The term “clean eating” has become very popular in the health community.
It’s a diet pattern that focuses on fresh, whole foods. This lifestyle can be easy and enjoyable as long as you follow a few general guidelines.
Here are 11 simple tips to start eating clean.
What is clean eating?
Clean eating doesn’t have anything to do with food being clean or dirty.
It simply involves choosing minimally processed, real foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits.
The idea is to consume foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
Selecting ethical and sustainable foods is also a part of clean eating.
SUMMARY Clean eating involves choosing foods that are minimally processed, ethically raised, and rich in naturally occurring nutrients.
1. Eat more vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are undeniably healthy.
They’re loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that help fight inflammation and protect your cells from damage (1).
Fresh vegetables and fruits are ideal for clean eating, as most can be consumed raw immediately after picking and washing.
Choosing organic produce can help you take clean eating one step further by reducing pesticide exposure and potentially boosting your health (6).
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet:
- Make your salads as colorful as possible, including at least three different vegetables in addition to greens.
- Add berries, chopped apples, or orange slices to your favorite dishes.
- Wash and chop veggies, toss them with olive oil and herbs, and place them in a container in your refrigerator for easy access.
SUMMARY Vegetables and fruits should form the basis of a clean eating lifestyle. These whole foods require little preparation and provide many health benefits.
2. Limit processed foods
Processed foods are directly opposed to the clean eating lifestyle, as they’ve been modified from their natural state.
Most processed items have lost some of their fiber and nutrients but gained sugar, chemicals, or other ingredients. What’s more, processed foods have been linked to inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease (7).
Even if unhealthy ingredients aren’t added to these goods, they still lack many of the benefits provided by whole foods.
Eating clean involves avoiding processed foods as much as possible.
3. Read labels
Although clean eating is based on whole, fresh foods, certain types of packaged foods can be included, such as packaged vegetables, nuts, and meat.
However, it’s important to read labels to make sure there aren’t any preservatives, added sugars, or unhealthy fats.
For instance, many nuts are roasted in vegetable oil, which can expose them to heat-related damage. It’s best to eat raw nuts — or roast them on your own at a low temperature.
Additionally, pre-washed salad mixes can save time but may harbor additives — especially in the salad dressing that’s often included.
SUMMARYTo maintain a clean eating lifestyle, read labels to ensure that packaged produce, nuts, meats, and other foods contain no questionable ingredients.
4. Stop eating refined carbs
Refined carbs are highly processed foods that are easy to overeat yet provide little nutritional value.
In one study in 2,834 people, those who consumed mostly whole grains were less likely to have excess belly fat than those who focused on refined grains (13).
If you eat grains, choose the least processed kinds, such as sprouted grain bread and steel-cut oats. Stay away from ready-to-eat cereals, white bread, and other refined carbs.
SUMMARYRefined grains are inflammatory, as they lack fiber and other valuable nutrients. To eat clean, choose minimally processed grains — or avoid them altogether.
5. Avoid vegetable oils and spreads
Vegetable oils and margarines don’t meet the criteria for clean eating.
For starters, they’re produced via chemical extraction, making them highly processed.
Some oils also contain high levels of the omega-6 fat linoleic acid. Studies in animals and isolated cells suggest that it increases inflammation, potentially raising your risk of weight gain and heart disease (14, 15, 16).
Although clean eating discourages all vegetable oils and spreads, it’s important to eat a moderate amount of healthy fats. These include fatty fish, nuts, and avocado. If you can’t avoid vegetable oils completely, choose olive oil.
SUMMARYMargarines and some vegetable oils are highly processed and linked to an increased risk of disease. Opt for healthy, minimally processed oils and fats.
6. Steer clear of added sugar in any form
It’s vital to avoid added sugar if you’re trying to eat clean. Yet, added sugar is very common — and even found in foods that don’t taste particularly sweet, like sauces and condiments.
Both table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are high in fructose.
Depending on your health, you can occasionally eat small amounts of natural sugar — such as honey or maple syrup — while eating clean.
However, if you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or similar health issues, it’s best to avoid all forms of concentrated sugar — including those from natural sources.
Moreover, even natural sugar sources contribute very little nutritional value.
For truly clean eating, try to consume foods in their natural, unsweetened state. Learn to appreciate the sweetness of fruit and the subtle flavors of nuts and other whole foods.
SUMMARYSugar is highly processed and linked to several health problems. If you’re trying to eat clean, use small amounts of natural sweeteners occasionally or avoid sugar altogether.
7. Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol is made by adding yeast to crushed grains, fruits, or vegetables and allowing the mixture to ferment.
Moderate intakes of certain types of alcohol — particularly wine — may boost your heart health (27).
However, frequent alcohol consumption has been shown to promote inflammation and may contribute to a number of health problems, such as liver disease, digestive disorders and excess belly fat (28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34).
When following a clean eating lifestyle, minimize or eliminate your alcohol intake.
SUMMARYAlthough moderate wine intake may help protect heart health, alcohol is linked to an increased risk of several diseases. Alcohol consumption should be restricted when practicing clean eating.
8. Substitute vegetables in recipes
You can boost your health by replacing refined grains with veggies in recipes.
For example, cauliflower can be chopped finely to mimic rice, mashed like potatoes, or used in pizza crust.
What’s more, spaghetti squash is a natural replacement for pasta because it separates into long, thin strands after cooking. Zucchini makes great noodles as well.
SUMMARY When eating clean, replace pasta, rice, and other refined grains with vegetables to boost the nutritional value of your meal.
9. Avoid packaged snack foods
You should steer clear of packaged snack foods if you’re trying to eat clean.
Crackers, granola bars, muffins, and similar snack foods typically contain refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients.
These processed foods provide little nutritional value.
To avoid grabbing these items when you get hungry between meals, make sure to have healthy snacks on hand.
SUMMARY Instead of packaged snack foods made from refined grains, choose nutrient-dense whole foods like nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
10. Make water your primary beverage
Water is the healthiest and most natural beverage you can drink.
It harbors no additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners, or other questionable ingredients. By definition, it’s the cleanest beverage you can drink.
Water can keep you hydrated and may also help you achieve a healthy weight (37).
By contrast, sugar-sweetened beverages have consistently been linked to diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. What’s more, fruit juice may cause many of the same problems due to its high sugar content (38, 39).
Unsweetened coffee and tea are also good choices and provide several health benefits, but people who are sensitive to caffeine may need to moderate their intake.
SUMMARYWater is incredibly healthy and should be your main beverage when following a clean eating lifestyle.
11. Choose food from ethically raised animals
In addition to fresh, unprocessed foods, clean eating involves selecting food that comes from ethically raised animals.
Livestock are often raised in crowded, unsanitary factory farms. The animals are typically given antibiotics to prevent infection and injected with hormones like estrogen and testosterone to maximize growth (40).
Moreover, most cattle on industrial farms are fed grains rather than their natural diet of grass. Studies show that grass-fed beef is higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and antioxidants than grain-fed beef (41, 42, 43).
Humanely raised meat is often better for your health and the planet as a whole.
SUMMARY Choosing meat from animals raised humanely on small farms is consistent with clean eating principles.
The bottom line
Clean eating emphasizes fresh, nutritious, and minimally processed foods.
This way of eating can not only boost your health but also help you appreciate foods’ natural flavors.
In addition, it supports sustainable agriculture and environmentally sound food practices.