What Is Clean Eating?

In a nutshell, “eating clean” is simply another way to say “eating healthy.” When you’re given a cancer diagnosis, figuring out what you can do to help beat it and go on to live a healthy life is first and foremost on your mind.

You generally can’t choose your cancer treatments, but you can take control of what you put into your mouth. This can provide a sense of empowerment when you’re otherwise feeling helpless.

But knowing what and how to eat isn’t always easy. You may read about new research in magazines or stumble upon websites that seem to have all the answers. Well-meaning friends and family may give you unsolicited nutrition advice. This may leave your head spinning or cause you to adopt a potentially harmful food strategy, which is the last thing you need.

The principal goal is to base your diet on consuming whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. These foods don’t need to be organic, although you can certainly choose organic foods if you can afford them and feel you’d derive additional benefits from them.

When eating clean, you’re avoiding highly processed foods — the so-called convenience foods that tend to be high in refined sugar, sodium, trans fats, and artificial flavors and colorings. Instead, you favor foods that are as close to nature as possible, such as unprocessed fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and nuts and seeds.

But don’t think this means you’ll be eating nothing but bland foods or spending hours in the kitchen. Clean eats are just as delicious as they are nutritious, and they don’t need to be difficult to prepare.

If you didn’t eat a healthy diet before your cancer diagnosis, don’t beat yourself up over it. And don’t think that you caused your cancer. Likely a variety of factors contributed to its development. But adopting a clean way of eating after a cancer diagnosis and treatment provides an opportunity to feel better, improve your general health, and protect you from cancer and other diseases down the road.

Clean eating has numerous benefits. First and foremost, eating foods lower on the food chain automatically improves your diet by putting more cancer-fighting vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals at your body’s disposal.

In addition, you’re cutting out empty calories from refined sugars and unhealthy fats, making it easier to keep your body in a healthy weight range, while also reducing your exposure to numerous food additives that may be associated with a variety of ill health effects.

At the same time, because clean eating is not a rigid diet plan but a lifestyle choice, it gives you the flexibility you need when you’re going through treatment. If you’re not able to eat clean foods or you’re only able to eat certain clean foods at various points during your cancer journey, that’s okay.

You can decide at all times how much of your diet is going to be clean, and because clean eating enables you to eat from all food groups, you can always adjust your eating to focus on the foods you tolerate the best. Therefore, whether you’re striving to meet a quantity goal or a quality goal, clean eating can help you get there.

Eating clean also enables you to eat more frequently. Now, this doesn’t mean you can stop thinking about calories or portion sizes altogether. Clean foods aren’t calorie-free, and they can cause unwanted weight gain if eaten in excess, but they do tend to be lower in calories and more filling in smaller quantities than processed foods, while providing considerably more nutritional bang for the buck.

As a result, they can leave you feeling full after eating smaller portions, which also enables you to add two or three daily snacks to your diet. Spreading out your food intake helps keep your body’s blood glucose levels stable, minimizing the insulin surges that some studies have associated with accelerated cancer growth or with the development of chronic diseases like diabetes.

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