There are so many fad diets and gimmicks out there, but this health coach believes the best way to get healthier, no matter the state your body is in, is to eat clean whole foods. Use this handy guide to get started on your path to eating more real food.
When you think about it, it's quite simple. Why do we obsess over restrictive diets and fads that remove entire macronutrient groups from our diet or make us count the calories in every bite?
Those diets may work in the short term, but long-term health needs to be sustainable for years to come. A healthy diet needs to be focused on crowding out the bad food with nutrient-dense clean food. Think about what you eat and make whole food choices as much as possible.
As a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I have learned why we can't eliminate entire macronutrient groups and why eating a balanced diet is important. It's not about the calories.
Clearly, we all know that we need to eliminate processed food and steer clear of the Standard American Diet (SAD- appropriately named).
What is Clean Eating?
Clean eating means eating simple, whole, unprocessed, and unrefined real foods.
According to the Mayo Clinic, clean eating means eating foods as close to their natural state as possible. That means you are probably good to go if it came out of the ground, is growing on a tree, or is grazing in a pasture.
Eating clean means eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, eggs, whole grains, lean protein, and fish. Some choose to go gluten free, but that is not necessary as long as you stick to whole grains.
Meghan Punda, NP at Nourished + Well, says, “While there may be different variations of clean eating, it generally encourages you to focus on consuming nutrient-dense natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. By avoiding processed foods, you eliminate artificial ingredients, unhealthy fats, added sugars, and inflammatory oils.”
Personally, I am gluten free because I feel better removing it from my diet. You can learn more about that in my Gluten Free Guide.
There are no strict guidelines to eating clean, which can mean different things to different people. This is one of the reasons I love recommending this way of eating to my clients. Just skip the packaged junk food and go for the real stuff.
Some people use the 80/20 rule when eating clean, which means 80% of the time, they eat clean, while the other 20% of the time, they let themselves indulge a bit. I find this balance works really well with health coaching clients. Diets that restrict all "treat" foods tend not to work.
For those clients who may have food intolerances or sensitivities, I like to recommend a Whole30 reset. Whole30 is a strict 30-day diet program focusing on resetting your health and relationship with food. After the thirty days of restriction, there is a ten-day reintroduction of foods where you monitor and assess which foods may have been bothering you.
What are the Benefits of Eating Clean?
Eating a clean diet has many health benefits, including more energy, clearer skin, less brain fog, fewer cravings, weight loss, better mental health, and stronger hair and nails. Who doesn't want that?
Eating whole foods ensures that you get loads of vitamins and minerals that are missing from processed foods. The more variety you eat, the more likely you are to meet your nutritional needs. Eat the rainbow!
Here is just a sampling of the nutrients you get from WHOLE FOODS...
- Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
- Water soluble vitamins like B and C.
- Minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur.
- Trace minerals like copper, chromium, iodine, iron, and zinc.
How To Eat Clean
Start by downloading my Clean Eating Pantry Staples.
So how do you begin a clean eating diet? My number one piece of advice is to take baby steps. It's just like those New Year's Resolutions that don't last! Take one simple action step at a time, and you are likelier to stick with them for the long term.
Sign up for my newsletter here, and get tips sent to your inbox. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, including lots of vegetables and fruit. The funny thing is when you eat lots of fruits and vegetables, you are crowding out all the other processed badness and reducing your exposure to chemicals, hormones, and toxins. You can only eat so much, so try to fill up on the good stuff.
Quick Tips to Get Started Eating Clean Today
- Clean out your pantry - Get rid of all the junk food that is over-processed, often containing white flour and sugar.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, grass-fed meat, nuts, whole grains, seeds, and dairy. Stick to those foods that occur in nature and are not made in a factory! (Smoothies are great for packing in the leafy greens!)
- Limit refined carbohydrates and always opt for whole wheat flour.
- Limit foods made from white flour and white sugar, like pasta, white rice, white bread, pastries, and unhealthy fats. Instead, replace those refined carbs with healthy complex carbs like sweet potatoes, farro, and brown rice.
- If you can, try to buy grass-fed meat.
- Add in some healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds. Avoid vegetable oil.
- When possible, buy organic produce for the EWG Dirty Dozen.
- Meal prep a few easy meals each week.
I promise if you commit to a few baby steps each week, you will start to see results. You might start to have more energy or fewer sugar cravings. Cutting out sugar eliminates sugar cravings for me.
Sample Clean Eating Menu for One Day
Avocado Toast with Microgreens
Spiced Sweet Potato and Kale Salad
1 medium apple with almond butter
Sheet Pan Salmon with Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Print out my Clean Eating Pantry Staples.
Looking for easy clean recipes? Try some of these out...
Clean Eating Resources - All My Favorite Resources for Eating Healthy
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for more information.
Traci | Vanilla And Bean
What a well thought out post on clean eating, Karen, with additional resources to apply it! It's clearly opposite of SAD... which is what I grew up with. I had an epiphany over 25 years ago and started shifting to a vegetarian diet which forced me to make better choices... this is when I learned how to cook too! It's amazing the food discoveries I made along the way which made cooking much more interesting. But I love how you say to limit the bad stuff (we all know what that is). But it's still okay to have it.. just in moderation. Thank you for sharing this and providing so many resources!
Traci thanks so much. Yes I have been eating less meat lately but not totally vegetarian. I feel better when I eat foods that nourish me but it's not always easy to do when I'm in a hurry and trying to please three hungry teenagers!
Ashlyn @ F5 Method
Lots of great thoughts in this post! Definitely a great read and perfect starting point for beginners!
Nice read! This definitely gave me a better understanding about clean eating. Thank you so much for sharing and posting!