Summertime is a perfect opportunity to take a good, hard look at what you eat every day and make some changes in the name of better health. It can be difficult to make such a drastic change, especially if you are so used to relying on fast food or packaged food items. It can be tough, but stand your ground and shop for the real food that came from nature. Say goodbye to artificially flavored food grown out of a lab and check out these five golden rules of clean eating:

1. Skip the Inner Aisles at the Grocery Store

If you take a look around a typical grocery store, you’ll see that the foods with long shelf lives like chips, candy, granola bars, cereal, jarred sauces, and other packaged food products are all jammed in the middle aisles. On the outskirts, you’ll find the fresh produce, store-baked breads, and refrigerated items. Try to do all of your shopping on the outside aisles, skipping those unhealthy, processed food items in favor of real, clean food. Don’t even walk down those center aisles and be tempted by the bright package colors, cute mascots, and claims of added fiber, vitamins, whole grains, etc. The center aisles are marketing at its finest, so don’t be fooled by the tricks. Check out these other Simple Tricks That Can Help You Avoid GMOs While Shopping.

5 Golden Rules of Clean Eating

2. Sweeten Food With Fruit

Eating clean means cutting out artificial sweeteners, refined sugar, and chemicals that flavor food, yet aren’t doing your body any good. Look at the back of your food items; dried cane syrup is just a fancier way to say sugar, since it is harvested from the sugar cane. Get rid of the refined sugar and fake sweeteners. Use real fruit to sweeten your food. Check out our raw desserts section here at One Green Planet.

5 Golden Rules of Clean Eating

3. Eat Food That is Closest to Its Natural, Raw State

This is a great rule to keep in mind if you enjoy your cooked and processed foods, yet want to clean up your diet. Re-think how you view food. Vegetables are nutritious, but they go through nutrient loss when heat is applied (with the exception of tomatoes, whose lycopene content increases with heat). Try to eat as many raw meals as you can with plant-based foods that appear on your plate as they do in nature. Consider this rule for food products as well. Is there lemon flavor and natural flavor added in your store-bought salad dressing? Try making an alternative dressing with real lemon juice and natural flavor from herbs and spices instead. Look at your eating habits; if you eat applesauce, try eating more apple slices in its place. If you buy black bean pasta, try making a whole wheat pasta dish with whole black beans instead. The closest to nature your food is, the more nutrients you will intake.

5 Golden Rules of Clean Eating

4. Get the Dirt on Your Produce

I always cringe when someone tells me they have decided to eat healthier meals, yet they buy conventional produce that was treated with chemicals and pesticides. It’s true that some people feel that buying organic is too expensive and they don’t see a problem with buying “regular” produce. First, we have to stop thinking of organic as “the other” or “the alternative.” We should view organic produce and its prices as the norm, and then see chemically treated produce as the less expensive, yet less quality option. Changing how you look at this will change your habits and your health for the better. Take a look at the 12 produce items that are the dirtiest in terms of pesticide and chemical residue. If you want to be choosy with your organic produce, make sure you’re at least buying organic items that are on the Dirty Dozen list.

5 Golden Rules of Clean Eating

5. Ban Any and All Unnatural Drinks

Many of those drinks you see in gas stations and grocery stores are liquid calories and fat in a plastic bottle. Too many people drink their calories and some of them may not be aware of just how much added sugar they take in when drinking soda. And don’t think drinking diet is the answer. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Miami Miler School of Medicine and the Columbia University Medical Center, individuals who drank diet soft drinks on a daily basis may be at increased risk of suffering vascular events such as stroke, heart attack, and vascular death. The researchers found that those who drank diet soft drinks daily were 43 percent more likely to have suffered a vascular event than those who drank none, after taking into account per-existing vascular conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Yikes! Try making your own herbal-infused water instead and check out this article on How to Kick that Soda Habit with Healthy Natural Alternatives.

5 Golden Rules of Clean Eating

Lead image source: Dirty Dozen: 12 Fruits and Vegetables You Should Always Buy Organic