Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Basics of Clean

So, I'm going to introduce you to a new diet, and in all honesty, it'll be the only diet you'll ever need.

It's not radical, crazy, and frankly, it's not new at all.  It's been around forever.  It's called:


This term, unfortunately, means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  And again I'll be honest, there's no way to determine the exact definition of what "eating clean" really mean.  But it's extremely easy to get the gist of it.  In fact by the end of this post, all of you should have a good idea of what clean eating really means in its broadest sense.

Here's my personal definition of clean eating:
  Eating food that has high nutritional value in correct, balanced quantities.

Pretty simple eh?  It really is, however a lot of people like to over-complicate it.  To make things a little easier, lets look at some different food groups (or components), and how to eat cleanly in each one.

Carbohydrates:  Eating cleanly in terms of Carbohydrates seems to be the place where most people really struggle.  Carbs are everywhere.  Bread, cheetos, veggies, fruits, desserts, cereal, etc.  They hide to some degree in all the food you consume.  I'll let you in on a secret though.  Carbs are NOT your enemy.  For some reason, many people think they are.  That's a flawed way of thinking, because your body needs Carbs for it's main energy source.  It's the fuel to that human engine of yours.

To keep things simple, let's establish first that there are two main types of carbs: Simple carbohydrates, and complex carbohydrates.  Simple carbs are called monosaccharides, or simple sugars.  When they are consumed, they are digested quickly and easily, and are readily used for energy.  Or at least, they should be. However, how many times after dessert have you actually expended all the energy which that sugar loaded brownie contained?  Not often, I'm guessing.  And that's where carbs come back to haunt you.  Unused Carbohydrates equates to wasted energy.  And guess where wasted energy goes.  That's right, your midsection.  

Complex Carbohydrates are Carbs that your body has a more difficult time digesting, and therefore the body will take a longer time and expend more energy digesting them.  These are "long acting" carbs that give you full, sustained energy for a long period of time, without the characteristic "sugar high."  Such carbs include vegetables, whole wheat breads, and oatmeal.  These carbs, overall, tend to be a little more "flexible".  When in doubt about carbs, it's usually safe to assume that complex carbs will be healthier in the long run.  Because they are digested over a long period of time, they do not as readily turn to fat.  Again this IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE, I'm purely making a broad generality.  Learn the rules first, then the exceptions.

So are simple carbs bad?  Absolutely not.  Fruits are comprised of mainly simple carbs.  They give you a good hit of energy without spiking blood insulin (I'll discuss this, the GI scale, and all related topics in a later post) to a high degree.  On a hike?  Bring an apple.  Tired at work?  Eat a banana.  Craving something sweet?  Have an orange.  Can you go overboard eating fruits?  Sure, but that's true for most anything.  It's pretty safe to say that if you're dying for a snack, a fruit is a very healthy, clean option.

Proteins:  Here we go guys.  MEAT MEAT MEAT.  Being an avid weightlifter, I for one am an enormous protein consumer.  We all know meat has protein, and protein builds muscle.  And at this point, I won't get any more into than that (who wants to hear a boring speech about amino acids and protein synthesis anyway right?).  I like to characterize the quality of a protein source with a few questions:  How dense is it (grams of protein per serving), how lean is it (how many calories per serving along with saturated fats, trans fats, and other undesirables come with that nice protein punch), and how readily is the protein absorbed by your body (whey protein has greater absorption than soy, etc.).

So without getting into too much detail, let me list a few of the best, readily available protein sources:  boneless and skinless chicken breast, turkey breast, lean cuts of beef, salmon, tuna, swordfish, whey, venison, and egg whites.

Some of the less optimal sources: cheap cuts of beef, pork, ham, soy, and basically any meat smothered in sauce and marinade.

I'm going to go back to fish for a second though.  I personally believe fish to be the best form of readily available protein.  Why?  Because there is a huge amount of protein per serving, with very few calories.  One can of chunk light tuna has 26g of protein at a hundred calories.  That's more protein per serving than my special "Wheybolic extreme 60" protein powder I drink after every workout and spend a fortune on every month.  Good old tuna has got most other meats beat.  Same with salmon.  Fish is loaded with lean protein, Omega 3 fatty acids, low cholesterol, and about a million nutrients that will do your body well.  Looking for some good meat?  Grab some fish for dinner and grill it up nice (obviously don't fry it, as much as I know you'd like to.)

Fats:  AH!  FAT!  GET IT AWAY!  That's the right response, many food companies would claim.  And they'd be 100% wrong.  I'm going to tell you another secret (I've got a whole bunch) FATS DON'T MAKE YOU FAT.  In fact, those "low fat" oreos you're eating aren't any better for you than the regular ones, and might actually be worse.  Fats do our body well, especially the unsaturated fats present in nuts, peanut butter (all natural, of course), olive oil, most fish (omega 3 fatty acids), almond milk, avocados, and the list goes on.  Unsaturated fat should not ever be avoided outright, but like anything, eaten in moderation.

Unsaturated fats actually do a lot of good for you.  They reduce bad cholesterol, help the body absorb fat soluble vitamins,and increase the good.  They can slow down nutrient absorption into the muscles,  which is great for athletes who want to prevent going catabolic over night.  There are many other benefits to fat as well, but hopefully I've convinced you enough at this point.

Saturated fat is what you want to cut down on.  As with anything, a little in moderation may have benefits, but in general the average person consumes wayyy too much saturated fat.  This is the fat that usually increases bad cholesterol and narrows your arteries.  In other words, it makes your heart work way too hard, and that's never good.  The recommended saturated fat intake for a 2000 calorie diet (which is by no means the diet for everyone) is about 20 grams, which also happens to be about a third of your daily total fat intake.

Trans fats are a HUGE no-no.  I'll devote an entire separate post to those though.  If you see trans fat on the nutritional label, and it has any number other than "0" next to it, I would suggest putting it back.

So there you go, the basics.  Understanding those three components of food is a huge step in becoming a "food guru."  Now, the next step is finding what foods are "clean" and would easily fit into your daily diet, and how to balance your diet so that you get a good ration of these three components: carbs, protein, and fat.  Onward and upward!

1 comment:

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