What Does “Clean Eating” Mean?


Clean eating is concept that lends itself to improving one’s overall health and well-being. It is not a diet, but rather an eating pattern that emphasizes cutting down on sugary drinks and sweets, unhealthy fats, processed meats and other items, and salt. If you would like to learn how to ‘eat clean’, focus on these key principles.

How to Practice Clean Eating

Eat more real foods.

  • This should be a no-brainer. Eat less processed, packaged, and refined foods and replace these items with foods found in their natural state. Fruits, veggies, legumes, lean protein, and nuts and seeds are great for overall health. Choose convenience foods in moderation and be aware of food labels. Make sure your packaged items have real ingredients with fewer additives. The less ingredients, the better as well.

Eat for nourishment.

  • Practice eating at regular intervals when your schedule allows. This includes well-balanced meals and snacks spread throughout the day. Snacks should always include at least two food groups – for example, an apple and peanut butter or veggies and hummus. Pack non-perishable snacks and keep them with you for when hunger strikes. Try cooking more meals at home to control portion sizes and use healthy food preparation techniques such as grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and sautéing. Add more flavor with herbs, spices, and citrus instead of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. If you do eat out, choose meals wisely – request modifications as necessary and take some of your food home to eat at a later time. 

Eat more plant-based foods. 

  • Saturated fat, when eaten in large quantities, can cause an increase in bad cholesterol. This build-up of cholesterol in your arteries may up your risk for heart disease and stroke. Cut down on your saturated fat intake by eating more plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils and peas, and whole grains (quinoa, barley and buckwheat). 

Clean up your act. 

Clean Eating Myths

There are some common misconceptions about how to ‘eat clean’. Let’s clear up some of these clean eating myths with the truth. 

Myth: Only fresh fruits and veggies are healthy. 

  • Fact: Produce can be purchased fresh, frozen, or canned, and all are great choices for overall health. If you choose canned fruit, purchase those that are canned in their own syrups. When buying canned veggies, choose the low-sodium or no salt added option and rinse them before using. 

Myth: All processed foods are bad and full of chemicals. 

  • Fact: There are processed foods that are bad for your health; however, there are some that are minimally processed and can be great choices for a well-balanced diet. Examples include: baby carrots, bagged lettuce, whole grain bread, plain Greek yogurt, or chopped walnuts. Many items in the grocery store have been processed in some way, so look for ones with few ingredients and closely resemble their original state. 

Myth: All foods labeled ‘natural’ are good for you. 

  • Fact: There are no laws regarding the definition of ‘natural’ as it pertains to a food label. For example, there is a bag of Cheetos labeled as ‘natural’. Not sure about you, but I can’t think of what could make a highly processed, packaged snack natural? Some food labels even go a step further and use more of the color green on their packaging as green is more directly associated with organic and healthy. When in doubt, flip over the package and read the ingredient list to check if the item is truly a good choice.

Want more advice on clean eating? Get a free nutrition consultation with a nutrition coach! We’ll discuss your current eating habits and what objectives you have in terms of nutrition.

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Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD

Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

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