Have you Tried Clean Eating?

You’re doing “all the right things”— clean eating, paleo or vegan. Choosing salads over fries. Drinking green smoothies. But no matter how hard you try, something isn’t working. You still…

clean eating

Feel bloated or constipated

Get skin breakouts or allergy flares

Have low energy

Can’t lose weight or build muscle

Get headaches

Wear the same jeans you did last year

“What gives?!” you cry. “I’m doing all the right things!”

You may be doing LOTS of good things, but there are several common roadblocks that can stand in the way between “clean eating” and feeling good. 

Here are 10 Common Reasons Clean Eating isn’t Working for You (and what to do about then).

1. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

Your entire body is made up of more than 60-percent water. When the water in a lake or river is “down,” what happens? It dries up. And when your body’s water stores are low, what do you think happens? It dries up. Your digestion gets backed up, blood flow slows, and brain function has to work harder (since more than 70% of your brain alone is comprised of water). The result: Slowed metabolic function, digestive difficulties, brain fog, low energy, headaches, lowered immunity and beyond. In short: No bueno.

What to Do About It: 

  • Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of clean, filtered water as a baseline.

2. You’re Eating Too Many Nuts

Nuts, like almonds, cashews, walnuts and macadamia nuts are both yummy and good for you—often cited as “healthy fats.” However, “nut gut” is a coined term  for the side effects of one too many nuts in your system, such as: constipation, gas, bloating, skin breakouts, low immunity, brain fog. Nuts contain compounds called Phytic Acid and Lectins on their outer shells. In nature, these substances serve as “steel armor” or protection for the nut itself—they are are meant to protect the nut from destruction by weather or predators. In our bodies, these substances equally serve as steel armor, and consequently our digestive systems often have a difficult time breaking them down, especially in frequent or larger quantities (i.e. more than 1 serving daily).

The result? A “leaky” or irritated gut lining and “nut gut” side effects. Unfortunately, most people also consume nuts in a more processed state—just like other processed foods—as opposed to their raw, more natural state. Consequently, you feel the effects. In fact, nuts are often cited as one of the most “inflammatory foods,” (alongside grains, industrial seed oils, eggs, sugar and dairy). Nuts primarily contain omega-6 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats), which are associated with higher inflammatory properties in larger quantities. While omega 6 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid that the body needs for normal growth and development, the body needs a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Excess consumption of omega-6s can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals.

What to Do About It: 

  • Limit nut consumption to 1 small serving (1/4 cup or less) per day; 
  • Wash and soak raw nuts, then dry them, prior to consumption.

3. Whole Grains are Irritating Your Gut

Similar to nuts, grains—even whole grains—contain phytates and lectins, associated with decreased digestion, “leaky gut,” constipation and bloating. While grains in their natural state can be considered a “real food” (i.e. they are grown in nature), the way we eat, prepare and process our grains today are night-and-day different from the way humans used to consume grains for hundreds of thousands of years (prior to Whole Food’s Market’s sushi bar and grab-and-go breakfast bars).

If there is ONE thing to take away from this article, it is that your gut is the gateway to health, and if your gut is “irritated” or you have a “leaky gut,” then you can bet your bottom dollar that other aspects of your health may suffer—metabolism, digestion, immune system and skin health included. 

What to Do About It: 

  • For optimal gut health, limit grain consumption and aim to get the majority of your starchy carbohydrates from whole, real foods like sweet potatoes, potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, plantains, spaghetti squash, carrots, beets, cassava and coconut flour, arrowroot starch, etc.; 
  • Wash, soak and dry grains prior to preparation; 
  • Best choices include: Long-grain white rice, steel cut gluten free oats, quinoa, sourdough bread (from local bakery), legumes (not technically a grain, but grain-like in how they impact your gut health)

4. You’re Eating Lots of Brown & White Foods

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At most meals, how many colors are on your plate? If you’re like most Americans, there is more brown, tan, white and color-less foods, considering only 1 in 10 Americans eats their daily veggies. Color-rich foods are where the nutrients, fiber and nourishment for every cell in your body is at. When our diet is based on limited, colorless foods (ie. grains/beans, packaged paleo/vegan foods, nuts, proteins, cheese/dairy, potatoes, the same limited veggies like spinach salads and broccoli, and maybe some fruit), our body can be eating but starving (at a cellular level) at the same time—especially from lack of fiber (note: fiber helps you poo).

What to Do About It: 

  • Aim for 2-3 colors at each meal
  • Veggies and fruits come in greens, blues, purples, reds, yellows, whites, beige/tan…taste the rainbow!

5. You’re Drinking Green Juice

Speaking of veggies, green things are especially helpful for feeling (really) good on a “clean” diet. However, sometimes too many green smoothies or veggie/fruit juices can make people feel bloated, gassy or get stomach cramps. Since juice digests uber fast, if you eat other foods along with it, it can confuse your digestive process.  “May Day! May Day!…What do I digest first?!”

The result is a body (and gut) that is overwhelmed. Likewise, if your smoothie or juice is loaded with tons of ingredients at once, this can equally be alot of information or poor food combining for your digestive system to handle at once.

 What to Do About It: 

  • Drink green juice alone
  • Chew your food more than drinking it 
  • Keep smoothies and juices simple. Not too many ingredients at once.

6. Your Food Combining is Off

Food combining affects digestion and absorption. Each macronutrient (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) digests at a different speed, and also requires the release of different enzymes in order to be broken down. If you eat foods at the same meal that have opposite digestive requirements, then your digestion runs into issues. This can be a challenge when you try clean eating.

What to Do About It

Keep these food combining principles in mind for optimal digestion:

    • Eat Fruit Alone or Light Meals.
      Fruit is best consumed separate from other foods, or with light snacks/meals, such as in a smoothie, an apple with a spoonful of seed butter, or light salad with berries tossed on top.
    • Minimize Starches with Proteins.
      Focus on combining proteins with non-starchy veggies and healthy fats. Starches stick to proteins, stalling digestion and keeping sugars in your bloodstream lingering for longer than they should (hello yeast feeding frenzy). When consuming starches, such as prebiotic starchy veggies like squash or sweet potatoes, with meals, keep serving to a small serving (about 1/3 cup or less) if protein is present. For even better digestion, add 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar to 2-4 oz. of water with meals.
    • Starches Digest Best with Healthy Fats & Veggies.
      Starches (such as sweet potatoes and squash), need an alkaline (basic) environment for optimal digestion. If you plan to eat more starch at a meal, eat a light protein, such as fish, turkey or chicken, while emphasizing the colorful veggies and healthy fats like coconut, olives and olive oil, avocado, butter and ghee, 
    • Leafy Greens, Non-Starchy Veggies & Herbs/Spices Go with Everything.
      You can’t go wrong with eating veggies—especially softened, cooked, and sautéed for those with “gut issues.” Make these the cornerstone of your meals. Steer clear of “hot” nightshade spices (chili powder, cayenne, paprika, etc.) while you heal; opt for fresh herbs, like cilantro, basil, oregano and thyme, as well as spices like cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and garlic.
    • Drink Water Away from Meals.
      Water is best consumed apart from foods as not to inhibit digestion.
    • Minimalist Meals Digest Best.
      Less is more. Eat until about 80% full—not stuffed—and keep foods and meals simple, such as herb crusted wild salmon with broccoli and coconut flakes; pastured chicken thighs with cauliflower mash, grass-fed butter and green beans; or a grass-fed ground beef burger patty with avocado, sauerkraut and yellow squash.

7. You’re Eating Lots of Raw Veggies

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Cooked, softened, steamed and sautéed veggies digest much faster (and better) than raw veggies due to less cellulose and fiber roughage necessary to break down. Good digestion is essential to every body system—metabolism, skin health, immune function and gut health included.

What to Do About It:

  • Cook, steam, soften, boil, and sauté veggies in coconut oil, ghee, avocado oil or other healthy fat (fat further enhances digestion)
  • Also consider peeling, mincing and pureeing veggies if digestion is difficult
  • Eat more soluble fiber (winter squash, squash, beets, roasted carrots, boiled sweet potatoes)

8. You’re on Fruit Overload

Fruit is great for you, but like anything, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals, but also contains lots of natural sugars. Sugar in fruit is not “bad,” but when we opt for fruit in lieu of plenty of veggies too, as well as healthy fats and proteins, our lack of balance throws our body out of balance. High fruit consumption can affect blood sugar and insulin levels when consumed in larger quantities throughout the day, as well as energy (sugar high, then a crash), mental clarity, skin health and digestion.  

What to Do About It:

  • Aim for 1-2 fruits per day
  • Berries, cherries, apples, and citrus fruits are especially nutrient dense
  • Eat fruit alone, as part of a simple meal (like a smoothie or light breakfast) or with a little bit of healthy fat for optimal digestion
  • Avoid eating fruit with complex meals—or eat at least 30-60 minutes before or after a meal

9. You’re Eating the Same Foods Every Day

Variety is the spice of life. When you eat the same things every day, not only does your body miss out on a whole host of nutrients, but you can even make your body intolerant to the foods you eat every day due to overexposure. Eating the same things daily also decreases your body’s natural enzyme or stomach acid production, as it is challenged less to digest a variety of foods. 

What to Do About It:

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  • If you are a creature of habit, pick 2-3 rotating breakfasts, lunches and dinners to eat throughout the week to mix it up
  • Eat in season—shop the seasonal fruits and veggies to get the biggest bang for your nutrient buck
  • Mix up your proteins—fish, beef, chicken, ground turkey, lamb, etc. 

10. You Have Underlying Food Intolerances

Unlike food allergies, food intolerances can go “under the radar” for years since they are often intertwined with common every day symptoms people believe are normal, such as allergies, acne, low energy, dark circles under your eyes, joints that click, energy dips, metabolic dysfunction, IBS, bloating and constipation. Guess what? You don’t have to “suffer.” The top most allergenic or inflammatory foods include: nuts, grains, dairy, soy, eggs, sugar/sweeteners, beans/legumes, nightshade spices and veggies, and FODMAP foods.

What to Do About It:

  • Do some self-investigating. Keep a daily food log for 3-7 days. Note how you feel before and after meals. Look for patterns in your symptoms and foods you commonly eat. 
  • Consider cutting out any culprit foods you suspect for 21-30 days. Then reintroduce these foods, one by one, for 3 days in a row. Note how you feel and if you recognize any differences.

Bonus: You’re Not Loving Your Gut

At the epicenter of “feeling good” is a healthy gut. A healthy gut equals a healthier YOU. If you’re gut is unhealthy (such as SIBO, bacterial infection, leaky gut, parasites, etc.), no matter how clean you eat, you will feel the side effects. Where to start? Love your gut daily with these 5 daily gut love habits:

    1. Water. Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water
    2. Apple Cider Vinegar. Add 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar to 2-4 oz. of water with meals
    3. Probiotic & Prebiotic. Take a daily soil-based probiotic and prebiotic fiber
    4. Variety. Eat variety and lots of color (even on a limited diet, don’t eat the same things every day)
    5. Soothe. Sip a daily cup of herbal tea and/or bone broth. Bonus: Add in a gut-lining and repair support, such as L-Glutamine, colostrum or collagen.