Clean eating is simply a dietary approach that focuses on eating unprocessed foods in their most natural state. Generally speaking, any food that comes straight from the ground, a tree, or an animal is considered clean, while food that has been processed is the opposite of clean.
Clean eating is a concept made famous by the likes of Tosca Reno and Ella Mills. It’s a term used to describe eating habits that focus on whole nutritious foods. Clean foods are what you would find around the perimeter of the grocery store or at the farmer’s market.
In mathematical terms, a calorie is a calorie. But inside the body, a calorie is not really a calorie. One hundred calories from a Twinkie will not fuel or heal your body the same way as one hundred calories from a bowl of berries.
The Best 7 Tips for Clean Eating
1. Eat More Whole Grains
Refined carbs, like white bread, pasta, and rice, lose nutrients during the manufacturing process. Trade them for whole wheat bread and pasta and brown or wild rice. Or opt for other whole grains like oatmeal, popcorn, barley, or bulgur. This change can have a big impact: Studies show that a diet high in whole grains can lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.
2. Load Up On Produce
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, most of us aren't getting enough. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of Americans don't get enough fruit each day and a whopping 87 percent aren't eating enough servings of vegetables. Eating more fruit and vegetables can help significantly reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. The fiber in whole produce also helps keep your microbiome (the collection of good bacteria that live in your gut) happy, which can reduce your risk for autoimmune diseases, fight off pathogens and infections and even improve your mood.
3. Drink a gallon of water a day
Research shows that water is a catalyst for metabolism, and therefore weight loss. Because every single cell in your body uses water, it helps your entire body function correctly. It’s hard to imagine that a tasteless, calorie-less substance could have so many benefits, but it really does!
Now, a gallon may seem like a lot of water, but if you drink a 16-oz glass when you wake up, before each meal and snack, and before and after your workout, you’ll meet your recommendations.
4. Eat Less Meat
More and more research suggests cutting back on meat is healthier for you and the planet. Veganism isn't a requirement for clean eating though—just eating less meat can help reduce your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease and help keep your weight in check. Plus, eating more plants helps bump up the fiber, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals in your diet.
Most Americans get much more than the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (approximately 56 grams daily for men and 46 grams daily for women) and it's easy to get that much protein eating a vegetarian or even vegan diet. Eggs, dairy (with no added sugar and simple ingredients) beans and nuts all offer protein—see our list of top vegetarian protein sources for even more options.
5. Load Up on Fruits and Veggies
These natural foods are two staples of clean eating. Some clean eaters say all your produce should be fresh. But others say that frozen and canned options are the next best thing, since they have just as many nutrients. Just read the label to make sure you’re not getting extra sugar or salt. Also choose whole fruits instead of juices, which have less fiber and more sugar. Aim to get at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
6. Limit Sugar
Most people eat too many added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. The average American gets about 4 times that amount—28 teaspoons of added sugar per day. To clean up your diet, cut down on added sugars by limiting sweets like soda, candy and baked goods. But it's more than just desserts—keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain), tomato sauce and cereal.
7. Don’t eat the white stuff
White rice, white bread, white flour, white pasta, and white tortillas are not part of the clean eating repertoire as they’ve been “refined” (processed) and stripped of much of their natural nutrition. Manufacturers remove the most nutritious parts of the wheat and bleach it to make it white.
White carbohydrates also cause a huge surge in blood sugar levels shortly after ingestion, leading to insulin overload. If you still feel hungry after eating white bread, it’s because of this sugar surge followed by a sugar crash.