Clean Eating 101: Lessons + Recipes from Chef Candice Kumai
“Clean eating” is one of those phrases that’s thrown around a lot these days, but there isn’t just one diet that really nails it. It’s like saying you want to “eat healthy” — for some people that’s just managing portion control, and for others it’s signing up for a Beyoncé-approved vegan home-delivery service. In both cases, it might not be clear what it is, but it sounds good, right?
We got the answers from Chef Candice Kumai, who you’ll recognize from the first season of Top Chef and as a judge from Iron Chef America. She also happens to be a major proponent of the benefits of clean eating. Her latest cookbook, called Clean Green Eats, focuses on recipes that are simple, clean and fresh. To begin with, Candice stresses that clean eating is *not* a diet: “Diets are like, so 1980s, and they’re seriously not fun.” Preach it, girl! Instead, she defines it as a lifestyle that involves consuming real food in or as close to its most natural state as possible. “Eating to nourish and cleanse the body and mind. Educating yourself on where food comes from. Purchasing or growing foods that are nutritious, unprocessed and sustainable. Being more mindful of your overall health and the environment in which you live. Clean eating is a choice and a way of life.” Read on for more of her advice on getting started, and then tuck into three of her delish recipes below.
Don’t Just Detox — Reset Your Taste Buds
Detoxing is all the rage, but it’s not fun and it’s not permanent. So skip the cleanse and focus your energies on a reset instead. That means retraining your taste buds to, y’know, actually enjoy the healthy food you’re eating. Chef Candice suggests some very tasty swaps to help develop your palate. Need something salty and crunchy? Say no to potato chips and om nom nom to roasted almonds with herbs, olive oil and garlic powder. Getting one of those mid-afternoon cravings? “No need to be hangry, girl!” she tells us. Just snack on her guacamole with a twist (recipe below!) for a guilt-free snack that will keep you full until dins.
Go Green With Some Unexpected Choices
Chef Candice is a food lover after our own heart: “Kale is definitely my bestie,” she says. Keep stocking up, because it’s not going anywhere, then try some up-and-comers like dandelion and broccoli rabe, which are always in season. Once autumn rolls around, keep your eyes peeled for kabocha squash, which she predicts will be popular come fall because of its sweet, robust and pumpkin-y flavor. And as for your regular greens, you can’t go wrong with spinach, watercress and arugula.
Meat Is a Treat
Going clean means eating green, so Chef Candice really wants your vegetables to shine in all of your meals. But that doesn’t mean you have to go full-on vegetarian or vegan. Consume all meat in moderation, she advises, and shop meat from local farmers’ markets to make sure it’s fresh, hormone-free and raised humanely.
The Beauty of Eating Clean
In Chef Candice’s earlier cookbooks, Cook Yourself Sexy and Pretty Delicious, you can discover recipes that don’t just make you feel better, but also make you look better. She revealed to us her top five fave health foods that also double as beauty “products.”
1. Avocados: “They are the ultimate get-gorgeous food! Key for shiny hair, skin and nails, avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.”
2. Berries: “Berries are loaded with anti-inflammatory agents, vitamins and antioxidants that help protect you from premature aging.”
3. Flaxseeds: “They provide a mega-boost of omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for optimum brain function, a healthy heart and radiant skin. Studies show both omega-6 fatty acids and the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds help soothe skin conditions like acne or eczema. Make sure to get ground flaxseed for the best benefits.”
4. Almond butter: “It’s packed with vitamin E, manganese and selenium, which help keep your hair shiny. The vitamin E in almonds and almond butter can also help protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. Vitamin E and almond oil can also be used topically on the body as a beauty serum.”
5. Sweet potatoes: “Sweet potatoes can help boost immunity and aid in glowing, gorgeous skin. Full of beta-carotene, sweet potatoes can help maintain bright, healthy eyes and protect your beautiful skin from UV exposure.”
Dark Chocolate Almond + Coconut Bowl
Yup, this tasty dessert IS a clean-eating recipe. “No one can believe that this recipe contains greens when they taste it,” she tells us. “Blending smoothie bowls is a great way to sneak your greens in without anyone ever knowing. You are getting all the benefits of dark, leafy greens while still having a decadent, delicious dessert.”
— 1 1/2 frozen bananas
— 1/4 cup whole natural almonds
— 3/4 cup kale, stems removed, chopped
— 3 tbsp unsweetened Dutch (dark) cocoa powder
— 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
— 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
— 1 scoop pea protein powder (optional)
— 1/2 tsp spirulina powder (optional)
— whole almonds
— sliced almonds
— fresh mint
— sliced banana
— almond butter
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve and divide the smoothie mix immediately into two serving bowls and top with your choice of toppings. Enjoy!
Cold Sweet Pea Basil Soup
“This soup is a perfect and quick go-to recipe to have on hand. Canned soups have lots of hidden sodium, ingredients and preservatives. Making this clean and fresh recipe allows you to control what goes into your meal,” says Candice.
— 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
— 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
— 1 16-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
— 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
— 1/4 tsp sea salt
— 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons for finishing
— 1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
— Sliced almonds for garnish
— fresh mint or basil leaves
— one dollop Greek yogurt
1. In a small sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Add the cooled onion mixture to a blender or food processor, followed by the peas, basil leaves and salt. Blend to combine. Stream in the almond milk and vegetable broth until the mixture has a nice, velvety soup consistency.
3. Serve the soup at room temperature or chilled with the extra almond milk and garnished with sliced almonds to finish.
4. If desired, top with fresh mint or basil leaves and a dollop of Greek yogurt for an extra boost of protein!
Guacamole With a Twist
“Enjoy delicious, ripe, creamy, green, heart-healthy avocados — nature’s perfect food — with the sneaky addition of arugula in this dip. It is a fabulously delicious way to indulge in chips and guac without the guilt.” We’ll definitely dip to that, Candice!
— 3 avocados, halved and pitted, peeled and cubed
— 1⁄4 small red onion, finely diced
— 1 1⁄2 tbsp reduced-sodium tamari soy sauce
— juice of 1⁄2 lime
— 1 cup wild baby arugula
— 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped or whole leaves (optional)
Place the avocados in a medium bowl. Using a fork, gently smash and stir the avocado, breaking it up into a chunky mass, leaving some avocado bits whole. Add the onion, tamari soy sauce and lime juice and stir to combine. Top with wild arugula and the cilantro, if using. Taste with a chip and add salt if needed.
Have you tried or considered adopting a clean-eating lifestyle? What effects has it had on your life? Share your experience in the comments!