. Learn their stories.  Support your local community. Connect with the seasons  (local produce means seasonal produce). Let your taste buds be amazed.