“Clean Eating” Explained

“Clean Eating” Explained

Clean eating is a popular way of fueling your body that originally started in the early 2000’s. However, it has seen a surge of popularity in recent years. 

There are some disagreements on what constitutes a “clean diet.” The basic goals of the diet include eating foods that are as close as possible to their natural state. 

Clean eating places an emphasis on making meals from scratch to ensure they are as clean as possible.  It avoids or limits overly processed food, which often contains synthetic ingredients and is usually much higher in fat, sugar and sodium due to added chemicals and preservatives. 

Without unhealthy ingredients getting in the way, clean eating provides your body with healthy vitamins and minerals. Many doctors agree that clean eating diets contribute to better health, improving your heart and plan as well as assisting with weight loss and increasing your energy levels. 

Some clean eating diets are stricter than others, completely cutting out manufactured foods. Other diet options allow some healthier manufactured options while eliminating foods rich in fat and sugar. 

Continue reading to learn more about starting a clean eating diet.

Fruits and Vegetables Are Key

While there are some differences between clean eating diets, there are plenty of similarities. No matter what variant of the diet you choose, fruits and vegetables are a large part of it. 

According to a 2021 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in 10 Americans were getting their recommended servings of daily fruits and vegetables. 

Both are important food groups because they have been shown to reduce the risk of developing several chronic conditions, like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes

Fruits and vegetables are high in healthy fibers, which helps improve your microbiome. This has many positive health effects, such as making your immune system stronger. 

They are also energizing foods and can help combat fatigue and improve your productivity throughout the day.

Focus on Whole Grains

Grains are an important part of the food pyramid. But did you know that there are many grains that contain processed ingredients?

Even whole grains typically feature some extra ingredients, but they are closer to their just-harvested state compared to other options. 

Common examples of whole grains include:

  • Oats
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread

Some of the more extreme diets exclude whole grains because they are still technically processed. While it is possible to cut out grains entirely, it makes planning meals significantly harder.

Purchasing whole grain items can be tricky. Many items are advertised as whole grain, but include extra ingredients. 

Always check the labels. Typically, items that list whole grains as the first ingredients are safe options. The longer the ingredient list, the more likely extra preservatives or sugars were added. 

Whole grain is a great source of fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. It is also a filling option, which is good for any dieter who struggles with cutting out snacks.

Avoiding Sodium

Most people looking to eat healthier know that avoiding fatty foods is key, but fats are not the only unhealthy ingredient to avoid. Clean eating places a greater emphasis on limiting your sodium intake. 

Sodium is responsible for many health conditions, including high blood pressure, kidney disease and diabetes. 

As of writing, the Institute of Medicine recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, but clean eating tries to limit this to 1,500 milligrams or fewer. 

Most packaged foods contain prominent levels of sodium as preservatives, with salt being the primary ingredient. 

If you cook your meals at home, you can reduce sodium levels by replacing salt with healthier herbs and spices. Citrus and vinegar are both popular choices to add flavor to your meals. If you cannot cut out salt entirely, try to use coarse sea or kosher salt.

Cutting Down on Meat

Another common component of clean eating is reducing meat consumption. Some of the stricter diets cut meat out entirely. 

Reducing how much meat you eat can have numerous health benefits, such as:

  • Reducing your blood pressure
  • Managing your weight
  • Making your heart healthier

Cutting down on how often you eat meat can also increase how often you eat healthier food groups.

However, the biggest risk of cutting meat from your diet is finding a suitable source of protein to replace it. Many Americans get their recommended protein from meats. 

While this is an uncomplicated way to get protein, it is not the only option. For a clean diet, eggs, beans, nuts and dairy are all excellent sources of protein. 

If you do not want to cut meat entirely from your diet, focus on grass-fed and wild-caught options. You want to avoid processed meats, such as bacon, sausage and cold cuts.

Limiting Processed Foods

Because clean diets focus on avoiding processed foods, a good way to virtually guarantee eating clean food is by cooking at home. 

Unfortunately, this is not always an option. Cooking at home can be time consuming, and not everyone has access to cookware, equipment, or the necessary ingredients. 

If you cannot cut out processed foods entirely, you can at least try to look for healthy variants. For example, foods like yogurt, cheese and packaged vegetables are technically processed, but they usually only contain a few extra preservatives. 

Salad dressings, pasta sauces, mayonnaise, hummus and soups are also examples of typical cleanly-processed foods. It is important to check the ingredient list and try to avoid any foods high in sugar and refined grains. 

A good indicator when you look at the ingredient list is the number of items and where they are located. 

Ingredient lists start with the highest concentration items. This means if something contains sugar, but it is closer to the bottom of the list, it is likely a small amount. Even healthy options, including fruits and dairy products, contain some sugars.

Tips for Starting a Clean Eating Diet

A common struggle with starting a clean eating diet is finding the right foods. If you have limited access to clean foods at your grocery stores, consider going to a farmer’s market if available.

Locally sourced food is often much healthier and contains low to no preservatives compared to what is sold in grocery stores. It’s also a great way to support your local farming community. 

If you shop at the grocery store, do not fall for diet-labeled items. Diet items may feature less sugars and fats, but they are still packed with preservatives and artificial sweeteners. 

You do not have to immediately transition into clean eating for every meal. Start with a few meals to give your body a chance to adjust, then if it feels like the right diet for you, replace more processed foods with cleaner variants.

A good place to begin a clean eating diet is with nutrient-dense foods. Common examples include:

  • Berries
  • Eggs
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes