Though the concept of clean eating has recently gained traction, it’s also associated with negative connotations. Instead of focusing on clean eating, try making small, practical changes to your diet.
The term “clean eating” has become very popular in the health community, but the term that should mean eating whole foods is now associated with food shaming.
To keep things simple, focus less on using trending terms and more on making small changes like eating minimally processed foods.
Doing so does not have to include emptying your kitchen cabinets and starting from scratch but rather adding more fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-dense foods to your plate.
Clean eating has nothing 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.
Additionally, eating foods that are grown more environmentally conscious is a part of the concept of clean eating.
However, when making decisions about food, nutrition, and health, try focusing primarily on what’s practical and doable for you.
Also, it may be easier to start by doing one small thing at a time, which can be less overwhelming.
Here are 11 tips to try when choosing to eat more healthfully.
Vegetables and fruits are undeniably rich in nutrients.
They’re loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that help fight inflammation and protect your cells from damage (
In fact, many large observational studies link high fruit and vegetable intake to a reduced risk of conditions like cancer and heart disease (
Fresh vegetables and fruits are ideal for clean eating, as most can be consumed raw immediately after picking and washing.
Choosing organic produce can help you reduce exposure to pesticides. However, eating more fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether it be organic or conventional, is beneficial for your health when compared to eating them in limited quantities (
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 fruits such as apples, strawberries, watermelon, grapes, or tangerines to your salad.
- Top your oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt with berries, bananas, or plums.
- Wash and chop veggies, toss them with olive oil and herbs, and place them in a container in your refrigerator for easy access.
- Add spinach, kale, collards, or squash to your soups and stews.
- Choose frozen or canned versions when cooking as they can be more affordable and make meal prep easier.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet involves choosing foods that are minimally processed and rich in naturally occurring nutrients.
Ultra-processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of heart issues, so try to limit their consumption. These foods can contain added sugar, artificial colors, stabilizers, or preservatives.
Examples include salty snacks like chips, packaged cookies, and fast food, which may have undergone chemical and physical processes (
Most processed items have lost some of their fiber and nutrients but gained added sugars, sodium, and other ingredients meant to preserve them and make them taste more appealing (
When reading labels, look for items with the least amount of added ingredients — especially ones that you don’t recognize.
That includes items tagged “natural,” because even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the term should mean nothing artificial or synthetic has been added to a food that wouldn’t normally be expected, that doesn’t include food production methods like the use of pesticides.
Furthermore, the FDA doesn’t consider the term “natural” when describing nutritional or health benefits (
Ultra-processed foods can lack nutrients and may contain ingredients like excess sugar and sodium. Try to limit their consumption.
Although the idea behind clean eating is based on whole, fresh foods, certain types of packaged foods can be included, such as packaged vegetables, nuts, and meat.
However, it’s important to read labels to make sure there aren’t any preservatives, added sugars, or unhealthy fats.
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. Check the label and choose unsalted when you can.
Additionally, prewashed salad mixes can save time but pay attention to the salad dressings some may include. Those could be high in salt, added sugars, and preservatives.
If choosing to mix in the included salad dressing, consider using a quarter of to half the packet instead. Plus, keep them refrigerated and be sure to enjoy by the date listed.
Read labels to ensure that packaged produce, nuts, meats, and other foods contain ingredients you want to consume.
Refined carbs are highly processed foods that tend to be low in nutrients.
Some older research has linked refined carb consumption to inflammation, insulin resistance, fatty liver, and obesity (
In contrast, whole grains — which provide more nutrients and fiber — may reduce inflammation and promote better gut health (
In one small, 12-week study, people who consumed whole grain wheat bread experienced a significant reduction in visceral fat. On the other hand, consuming refined wheat bread had no effect on visceral fat (
If you eat grains, choose the least processed kinds, such as sprouted grain bread and steel-cut oats. Limit consumption of ready-to-eat cereals, white bread, and other refined carbs.
Refined grains are inflammatory, as they can lack fiber and other valuable nutrients. Therefore, it’s best to choose minimally processed grains.
Vegetable oils and margarine don’t typically meet the criteria for the original intent of clean eating.
For starters, they’re produced via chemical extraction, making them highly processed.
Certain oils like soybean and corn oil contain high levels of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid.
Some studies suggest that consuming too much omega-6 fatty acids, including linoleic acid, and not enough omega-3 fatty acids could contribute to obesity and chronic inflammation (
Although limiting vegetable oils and spreads may offer some benefits, eating a moderate amount of healthy fats is essential. These include avocado, walnuts, and fatty fish rich in omega-3s.
Furthermore, olive oil can be a good substitute as it offers health benefits such as helping to reduce inflammation.
Margarines and some vegetable oils are highly processed and linked to an increased risk of disease. Opt for healthy, minimally processed oils and fats
Limiting added sugar in your diet is vital. However, it’s common and found in foods you might not have thought of, such as sauces and condiments, so be sure to carefully review food labels to help reduce your intake.
Studies suggest that added sugar may play a role in obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and certain types of cancer, among other health problems (
If you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or similar health issues, you should speak with a doctor about alternative sweeteners.
Moreover, even natural sugar sources may contribute very little nutritional value.
Foods high in added sugar can contribute to several health issues. Limiting your intake and opting for other sweeteners may be beneficial.
Alcohol is made by adding yeast to crushed grains, fruits, or vegetables and allowing the mixture to ferment.
Moderate intakes of certain types of alcohol — particularly wine — may boost your heart health (
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, obesity, and excess belly fat (
Ultimately, regardless of the diet plan you may follow, it is always important to consume alcohol in moderation.
Although moderate wine intake may help protect heart health, alcohol is linked to an increased risk of several diseases. Alcohol consumption should be restricted when practicing clean eating.
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.
When eating clean, replace pasta, rice, and other refined grains with vegetables to boost
the nutritional value of your meal.
If possible, try to limit your intake of packaged snack foods.
Crackers, granola bars, muffins, and similar snack foods typically contain refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other ingredients that are low in nutrients
These ultra-processed foods provide little nutritional value.
To avoid grabbing these items when you get hungry between meals, plan for these moments by having nutrient-rich snacks on hand.
Good options include nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Not only are these foods rich in nutrients, but they’re also tasty and may help protect against disease (
Instead of packaged snack foods made from refined grains, choose nutrient-dense whole foods like nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Water is the most natural beverage you can drink.
It does not contain additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners, or other questionable ingredients. Although in some areas, you may have to use bottled water or filter or boil water before consumption.
Water can keep you hydrated and may also help you reach or maintain a moderate weight (
By contrast, sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sweet tea, and flavored juice drinks have been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions (
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 (
Additionally, you can add sliced fruit or the juice of a lemon or lime to naturally add flavor to water.
Water is incredibly healthy and should be your primary beverage when following a clean eating lifestyle.
In addition to fresh, unprocessed foods, when possible, choose food that comes from ethically raised animals.
Livestock is 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 (30).
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 (
Factory farms also generate massive amounts of waste and greenhouse gases, prompting environmental concerns (
If possible, eating humanely raised meat can provide additional health benefits and is also better for the planet.
Ideally, opt for locally sourced meat that is grass-fed or pasture-raised. If you’re able to purchase from a local farm or farmer’s market, you may also be able to inquire about their farming practices and sustainability techniques.
Choosing to eat ethically raised animals can offer health and environmental benefits.
Clean eating may be a trendy idea, but it also has negative connotations.
It’s better to focus on choosing foods that are minimally processed such as fruits, vegetables, and grains.
This way of eating can not only boost your health but also help you appreciate the natural flavors of various foods.