What Is Clean Eating And How Can I Start Today

Last updated on : June 23 2021

Brightly colored cut-open fruit

What Is Clean Eating

Clean eating is a diet based on eating whole food fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Supplementing with lean proteins and healthy fats and avoiding processed foods like junk foods, snacks, sweets, and other packaged foods.

The diet encourages eating fresh food close to its natural state and eliminating processed foods to gain maximal nutritional value. It also encourages eating raw and ethically raised and organic food because foods in this category tend to be richer in naturally occurring nutrients and are healthier for the environment.

Variations of the diet may exclude meat and dairy products, gluten, and some grains. 

This article covers all you need to know if you are ready to set out on the clean eating path to healthy living. You can jump to the different sections here. 

1. Foods To Eat On A Clean Diet

Table full of fruit and vegetable

Eat whole foods and ethically raised unprocessed meats and fish.

Whole foods are unprocessed plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - try to choose organic. Supplement the whole foods you eat with ethically raised meats like poultry, pork, beef or fish, and dairy, all unprocessed.

Ensure you get balanced carbs, fats, and proteins.  

Eat More Fruit And Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables come loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients. They're good for you and protect your health. As a result, they should form the building blocks of your clean eating regime. Some fruits are also excellent for weight loss

Try to eat raw and organic as this is closest to their natural state and their healthiest. Ensure your choice of vegetables includes the most nutritious leafy green vegetables

Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are healthy if they come unprocessed or minimally processed without additives, especially sugar and salt. Examine the label if you are unsure. 

Eat More Whole Grains

To eat clean properly, don't eat refined grains. Instead, eat grains like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye in their whole, unprocessed form. Whole grains come packed with healthy carbs, providing more nutrients and fiber, and health benefits.   

However, whole grains can be complicated to find. Always check the product label, look for the word "whole" on the package, and make sure whole grains appear among the first items in the ingredient list.

The easiest way to get more whole grains is to substitute your existing breakfast cereal for whole-grain cereal, swap white rice for brown rice, barley, or quinoa, replace white bread with wholewheat bread. Also, add whole grains to soups, stews, casseroles, and salads. 

You can also look for whole-wheat or grain versions of pasta, pizza dough, or savories and desserts. Again, be sure that whole-wheat or whole-grain is amongst the first ingredients, with no added sugar or salt

Choose Protein Carefully

Meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish can be super-healthy protein sources. Additionally, many fish contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

However, to ensure you follow clean eating principles, try to eat only ethically raised meat and fish that isn't processed. Or refrain from eating it at all. It's an unavoidable truth that one of the best things you can do to protect the environment is to stop eating meat.  

If you decide to eat meat or fish, try to go local and sustainable, and avoid processed cuts like sausages, salamis, cold meats, and hotdogs. These are usually high in sodium and unhealthy additives and chemicals. 

Finding meat or fish raised ethically in your supermarket means understanding the complicated welfare labels, which are often confusing and misleading. The advice in this article will help.  

Alternative protein sources to meat and fish are eggs, including the yolk. Plus nuts, seeds, and beans, all great sources of plant-based proteins.

Dairy is also a good source of protein.  

But Choose Dairy Carefully Too

Most dairy is technically not clean. 

Pasteurized milk is processed, and so is not clean, as are all products prepared from pasteurized milk. However, raw milk is often not available and is illegal in some states, so if you choose to eat milk products, you have no choice. 

Given the above, choose only full-fat cheeses as these are least likely to be processed. Avoid all fake cheeses like cheese spreads and reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses. Cottage cheese is technically not clean, too, as it undergoes a degree of processing. However, it's considered healthy and is an excellent source of low-fat non-meat protein. 

For yogurts, choose plain yogurt (either regular or Greek) over flavored yogurts as these are high in added sugar.

Non-dairy alternatives include unprocessed coconut milk (find it in a can if not fresh), unsweetened almond, hazelnut, or soy milk. Always go for organic.

If in doubt, check the labels for clues and ingredients. 

2. Foods To Avoid

mcdonalds junk food menu

In addition to prepacked processed foods, this category includes refined carbs, processed oils and spreads, diet foods, sugar, and salt.

Avoid Processed Foods

Clean eating looks explicitly to avoid all processed and prepackaged foods because they are modified and no longer represent their natural state. 

Additionally, most processed foods are low in fiber and nutrients and high in sugar, salt, and chemical additives. Research also links processed foods to inflammation and heart disease, another good reason to avoid it.  

Typically processed food includes junk food, TV dinners, and other ready-made or prepackaged food, snacks, sodas, sweets, chocolates, and condiments. Avoid all of these, and for hydration consume more water and water dense foods.

However, other sources of processed food are less noticeable. These include refined grains, vegetable oils, spreads, diet foods, added sugar, and sodium.  

Don't Eat Refined Grains

Refined grains include white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, sweet desserts, and many kinds of breakfast cereal. 

We exclude them from our clean eating diet because they are highly processed and stripped of their nutrient, bran, and fiber content. Additionally, refined grains may lead to health issues like inflammation and obesity

Instead, eat grains like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye in their whole, unprocessed form, providing more nutrients and fiber, and health benefits.

Don't Eat Vegetable Oils and Spreads

Vegetable oils and spreads, including margarine, don't comply with clean eating principles because these are processed foods. 

If you can't avoid vegetable oils altogether, choose olive oil.

Avoid Diet Foods

People looking to lose weight typically eat foods known as 'diet foods.' These include weight loss drinks, diet sodas, and even low-fat dressings.

However, diet foods often contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and sugar. And they can be highly processed. As a result, they don't fit into your new clean food regime, and could also be unhealthy for you.

Instead, try non-diet foods like full-fat yogurt. 

Read More: 13 "Healthy Foods" To Stop Eating 

Watch For Added Sugar

Added sugar (table sugar or high fructose corn syrup) is a refined food and, as a result, doesn't fit well into any clean eating regime. It also isn't right for you. 

Sugar provides calories, but with no nutrients and plays a role in many health afflictions, including obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and cancer, among other health problems, and so is best avoided.  

To cut down on your sugar intake, reduce the consumption of foods with added sugar. Soda, sweets, cakes, snacks, junk foods, and sauces and condiments all contain high added sugar levels - so avoid. 

If you're craving something sweet, learn to appreciate the sweetness of fresh whole fruit (and vegetables). Although fruit contains high fructose levels, it's safe to eat in entire fruit - because most fruits are high in fiber, water, take some chewing to eat and a while to digest, resulting in slower absorption of fructose.

Additionally, it's hard to overeat fresh whole fruit because it is so filling, avoiding an overdose of fructose. 

However, avoid fresh fruit juices or even fruit smoothies and dried fruit. These choices are too concentrated, providing not only faster absorption of fructose, but significantly more of it.  

You can also replace refined sugar sources with honey, which is high in antioxidants and has some health benefits. However, you should also avoid too much because it still has significant sugar and calorie content.

Although the American Heart Association advises no more than nine teaspoons a day for men (150 calories) and six (100 calories) for women, there is no need for added sugar in your diet, and the less you eat, the better.

Consume Less Sodium

Most of the salt (sodium) in our diets comes from commercially prepared or processed foods - used to add flavor or preserve. And not from the salt we add from cooking at home. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, kidney disease, and even diabetes. 

So stick to your clean eating principles by eliminating processed foods, and you will be naturally reducing your overall sodium intake.   

3. Read labels

Food label from tinned soup can

Eating clean can still have you eating some packaged food - healthy nuts, vegetables, or salads often come prepacked.

For the prepacked food you choose, take the time to go through the list of ingredients.

Long lists with unfamiliar ingredients should be a red flag, as would any other additives we've written about already, like vegetable oil, salt, or chemicals.  

4. Limit Alcohol Consumption

If you must take alcohol, make sure that it is in moderate amounts.

Certain alcohol types like wine could be beneficial to your heart and are on the cleaner end of the spectrum, compared to beer or a cocktail.

But generally, excessive alcohol intake leads to several health challenges. You can easily avoid those by limiting your alcohol intake.  

5. Cook More

people preparing healthy clean food

Cooking your food at home could be the single most crucial point to note about eating clean—the majority of harmful foods we consume come from restaurants and fast food outlets.

Thus, preparing your meals cuts the risk of harm from these sources ta a minimum. 

It might not be practical to cook as often as you'd like. You may have a busy schedule or dislike cooking generally. However, as much as possible, make sure that you prioritize preparing healthy meals for yourself. 

Clean eating also includes paying attention to what you eat when out. Do not let all of your hardworking go down the drain when eating out. Focus on fresh produce, healthy fats, and oils when ordering or eating out to keep you within the clean eating perimeter. 

6. Exercise More

person getting exercise

Exercise is critical, regardless of how you eat. However, it compliments a clean eating diet perfectly, and you should practice it regularly.


Clean eating is an investment that will yield endless benefits in the long run. With these simple changes to your lifestyle, you may be impacting the length and quality of your life. The great thing is that it is not too late to begin. You can start right now.

However, as with any lifestyle changes, please consult your healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet or exercise regime. 

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the questions asked most frequently by our readers.

What does clean eating do to your body?

Eating clean often yields improved cognitive function, increased energy, decreased digestive problems, healthy weight loss, and more. These benefits are the most significant if you've replaced excessive junk and processed foods with clean foods in your diet. But to see benefits, you have to stick to a clean eating plan for a few weeks minimum.  

Can you lose weight just by eating clean?

Dedicate yourself to the clean eating lifestyle, and you could lose about 3 pounds a week, depending on your diet before. 

How long does it take for clean eating to work?

Many factors, including your starting size, previous diet, and your new eating plan, will make a big difference. However, many people see results in one to two weeks when they stick to a clean eating plan.

Are eggs clean eating?

You can eat eggs on a clean food diet, but ensure they are from chickens naturally and sustainably raised, and organic. 

Is rice clean eating?

Processed white rice is not clean eating. Eat unprocessed brown rice, barley, or quinoa instead of white rice.   

Is pasta clean eating?

Yes, but only pasta made from whole-wheat. Check the label to ensure it is.

Is cheese clean eating?

Although there are many different interpretations of clean eating, milk, and dairy foods are whole, nutrient-dense, natural foods that can be part of clean eating. For cheeses, ensure full fat and unprocessed. 

Is yogurt clean eating?

Yogurt, either greek or regular, is clean eating as long as it contains no additives, artificial flavoring, coloring, and sweeteners. 

Are potatoes clean eating?

Including a wide variety of nutritious whole vegetables and fruits in your diet is an essential part of eating clean. Colorful options like berries, greens, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens are excellent examples of foods to eat, packed with potent plant compounds and nutrients essential for health.

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Editor: Charles Fitzgerald

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