by Raquel Gilkes
At first glance, the notion of ‘eating clean’ seems uncomplicated. In fact one might very well think that since every effort is made to ensure that the food is washed and cooked, most food you eat is clean. Of course it is not so simple. As I got more into ‘gym life’ I discovered that my diet was referred to as ‘eating clean’ which means basically that I ate whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, and tried to avoid preservatives, additives, processed foods and other poisons that are generally passed off as ‘food’ to guileless consumers.
People have said to me that they don’t like the taste of ‘healthy’ food. I can’t imagine why, I have always preferred whole foods myself. The transition to clean eating was easier for me because, in the bad old days of ‘eating dirty’ I also smoked, drank way too much alcohol and ate everything fried, so my taste buds were paralysed with shock and numb from the barrage of violence that I was subjecting them to on a regular basis anyway; therefore they were in no position to object to the taste of healthy food. It took a while for my food to register any taste at all on the poor defenseless things. By the time they recovered sufficiently, they preferred fresh food.
So how do we go about trying to eat cleaner? I can tell you how I did it. I gave my pantry a make-over. Things like stock cubes, packaged soups, canola oil and all overly dandified foods were promptly evicted. Then I stocked up on peas and beans; whole grains; nuts; cassava, barley, sweet potato, and breadfruit flours; and ‘healthy oils’. Healthy oils include olive oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil and cold pressed coconut oil.
While I tried to eliminate any food that has been processed too much, I haven’t managed to avoid them entirely because we live in a country that is prone to exciting weather on occasion so I still keep a small stock of tinned items for emergencies. I also keep a few cans of beans handy in case I’m in a hurry, but I find these days that I use them less and less.
I also eat simple meals. I use meats, plants, spices and herbs in my cooking. I do not buy many condiments; so things like ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise and ‘seasoning’ are made in my kitchen with fresh ingredients and no preservatives. I avoid buying food with too many ingredients, especially unpronounceable ingredients that used to bedevil me in chemistry class. I didn’t like them then, so I certainly will not be keeping company with them in my own home.
This is a controversial inclusion: I eat meat. I love it, all types. I have resisted all attempts to convince me that eating meat is bad for me. So far so good. Eating whole fresh meat in moderate amounts has heath benefits, what I do not use is ‘processed meat products’ in any large quantities. Yes, I may very infrequently buy some high quality chorizo, but for the most part, if I want a sausage, I will buy sausage skins and grind the meat at home, the same goes for meat for burgers. A serving of meat is about 4 oz and I go at least three days a week without consuming meat at all.
As I tried to increase my consumption of plants, I started looking at plants that are grown locally and available consistently. Because of course while reading up on diets and constantly trying to improve mine, I encountered all the hysterics about genetically modified organisms, and the danger of eating foods laden with pesticides that made it seem as though eating plants was just as hazardous to my health as fried meats. I tried to eat the stuff that wasn’t tampered with too much, so I cut down on corn and carrots, and ate eggplants, dasheen, eddoes, lettuce and cabbage and that sort of thing as much as possible.
In a nutshell, eating clean is having small amounts of real food, at regular intervals during the day and drinking adequate amounts of water.
The discovery that most delights me to date is the okra. I have always been a little wary of okras. One friend of mine summed up my sentiments exactly when she said that it seems to be the product of a chance (and surprisingly productive) sexual encounter between a promiscuous slug and a visitor from outer space. Ever the intrepid culinary adventurer, I decided to tackle the okra after hearing of its wondrous health benefits. Okra is more than the green flecks in cou cou; okra assists with maintaining the health of the digestive tract, facilitates the propagation of probiotics and the biosynthesis of Vitamin B complex. It is also an excellent source of protein. I use it in soups, stews and stir-fry.