Clean eating is a fairly simple concept. Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food’s pathway between its origin and your plate. In essence, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible.

First, let’s start with the definition of processed food. “Processing” includes:

— Additions of any kind — everything from salt, sugar, and fat to aid flavor and mouthfeel, to preservatives that keep food from spoiling too quickly, to the vitamins enriching everything from beverages to breakfast cereal.

— Changing the form of the natural food — for instance, removing the bran and germ from whole grains to create refined bread, mashing apples into applesauce, or stir-frying veggies.

— Foods with components manufactured in a lab. (You probably don’t need clarification on this one, but if the ingredient list has stuff you can’t recognize or pronounce, that’s a pretty solid indication that it’s not natural).

In that light, processed food includes everything from a hot dog to jarred organic pasta sauce and instant oatmeal.

Thanks to extensive research that has linked eating whole foods with good health, we do know that largely plant-based diets are healthy. Multiple studies have shown that diets heavy on fruits and vegetables can curb or prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Plus, there’s research linking diets high in fruits and veggies to healthy weight management and glowing skin and hair — as if you needed more motivation.

How to Eat Clean

Unprocessed foods include:

— Fresh fruits and vegetables

— Dried legumes

— Nuts and seeds

— Farm-fresh eggs

Minimally processed foods include:

— Unrefined grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice

— Frozen fruits and vegetables

— Unprocessed meat; wild over pastured, pastured over grain-fed

— Hormone-free dairy

— Oils

Pesticide-free organic food is preferable to avoid consuming added hormones or chemicals. It’s also important to note that eating clean doesn’t give you free reign to eat endless quantities. Portion control is a factor, too. They may be healthy, but they still have calories.

Speaking of fruits and veggies, the farmers’ market is still in full swing through mid-November. Here is one of my summer favorites – a seasonal crowd pleaser. It freezes well, too.

Zucchini Lasagne (noodle-free)

2 ½ TB extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

½ tsp. red pepper flakes

1 pound ground turkey or grass-fed beef

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1 (28-ounce) BPA-free can diced tomatoes

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano

2 tsp. salt

2 medium zucchini

1 cup part-skim organic ricotta or soft goat cheese

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a large straight-sided skillet set over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, about 8 minutes. Add the turkey and cook, breaking up any large pieces with the back of a spoon, until brown throughout, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it thickens, about 20 minutes. Stir in the oregano and salt. Let cool.

Slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips (about 1/8 inch thick). Put 5 or 6 zucchini slices, overlapping slightly, in the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Top with 1 cup of the sauce. Dot with 1/4 cup of the ricotta. Repeat the layers twice, alternating the direction of the zucchini. Top with the remaining zucchini and brush the top with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon oil. Dot with the remaining 1/4 cup ricotta and season with the black pepper. Top with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the lasagna is bubbling and the top is brown. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

To freeze, prepare the casserole through step 4. Wrap in foil and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw the casserole overnight in the refrigerator before baking as stated in the recipe. Note that casseroles that have not been completely thawed may take 15 to 30 minutes longer, so be sure to check for bubbling edges and a hot center.

Interested in more Clean Eating? Join Napa Culinary Coach Karen Schuppert’s MeetUp group Sept. 19 at Synergy Wellness Center 5:30 p.m. RSVP at www.meetup.com/Napa-Clean-Eating-Meetup

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