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Clean up your act! "Eat clean" for better health
by Aimee |  Feb 25, 2013

You clean out your purse, closet, refrigerator and car every so often, but how frequently do you clean out your diet? Oh... what's that? You've never cleaned out your diet? Don't worry, you're not alone. The concept of "eating clean" is a relatively new one, but trying it out might be one of the best things you've ever done for your health.

The idea of "cleaning" up your diet isn't all that complicated. In fact, it's based almost entirely on the idea that "simple is best." It essentially means that whole foods as close to their natural state as possible are the healthiest choices, while those that are processed and packed with preservatives and other ingredients that aren't essential to your body's function are the least healthy options.

Although you won't need dish gloves and a sponge for this kind of cleaning, you might still need a trash can. Ready to clean up your act?

Understand all those extras
Getting "extras" with a purchase sounds like you're getting some type of prize, but when it comes to the extra ingredients added to processed food, it's much less of a treat. Processed foods are often loaded with sugar, salt and saturated fats that you don't need (they're added to enhance flavor, usually). These ingredients denigrate the nutritional value of the food in question, and might even cause you harm.

•   Sugar. According to Eating Well, Americans consume as many as 475 calories of added sugars - about 30 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends we get six. Yikes!  Too much sugar can contribute to conditions like heart disease, not to mention it's usually found in foods that don't offer much in the way of nutritional value, meaning you're eating tons of "empty calories" – calories that don't provide your body with much energy or nourishment.

•   Salt. Surprise surprise - Americans also consume about 1,000 milligrams more sodium than what is recommended. So what's so bad about a little salt? Well, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if we cut out those thousand milligrams, we could cut our risk of heart disease by as much as 9 percent. Salt also dehydrates the body and makes you look bloated - who wants that?

•   Saturated fat. Unlike the fat found in nuts, avocados and olive oil, saturated fat raises the "bad" cholesterol  in your blood, which can lead to clots and other cardiac problems. These fats are found whole milk, cheese, butter and meat.

The problem with processed
So what about those "99% fat free" bars or "sugar-free" gelatin snacks? Those are healthy, right? Not if you're looking to eat clean. When foods are fat-free, they often have a whole bunch of added sugar or salt to make them still taste as good as the whole fat version. Foods that are sugar-free are made with a fake substance that your body can't process. Why consume this when you can munch something loaded with vitamins and minerals that do you good?

Time to purge!
So what do you have to remove? Think of it this way: Anything that comes in a box, bag, bottle or other container is usually processed. That's general advice, though - not all packaged foods are bad. If you do buy these types of snacks, just check out the ingredients label to make sure there aren't too many extra, unnecessary ingredients. When you can, look for whole fruits and vegetables instead of fruit snacks, veggie crackers or dips. Pick raw, organic chicken instead of frozen strips or nuggets, and opt for plain or minimally sweetened yogurt instead of sugary, flavored varieties.

Grains also need a little cleaning. In this case, you'll want to pick grains like oatmeal, whole wheat pasta and bread, and brown rice instead of white varieties. Bleaching these grains removes their nutritious fiber, vitamins and minerals, and you want every last one of those!

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