Healthy Clean Eating - Guide and Tips

Bring Food Back to the Basics

Healthy clean eating is the newest “catch phrase”, but what exactly does it mean? When it comes to diets, terms are tossed around like baseballs – we hear things like “whole foods”, “raw foods”, “Mediterranean”, “Paleo”, “low-carb”, “high-carb”, or “plant-based”.

But wait, it gets even more confusing. Now some of these diets have joined forces to create the “raw plant-based meal plan” or the “whole foods Paleolithic lifestyle”. So, is “clean eating” just another name in a seemingly endless list of fads? 

Actually, the idea of “clean eating” is a breath of fresh air in the very muddled and congested world of diet plans. It is simple and inexpensive. You don't have to buy special products or eliminate entire food groups. 

What Is Healthy Clean Eating?

There is a saying: “Everything old is new again”. When it comes to what we put in our bodies, healthy clean eating is the way to go. And, some of the healthiest, most successful snack and meal plans are actually built on the basic concepts of clean eating. So, in essence, it is where every good diet plan begins.

It's simple. Basically, clean eating is based on two principles:

  • Consuming whole, natural foods - keeping foods as close to their natural state as possible, without anything unhealthy added or anything healthy removed.

  • Avoiding food that are processed or contain added unhealthy ingredients such as chemical preservatives, trans fats, sugar, or high amounts of salt.

That's it. Simple, right? But simple does not mean easy. In a culture full of packaged and prepared snacks and meals, it can be hard to make the switch. The Standard American Diet (S.A.D) is...well, as its initials indicate....SAD.

And, too many people have very sick, tired, and “sad” bodies because they are eating a S.A.D diet. Even some of the most popular diet programs include meal replacement bars or packaged snacks that contain a long list of questionable ingredients.

So, healthy clean eating goes back-to-basics. It doesn't focus on counting calories or measuring how much you eat, but rather looks at what food choices you are making. Healthy options from EVERY food group are allowed, while the not-so-healthy choices are limited.

Basically, push rewind and eat how they did about 100 years ago. Only it's easier for us because we have the benefits of modern conveniences to make food preparation easier and faster.

healthy clean eating snacks

Healthy Clean Eating Foods

  • Fruits and Vegetables. The most important principle of clean eating is to consume foods straight from nature, and it doesn't get any more natural than fresh fruits and veggies. They are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they are also low in calories so there is really no limit on how much you can eat. Again, look for whole, unprocessed options like fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Read the ingredient list carefully to make sure that there are no added sugars or preservatives. 
  • Fresh Lean Proteins. Low fat options like poultry and fish are the best, but grass-fed beef once in a while can also be a delicious treat. Look for fresh or frozen meats that have no added ingredients. Choose lean cuts and ask the butcher to grind them for you rather than buying pre-ground meats. If your budget allows, buy organic as much as possible to avoid the hormones and antibiotics often found in conventionally grown meats.       
  • Organic Dairy. The absolute best diary is raw milk, but this is often hard to find and is also illegal in many states. So, your next best option is organic milk and dairy products. Non-organic dairy is full of hormones and antibiotics so it is not technically a “clean” food. And, be sure to choose full-fat options since non-fat or low-fat products often contain some not-so-nice ingredients such as xanthan gum, cellulose gel, sodium alginate, and carrageenan. Plus, they also lack many of the important enzymes needed for proper digestion and absorption. If you eat dairy in moderation, the extra fat is not harmful (in fact, you need some fat to function).        
  •  Whole Grains. Whole grains are more filling and nutritious because they still contain both the bran and the germ. Choose options like brown rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, and organic whole wheat or rye. While breads and pastas should be limited, you do not have to avoid them altogether. Just look for whole grain options, and read the ingredient list to make sure that there isn't some white or processed flour thrown into the mix.

  • Healthy Fats. There was a time when low-fat diets were very popular, but many doctors have since discovered that fat really isn't as evil as we once thought. Processed oils can be very unhealthy, but the naturally occurring fats in fresh meat, olive oil, avocado, and nuts can be quite beneficial to your body.

  •  Wine in Moderation. Red wine is full of antioxidants, but you should limit yourself to no more than one glass a day.

  • Water. Water is very important in cleansing and detoxifying the body. Every organ in your body needs pure water to function properly. Make sure to drink about 2 liters a day.

Foods to Avoid (aka: “dirty foods”)

  • Pre-packaged and Prepared Meat. A lot of prepared or boxed meats have been processed or have added ingredients such as salt, artificial flavorings, and chemical preservatives. Get your meat as fresh and natural as possible.
  • Refined Grains.  White flour and refined grain products such as breads, pastas, crackers, and cereals have been stripped of their healthy ingredients and contain many not-so-healthy replacements like sugar, salt, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors. Replace white rice with brown rice, white bread with whole grain bread, and boxed cereal with oatmeal. Sprouted grain breads and cereals are also a great option.

  • Unhealthy and Processed Fats. Stay away from anything containing hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Avoid fried food and highly processed products like margarine or butter substitutes. Many bottled salad dressings are also full of chemicals such as potassium sorbate, polysorbate, calcium disodium EDTA, and silicon dioxide. Sounds yummy, doesn't it?      
  • Refined Sugar. Limit foods with added sugars like soda, candy, flavored yogurt, cookies, or sports drinks. Some tomato sauces, boxed cereals, condiments (ketchup and mayo), and canned soups also contain a high amount of added sugar. Buy sugar free products and add your own fruit or natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.

  • Refined Salt. Eating too much salt can cause a lot of health problems and many of today's packaged and prepared foods contain far more than the daily recommended amount. You can try flavoring your food with healthy herbs and spices, but there is no need to cut salt out completely. Instead, switch out your table salt for healthier choices such as sea salt or Himalayan rock salt that contain many beneficial trace minerals.
  • Alcohol. While one glass of red wine a day is beneficial, most alcohol is not considered “clean” because if its dehydrating properties. Plus, many mixed drinks are made with added sugar and food colorings.

  • Chemicals and Preservatives. Many packaged and prepared products contain food coloring, artificial sweeteners, MSG, preservatives, and a whole host of other chemicals listed as “thickeners”, “stabilizers”, “anti-clumping agents”, or “flavor enhancers”.

  • Genetically Modified Foods (GMO). Many foods have been altered so they can grow bigger and faster and withstand things like weather and insects. While this sounds like a good thing, some GMO products have been changed so much that our bodies cannot process them. In fact, they often reject them, leading to the development of many allergies and illnesses. Add in the fact that many crops are sprayed with pesticides and man-made fertilizers, and you end up with very “dirty” food. Whenever possible, look for non-GMO products. Organic produce has not been genetically altered and many health-conscious companies are now including “non-GMO” symbols on their packaging to let you know that they do not use genetically modified ingredients.

healthy clean eating sushi combination

Healthy Clean Eating Tips

1. Read Labels. It is probably unrealistic to think that you are never going to buy anything that is bagged, boxed, or canned. In fact, some of these products are actually quite healthy. It is possible to find pasta that in simply water and lentils, or cereal that is made from sprouted whole grains.

But, you also have to be careful about marketing schemes that advertise products as “low sodium”, “zero trans fats”, “sugar free”, “whole grain”, or “light”. Low sodium does not mean chemical free. Zero trans fats does not guarantee that healthy fats were used. Sugar free often means that dangerous artificial sweeteners were added. And, whole grain does not mean that the product doesn't contain refined white flour. In fact, a company can say “made with whole grains” even if the product contains less than 5% whole grains.

The best way to clean up your diet it to read the labels – carefully! If there is a long list of ingredients, you should probably avoid it. Especially if there are a lot of things you can't pronounce or don't recognize as real food. “Clean” products usually contain no more than 3-6 ingredients – the fewer the better. Remember, the goal is to eat as close to natural as possible, and you don't really need an ingredient list for an apple, or a cucumber, or a bag of oats, do you?

2. Go Organic. Organic food can be expensive, although the prices are coming down as the demand is increasing. If organic options are not available, or if you cannot afford to buy everything organic, then at least try to splurge on the most important (and most contaminated) items such as meat, eggs, dairy, and certain fruits and veggies (The top 10 include: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap peas, potatoes, hot peppers, and kale). If organic isn't possible, be sure to wash all your produce with a fruit and veggie cleaner to remove as many of the pesticides as possible.

3  Eat Seasonal. Buying local produce when it is in season is less expensive so you can eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies without spending a fortune.

4. Pack Clean Snacks. Make up little containers of unsalted nuts, homemade trail mix, fresh veggies and hummus or any other tasty snack that will satisfy your hunger while also helping you avoid the fast food restaurants or vending machines.

5. Do-It-Yourself. Make your own granola bars or cookies using healthy ingredients like whole grain flour and natural sweeteners. Find interesting recipes online to keep things exciting. Since eating clean is so simple, it really isn't a lot of work to prepare your own meals and snacks. This way you will know exactly what is in the food you and your family are eating.

6. Allow a Cheat Day. Clean eating is about adopting a lifestyle of healthy choices – it is not about depriving yourself. Give yourself one day, or one meal, a week to eat whatever you want. You might even find after a while that the treats that used to tempt you aren't quite as tasty as you remembered. Most people find that the 80:20 rule (80% clean eating: 20% cheat eating) works quite well. 

Healthy Clean Eating

Whether you want to lose weight or improve your health, cleaning up your diet is the first step in meeting your goals. You can exercise all you want – and exercise is important – but if you don't make healthy food choices you will just keep going around in circles. Healthy clean eating is simple because it doesn't involve counting calories or following special plans. All you have to do is replace processed and refined foods with whole, natural, and nutrient packed foods and it won't be long before you notice the difference that clean eating can make.

Other pages that might interest you:

I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.

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