Substitution Over Sacrifice - How to start eating clean - Next Level Performance Fitness

Substitution Over Sacrifice - How to start eating clean

Substitution Over Sacrifice - How to start eating clean

Eating Clean. Such a buzz-phrase. One that essentially means, this food is made with natural ingredients, as unprocessed as possible, and excludes typically both dairy and gluten. So when you read that, you think “This excludes the good stuff. A clean meal is lettuce”. Nope. It just means you eat simple and whole foods, mixed together, to make rich flavors and deliciously satisfying dishes. You won’t miss the junk, but it takes effort. That’s where many people fall off. Effort. Nothing comes easy, nothing comes quick, and in this case, eating properly isn’t the simplest of tasks to develop into a habit be honest. It requires thought, a couple of hours a week of prep time, and the need to educate yourself along the way. It's by no means rocket science, it's simply discipline and commitment. Once you get the hang of shopping for, preparing and enjoying clean meals and treats, it will become effortless. Why bother you ask? Well, If you’re suffering from chronic gut issues, a lack of energy or simply you want to lose a few pounds, it’s best to turn to the kitchen and figure out what to add and what to eliminate. Your body wants easy to digest fuels, not boxed, saturated and sugared garbage. Believe me when I say you can get rid of the junk and keep the flavor, it just takes some education. Below, please check out an informal guide to how you may begin to think, act and consume like a clean eater.  

Step 1: Learn: The first toe-dip into cleaning up your diet is to simply understand what is a whole, real, clean piece of nutrition. If it grows and is brightly colored, or once ran, jumped and or swam, you are likely on the right track. Kick out the processed junk. That means refined sugar, processed white / wheat based grains and dairy. As I write that, I know you’re reading “No cheese, no bread, no treats”. That’s what I used to think too. But I’ve learned over the years eating clean meals is about substitution, not sacrifice. Below, find out how to begin to move your palate to a clean fuel based genre, and not feel like you are missing out.  

Step 2: Try: A very easy first step is swapping a processed grain for a whole and unprocessed one. Example, instead of cereal, try oats… feel like you can’t eat oats without loads of brown sugar? Top them with a tablespoon of pure maple syrup (yup, this is a whole, pure food!), a sprinkle of cinnamon, a few nuts, some seeds and raisins. Suddenly, your typical bowl of morning carbs that’s loaded with sugar, preservatives and white flour is a 100% clean dish that is sweet and filling and easily processed by your body. Love to eat burgers? Why not try a turkey burger with oats as a binder instead of beef and bread crumbs? You can find these pre-made at the grocery store. Think you will miss the melted cheese on top? Try making a Greek yogurt based garlic aioli to smother it in. Can’t live without the bun? Try a crispy iceburg lettuce wrap to mow it down with your hands, like you should. Need fries on the side? Check out baked sweet potato fries instead of the traditional greasy deep-fried white cousin. You get the idea. Baby steps…. Find something that appeals to you and give it a go. It can be store bought, no need to hand craft to get started. Just read all of the labels and don't fall to the gimmick of marketing. The label should list only clean whole ingredients and the fewer the ingredients on the list, often the better.  

Step 3: Follow a recipe: Ok, so you’ve eaten some oats, you swapped out creamer in your coffee for an almond milk latte, you’re feeling suddenly high and mighty about your stellar diet and you’re getting the hang of this. Now what? You want to brave the kitchen and cook something healthy to flex your new skills, but still tasty. You’ve graduated from preparing salads, and you want build a masterpiece. Get real, you’re not a chef, and you’re not going to become one. Don’t start by trying to come up with your own creations. Follow a clean recipe! There are plenty of clean eating blogs, magazines, and ideas on Pinterest providing step-by-step guides to cooking. All that being said, start with something simple. Read the ingredients list, ensure you recognize all of the foods. You will never stick to clean eating if you have to travel all over hell’s half acre gathering random and obscure items from expensive specialty stores. Keep it easy and keep it fresh. Number one tip: work your clean sauces to add flavor and variety. Prep any lean protein you’d like, and find a recipe for a clean sauce that appeals to you, and go from there.

Step 4: Swap: Ok, so you’ve gained some confidence in the concept of eating clean, and you’ve exercised these muscle in the kitchen a bit, following a few recipes. Even your family is enjoying the healthy dishes. What now? You want to make some of their old classic favourites, and you need to learn to design clean eats of your own. You can do it. Swap! Build out a substitution list of items you can easily change out in a recipe to clean it up. You can start from your favorite dish, and change out items to make it healthy. Below, please find an example table for how to swap out oil, fats and moisteners in baking recipes; do a bit of research on the quantity conversion and give it a try.

Traditional Moisteners for Baking:

  • Butter
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Crissco
  • Margarine
  • Whole Milk / Cream



Substitution Moisteners for Baking:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Apple Sauce
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Almond Milk
  • Natural Peanut Butter
  • Pureed Pumpkin

Baking clean treats is a very simple way to get started. Again, clean eating is ALL about substitution, NOT sacrifice.  Now that you are a semi-expert, what’s next? It’s time to swap out ingredients in a bigger dish, and more than just one! Here’s an example for you as to how to plan this out and experiment. Being Italian, lasagna is a must. How do you possibly make an even semi-convincing lasagna without piles of cheese and a heavy, satisfying sheet of flour based pasta? Well, cleaning up this traditional staple ain’t ever gonna be your Nona’s lasagna (you could never convince an old Italian broad that this was a good idea, sorry Nona), but it’s dang satisfying. Below, I’ve made a quick comparison ingredients chart for you to see how to change these items out. Lasagna is just layering delicious ingredients, you can’t mess this up! Worst case scenario, mix it all together and call it a casserole. Follow the usual instructions for how to assemble your “pasta” dish, and start subbing out items as suggested below. What are the basics? Well…. You need something creamy instead of cheese (cashew cream mixed with a rich squash, roasted garlic, and tons of nutritional yeast for that cheesy flavor. YUM). Something acidic to give you that Southern Italian tang (tomato sauce!) and a “sheet” of sorts to make layers like the pasta noodles would (zucchini makes a great flat strip, has a mild flavor, and is a perfect vector for carrying all the goodness on your fork). Check out a substitution chart below to test drive a few items:

Traditional Lasagna Ingredient List:

  • Oven ready lasagna noodles
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Marinara sauce
  • Ground beef
  • Onion & garlic
  • Spices


Substitution Lasagna Ingredient List:

  • Eggplant & Zucchini slices
  • Cashew cream mixed with acorn squash
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Marinara sauce (yup, you can find this clean)
  • Ground turkey
  • Onion & garlic
  • Spices

Step 5: Plan: In order to be successful eating clean, you need to take a few hours a week to plan, shop and prep your foods. Clean eating can be convenient, grab and go to fit everyone’s busy lifestyle, it just takes a small amount of commitment. Start small - try making clean cookies to swap out as snacks this week, and each week, add one clean item to the menu. It’s an evolution, not a revolution. Allow yourself a few hours on a Sunday to meal prep what you can in “bulk” for the week, portion it out and be ready to eliminate your excuses.  

Step 6: Enjoy it: Clean eating isn’t a punishment, it’s a privilege. Don’t forget that!

Need some recipe ideas to kick start your creative juices in the kitchen? Check out these ones design JUST for NXTLVL by They are completely clean! 

Authored by Becky Parisotto | Becky is a client of Next Level Performance, a so-so athlete, and a decent cook, clean-eater, blogger and head chef at

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