At the Vernal Equinox, the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north along the ecliptic. For those of us without a sun dial or a farmer’s almanac, the previous sentence can be simply translated. Spring is here! March 20th marks the first day of spring for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. While some of us may still be covered in snow, spring marks the beginning of warmer temperatures, outdoor activities and spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is opportunity to clean up outdoors, wash windows, or mow your lawn for the first time. While those are important spring duties, I am interested in a different type of spring cleaning; cleaning up our diets.
Clean eating is a simple concept. Instead of adding or subtracting food items from your diet, you should focus on foods that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible. Processed foods are any food that has additions of any kind. Salt, sugar, fat, preservatives, or vitamins are often added to food to enhance flavor or to extend the shelf life of the product. To put it simply, less processing=cleaner foods.
Clean foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, dried legumes, un-salted nuts, farm-fresh eggs, hormone free dairy, unprocessed meat, and unrefined grains (whole wheat bread, pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, and brown rice). Most of these foods are found around the perimeter of the grocery store. Foods that are found in the interior isles of the store are often processed and filled with additives. Try to stay away from those isles as much as possible. Processed foods are often filled with empty calories. Empty calories are accompanied by little or no nutrients. Cookies, sweets, soft drinks, and cakes are examples of empty calorie foods.
Fruits and vegetables are best consumed in their natural state without heating. Some nutrients are lost when heat is added during cooking. Heat however, is required for the consumption of meat, eggs, pasta, and rice dishes. Try cooking your meats on the grill, and try poaching your eggs to avoid added fats and salts.
Celebrate the Vernal Equinox by cleaning up your diet. It’s still too cold to clean up outside anyways.
Brad Averill, M.Ed., Extension Educator- Food, Nutrition, and Health, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, firstname.lastname@example.org