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11 Simple Ways to Start Clean Eating Today

Health + Wellness
Johner Images / Getty Images

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.

Here are 11 simple tips to start eating clean.


What is Clean Eating?

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.

Summary

Clean eating involves choosing foods that are minimally processed, ethically raised and rich in naturally occurring nutrients.

1. Eat More Vegetables and Fruits

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 (1).

In fact, many large observational studies link high fruit and vegetable intake to a reduced risk of illnesses like cancer and heart disease (2, 3, 4, 5).

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 take clean eating one step further by reducing pesticide exposure and potentially boosting your health (6).

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.

Summary

Vegetables and fruits should form the basis of a clean eating lifestyle. These whole foods require little preparation and provide many health benefits.

2. Limit Processed Foods

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 (7).

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.

Summary

Processed foods conflict with clean eating principles due to their preservatives and lack of nutrients.

3. Read Labels

Although 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.

Additionally, pre-washed salad mixes can save time but may harbor additives — especially in the salad dressing that's often included.

Summary

To maintain a clean eating lifestyle, read labels to ensure that packaged produce, nuts, meats and other foods contain no questionable ingredients.

4. Stop Eating Refined Carbs

Refined carbs are highly processed foods that are easy to overeat yet provide little nutritional value.

Research has linked refined carb consumption to inflammation, insulin resistance, fatty liver and obesity (8, 9, 10).

In contrast, whole grains — which provide more nutrients and fiber — may reduce inflammation and promote better gut health (11, 12).

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 (13).

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.

Summary

Refined grains are inflammatory, as they lack fiber and other valuable nutrients. To eat clean, choose minimally processed grains — or avoid them altogether.

5. Avoid Vegetable Oils and Spreads

Vegetable oils and margarines don't meet the criteria for clean eating.

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 (14, 15, 16).

While artificial trans fats have been banned in the United States and other countries, some margarines and spreads may still contain small amounts (17, 18).

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.

Summary

Margarines and some vegetable oils are highly processed and linked to an increased risk of disease. Opt for healthy, minimally processed oils and fats.

6. Steer Clear of Added Sugar in Any Form

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 (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26).

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.

Summary

Sugar is highly processed and linked to several health problems. If you're trying to eat clean, use small amounts of natural sweeteners occasionally or avoid sugar altogether.

7. Limit Alcohol Consumption

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 (27).

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 (28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34).

When following a clean eating lifestyle, minimize or eliminate your alcohol intake.

Summary

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.

8. Substitute Vegetables in Recipes

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.

Summary

When eating clean, replace pasta, rice and other refined grains with vegetables to boost the nutritional value of your meal.

9. Avoid Packaged Snack Foods

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.

Good options include nuts, vegetables and fruits. These foods are tasty, rich in nutrients and may help protect against disease (1, 35, 36).

Summary

Instead of packaged snack foods made from refined grains, choose nutrient-dense whole foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables.

10. Make Water Your Primary Beverage

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 (37).

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 (38, 39).

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.

Summary

Water is incredibly healthy and should be your main beverage when following a clean eating lifestyle.

11. Choose Food From Ethically Raised Animals

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 (40).

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 (41, 42, 43).

Factory farms also generate massive amounts of waste, prompting environmental concerns (44, 45).

Humanely raised meat is often better for your health and the planet as a whole.

Summary

Choosing meat from animals raised humanely on small farms is consistent with clean eating principles.

The Bottom Line

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.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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