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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

What Is Clean Eating (Essential Tips + Clean Eating Meal Plan)

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What Is Clean Eating (Essential Tips + Clean Eating Meal Plan)

Living a healthy life begins in the kitchen! According to a recent study, over 50% of deaths from heart diseases and diabetes are associated with unhealthy diet.[1] Essentially, what you eat is just as important as how much you exercise. This is why clean eating is so important. What is clean eating, and how can you incorporate it into your life?

It’s likely that you’ve gotten yourself into some unhealthy eating habits, and now you’ve gained plenty of weight. How do you move out of this unfavorable position into a healthier state? Clean eating is the answer.

Many people want to lose weight, so they try out every workout routine they can find. However, research has shown that 75% of your weight loss exploits depends on your diet.[2]

If you are going to succeed in your weight-loss quest and achieve the body of your dreams, it goes beyond hitting the gym night and day. You need to start paying proper attention to clean eating.

Perhaps you’re not an overweight middle-aged man or woman; you just want to live a healthier life. This article is also for you.

This guide will tell you all about clean eating and why it is great for you to stay fit and healthy. As a bonus, you’ll also have access to a sample clean eating meal plan to get you started.

What Is Clean Eating?

Clean eating is a buzzword that has been thrown around a lot in recent times, and many have been left confused as to what it actually means. Some say it means total abstinence from all processed food, but does that mean you have to resort to the caveman eating style and consume your rice and beans exactly as delivered by nature in order to eat clean? Certainly not!

Clean eating means staying away from highly processed foods (think fries, chips, sugary stuff) and refocusing your attention on consuming whole, unprocessed, or minimally processed, “real” foods more often (think brown rice, fruits, and veggies).

Rather than focusing on eating more or less of some specific food groups (e.g., less carbs/more protein), the idea of clean eating revolves around being mindful of the food’s processing pathway between the farm and your fork.

The focus of clean eating is consuming whole foods in their natural state (where possible) or their least processed state, such that no essential nutrient is lost via processing. Clean eating doesn’t mean staying away from all processed food, just the highly processed ones. After all, cooking is also a form of processing.

Why Are Highly-Processed Foods So Bad?

There are so many problems associated with highly-processed foods, from excessive weight gain to risk of cardio-vascular diseases. To start with, foods that have been highly processed have been stripped of essential nutrients required for maintaining overall health.

The bulk of what you get from these foods is an excessive amount of unrequired calories without the corresponding amounts of proteins and micro-nutrients. The result, of course, is an imbalanced nutritional profile in your body, which predisposes you to many health issues.

In addition to this, ultra-processed foods also contain additives (such as refined added sugars, preservatives, unhealthy fats, refined carbs, etc.) that tend to stimulate the pleasure neurotransmitter (dopamine), resulting in an insatiable craving for more junk food.

This infographic says it all:[3]

Avoid processed food for clean eating

    How Processed is “Highly Processed”?

    When nutrients are removed from food and undesirable ingredients are added as a result of processing, such foods are highly processed. Refined flour, for instance, is highly processed because the bran and germ layers (which contain fiber and other micro nutrients) have been removed during processing.

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    In essence, the emphasis of clean eating is caring about the ingredients in your food and cutting the C.R.A.P (Chemicals, Refined flour/sugar, Artificial colors/sweeteners/flavors, and Preservatives) out of your diet.

    However, clean eating doesn’t mean avoidance of all packaged foods. In some cases, packaged foods have essential nutrients added to them—a process called fortification. For instance, iodide is added to salt to ward off goiterism, and milk is fortified with vitamin D to prevent rickets in children. However, if a packaged food contains some ingredients that don’t exactly roll off the tongue, it’s most likely bad for you.

    There’s a long list of foods that you can incorporate into your clean diet, but here’s a few to get you started:

    • Veggies and Fruits (Fresh over frozen) e.g. bananas, apple, orange, cucumber etc.
    • Eggs
    • Nuts
    • Fresh/unprocessed lean meat e.g. poultry, pork, fish etc.
    • Unrefined grains e.g. whole wheat pasta and bread, steel-cut oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, and quinoa.
    • Oils e.g. extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil etc.
    • Dried legumes
    • Hormone-free dairy

    Benefits of Clean Eating

    Clean eating comes with a plethora of benefits—from weight loss, to glowing skin, to reduced risk of diabetes, and a long list of other amazing perks. Let’s start with how clean eating can help with weight loss.

    1. Help You Lose Weight

    The fact that clean eating can help you in your weight loss journey has been well-documented by several research studies. There are so many reasons why this is so.

    Rich in Macro-Nutrients

    This means two things for you: improvement in nutritional deficiency and reduction in hunger. In one study of 786 people, it was observed that over 80% of the participants felt fuller after eating meals on a high-micronutrient diet compared to those on a low-micronutrient diet, even though they consumed fewer calories.[4]

    This calorie deficit, coupled with the balanced nutritional profile, allows your body to switch from fat storage mode to fat burning mode.

    Loaded With Protein

    Whole foods are usually higher in protein and lower in calories compared to ultra-processed foods. For instance 3.5 ounces of pork (a clean food option) contains only 21 grams of protein and 145 calories, while it’s processed counterpart bacon (of the same weight) contains only 12 grams of protein and 458 calories.

    Protein is basically the most important nutrient when it comes to weight loss.[5] Not only does it increase metabolism, but it also reduces hunger and controls the production of weight-regulating hormones. This makes it your best bet for weight loss.

    Whole Foods Contain More Soluble Fiber

    Soluble fiber comes with a lot of health benefits, one of which is enhancing weight loss.[6] It forms a thick gel after mixing with water in the gut, and this slows down the movement of food through the alimentary canal.

    This process suppresses the production of hunger-inducing hormones while simultaneously boosting the production of hormones that make you feel full.[7] This calorie deficit, in turn, results in weight loss.

    2. Reduce the Risk of Cancer

    So you want to live a long, healthy, cancer-free life, right? Then eating clean is the way to go. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between clean eating and prevention of different cancer types, including breast[8] and colon cancers[9].

    3. Reduce the Risk of High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

    Cardiovascular diseases have been notoriously killing Americans over the years. These diseases are usually linked to high, bad-cholesterol levels, and this problem can be fixed by simply switching so a clean diet.

    Research has shown that by consuming 3 portions of whole grain meals on a daily basis, the risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease is significantly reduced.[10] If you want a healthy heart and a properly functioning cardiovascular system, you need to break up with junk food and switch to clean eating.

    4. Boost the Immune System

    The immune system is one critical system in your body that should always function at maximum capacity. That is, of course, if you want to live a consistently healthy life. Here’s the good news–clean eating can help you achieve just that.

    By eating 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits per day, the body’s antibody response can be improved by up to 82 percent.[11] If you want to maintain a system that knocks infections out of your body regularly, clean eating is the way to go.

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    5. Make Your Skin Glow

    If you are looking for healthy, fresh, and glowing skin, you don’t necessarily need to spend hundreds of dollars on cosmetics. All you need is a clean diet. Whole foods are known to contain high amounts of antioxidants, healthy fats, and other nutrients, which play huge roles in giving you radiant skin.

    6. Prevent or Reverse Diabetes

    The fact that diabetes is a groundbreaking menace is a well-established truth. As a matter of fact, over 750,000 Americans lose their lives to diabetes each year.[12] You don’t have to be one of them. All you need to do is to start eating clean.

    Previous research studies have shown that by committing yourself to whole-plant-based diets, you can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes.[13]

    How to Kick-Start Clean Eating

    When undergoing any major lifestyle change, you can be sure of one thing–it won’t be easy! The same is true when you are looking to ditch sugar-packed junk foods for a not-so-slick clean diet. This is where the true test of character will come in.

    Follow the tips below in your clean eating journey, and you’ll arrive at your desired destination in health.

    1. Identify Your Why

    It can be quite difficult to break a habit that has been a part of you for a long time. If you’ll stand any chance of sticking to this new change in lifestyle, then you must understand why you’re making the change in the first place.

    Various research studies have shown that the best form of motivation that inspires a positive change originates from within.[14] Switching to a clean diet simply because someone said you should isn’t a sustainable motivation in the long run.

    2. Commit Time

    You need to sit down and determine how much time you are willing to commit to this new lifestyle—from grocery shopping, to meal planning, to cooking.

    3. Set Simple and Measurable Goals

    The next thing you need to do is to set simple and measurable goals for yourself. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! Measurable goals, though very simple, will assure you whether you are on the right track or not.

    For instance, if you happen to love eating cookies so much, saying “I will stop eating many cookies” is too broad and too subjective for you to measure.

    Instead, you could say, “I will only eat one cookie per day and keep the rest in the freezer,” or better still you could say, “I’m going to stop eating cookies completely and eat fruits instead.” Keeping your goals simple and straight-to-the-point is a major criterion for success.

    4. Get Rid of the Bad Stuff

    The next step is a pretty radical one. You need to carefully assess your current diet and list out every “unclean” food your body adores, and deliberately take action against them.

    You need to clean out all artificial/ultra-processed foods from your pantry or refrigerator. If you’re having a hard time doing it all at once, you can do it a little at a time until it’s all cleaned out.

    5. Introduce Clean Foods

    Getting rid of the bad stuff won’t mean anything if you don’t introduce the good stuff. As you gradually eliminate artificial foods from your kitchen, you need to gradually replace them with clean foods. You can start with fruits and veggies, and then add cereals and legumes as you go along.

    6. Start With a Clean Breakfast

    If you’re crunched for time and you can’t imagine yourself spending hours in the kitchen, you can start with a daily clean breakfast. Start your day with a glass of green smoothie and some fruits. Do it for a week or two, and the idea of a clean lunch/dinner will become more interesting.

    Here are some nice smoothie ideas for you: 30+ Flavorful Green Smoothie Recipes That You Can Make In Less Than 5 Minutes

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    7. Stop Eating When You’re Full

    One beautiful thing about a clean diet is that it makes you feel full fast, without you having to consume calories that junk-food equivalents offer. If you’re not sure how much you should be eating, you should stop eating once your stomach begins to give you the “all-good” signal.

    8. Become Label-Savvy

    You need to start paying attention to product labels and ingredients listed. Watch out for overly artificial ingredients in your groceries. If a food item has ingredients you can’t seem to pronounce, that’s a good sign you need to return it right back to the shelf. Be sure to stick to food products with all-natural ingredients.

    9. Patronize Local Food Vendors

    This is my favorite option when it comes to purchasing food items–the local sellers, those who sell the raw, unadulterated food stuff.Getting your fruits, veggies and other foods from the guys who get it from the farm will avail you of the maximum level of nutrients such foods have to offer.

    10. Start Cooking

    If you really want to achieve your clean eating goal, here’s a solemn truth–you need to start cooking your own food. Even if it’s just a bunch of veggies that don’t taste fantastic, you need to start somewhere.

    11. Use a Meal Plan

    If you’re really going to get the best out of your clean diet program, then you need a meal plan, preferably one with specific calorie goals.

    If weight-loss is your goal, then you should target 10 calories per pound of your desired body weight. If you’re looking to slim down to 150 pounds, for instance, you should target a daily intake of 1500 calories.

    A Simple Clean Eating Meal Plan

    This simple, 3-day, clean eating plan is just to give you an idea of how this works and to get you started right away. You can tweak it  to meet your specific calorie goals. For a more comprehensive clean-eating meal plan tailored towards your specific needs, you can talk to your dietitian or search the web.

    Day 1

    Breakfast (260 calories)

    Enjoy 1 Tablespoon of dry-roasted, unsalted almonds with 3/4 cup of green smoothie. Check out the video below on how to make one:

    Morning Snack (70 calories)

    2 clementines

    Lunch (345 calories)

    Garden salad with a toast of avocado and egg

    Avocado and egg toast for clean eating
      • Take one slice of sprouted-grain bread and combine it with mashed ¼ part of a medium-sized avocado.
      • Cook one large egg in 1/4 teaspoon of olive oil.
      • Add a pinch of pepper and salt to season the egg.
      • For the salad, use 1/2 cup of mixed greens together with 2 Tablespoons of grated carrot and 1/2 cup of cucumber slices.
      • You can top the salad with 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar each.

      Evening Snack (48 calories)

      Dried apricots (6)

      Dinner (458 calories)

      Steamed Asparagus with Quinoa and Chicken:

       

      • Cook 5 oz. of chicken breast in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
      • Add 3/4 cup of cooked quinoa and drizzle it with 1/2 Tablespoon each of lemon juice and olive oil.
      • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
      • Combine this with 10 steamed asparagus spears and munch away.

      Day 2

      Breakfast (265 calories)

      Combine one cup of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup of blueberries and 1/4 cup of muesli.

      Morning Snack (32 calories)

      Munch 1 plum and go your way.

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      Lunch (325 calories)

      Veggie Sandwich:

       

      • Take 2 slices of bread made from sprouted-grain.
      • Mash the quarter part of a medium-sized avocado, combined with 1 tablespoon of hummus.
      • Garnish with any vegetable of your choice (tomato, carrot, cucumber, etc.), and enjoy a nutritious meal.

      Evening Snack (86 calories)

      Munch on 4 walnut halves and 4 apricot halves, and top it with lots of water.

      Dinner (490 calories)

      Roast chicken & fennel with 1/2 cup of brown rice

      Roast chicken for clean eating

        Get the recipe here: Roast Chicken & Fennel

        Day 3

        Breakfast (250 calories)

        Egg-Avocado Toast (see above)

         

        Morning Snack (161 calories)

        Devour 1/2 cup of dry-roasted, unsalted pistachios, and get on with the day.

        Lunch (336 calories)

        Chickpea & Veggie Salad:

         

        • Get two cups of mixed greens.
        • Combine it with 3/4 cup of veggies of your choice (you can try tomatoes and cucumbers).
        • Rinse 1/2 cup of chickpeas and mix with 1/2 Tablespoon of chopped walnuts and 1 Tbsp. of feta cheese (crumbled).
        • Combine all ingredients and top the salad with one tablespoon each of olive oil & balsamic vinegar.

        Evening Snack (111 calories)

        Measure 1/4 cup of dry-roasted, unsalted pistachios (in shell), and enjoy with one plum.

        Dinner (430 calories)

        Enjoy 3/4 cup of brown rice with 1 serving of green beans and poached cod with pesto.

        Poached cod

          Final Thoughts

          Start somewhere. Replace refined sugars with natural sweeteners, cook potatoes instead of ordering pizza, or have a cup of green smoothie instead of alcohol. With one step at a time, you’ll definitely get there!

          The next time someone asks you what is clean eating; don’t reply with words only–show them! Let them see exactly what clean foods are—from your grocery store list to your kitchen cabinet and your refrigerator.

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          Also, remember to constantly remind yourself of why you’re doing this, and take it one day at a time. At the beginning of this clean eating journey, the road might seem rough. However, as you persist, it’ll get easier. In the end, a slim body and a long healthy life will be your reward.

          More on Eating Healthy

          Featured photo credit: Anna Pelzer via unsplash.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Richard Adefioye

          Richard has a unique passion for healthy living and productivity.

          15 Static Stretches to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine How to Sleep for Improved Health and Productivity 5 Killer Stomach Workouts for Impressive Abs and Core 10 Best Healthy and Natural Weight Loss Supplements What Is Clean Eating (Essential Tips + Clean Eating Meal Plan)

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          Published on August 24, 2021

          What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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          What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

          I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

          Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

          A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

          • Fruit
          • Vegetables
          • Whole grains
          • Lean protein
          • Nuts
          • Water

          This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

          Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

          What Is a Whole Food Diet?

          By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

          In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

          Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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          Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

          Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

          For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

          • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
          • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
          • Berries five times a week
          • Five or more servings of nuts a week
          • Olive oil five times a week
          • Whole grains five times a week
          • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
          • Legumes and pulses five times a week
          • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
          • Vitamin D supplement
          • Minimally processed foods
          • No more than one glass of wine a day
          • One or two coffee or tea a day max
          • Two liters of water a day

          That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

          Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

          And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

          Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

          Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

          For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

          So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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          As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

          Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

          In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

          A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

          In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

          Whole Foods and the Gut

          Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

          They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

          Whole Foods and the Brain

          The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

          In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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          Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

          • Oily fish
          • Nuts
          • Eggs
          • Berries
          • Broccoli
          • Whole grains

          Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

          Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

          It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

          Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

          This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

          Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

          Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

          Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

          Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

          Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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          1. Practice Batch Cooking

          Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

          For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

          I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

          2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

          Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

          Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

          If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

          Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

          If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

          Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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          Reference

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