What is Clean Eating? A Quick Start Guide – everything you need to know to get started on a clean eating journey for optimum health and weight loss! Includes a FREE Printable Clean Eating Food List.

what is clean eating

Is Clean Eating a Diet?

Short answer – NO, clean eating is not a diet or fad! It’s not about counting calories, obsessing over macros, or consuming nothing but raw veggies and smoothies. Clean eating is a lifestyle that involves awareness and eating a diet consisting mainly of whole, real foods in their natural state. It means making sustainable choices by selecting nutrient-dense foods over processed foods.

What are the Health Benefits of Clean Eating?

When we feed our body well, we also FUEL our body. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. It’s no secret that the standard American diet consisting of large amounts of fast food, soda, and packaged snacks can contribute to a whole host of auto-immune disorders, chronic disease, and inflammation. In a world where convenience takes precedence over health, it can be difficult to take those first steps, but the benefits of clean eating go far beyond the number on a scale. Here are some of the key benefits:

Physical Benefits

  • Weight Management: Clean eating encourages portion control and the consumption of nutrient-dense foods. By reducing the intake of empty calories and processed foods, we are more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Better Digestion: Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are rich in fiber, which aids in digestion and promotes gut health.
  • Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: Clean eating is associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides essential antioxidants and nutrients that support overall health and prevent disease.
  • Regulates Blood Sugar Levels: Eliminating processed foods and sugars can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and providing steady energy throughout the day.
  • Improved Heart Health: The emphasis on whole foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats in clean eating helps lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Clearer Complexion: Processed foods, high in sugar and unhealthy fats, can lead to skin problems such as acne and inflammation. Clean eating promotes a diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, leading to a clearer complexion.
  • Hydration: Clean eating often includes foods with high water content, such as cucumbers, watermelon, and leafy greens, which help keep us hydrated.
  • Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can weaken the immune system. Clean eating emphasizes anti-inflammatory foods, which help keep inflammation in check.
  • Gut Health: A healthy gut is closely linked to a strong immune system. Clean eating promotes gut health by including probiotic-rich foods and fiber to support a healthy microbiome.

Mental Benefits

  • Mood Stabilization: Nutrient-rich foods can help stabilize mood and reduce the risk of mood swings and depression. Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon and flaxseeds, for example, are known to support mental well-being.
  • Improved Cognitive Function: Clean eating provides the brain with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals found in fruits and vegetables can help maintain cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
  • Increased Energy: Eating clean provides a steady source of energy throughout the day, reducing feelings of fatigue and sluggishness. Stable blood sugar levels also contribute to improved focus and concentration.
  • Better Sleep: A diet rich in whole foods can promote better sleep quality. Foods like almonds, cherries, and oats contain compounds that support a restful night’s sleep.

Environmental Benefits

  • Sustainable Practices: Clean eating often involves choosing foods that are grown sustainably, such as organic produce and ethically raised meats. This reduces the environmental impact of agriculture.
  • Reduced Food Waste: By focusing on whole foods and minimizing processed items, clean eating can reduce food waste. Less food waste means fewer resources are wasted in production and disposal.
  • Support for Local Farmers: Many who follow a clean eating diet choose to support local farmers and markets, which can help strengthen local food systems and reduce the environmental impact of long-distance food transportation.

How to Read Food Labels

Your greatest weapon when it comes to eating well is awareness. For me, things didn’t click until I began studying nutrition labels. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to look only at the nutritional profile – the ingredient list is where it’s at! Study the ingredient list, looking for things like added sugars, chemicals, and other additives. Ideally, the list will include no more than five ingredients (just a good rule of thumb!) and they will all be recognizable. If it’s unpronounceable, it’s likely some of sort of chemical additive and doesn’t belong in our bodies.

As a clean eating beginner, I recommend taking your time at the grocery store and studying labels of common products you typically buy. You’ll be surprised where sugar, trans fats, and artificial ingredients are hanging out! Once you become familiar with better choices, it will be easy to build your healthy grocery list.

Foods to Avoid

  • Many packaged convenience foods, snacks, and pre-made meals – this includes things like packaged cookies, pretzels, crackers, bars, breakfast cereals, condiments, etc.
  • Processed meat products.
  • Soda and sweetened beverages, including those with artificial sweeteners.
  • Hydrogenated highly refined vegetable oils – vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, margarine and butter substitutes.
  • Anything else with high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, white flour, artificial flavors, additives, emulsifiers, food dyes, and other artificial ingredients or chemicals as an ingredient.

What Should I Eat?

Instead of the processed fare listed above, stick to these main food groups:

  • Fresh Fruits and Fresh Vegetables – anything goes, the more colorful the better!
  • Lean Protein – chicken, eggs, beef, pork, and fish, preferably from sustainable and organic sources when possible. ButcherBox meats are a great organic source for quality meat.
  • Healthy Fats – olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, avocadoes, olives, nut butters (without added sugar), coconut milk.
  • Whole Grains & Legumes (Plant-based Protein) – quinoa, white and brown rice, farro, oats, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all great options.
  • Dairy products – grass fed butter, ghee, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, raw cheese (not pre-shredded), milk (full fat), and nut milks.

Printable Clean Eating Food List

Click here for the FREE Printable Grocery List! Prefer to do your shopping online? Check out Thrive Market for awesome deals on healthy whole foods, organic options, bulk items like spices, grains, and baking supplies, and plenty of snacks made from clean ingredients.

​Do I have to eat only Organic Foods?

Nope! Clean eating doesn’t mean sourcing only organic foods and ingredients. If it’s in your budget, great! If not, you’ll already be doing your body a whole world of good just by giving up processed foods. Choose locally sourced, in season, and organic foods when possible (focus mainly on meat and the dirty dozen of fruits and veggies) but don’t sweat it if it doesn’t fit your budget.

Are treats allowed?

Sure! It’s important to mention that nothing is ever 100% off limits and it’s just not realistic (or much fun!) to totally deprive ourselves of occasional indulgences. By sticking to the 80/20 rule, you can feel free to occasionally enjoy your favorite treat and then go right back to your whole food plan. It’s also about knowing your own weaknesses and if this is a slippery slope for you, be sure acknowledge your reasons and make mindful choices.

How to Begin Clean Eating

The most logical first step on your clean eating journey is to clean out your fridge and pantry of processed food and ingredients. Download this Free Printable Clean Eating Food List or check out my Clean Eating Pantry Staples to begin!

If you’re not quite ready to go cold turkey, I recommend starting by doing your research (my book is a great reference), collecting recipes, writing a plan, and making small changes. For example, try out some new recipes, make some healthy ingredient swaps, up your veggie intake, etc. Perhaps just tackle one meal a day to start, like dinner. A great starting point is my FREE 5 Day Clean-Eating Meal Plan that you’ll receive by subscribing to my newsletter.

For a more intensive guide, check out my 28 Day Clean Eating Challenge, which includes complete meal plans, shopping lists, and 80+ easy recipes.

Easy Recipes for Clean Eating Beginners

Homemade Taco Seasoning

3 Ingredient Crockpot Chicken Tacos

Greek Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Energy Bites

Easy Blackened Shrimp

Healthy Turkey Sloppy Joes

Be Well,




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