Let’s take a look at what clean eating really is, the benefits of a clean diet, and ways to eat cleaner.
Before we begin, let’s talk about the word choices we use for food. To be clear, there’s no such thing as “dirty eating.” No food on its own is inherently bad, perhaps unless it’s expired or is highly processed. All types of food—whether it be leafy green salads or saucy spaghetti with a delicious piece of restaurant bread—can be enjoyed in moderation. The philosophy behind clean eating is relatively simple. Clean eating encourages the consumption of whole foods, while minimizing or eliminating processed foods that contain added sugars, salts, and artificial ingredients. Benefits of this dietary choice include feeling more energized, improving heart health, and losing weight if that is what is desired (Baker & Walsh, 2020).
While clean eating may be a great option for you if you’re looking to incorporate more whole and natural foods into your diet, researchers also suggest that being too restrictive about your food plan may be detrimental (McCartney, 2016). Eliminating all foods with added sugars or limiting yourself from indulging in cravings from time to time may not only lead to feelings of irritability and increased hunger, but you may end up overeating to compensate or could be at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder (Ambwani et al., 2019).
A good reminder here is to choose a dietary lifestyle that is best for your body and speak with a healthcare provider about any nutritional questions or concerns you may have.
Let’s take a look at some healthy foods to incorporate into your “clean” diet. This list is by no means exhaustive but includes a few options for different forms of macronutrients and micronutrients (USDHHS, 2014).
With carbs, you may want to stick to options that are lower in processed sugars and higher in fiber. Here are some options:
Whole Grain Pasta
Whole Grain Bread
Whole Grain Tortilla
When we talk about different protein options, we want to make sure they are high quality (e.g., organic or grass-fed). Below are options of healthy proteins to try.
Eggs and Egg Whites
Butter and Cream
Beef and Steak
Lean Fish (e.g., tilapia, tuna, trout)
Fatty Fish (e.g., salmon, sardines)
Shellfish and Squid
Most of the healthy fats from which we can derive nutrition are often found in whole, plant-based food options. Here is a list of some healthy fats you may want to include in some of your home recipes.
Peanut Butter or Almond Butter
Nuts (e.g., peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, etc.)
Seeds (e.g., flax, chia, sesame)
Sesame or Flaxseed Oil
Avocados and avocado oil
Coconut and coconut oil
Olives and olive oil
Tips to Get Started
Clean eating isn’t something that can be done overnight and may take time to build up to before adopting it as a lifestyle choice. Here are some tips to help as you start (or continue) a clean eating journey.
Find recipes online and use the ingredients as a guide for your next grocery shopping trip.
Once you have gathered the necessary foods for your recipes, try to set 1-2 days aside a week for meal preparation.
If you’re going out for a meal, try checking the restaurant’s menu online to identify healthy options before you leave.
Hydrate yourself with enough water and avoid sugary drinks.
If you struggle with incorporating vegetables into your diet, start with one or two veggies you do like, such as potatoes and carrots.
Share your clean eating journey with a friend or family member to build social support and accountability.
Revamping your diet can be a challenge, but it is something you can achieve. If you’re looking for a new diet or just to eat healthier, clean eating may be a choice you want to consider. A gentle reminder that clean eating is a lifestyle choice and may take time to get used to. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with clean eating habits, try your best to be kind to yourself and remember to focus on eating in moderation. Hopefully, this article helped you gain a foundational understanding of clean eating and provided tips to start your clean eating journey.
Ambwani, S., Shippe, M., Gao, Z., & Austin, S. B. (2019). Is clean eating a healthy or harmful dietary strategy? Perceptions of clean eating and associations with disordered eating among young adults. Journal of Eating Disorders, 7(1), 1-14.
Baker, S. A., & Walsh, M. J. (2020). You are what you Instagram: clean eating and the symbolic representation of food.
McCartney, M. (2016). Margaret McCartney: Clean eating and the cult of healthism. Bmj, 354.
US Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). US Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 dietary guidelines for Americans. December 2015.