A loaf of bread can last in your kitchen a week. Slices of cellophane-wrapped “cheese” can sit in the fridge for a month and still be perfectly edible. One plumped-up chicken breast can feed a family of four. Advances in food production and preservation have kept the nation’s food supply stable. Feeding yourself and your family is relatively inexpensive and convenient. However, this comes at a cost.
If your menus rely on prepackaged, heavily processed food and meats and dairy products that come from animals on steroids, you may be sitting down to a plate of artificial hormones, pesticides, chemical preservatives and food so highly altered from its natural state that it has become another thing entirely. The USDA, the EPA, the FDA and other federal agencies regulate what goes into food. They ensure that the food consumers buy is safe. However, consumer advocates argue that the government fails to address the cumulative effects of eating these altered products.
If you prefer to keep your diet clean, you don’t have to spend a fortune at the market or an inordinate amount of time preparing food. These five tips will get you started on your spring diet cleaning.
1. Start with a pantry purge
Read the ingredient lists on the food packages in your cupboards. Can you identify what you have been eating? Some unfamiliar ingredients may be fine. Pop the ingredient into your favorite search engine and you will most likely find a raging debate. Decide how “clean” you want to be. Do you want soy lecithin in your diet? If not, toss out those crackers. That box of mac and cheese, the one with the orange powder packet, do you want to eat powdered cheese colored with Yellow Dye 5 and Yellow Dye 6? If not, throw it out or donate it to the nearest food pantry.
2. Plan and prep ahead
It’s hard to come home from a day at work and whip up a satisfying dinner, but with a little planning, you can make clean meals with not much more effort than it takes to throw a frozen pizza in the oven. Set aside an hour or two each week to plan and prep meals.
When making your shopping list, keep in mind you want to purchase foods that are closest to their natural state. Buy apples instead of applesauce, steel-cut oats rather than packets of instant oatmeal. A can of crushed tomatoes seasoned with garlic and oregano is a cleaner choice for pasta sauce than a jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce.
3. Shop local producers
Visit your local farmers market. There you will find the freshest produce, hormone free meat, dairy and poultry, and artisan breads free of preservatives. As you shop, chat with the producers. Farmers can provide a wealth of information about food storage and preparation. If you are a fan of online grocery shopping and meal kits, look for organic products. They are available.
4. Stick to your list
When you head to the grocery store, stick to your shopping list. Impulsive buys tend to be the least healthy. Read the labels because you may be surprised to find that the “all natural” granola is loaded with saturated fats, sugars and unpronounceable preservatives.
5. Beware of the low-calorie promise
Be careful with any food labeled “diet.” The lower calorie count comes from replacing natural sugars and fats with artificial ones. This includes diet soft drinks. You can make your own flavored beverages by adding fresh fruit juice to water or club soda.
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