How to Focus on Clean Eating in the Hudson Valley

Between too many months of too much downtime at home followed by holiday get-togethers, many of us have seen any semblance of healthy eating go out the window. But it’s 2022 and the party is over. If you want to slim down, boost energy, ward off illness, increase longevity, and feel great, toss the chips and join the clean eating club.

Clean eating isn’t a diet nor is it a fad, it’s a lifestyle that’s gaining traction this year. Clean foods are defined as whole foods that may be minimally altered (think flash-frozen blueberries, plain ground turkey, or canned chickpeas) but are as close to their natural form as possible. They aren’t processed with added sugar, sodium, fat, or chemicals that most of us can’t even pronounce. When you consume foods without additives, you improve your health by reducing inflammation (which experts say is associated with many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis), shoring up your immune system, losing body fat, aiding digestion, and warding off allergies among many other benefits.

Healthy breakfast bowl. clean eating
Photo by Adobe Stock | Vladislav Nosik

Becoming a clean eater isn’t difficult, but it may take some getting used to if you rely on take-out and prepared foods. It emphasizes plant foods which include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lentils, and beans—much like the Mediterranean diet. It doesn’t mean you can never have truffle fries or chocolate cake—but those foods should be viewed as occasional treats. Allison Righter, MSPH, RDN, and director of health and sustainability programs at The Culinary Institute of America, says that 2022 will bring more innovation around tasty, healthy, and clean plant-based foods.

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Clean eating also favors lean proteins (like chicken and turkey) and healthy fats from olive oil, avocados, and seafood high in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, cod, and even caviar. (A diet that includes caviar can’t be that bad.) Red meat can be enjoyed now and then but processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats should be relegated to special occasions (the World Health Organization classifies them as carcinogenic).

Chelsea Streifeneder, owner of Body Be Well in Red Hook and Catskill, is a certified Pilates instructor and holistic nutrition counselor who creates healthy recipes for clients. She advises clients upfront that “it takes a while to make changes in your life, so don’t beat yourself up if you make a few slips along the way.” A good first step: Replace unhealthy items in your pantry, since you’re less likely to eat them if they’re not in your house. As a busy small business owner, Streifeneder often needs to eat on the run and likes to stock her pantry with healthy snacks.

The pandemic has shown us how important it is to strengthen our immunity and Streifeneder believes “clean eating that supports the immune system will continue to be in the spotlight throughout the new year.” Righter agrees that immune- and mood-boosting foods will be in demand citing “an increasing body of research linking what we eat with our physical and mental health.” According to Righter, ingredients like blueberries, broccoli, garlic, ginger, turmeric, fermented items, and probiotic foods like yogurt and pickled vegetables are among some of the superfoods at the forefront of this demand. She also believes we’ll see “upcycled” foods go mainstream as companies work to eliminate waste by generating new, high quality food products utilizing surplus ingredients and by-products that would have otherwise been discarded. Upcycled foods include dried fruit made from aesthetically imperfect fruit and crackers made from vegetable pulp and peels.

Mela Stevens, a Rhinebeck-based integrative nutrition health coach and founder of Whole Body Works, advises her clients to ease into lifestyle changes by adding clean foods to their diet rather than eliminating unhealthy foods cold turkey—and to experiment to find what works best for their bodies. Can’t imagine going through the winter without hot chocolate? Make a mug of Stevens’ healthier version with nut milk, raw cacao powder, vanilla extract, and maple syrup instead of a Swiss Miss packet. Transitioning into a clean eater is a process that takes some people longer than others (depending on how motivated you are and how processed your diet currently is). Stevens usually works with clients for six months because “it can take that long to get comfortable with making changes and understanding, seeing, and feeling the difference in their bodies.”

Those of us fortunate enough to call the Hudson Valley home have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fresh, local produce which makes clean eating a lot easier and more convenient. Righter adds, “We’ve seen the challenges that the pandemic has exposed affecting our global supply chain so it’s more important than ever to support our local and regional farmers who are properly stewarding their land and producing nutritious and delicious food for our communities.” A great reason to make 2022 the year of clean eating and the farmers market.

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Related: How to Grow a More Sustainable Garden in the Hudson Valley

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