Whether you're hoping to lose weight or simply maintain your health as you age, clean eating is a key component of a healthful lifestyle. Cutting unhealthy foods out of your diet offers a multitude of benefits, as the compounds found in unhealthy, processed foods can increase your disease risk.
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Instead, load up your diet with minimally processed, whole foods, such as whole grains, veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes, fatty fish and lean meats. This not only provides nutrients to support healthy cell function but also helps fight chronic disease.
1. More Energy
A healthy diet that properly nourishes your body helps you feel energetic and productive. Several nutrients, including the B-complex vitamins and iron, help your cells access fuel so that they can function properly.
Clean eating also helps regulate your blood sugar, helping you avoid fatigue-inducing blood sugar spikes, which can occur after you eat processed carbohydrates, such as sweets or refined grains. The Michigan State University Extension recommends jump-starting your energy levels with a breakfast that includes fiber-rich whole grains, which provide energy that lasts you through to lunch.
Read more: The DOs and DON'Ts of Clean Eating
2. Improved Cardiovascular Health
Clean eating supports you long-term health, as a healthy diet helps lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables, for example, come packed with vitamin C, a nutrient that helps maintain the strength of your blood vessels. A diet rich in fruits and veggies lowers coronary heart disease risk and also protects against stroke and high blood pressure.
A clean diet rich in healthful fats — the type found in nuts, avocados and olive oil — lowers harmful cholesterol levels, which also fight cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, an unhealthy diet rich in saturated fat increases your blood cholesterol, which threatens your cardiovascular heath.
3. Cancer Prevention
Eat a clean diet, and you'll also help fight cancer growth. Following a diet rich in processed foods puts you at an increased risk of cancer, according to the Colorado State University Extension, and saturated fat, processed meat and fried foods all up your cancer risk.
On the other hand, a clean diet, rich in fruits and veggies, boosts your intake of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which fight cancer growth. Colorado State highlights cruciferous veggies — a family that includes broccoli and kale — and tomatoes as especially beneficial.
Read more: 10 Easy Clean-Eating Recipes
4. Better Mental Health
A healthful diet not only benefits your physical well-being, but it supports your mental health. Some of the nutrients from your diet — such as vitamin B-6, help make dopamine, a chemical involved in feelings of pleasure.
Omega-3 fatty acids also support good mental health, while a deficiency can cause moodiness and depression. Limiting caffeine can also improve mental health — it can increase anxiety — and not skipping meals can avoid stress headaches or stomachaches.
- Harvard Health Publications: Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin B-6
- Michigan State University Extension: Make the Most of Your Grains
- Linus Pauling Institute: Iron
- Colorado State University Extension: Water-Soluble Vitamins: B-Complex and Vitamin C
- Linus Pauling Institute: Fruits and Vegetables
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fat and Cholesterol
- Colorado State University Extension: Diet and Cancer Prevention