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Tips to clean eating in an over-processed world

Posted by Chelsea Rice  January 24, 2014 10:18 AM

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Nick Downing is the New England Revolution's strength and conditioning coach. Downing is responsible for developing and enhancing the Revolution players' speed, strength and endurance, as well as their overall conditioning and fitness in conjunction with both the coaching and medical staffs. Through an integrated approach--including weight training, cardiovascular training, plyometrics, and nutrition--Downing has created both position-specific and individual programs to help the Revs emerge as of Major League Soccer's most fit teams.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NickDowning_NewEnglandRevolution.jpgIn many households, eating clean means doing the dishes after dinner--but recently, the term has taken on a new meaning in the nutrition and fitness communities. While there's no single definition of clean eating, the general principle behind the movement is to eat the purest, most natural foods possible. In other words, it's about eating unprocessed foods, which helps your body run more efficiently.

Imagine filling your car up with gasoline that's been watered down. The car won't run as efficiently as it would if you used premium gas. Eating clean is essentially the same idea: eat additive-free, organic foods and your body will run much better. However, I've noticed that many people care much more about what they put into their car than their body.

I would much prefer that our Revolution players, or my personal training clients, eat real sugar and real fat, rather than opting for synthetic sweeteners and fat-free options. There are hundreds of additives and preservatives in 'diet' foods, which have been linked to all kinds of health problems, not to mention that most people tend to overindulge in so-called guilt-free alternatives.

Eating clean is all about throwing away those fat-free, sugar-free, additive-packed foods, and eating as many whole, unrefined foods as possible so your body can look, feel and perform at its best.

But for many, the question becomes, 'How do I get started?' The grocery bills can pile up with organic shopping, and it can be hard to figure out which foods are all-natural and which are just pretending to be.

Here are a few simple clean eating rules of thumb that I follow, both as a strength and conditioning coach, and as a husband and father of two girls:

1. Stick to the perimeter of the store.

Most grocery stores (organic or not) are laid out in the same way. Produce, meats and dairy line the outer walls, while processed snacks and junk foods tend to be stacked in the middle aisles. When you go to the grocery store, make a mental note to stick to the outside and avoid the center aisles.

2. Start with the basics.

Going organic can be intimidating and expensive, so when you're getting started, buy all-natural, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy. They are the four pillars of any balanced diet, and as such, should be your main focus in eating clean.

3. Buy in bulk.

Eating clean doesn't just refer to cleaning up your internal system. It's also a great opportunity to minimize your ecological impact by using every part of your food purchases. For example, buying several pounds of organic meat and using the bones to make stock for soups is not only cost effective, but also environmentally responsible.

4. The less packaging, the better.

Think about the most natural foods you find in grocery stores. Produce, meat, eggs. All of these items have minimal, if any packaging, while fat-free, sugar-free treats tend to hide under several layers of bright flashy wrapping.

5. Less is more.

When it comes to ingredients, if the list is longer than your average college application, don?t eat it.

6. If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it.

Check the list of ingredients, and if you can?t read or pronounce the ingredients, skip it.

7. Shop local.

Farmers markets and local farms are a great place to get all-natural foods for a much less that you may pay in stores. It?s also a great opportunity to support local agriculture and to get outside with your family and friends.

Eating clean is easier than it seems, and it?s well worth the time and effort. While the tips above should get you on your way, the most basic rule of clean eating is simple and easy to follow: choose real over fake, every time.

The diet-everything foods make false promises wrapped in pretty packaging, but your body runs much more efficiently if you stick to eating real sugars and full fats. Plus they taste much, much better.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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