Last Friday, I went on my first paddle in years (a shout out to Patty aka “SUP Girl”–whose patience and chill vibe and awesome swag were much appreciated!). I am starting to come around and understand the fervor.
Something that struck me when we made our way back to the dock was that Patty immediately rinsed off the boards and the paddles.
Not wanting to appear utterly idiotic about SUP rituals and procedures (I am married to the Mullet, after all), I later sent John a text asking why it’s so important to rinse off paddles and boards immediately after returning to land. I received a thorough schooling on corrosion, residue, mold and fungus (EW!). But what he wrote next really resonated with me: “A rinsed and dried board is a clean and happy board. It’s what we describe in the scientific community as a best practice”. OK, so he was slightly mocking my scientific geeky-ness with this “best practice” stuff, but actually it really made sense. And for me, it’s a perfect analogy for this week’s post.
If you want to protect your board from unfriendly elements, keep it in top-performing shape, and extend its life, you need to keep it clean! OMG! Our bodies are just like paddleboards!! If we want our bodies to ward off unfriendly elements (infection, cancer), stay in top-performing shape (for SUP, for family , for work, fill in your blanks here), and thrive for a long time, we have a much better chance of achieving these if we eat clean food! If you’re not eating as cleanly as you possibly can, your ability to train, perform, and handle the everyday stresses of life will suffer.
What Is Clean Eating?
But what is “clean eating” other than a tiresome buzz-phrase that we are all throwing around a lot these days?
I bet if I asked five different Mullet readers to describe their methods of eating clean, I would get five different answers. And that’s OK! There is no one definition of clean eating. We can be vegan or vegetarian and eat clean, we can be paleo and eat clean, we can be gluten-free or dairy-free and eat clean. We all have unique bodies that may function better on unique approaches to eating.
That being said, I do hold basic principles of clean eating that I think can apply to most eating philosophies.
1. Banish or at least minimize artificial, chemicalized junk—sugar and all of its disguises, bleached and refined flours, food clorings, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. Remember that junk in equals junk out, i.e., suboptimal performance and recovery in training and in everyday life. So, how do you even know how to recognize these junky ingredients?
- Read the labels on the side and back of the package. IGNORE everything you read on the front of the package. It’s all marketing to get you to wheel it on up to the checkout counter. Even in the health food stores! Turn those gluten-free, organic chocolate chip cookies that are “made with whole grains!” over and examine the backside. Does it look as healthy from that angle? Ingredients list—identify sources of hidden empty calories. Words like sugar, maltose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup (or any syrup for that matter), fructose, sucrose, agave nectar, brown sugar, raw sugar, glucose, cane crystals. Also look for trans fats—these fats are man-made and have been associated with adverse effects cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Popular sources of trans fats—found predominantly in highly-processed food products like baked goods and chips—include partially hydrogenated oils. In terms of recognizing preservatives, artificial flavors or colors? If you can’t pronounce it or it isn’t something you could stock in your own spice cabinet, don’t buy it. It was synthesized in a lab and not optimal for human consumption.
- Note the order of ingredients—manufacturers list ingredients in order of highest quantity to lowest. So if a bread touting “made with whole grains” on its front wrapper has “enriched, bleached wheat flour” as it’s first ingredient on the back, you can probably find a much healthier alternative. Likewise, if some form of sugar is listed in the first few ingredients, sugar is a major component of the product.
- Note the number of ingredients—the longer the list, the more junk a product likely contains.
2. Eat whole foods as much as possible, instead of food products. If it comes in a man-made box or wrapper, it usually isn’t a whole food.
3. Eat plants. Lots of them. By plants I predominantly mean colorful veggies. Like leafy greens (lettuces, kale, collards, spinach, arugula, chard), cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), and other pretty colors—red, yellow, orange, and purple! If you are in high-training mode, throw in some butternut squash, beets, sweet potatoes for super-healthy carb sources rich in vitamins and minerals! Plus they have lots of fiber to help detoxify our systems. Throw in whole fruits as well, especially if you are active. To tone down the effects of fruit on blood sugar, combine it with a handful of almonds or cashews—something with protein and healthy fat.
4. Minimize intake of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones and other potentially harmful additives.
- Produce–pay attention to the Clean FifteenTM and the Dirty DozenTM when shopping. If you can’t do organic for all your fruits and veggies, then aim to buy organic versions of the Dirty DozenTM –those found to contain the heaviest pesticide loads. Back in August, I posted about these in detail (check out “Resolving Produce Perplexity”). To get the Environmental Working Group’s free Dirty DozenTM app which contains a handy list of the 2013 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, go to http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/guide.php?key=40150827.
- If you eat beef, choose grass-fed beef whenever possible. Scientific studies suggest that compared to typical factory-farmed, grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is lower in total fat and saturated fat, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are typically associated with anti-inflammatory effects, while having too much omega-6’s around can favor inflammation. Grass fed beef has shown to have a more favorable omega-6:omega-3 ratio. Plus, grass is what cows are meant to eat anyway! Not corn.
- If you can, choose organic chicken whenever possible. USDA organic means that no antibiotics or hormones are ever used, and no herbicides or pesticides are used in the soil or feed. Another consideration is to choose free-range or “pastured” chickens. It has been suggested that the overcrowding of factory-farmed chickens (typically 6 to 9 birds in each very small cage) causes not only the exorbitant use of prophylactic antibiotics to prevent spread of disease, but also increases release of stress hormones such as cortisol in these animals, which can potentially have detrimental impact on consumers.
- If you eat dairy–choose organic. Again, this means that antibiotics are not used routinely (ie, as preventative or as growth enhancer) and growth hormones (specifically rBGH – a man-made bovine growth hormone used to increase milk production) are not allowed.
5. Make sure you’re getting adequate high-quality proteins and fats. These macronutrients help stabilize blood sugar and keep us from craving artificial, processed, junk food products. And you don’t need 8oz of steak per serving that the SAD (standard American diet) typically contains to get adequate protein. If you’re getting your protein from meat, make your meat / poultry serving about the size of the palm of your hand typically 3 to 4 oz). For fish, 4 to 6 oz. Avocado, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and coconut oil are healthy sources of fat.
6. If you’re “eating clean” per the above 5 suggestions but still don’t feel great, consider an elimination challenge. Certain foods that may be “clean” (ie, they agree with and nourish the body) for one person may make another feel lousy. Foods that are commonly associated with intolerance (GI upset / constipation, bloating, mood swings, depression, joint aches, autoimmunity, weight gain or loss, skin rashes) include gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt), dairy, eggs, corn, yeast, and soy. Totally eliminating these foods for a few weeks and then reintroducing them one-by-one and closely listening to your body may help you determine if you are intolerant to certain foods.
So, those are my suggestions for clean eating. How do you eat clean?
Up Next: why I’m changing my tune on what to eat during endurance workouts.
Til Then: Last night we were catching up on “Breaking Bad”, which featured this heavy reggae-inspired tune from Knife Party: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bonfire/id530207558?i=530207563