Wellness Wednesday: What is 'clean eating' and why is it so important?

On Why We Cook: Amie Valpone Cooks to Live
On Why We Cook: Amie Valpone Cooks to Live

The term 'clean eating' has gotten a lot of buzz recently, but what does it actually entail? Is it about eating organic produce? Does it require giving up any food groups? Could it mean that we just need to wash all our food really well before eating it?

Amie Valpone on clean eating
Amie Valpone on clean eating

Amie Valpone, a Manhattan-based personal chef and author of Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body, helped us clear up the concept of 'clean eating.' As a professional recipe developer specializing in 'clean' recipes for the home cook, we knew she'd have some answers.

So let's start with the basics. What is clean eating, really?

"Eating clean is about focusing on one-ingredient whole foods," Valpone told us. "Think, what's in an apple? An apple. Instead of reaching for processed foods with an ingredient list of things you can't pronounce, you want to go for simple, whole foods."

Now, a lot of people tend to associate clean eating with cutting out food groups like gluten and dairy, so we were curious if there's anything to that.

"Gluten-free products are still very processed and packaged," the nutrition expert said. "A lot of people want to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon but then they go buy these processed foods."

So if you're going to eat bread, you should probably just opt for regular bread rather than a gluten-free option that has more processed ingredients. But again, it comes down to whole foods. Is the bread you're buying made from one-ingredient, natural foods or is it full of other stuff?

As for dairy, a person can be a clean eater and still have dairy, but, "you have to listen to your body," Valpone said. If you're going to include dairy in your diet, make sure that it's an organic, whole fat, good dairy product.

"A lot of people jumped on the fat-free bandwagon in the '80s and early '90s, but we all need fat, and we need good fat."

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So a clean eating grocery list should include whole fruits and vegetables, one-ingredient grains like brown rice, and, if your body can handle it, whole milk or whole-fat yogurt. If not, go for an almond milk and skip the yogurt altogether.

In terms of adding flavor and sweetness to foods like muffins, say, Valpone advises staying away from processed sugars and using natural fruit juice instead -- just make sure it's actually natural! As a spokesperson for R.W. Knudsen Just Juice, she recommends this brand!

We'll be honest with you here: Clean eating does require a bit of a lifestyle change. But it doesn't have to be as difficult as you may think.

Valpone recommends making little swaps and minor adjustments to your current routine. Instead of waiting to think about breakfast until you're running out the door and only have time to reach for sugary cereal, take 15 minutes on Sunday night to blend a smoothie that you can grab out of the fridge the next morning.

Think you can handle it? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to check out Valpone's book, Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body!

Click through the gallery below to see some snack options for clean eating:

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