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Clean Eat Your Way to Lean

Progress photos above from 6/25/2017

Where are you right now on your diet and fitness journey? Accept that, don't beat yourself up and DON'T compare yourself to others. Be honest about why you are in this place and what you need to do to get out, and take the small steps necessary to start the process. Sometimes it can be something simple like eliminating clutter from your living space. Do you have a lot of things that you don't really need? Clothes you haven't worn for more than a year? Simplifying my life is one of my favorite activities and is very freeing. I've sold things on and I've donated many items to help raise money for others in need. I look at what I already have and ask how it benefits my life. If it doesn't, I can do without it.

I shop the same way. It's so easy to get caught up in the moment and become a victim of slick marketing advertisements and believe you will be transformed/fulfilled/happier with each new purchase. Think carefully before you buy anything: what will it really change in your life? I like this exercise because it relates strongly to how we view ourselves. Did you make many of the purchases in your life because you thought it would make you a better person somehow? Has it? Why didn't it? Do you see that the answer is not in the owning of another thing but what already lies within you? How many times have I looked at a cute outfit and thought "I will lose weight for that! I'll look amazing in that! I'll get the attention I want/deserve/need when I'm wearing that!" Did it ever help me lose the weight? NO. If I did buy it, rarely did I lose the weight and fit into it. It only served as a reminder of what I didn't already have (strength to achieve what I set out to do, the healthy body I wanted, the attention I thought I needed).

How is it that as a society we have let things cause us to feel this way about ourselves?! It's all about the marketing and the fact that this has made billions of dollars for others while making us feel worse about who we are, and so disconnected as a society, truly makes me angry. A good place to start is to constantly remind yourself that the next purchase - whether it be a car, a house, an article of clothing - will not magically transform your life and make you a better person. Question what it is you will gain from the purchase and be completely honest. If it includes things like "It will impress others" or "People will see me as beautiful/successful, etc.," think deeply before buying. The answer to what we truly need is most likely already within us - give yourself the chance to discover and develop this. Instead, think about what things you would do if you felt better about yourself. What activities would you do that you don't allow yourself to do because you lack the confidence? What would happen if you started doing them anyway? Write one of these down and then make it your mission to go do it. Enlist a support group buddy if need be. Maybe there is another person that wants to do the same thing - do it together and then spend some time discussing what happened after you did it and how it made you feel. Write down as many of these activities as you can think of. Start doing them. Coming to life and living, instead of opting to eat as an activity - if this is where you currently are on your journey - is extremely empowering. One of the small steps you take to declutter may include making-over recipes so they become healthier - as far as ingredients and balance. Start with this as opposed to calorie content. Lots of stuff goes into food that isn't needed! Sugar seems to be the #1 culprit that derails a healthy diet so lets start with this. Do you just have to have dessert to feel satisfied? Eating sugar releases the 'feel-good' brain chemical serotonin, which can make you think you want the sugar when what you really want are the calming, happy feelings it produces. Fresh fruit with a bit of protein - like a pear with 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon, may do the job. While the fruit contains sugar, it is a natural sugar and includes vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Experiment with a fresh fruit/protein/healthy fat combination next time you feel the desire for a sweet treat. Here are some examples (and of course, opt for organic whenever possible!): Apple with 1 oz. sliced cheese or 1 tbls. almond butter mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon 1 cup chopped pineapple with 1/2 cup cottage cheese 1 cup mixed berries with 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1 tbls. raw nuts (almonds, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.) 1/2 cup papaya or mango with 1 tbls. chia seed blended with 1/4 cup almond milk and 1 scoop protein powder - let sit 15 minutes for a pudding-like texture 1/2 steamed sweet potato with 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon, ground cloves and ground nutmeg 1 tbls. raw carob powder mixed with 1 tbls. nut butter and 1 serving fruit of your choice Feel free to get creative with fruit choices. If you choose to add sweeteners to any of the above, like those with plain yogurt, here's an explanation about the top 'healthy' sugar substitutes.

Let me first say that I don’t recommend artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and sucralose. While these are commonly used and may not be as terrible as some people say, there is enough negative reporting from studies to warrant caution in their use.

Aspartame has been found through a broad range of studies to have links to weight gain, obesity, and in long-term animal studies, cancer.

Sucralose, was downgraded from “safe” to “caution” in 2013 by the Center of Science in the public interest (CSPI) . This downgrade was then updated in 2016 from “caution” to “avoid.” These changes in the safety rating were due to the results of a long-term study that showed the sweetener causes leukemia in animal studies. This particular study was the first independent look at the long-term effects of the sweetener. Previous long-term studies had been conducted by Splenda—the manufacturer— who provided industry funding!

Here are my top choices for sugar substitutes:

Monk Fruit sugar

The production process consists of simple steps with no ambiguous methods or chemical additions:

  • First, the skin and seeds of the fruit are removed.

  • The fruit is crushed and the juice is collected.

  • The juice is combined with hot water then undergoes an ultra-filtration process.

  • The extract is about 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, though surprisingly contains no calories or carbs.

Note: Some commercial productions add in dextrose as a bulking agent. Opt for the liquid form of the sweetener to be sure of what you're getting and always READ LABELS! There are several advantages of using this as a sweetener - naturally sweet with no funky aftertaste, zero calorie (no affect on blood sugar levels) and a natural production process! While it does claim to be far sweeter than sugar, which may cause concern to some, it has been found to be completely safe. In fact, it has anti-oxidative compounds (called mogrosides) that may help prevent the growth of a variety of cancers as well as protect against DNA damage, and anti-diabetic properties.


This is a sugar alcohol and the terminology can be a bit confusing because it’s not sugar, and contains no alcohol and is derived from fruits and vegetables.

It looks similar to table sugar and is used about the same - one teaspoon traded for one teaspoon sugar. It is produced by fermenting the naturally occurring sugars in corn.

As one of the more natural sugar substitutes, the safety profile of erythritol is relatively impressive as it has zero affect on blood sugar levels, and shows no evidence of carcinogenic action. However, some people have mild side effects from using erythritol, relating specifically to digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and possible abdominal pain. These side effects are rare and tend to occur only when consuming a significant amount of the sweetener. For those concerned about GMO corn as the source of erythritol, be aware of this and check the packaging carefully.


There are three principal forms of stevia: powdered, liquid extract and whole leaf.

Produced through an industrial process that sometimes uses solvents, meaning they aren't really natural though not necessarily unhealthy either. Just be aware of this.

Stevia contains some compounds known as steviol glycosides, or sugar-containing non-carbohydrates, and most of the research on stevia’s benefits focuses on one of these glycosides—stevioside. However, stevia extracts do not contain stevioside, and they only concentrate the sweetest part of the leaf, rebaudioside.

Stevia extracts come in either a liquid dropper bottle or as a white powder. While stevia extract is incredibly sweet, whole leaf stevia has a more subtle sweetness and a slightly bitter aftertaste. You can find this sweetener either in whole leaf or powdered (green) form.

The health benefits of stevia show it to be zero glycemic and some studies show that stevioside (in the whole-leaf form) has anti-hyperglycemic, anti-hypertensive, and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, whole-leaf stevia powder is safe for use as an anti-diabetes herb and reduces fasting triglyceride levels and VLDL-C levels.

What this means is whole-leaf stevia is one of the most proven substitutes for sugar with some great health benefits.


Xylitol is one of the healthiest ‘natural’ sweeteners. It also has some health benefits regarding oral hygiene. Xylitol is another sugar alcohol. While it does contain significant amounts of carbohydrate, the body doesn’t metabolize these carbs into glucose.

As a result, Xylitol is very low on the glycemic index (about a 7) and has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels.

Xylitol is a white powder that looks identical to sugar and is a healthy sweetener popular in low-carb diets.

Fruits and vegetables contain a small amount of Xylitol naturally, though the process for making it is fairly complex.

Part of the process involves extracting xylan, a type of plant fiber, from corn cellulose. Phosphoric acid is then used to treat the xylan, which is then followed by a hydrogenation process. Xylitol made from tree bark can also be found. Non-GMO Xylitol is available on the market. The safety outline of Xylitol is good though some people may experience digestive issues following Xylitol consumption with symptoms including gas, bloating and diarrhea. Small doses are unlikely to cause problems. NOTE: Xylitol is extremely toxic to animals so be careful with your dogs and cats in particular. Replacing refined sugar with any of these sweeteners in your recipes may take some trial and error as some may provide different tastes depending on the heat used in cooking/baking, for example. I've had good results with Erythritol and Xylitol, though I prefer Erythritol. You can save a lot of empty calories by switching from refined sugar. I also use unsweetened organic applesauce or other ripe fruits - like pears or mangoes - in some recipes. This tends to work best in cake-type recipes such as muffins, pancakes, brownies, blondies. Some may like to use ripe bananas. It may take you a while to appreciate the sweetness of just ripe fruit as the added sweetener. I gradually reduced the amount of the above alternative sugars to just a few tablespoons and found that pleasing enough. For example, I recently made a cheesecake that called for 1 cup of white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar; I used just 3 tablespoons of Eryhtritol. When I first made the recipe 3 years ago, I used one cup of Erythritol, eliminating only 1/2 cup of called for sugar, but by using Erythritol instead of refined sugar also eliminated around 775 calories just by doing so! Also, you may not want to say that you aren't using refined sugar to the picky eaters in your family. They probably won't know the difference but if you tell them, well you probably know what happens. The cook has the right to keep some secrets, LOL! If you say you're making a healthier version of anything, you may get the nose-wrinkle expressions. Isn't this just truly ironic?! Other healthy Substitutions:

  • Unsweetened applesauce for butter-don't knock this one till you've tried it!

  • Avocado purée for butter. Not appropriate in all recipes but keep it in mind

  • Almond milk for dairy milk. I also like evaporated goat milk and full-fat coconut milk.

  • 'Banana ice cream' for ice cream.

  • Olive oil for butter. Again, works in some recipes, not all.

  • Coconut milk for cream.

  • Nutritional yeast for cheese. Personally, I LOVE Nutritional Yeast-in soup, in casseroles, etc.

  • Mashed bananas for bacon fat. Right...LOL

  • Coconut oil instead of butter, works particularly well in baking.

Flour for Beans - swapping out flour for a can of black beans in brownies is a great way to cut out gluten and add an extra dose of protein. Swap out 1 cup flour for 1 cup black bean purée (about one 15-oz. can. I love the extra moist texture beans give and no one has ever noticed! Check my gallery for the Blondie recipe using white beans - another great swap!

Gluten-free Flour for Wheat Flour - for those who can't eat gluten but still want to enjoy our favorite recipes. When using gluten-free flour, you lose the stickiness which helps bind doughs together, so use 1 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of flour. Quinoa for Couscous: While couscous is made from processed wheat flour, quinoa is a whole-grain superfood packed with protein and nutrients, and they have almost the same texture.

Ground flaxseeds for bread crumbs.

Spaghetti squash for pasta - a great low-carb substitute for pasta. One squash will make between two and three servings.

Lettuce leaves for tortilla wraps

It's not a perfect swap, but forgoing the carbs for fresh lettuce is a fun (and easy) switch that can lighten up any wrap or taco dish while adding a nice little crunch that a wrap doesn't. Use Romaine.

Non-GMO Corn tortilla for flour tortilla.

Quinoa for oatmeal - quinoa cooked with cinnamon, coconut milk and a piece of diced ripe fruit with a tbls. of nuts makes a yummy breakfast.

Veggies for pita - fresh veggies (or fruit) work great for dipping with hummus, contain fewer carbs and more nutrients per bite. Try using a large collard leaf to stuff your hummus, olives, and falafel.

Nuts for croutons

Seltzer water with citrus slice for soda - instead of sugary sodas, use sparkling water with a few slices of citrus-grapefruit, lime, orange, lemon. All work well for a little extra flavor.

Vanilla extract for sugar - cut sugar in half and adding a teaspoon of vanilla as a replacement. Try cutting 2 tablespoons of sugar and adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Just because a recipe calls for a cup of sugar doesn't mean that it NEEDS all that sugar to be delicious!

Frozen or fresh fruits for canned fruit.

Cut down on excess sugar and preservatives by choosing fresh or flash-frozen varieties.

Chia seeds for eggs - combine 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 1 cup water; let sit for 15 minutes. Use as a 1-to-1 egg substitute for baking.

Flax meal for eggs - mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons warm water and whisk with a fork to combine. Let it sit in the fridge for 5 -10 minutes before using.

Reduced-Sodium Swaps

Herbs or citrus juice for salt - can provide just as much flavor without the added risks of excess sodium intake.

Garlic powder for salt - add flavor without adding sodium.

Low-sodium soy sauce for standard soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos - taste is virtually the same and sodium intake is nearly half.

Homemade salad dressing for bottled dressing - making dressing allows you to cut the added sugar, sodium, and preservatives typically found in packaged dressings. Try mixing vinegar or lemon juice and oil in a 2:1 ratio and flavoring with spices such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, pepper, garlic. I also like 1 tbls. apple cider vinegar with one roasted red pepper, 1 tbls. prepared mustard and 1 clove garlic run through the Vitamix.

Rolled oats for bread crumbs - bread crumbs can pack extra sodium; rolled oats seasoned with thyme and rosemary adds additional flavor.

Healthy Swaps

Sweet potato fries for French fries - sweet potatoes add an extra dose of fiber, vitamins A, C, and B6, while cutting roughly 20 grams of carbohydrates per 1-cup serving.

Kale chips for potato chips - toss in olive oil and some seasoning (salt, pepper, paprika,chili powder) and bake.

Raw, unsalted, organic nuts for salted.

Dark leafy greens for iceberg lettuce - darker greens usually mean more nutrients like iron, vitamin C, and antioxidants.

Olive oil spray for olive oil from the bottle - provides exactly the amount needed to get the job done. Turnip or cauliflower mash for mashed potatoes - add a different veggie to your standard dinner plate by using turnips or cauliflower (or both!) instead of white potatoes for a creamy mash. Add some fresh herbs in place of the salt, and use broth instead of butter, milk or cream for a much healthier stand-in.

Steel cut oats for cereal - a minimally processed grain while cereal is typically highly processed with lots of added sugar and other confusing ingredients.

Greek yogurt for sour cream - you might not even taste the difference and you'll be getting an extra dose of lean protein.

Avocado mash for mayo - a mashed avocado is a great substitute that's full of healthy fats.

Greek yogurt for mayo - add some herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Puréed fruit for syrup - packs less sugar than syrup with the added benefit of nutrients and fiber.

Homework: How can you remake one of your favorite recipes to a healthier version? Write down all the ingredients and total up: Carbohydrate, protein, fat, sodium and fiber content, then break that down per serving.

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