The term “clean eating” has become very popular in the health community.
It’s a diet pattern that focuses on fresh, whole foods. This lifestyle can be easy and enjoyable as long as you follow a few general guidelines.
Clean eating doesn’t have anything to do with food being clean or dirty.
It simply involves choosing minimally processed, real foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits.
The idea is to consume foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
Selecting ethical and sustainable foods is also a part of clean eating.
Vegetables and fruits are undeniably healthy.
They’re loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that help fight inflammation and protect your cells from damage (1Trusted Source).
In fact, many large observational studies link high fruit and vegetable intake to a reduced risk of illnesses like cancer and heart disease (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
Fresh vegetables and fruits are ideal for clean eating, as most can be consumed raw immediately after picking and washing.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet:
- Make your salads as colorful as possible, including at least three different vegetables in addition to greens.
- Add berries, chopped apples, or orange slices to your favorite dishes.
- Wash and chop veggies, toss them with olive oil and herbs, and place them in a container in your refrigerator for easy access.
Processed foods are directly opposed to the clean eating lifestyle, as they’ve been modified from their natural state.
Most processed items have lost some of their fiber and nutrients but gained sugar, chemicals, or other ingredients. What’s more, processed foods have been linked to inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease (7Trusted Source).
Even if unhealthy ingredients aren’t added to these goods, they still lack many of the benefits provided by whole foods.
Eating clean involves avoiding processed foods as much as possible.
Although clean eating is based on whole, fresh foods, certain types of packaged foods can be included, such as packaged vegetables, nuts, and meat.
For instance, many nuts are roasted in vegetable oil, which can expose them to heat-related damage. It’s best to eat raw nuts — or roast them on your own at a low temperature.
Additionally, pre-washed salad mixes can save time but may harbor additives — especially in the salad dressing that’s often included.
Refined carbs are highly processed foods that are easy to overeat yet provide little nutritional value.
In one study in 2,834 people, those who consumed mostly whole grains were less likely to have excess belly fat than those who focused on refined grains (13Trusted Source).
If you eat grains, choose the least processed kinds, such as sprouted grain bread and steel-cut oats. Stay away from ready-to-eat cereals, white bread, and other refined carbs.
For starters, they’re produced via chemical extraction, making them highly processed.
Some oils also contain high levels of the omega-6 fat linoleic acid. Studies in animals and isolated cells suggest that it increases inflammation, potentially raising your risk of weight gain and heart disease (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
Although clean eating discourages all vegetable oils and spreads, it’s important to eat a moderate amount of healthy fats. These include fatty fish, nuts, and avocado. If you can’t avoid vegetable oils completely, choose olive oil.
It’s vital to avoid added sugar if you’re trying to eat clean. Yet, added sugar is very common — and even found in foods that don’t taste particularly sweet, like sauces and condiments.
Both table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are high in fructose.
Studies suggest that this compound may play a role in obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and cancer, among other health problems (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24, 25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).
Depending on your health, you can occasionally eat small amounts of natural sugar — such as honey or maple syrup — while eating clean.
However, if you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or similar health issues, it’s best to avoid all forms of concentrated sugar — including those from natural sources.
Moreover, even natural sugar sources contribute very little nutritional value.
For truly clean eating, try to consume foods in their natural, unsweetened state. Learn to appreciate the sweetness of fruit and the subtle flavors of nuts and other whole foods.
Alcohol is made by adding yeast to crushed grains, fruits, or vegetables and allowing the mixture to ferment.
However, frequent alcohol consumption has been shown to promote inflammation and may contribute to a number of health problems, such as liver disease, digestive disorders and excess belly fat (28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).
When following a clean eating lifestyle, minimize or eliminate your alcohol intake.
You can boost your health by replacing refined grains with veggies in recipes.
For example, cauliflower can be chopped finely to mimic rice, mashed like potatoes, or used in pizza crust.
What’s more, spaghetti squash is a natural replacement for pasta because it separates into long, thin strands after cooking. Zucchini makes great noodles as well.
You should steer clear of packaged snack foods if you’re trying to eat clean.
Crackers, granola bars, muffins, and similar snack foods typically contain refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients.
These processed foods provide little nutritional value.
To avoid grabbing these items when you get hungry between meals, make sure to have healthy snacks on hand.
Water is the healthiest and most natural beverage you can drink.
It harbors no additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners, or other questionable ingredients. By definition, it’s the cleanest beverage you can drink.
Water can keep you hydrated and may also help you achieve a healthy weight (37Trusted Source).
By contrast, sugar-sweetened beverages have consistently been linked to diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. What’s more, fruit juice may cause many of the same problems due to its high sugar content (38Trusted Source, 39Trusted Source).
Unsweetened coffee and tea are also good choices and provide several health benefits, but people who are sensitive to caffeine may need to moderate their intake.
In addition to fresh, unprocessed foods, clean eating involves selecting food that comes from ethically raised animals.
Livestock are often raised in crowded, unsanitary factory farms. The animals are typically given antibiotics to prevent infection and injected with hormones like estrogen and testosterone to maximize growth (40Trusted Source).
Moreover, most cattle on industrial farms are fed grains rather than their natural diet of grass. Studies show that grass-fed beef is higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and antioxidants than grain-fed beef (41Trusted Source, 42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).
Humanely raised meat is often better for your health and the planet as a whole.
Clean eating emphasizes fresh, nutritious, and minimally processed foods.
This way of eating can not only boost your health but also help you appreciate foods’ natural flavors.
In addition, it supports sustainable agriculture and environmentally sound food practices.