The Beginner's Guide to Clean Eating

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Clean eating is quickly becoming one of the most popular diets and healthy living philosophies around. The problem? It doesn’t have one uniform definition or set of guidelines which can make it tricky for dieters or people hoping to follow a clean eating philosophy.

Clean eating is quickly becoming one of the most popular diets and healthy living philosophies around. The problem? It doesn’t have one uniform definition or set of guidelines which can make it tricky for dieters or people hoping to follow a clean eating philosophy.

To begin to better understand what clean eating is, let’s start by looking at some of the most common principles of clean eating.

Eat whole, natural foods

  • This is pretty simple and straight forward. Instead of eating foods that have been processed, eat the real thing. Reach for real blueberries rather than blueberry jellies or blueberry breakfast bars. Choose fresh whole vegetables instead vegetable flavored things or processed vegetable products like frozen vegetable egg rolls or stuffed vegetable pockets. Choose whole, natural grains that are unprocessed and whole.

Avoid processed foods, grains, and sugars

  • Since you are choosing whole and natural foods, you want to avoid any processed foods, grains, and sugars. This means avoiding store bought breads, cookies, chips, pastas, crackers, candy, and even processed dairy like flavored light yogurt. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat anything that comes in a bag, box, or carton – it just means you need to read the ingredients.

Read nutritional labels

  • Just because you are choosing clean foods, doesn’t mean you can never buy a packaged or prepared product again. Just read the nutritional labels and make sure you recognize everything. For example, crackers made with organic brown rice, flaxseeds, chia seeds, organic pumpkin puree, cashews, dates, water, and cinnamon would work for a clean eating diet. However crackers made with whole wheat flour, corn syrup, and other processed ingredients would not.

Avoid foods prepared in unhealthy ways

  • Although healthy oils and fats are allowed on clean eating plans, people who follow these diets usually try to avoid foods prepared in unhealthy ways, even if everything is used is technically a whole food. For example, someone on a clean eating plan would avoid almond crusted deep fried avocado even though the almonds, avocado, and oil are all clean eating friendly.

Other clean eating guidelines

  • Depending on your personal philosophy or diet, there are some other clean eating guidelines you may choose to follow. Some of these include eating only organic products, using only grass-fed meat products, avoiding GMOs, and eating 5-6 small meals daily.
Keeping those principles in mind, remember that different people define clean eating for themselves. For example, while you may include low fat dairy products in your plan, someone else may not. Clean eating should be based on focusing on whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible.

The Pros and Cons of a Clean Eating Diet


  • Focused on whole and natural foods including mostly vegetables, fruits, unprocessed whole grains, and lean proteins
  • Leads to weight loss for many
  • Shown to have many health benefits including increased energy, cardiovascular benefits, digestive benefits, and more
  • Can be used as a general eating philosophy or as part of a healthy diet with calorie limits
  • Provides many nutrients when the person eats a well balanced diet


  • Can be hard to follow for some people because you must eliminate certain foods including sugar and processed foods
  • Can be expensive as you increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, nuts, and organic foods if you choose organic
  • Without a calorie limit, some people may overeat and gain weight even when eating clean
  • Participants need to monitor their meals to make sure they are eating a well balanced diet to get needed nutrients
  • Involves more food preparation and cooking than some other diets since most foods begin in a whole and natural state

How does Clean Eating Work?

Although the basic tenets of clean eating focus on eating whole and natural foods and removing processed foods, sometimes it is helpful to have specific examples and lists of what is generally allowed on a clean eating diet.

Since clean eating is more of a healthy eating philosophy than specific diet plan, there are no calorie limits or specific things you must eat when following a clean eating diet. Instead you should focus on eating foods that are “clean” and allowed on the diet and avoiding those foods that are not allowed as often as possible.

Foods Allowed on Clean Eating

  • Whole vegetables and fruits
  • Lean unprocessed meat, poultry, and seafood
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Natural oils like olive oil and coconut oil
  • Clarified butter or ghee
  • Vinegars
  • Fresh and dried spices
  • No sugar added pure nut butters
  • Greek yogurt, almond milk, coconut milk, unprocessed cottage cheese
  • Clean unprocessed grains and legumes including quinoa, beans, barley, buckwheat, spelt, millet, whole brown rice, amaranth

Foods to Avoid on Clean Eating

  • Any and all processed foods including processed grains
  • Refined sugars
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Alcohol
  • Any soda or processed fruit juice
  • White flours and breads
  • Processed dairy and cheeses
  • Vegetable and canola oils

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