Despite the meek promise of a cold spring, summer is really coming. While I have barely gotten around to swapping out my winter closet with summer clothes, my mind has been on other signs of the changing seasons lately. Like delicious spring greens, fresh herbs, asparagus pushing up through the spring earth, sweet peas on their way and strawberries calling my name. I’m an Island girl after all, and a farm girl too, so nothing sends spring into summer more than fresh vegetables and fruits at my fingertips. And even if you don’t have your own garden yet or didn’t grow up on a farm, you have a bounty of fresh and seasonal produce available locally telling you that now is the time to clean up your diet, freshen your life and eat well. Here is my five-step plan to eating cleaner and getting your mind and body ready for summer.
• Out with the old. Now is the time, if you haven’t already, to clean out your pantry, your fridge and anything questionably crusty on the counter to make your fresh start. Everyone can benefit from this ritual: a simple, objective look at your own pantry and refrigerator. You might be surprised by what you see. Condiments out of date? Olives from last winter? Rice or other grains spoiled by moths from an unsealed container? Stale cereal? Sprouting or green potatoes? Throw these things out. You also might investigate any foods you buy in a package or box, and see if you can swap out some of your current brands for brands with a shorter ingredient list and shelf life. For more than two decades, researchers have been investigating the relationship between eating more packaged foods and obesity, allergies and cancer, with dim forecasts. Play it safe and swap some of your packaged foods for crunchy carrots or snap peas. Clean the fridge, sweep out the pantry and make room now for all of summer’s possibilities.
• Make a new start. Because so-called eating clean is a diet trend right now, I am often asked by clients if the trend is worth the hype. My answer is yes and no. I’m never one to jump on nutrition fads or trends, but there are clear benefits to eating food that is unprocessed, whole and naturally low in added sugar, saturated or trans fat and salt. The tenets of healthy eating have never changed, whatever name is put on the diet. Numerous studies have found a positive link between increased fruit and vegetable consumption, particularly non-starchy vegetables such as greens, and reduced risk of certain cancers, gut health, cardiovascular health, blood pressure and eye health. So fill your freshly-cleaned fridge with bok choy, tat soi, asparagus, lettuces, spinach, garlic scapes, spring onions and fresh herbs. Soon you will be able to add local beets, carrots, chard, kale, cabbage; the list quickly will become endless. For an exploding taste of summer, nothing beats fresh herbs (try chives, parsley, cilantro, basil and dill) mixed with a squeeze of lime into a fruit salsa (use diced local strawberries and/or USA-grown organic peaches) for topping your freshly-caught and grilled bass or bluefish. Pair with lightly steamed local asparagus and a fresh green salad. Head up to the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, which starts this Saturday, or to an Island farm stand for inspiration. Or, take advantage of the restaurants using local produce right now.
• Drink water. Nothing hydrates better than pure, clean water. If you don’t love the taste of your water or are worried about contaminants, try an under-the-sink filter or invest in a water cooler. I recommend that people drink about half their ideal body weight in ounces of water every day. Water should be your drink of choice this summer, but you don’t have to make it boring. Flavor it with basil or mint, cucumber slices or a squeeze of lime, lemon or orange. Kidneys are responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids and electrolytes and removing waste by filtering about 1,600 litres of blood and turning out up to 1.5 litres of urine every day. In a recent article published by the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers found that cola and other sweetened beverage consumption was associated with a higher risk of kidney stones. A similar study found that drinking two or more artificially sweetened beverages a day resulted in a twofold increase in risk of kidney function decline in women. Keep your kidneys happy and healthy by reaching for water to quench your thirst all summer long.
• Skip the additives. Fresh foods are naturally sweet and flavorful. When trying to clean up your diet, sugar and salt, along with saturated fat, trans-fat and alcohol, are good things to limit. You can do this very easily by simply limiting the amount of packaged and processed foods you eat and sticking to no more than one alcoholic drink for women, and two for men, per day. When you limit packaged foods you are also limiting refined carbohydrates, such as wheat, rye or white rice, that have been manufactured to remove the bran and germ parts, resulting in a low-nutrition starch. A 2007 Nurse’s Health Study that followed over 160,000 women for 18 years found that those who consumed two to three servings of whole grains per day were less likely to develop diabetes compared with those who rarely ate whole grains.
When you do use packaged foods, choose those with short ingredient lists, whole grains, no questionable ingredients (check this site labelwatch.com for a comprehensive glossary), low added sugar, no high fructose corn syrup and no hydrogenated oils.
• Take eating clean one step further. Choose organically grown and locally grown food as much as possible. This is especially important when selecting produce, meat and dairy products. Another clean tip is to look for BPA-free canned foods (I like Eden Organic, Native Forest and Wild Planet). And if you are buying tomatoes out of season, look for ones sold in glass jars or paper cartons instead of cans. When shopping for soy products, look for GMO-free on the label. If you eat bacon or other processed meat, buy locally or look for no nitrites added.
Eating clean is a continuum. Using any one of these tips will put you on a road to better health. Aim for a little and you are already one step closer.
Prudence Athearn Levy, MS, RD, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian living and working in Edgartown. She is the co-owner of Vineyard Nutrition (vineyardnutrition.com). Her email address is email@example.com.