Clean Living is a term that’s been included into recent vernacular – but what does it mean and what benefits will you gain from embracing ‘Clean Living’?
Everyone will have a slightly different version or interpretation of clean living, which is completely normal… You could have ten health professionals sit in a room and not one agree on an optimal approach to health. However, I have found some really simple and easy ways to frame Clean Living. Without getting into the minutia of Clean Living, it’s imperative at this point to mention a number of key components which will help construct the framework from which to build your Clean Living lifestyle.
Build Your Foundation
As any good builder or architect will tell you - there’s no sense spending time and energy on the ornate balustrade if the foundations and footings are shonky. Hence, there is very little point slurping on your single origin organic turmeric latte if you’re neglecting your diet 99% of time.
I’m a firm believer that real food is the solution to health and can account for 80% of your optimal health. The remaining 20% is a composite of exercise, sleep, hydration, smart supplementation and bio-hacks. By embracing real food, and by real food I’m referring to food that is grown or raised naturally, you’ll be giving your body the right ‘information’. This might sound slightly clinical but when you strip it of its flavour, colour and texture – food is simply a collection of vitamins and minerals that act as information to the melting pot of biochemistry that occurs every moment of your life. Real food is far more abundant in ‘information’ than processed or synthetic food; it’ll have a rich cocktail of co-factors, minerals, vitamins, microbes and enzymes that will feed the bio chemistry within us to help us thrive. A diet devoid of ‘information’ derived from real food will result in sub-optimal health over time.
Everything that passes your lips possesses the power to enhance your health or not. The right nutrition and lifestyle will amplify your health and promote longevity.
If we want to dissect your real food basket a little and understand where you should be getting most of your ‘information’ from – aim for a veggie-rich diet and one that assumes protein as a ‘condiment’ rather than the hero of the plate. It’s no secret us Aussies love our meat – Australia is synonymous with BBQ and consequently have a distorted view of how much animal protein is adequate. Obviously, I’m talking in very general terms but over-consumption of protein is not optimal. Protein, as a topic, is hotly contested and deserves its own blog – but for now, entrust that excessive protein (above the body’s natural requirement) will drive an energetic pathway that stifles the cleansing of cells (autophagy) which is a necessary mechanism to rid cell of toxins and dead cell components as well as driving glucose into your bloodstream, placing more stress on insulin receptors. So without going into too much detail and discussion on protein, a healthy foundation is to simply view veggies as the hero of every plate and protein as the condiment and NOT the other way around.
If I was to tell you that understanding inflammation was the holy grail to understanding health, you might give me a quizzical look, but THIS is the golden ticket. Understanding inflammation is the key to Clean Living.
We are all familiar with the mechanism of inflammation on some level – when you stub your toe on the table leg, after screaming from the top of your lungs, your brain receives signals from the area of trauma and sets about a treatment plan – it sends an immune response to firstly protect from further damage, but also to repair disrupted tissues – hence the visual change in colour and swelling. This type of inflammation is easy to see and understand but when it comes to inflammation that causes ill-health we are referring to a type that isn’t visible, almost impossible to detect from look and feel and is systemic rather than localised. This makes it harder to diagnose and ultimately intervene.
It’s imperative to minimise systemic inflammation
Inflammation is caused in various ways but chiefly through sub-optimal nutrition and poor lifestyle choices. The subject of inflammation is huge and I’ll discuss this at length in another blog but for now simply know that it’s inflammation which is the cornerstone to ill-health and disease. Trace any condition back to its root cause and you’ll see that the trigger is in fact, inflammation. Clean Living is a diet and lifestyle that minimises and mitigates inflammation by healthy diet and lifestyle choices
A very quick snap-shot of how foods can impact inflammation and your health:
The types of food we consume have a huge impact on our gut and the integrity of the gut wall. When things are all working in harmony, the immune cells within our gut are kept from our bacteria, else you can imagine what a nightmare that would create. The thing that keeps them separate is the gut lining and in particularly a viscous, snot-like substance called mucin. The production of this snot-like, but vitally important, substance requires energy in the form of short chain fatty acids which can be derived from the breakdown resistant starches (asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke etc). If, however, these are lacking in your diet (Fibre is often overlooked in the western world) and there’s a heavier reliance on refined foods and sugar, then this ultimately compromises the production of mucin and the integrity of your gut lining.
The last key component to discuss when designing your framework for Clean Living is bio-individualisation. This relates to the notion that we are all geared slightly different in terms of what is optimal for our health. There is not one diet that fits all, it simply doesn’t work like that. That being said, there are commonalities between us and a widely fixed view that no one on this planet thrives on processed food. This we can be assured.
The foods and the macro-nutrients that help us thrive are directly related to our gut microbiome and our physiology – and our gut microbiome is governed by genetics, epigenetics, exposure to microbes, food, lifestyle and a myriad of other factors. The eco-system in your gut resembles a lush, diverse rainforest with hundreds of trillions of microbes, it’s little wonder we are all geared slightly differently.
I love a list – so I’ve compiled a list of my top ten things to get you started on Living Clean:
1. Mindset – This is arguably the most important consideration when it comes to embracing and adhering to a Clean Living lifestyle. This is a broad subject so I won’t go into too much depth right now but understanding the mechanisms behind thoughts and behaviours around food and exercise can be the tipping point between success and not. Work on establishing positive patterns of behaviour and unlearn negative ones. Easier said than done, but achievable nonetheless! By putting in the hard yards around behaviour patterns and self worth you’ll be setting yourself up for a long and healthy life.
2. Pantry Swap – Spring clean or cleanse your pantry and fridge. Remove all processed/packaged foods for the time being, we can re-introduce some select ones later, but in the initial phase of Clean Living, it’s advisable to start from a fresh slate. In addition, remove any industrial oils or seeds oil (sunflower, safflower, bran oil, canola oil) and replace with oils such as coconut oil, tallow, ghee, lard and butter.
3. Sweet Poison – If reducing or cutting out sugar was easy then we’d all do it and we wouldn’t have to contend with the health epidemics we see in the industrialised world. Sadly, carbohydrates (and sugar) trigger the reward centre in our brain. Upon ingestion of sugar, our neuro-transmitter, dopamine, lights up like a Christmas tree and makes us feel warm and fuzzy. This sensation is comforting, familiar and highly addictive with the potential to lead to dependency – ultimately making it hard to cut back on sugar. However, try reducing it over a long period and replacing with a truckload of above-ground veggies and some healthy fats (listed above).
4. Foster a Happy Gut – A happy and balanced gut is the key to health. There are a number of ways to create a happy home for your microbes. One is to limit sugar, and in doing so, help to maintain gut lining integrity and minimize the risk of endotoxins (nasty little things which are best avoided). Alcohol and antibiotics can disrupt the harmony of your internal rainforest so limit the usage and intake as best you can. Invest in some supplementary probiotics and prebiotics – both will help your microbiome to thrive optimally. Lastly, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty every once in a while, and avoid sanitising your home and work space to the point of distraction – microbes are our friends.
5. Remove Gluten – A protein found in wheat, barley and rye which is weaved into most industrialised products in our supermarket aisles. Gluten sparks an inflammatory cascade within us – Firstly, it promotes the activation of other proteins, such as zonulin which degrades the lining of your gut – increasing the gut permeability. Secondly, the anti-bodies that attack gluten (a natural defence mechanism) also attack various enzymes that ‘resemble’ gluten, in particular transglutaminase 2, 3 and 6, attacking the gut, skin and brain respectively.
6. Exercise for Fun & Mood – I’ve been explicit about food being the solution to your health, but that’s not to say that exercise doesn’t have a part to play. Once we acknowledge that it is not the marker or solution to health then we can detach ego from it and enjoy training a lot more. Seek modes of exercise that will evoke the biggest mood-lift and most enjoyment, because let’s face it, the gym is not for everyone. The correct prescription of exercise can stimulate our brains neuro-fertiliser (BDNF) allowing for growth of new neurons and improve function of existing ones in our memory centre.
7. Buddy-Up – Whether it’s your first or tenth crack at Clean Living, it’ll help to buddy-up and be accountable for someone. Choose someone who is equally motivated and whom you see regularly – ie. Flatmate or work colleague. Half the battle is forging new behaviour patterns and unlearning old ones – doing this with someone is paramount for success. Use each other as sounding boards on how you feel, for recipe ideas and motivational support. Bear in mind that transitioning to a healthier way of living can sometimes make you feel lousy in the early stages as you detox or adjust to less carbs/sugar - so having a buddy at this point is advisable to pull each other over the hump.
8. The Sacred Wagon – It’s important to acknowledge that you are most likely to fall off the wagon at some stage, whether it’s succumbing to a few boozy drinks or a Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream. If and when this does happen – please don’t derail and undo ALL the good you’ve done and be wracked with guilt – rather, see the next decision an opportunity to put something health-enhancing in your mouth.
9. Fibre Fibre Fibre – The western diet is typically deficient in resistant fibre or starch which is concerning for our health. Ensure to include foods that will help the digestion become resistant in the early stages of digestion and go on to the larger intestine and serve as valuable food source for your microbes. Foods high in resistant starch include green bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic and onion – Try to incorporate some to promote a happy healthy gut.
10. Mindfulness – In conjunction with improving your health through diet, Clean Living also includes walking through life with as much self-awareness as you can attain. With consistent and regular meditation practice, it’s possible to not only elevate your mood but also have an increased empathy for yourself and others. It can help to reduce stress and give the tools to manage it better, which feeds into lowering inflammation which is part of the framework for Clean Living.