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11 Simple Ways to Start Clean Eating Today

The term “clean eating” has become very popular among the
health conscious.

Clean eating is an eating pattern that focuses on fresh, whole
foods. This lifestyle can be easy and enjoyable, as long as you
follow a few general guidelines.

This article explains what clean eating is and provides 11
simple tips to eat clean.

Brunette Holding a Bag of Fresh Vegetables

What Is Clean Eating?

Clean eating doesn’t have anything to do with food being clean
or dirty.

And rather than focusing on tracking calorie,
carb, protein
or fat intake, clean eating 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 foods that have been raised with integrity and
protecting the health of animals and the environment is also
part of clean eating.

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

1. Eat More Vegetables and Fruits

Shopping Basket Full of Fruit and Vegetables

Vegetables and
fruits
are undeniably healthy.

They’re loaded with fiber,
vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that help fight
inflammation and protect cells from damage (1).

In fact, many large observational studies have linked eating
more fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of cancer, heart
disease and other diseases (2, 3, 4, 5).

Fresh vegetables and fruits are ideal foods 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
increasing the health benefits of fruits and vegetables
(6).

Here are some easy ways to incorporate more fruits and
vegetables into your diet:

  • Make your salad as colorful as possible, including at least
    three different vegetables in addition to greens.
  • Add berries, chopped apples or orange slices to your salad.
  • Wash and chop veggies, toss them with olive oil and herbs
    and place them in a container in the refrigerator for easy
    access.

Bottom Line: Vegetables and fruits should
form the basis of a clean eating lifestyle. They are whole
foods that require little preparation and provide many health
benefits.

2. Limit Processed Foods


Processed foods
are directly opposed to clean eating
because they have been modified, to some extent, from their
natural state.

Most of them have lost some of their fiber and nutrients, yet
gained sugar, chemicals or other unhealthy ingredients during
processing. Processed foods have been linked to inflammation
and an increased risk of heart disease (7).

Even if unhealthy ingredients aren’t added to processed foods,
these foods still lack many of the benefits provided by whole
foods.

What’s more, processed foods take less energy to digest and
absorb than whole foods do, making them more likely to cause
weight
gain
over time.

In one study, healthy adults consumed a 600-calorie meal
containing either whole or processed foods. The group that
consumed whole foods burned twice as many calories digesting
their meals (8).

In order to eat clean, it’s important to avoid processed foods
as much as possible.

Bottom Line: Processed foods conflict with
clean eating principles due to the loss of naturally
occurring nutrients and the addition of preservatives and
other questionable ingredients.

3. Read Labels

Nutrition Facts Label

Although clean eating is based on whole, fresh foods, there are
certain types of packaged foods that can be included.

Examples include packaged vegetables, nuts, meats and other
foods.

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 purchase raw nuts and consume them as is or toast
them at a low temperature in your oven.

As another example, salad mixes that are pre-washed and ready
to eat can be a huge time saver. However, be sure to check the
ingredients label for additives, especially on the salad
dressing that often comes with it.

Bottom Line: 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 frequently consuming refined carbs to
inflammation, insulin resistance, fatty liver
and obesity (9, 10, 11).

By contrast, whole grains provide more nutrients and fiber, and
controlled studies suggest that they may reduce inflammation
and promote better gut health (12, 13).

In one analysis of 2,834 adults who took part in a large health
study, people who consumed mostly whole grains were shown to be
less likely to carry excess
belly fat
than those who consumed mainly refined grains
(14).

If you are going to eat grains, choose the kinds that have been
least processed, such as sprouted grain bread and steel-cut
oats. Stay away from ready-to-eat cereals, white bread and
other refined carbs.

Bottom Line: Refined grains are inflammatory
and lack fiber and other valuable nutrients. In order to eat
clean, choose minimally processed grains or avoid them
altogether.

5. Avoid Vegetable Oils and Spreads

Bottles of Vegetable Oil


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

For starters, they are produced by extracting oil from seeds
and vegetables using chemicals, making them highly processed.

They also contain very high levels of the omega-6 fatty acid
linoleic acid, which studies have linked to
inflammation and an increased risk of weight gain and heart
disease (15, 16, 17).

Additionally, the chemical structure of these oils makes them
vulnerable to damage and rancidity, particularly under
conditions of high heat or exposure to air.

Some margarines and spreads still contain artificial trans fats
as well, though many food manufacturers have removed these fats
due to health concerns (18, 19).

Although all vegetable oils and spreads should be avoided, it’s
important to include a moderate amount of healthy fats in a
clean eating regimen.

Choose oils and spreads that are minimally processed and
provide the greatest health benefits, such as extra virgin
coconut oil, olive oil and butter from grass-fed cows.

Bottom Line: Trans fats 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 Sugar in Any Form


Sugar
is one of the most important things to stay away from
if your goal is to eat clean. Unfortunately, it’s found in many
foods, including those that don’t taste especially sweet, like
sauces and condiments.

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Both table sugar and
high-fructose corn syrup
are high in fructose. Table sugar
contains about 50% fructose, while high-fructose corn syrup
contains about 55% fructose.

The results of several studies suggest fructose may play a role
in obesity, diabetes, fatty liver and cancer, among other
health problems (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27).

Depending on your health, you may be able to occasionally
tolerate small amounts of natural sugar, such as honey or maple
syrup, while following a clean eating lifestyle.

However, if you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome or similar
health problems, 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 other than calories.

For truly clean eating, try to consume foods in their natural,
unsweetened state. Learn to appreciate the sweetness of fruit
and the subtle sweetness of nuts and other whole foods.

Bottom Line: Sugar is highly processed and
has been linked to several health problems. Using small
amounts of natural sugar occasionally or avoiding sugar
altogether makes sense from a clean eating perspective.

7. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Cold Beer in a Jug

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,
have been credited with heart health benefits (28).

However, aside from the antioxidants in wine, alcohol does not
provide any nutrients.

What’s more, frequent alcohol consumption has been shown to
promote inflammation and may also contribute to a number of
health problems, such as liver disease, digestive disorders and
excess belly fat (29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35).

When following a clean eating lifestyle, alcohol intake should
be minimized, if it’s consumed at all.

Bottom Line: Although moderate wine intake
may help protect heart health, alcohol is also linked to an
increased risk of several diseases. Alcohol consumption
should be restricted when practicing clean eating.

8. Substitute Vegetables in Recipes

In addition to including more vegetables in your salads, you
can bump up your veggie intake by using them in place of
refined grains in recipes.

For example, cauliflower can be chopped finely to mimic rice,
mashed like potatoes or used in pizza crust. Here are a few
recipes that use cauliflower as a substitute:

Spaghetti squash is a natural replacement for pasta because it
separates into long, thin strands after cooking:

Zucchini makes great “zoodles” and other alternatives to pasta
and starches:

Bottom Line: When eating clean, replace
pasta, rice and other refined grains with veggies that taste
great and improve the nutritional value of your meal.

9. Avoid Packaged Snack Foods

Muffin

If a clean eating lifestyle is your goal, packaged snack foods
should definitely be avoided.

Crackers, granola bars, muffins and similar snack foods
typically contain refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils and
other unhealthy ingredients.

These processed snacks provide little nutritional value and
fail to satisfy.

In order to avoid grabbing these items when you get hungry
between meals, make sure to have snacks on hand that meet clean
eating criteria.

Good snacks include nuts,
vegetables and fruits. These foods are tasty, rich in nutrients
and may help protect against disease (1, 36, 37).

Bottom Line: 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.

There are no additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners or other
questionable ingredients. It is by definition a “clean”
beverage.

Water can also be consumed liberally as an excellent source of
hydration. In addition, drinking plenty of water may also help
you achieve a healthy weight (38).

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 (39, 40).

These are drinks that everyone should stay away from,
especially those interested in eating clean.

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.

Bottom Line: Water is free of ingredients
that may harm your health. It should be your main beverage
when following a clean eating lifestyle.

11. Choose Food From Naturally Raised Animals

Raw Lean Beef Slices

In addition to fresh, unprocessed foods, clean eating involves
selecting food that comes from properly raised animals.

These days, many animals are raised on large complexes commonly
referred to as “factory farms.”

Overcrowded, dirty conditions are the norm on these farms. To
help prevent infection, the animals are typically given
antibiotics, and many are injected with hormones like estrogen
and testosterone to maximize growth (41).

Moreover, most cattle on industrial farms are fed grains rather
than their natural diet of grass. Studies have shown that
grass-fed
beef
is higher in anti-inflammatory
omega-3 fats
and antioxidants than grain-fed beef (42, 43, 44).

The environmental impact of raising animals on large-scale
farms is also concerning, particularly the high amounts of
wastewater that result from this practice (45, 46).

By choosing to purchase meat grown on small farms that treat
animals humanely, feed them their natural diets and don’t use
antibiotics or growth hormones, you can help support the health
of animals and the planet, as well as your own.

Bottom Line: Choosing meat from animals
raised naturally on small farms is consistent with clean
eating principles.

Take Home Message

Clean eating focuses on choosing fresh foods that have been
minimally processed and retain their nutritional value.

This way of eating can help you learn to appreciate the natural
flavors of foods, as they were meant to be consumed.

In addition, it’s a lifestyle that can help support the health
of people, animals and the planet.

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