Take a wander through your local supermarket. Likely you’ll see carts filled with processed foods oozing with unpronounceable chemicals, additives, GMOs, and preservatives. From cereals to sodas, the All-American Diet is overflowing with nutritionally bankrupt faux foods that may taste good, but are certainly not doing your health any favors. Thankfully, there’s a movement sweeping across the country that embraces real, minimally processed foods, commonly known as clean eating.
No doubt you’ve heard the term, but you may not know all the ins and outs of clean eating. At its core, it’s not a diet or a cleanse. Instead, it’s a way of eating and living that focuses on consuming food in its most natural state when possible. The goal is to improve your health, one meal at a time.
To say that clean eating is just shifting away from processed foods toward fresh, unprocessed foods is an understatement. Clean eating is about much more than how you shop, cook, or eat. It’s a means to an end that includes providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally, feel energized, improve your immunity, and possibly even attain a bit of weight loss.
If you’re used to relying on processed or convenience foods, clean eating can seem a bit overwhelming at first. But instead of trying to make wholesale changes to the way you shop and eat, try taking baby steps. Making positive changes on a daily or weekly basis can add up to healthy results. Where to start? Check out these clean eating rules to get started:
- Focus exclusively on real, nutrient-dense food.
- Avoid refined grains, hydrogenated fats, and sugar in all forms.
- Stay away from “diet” foods like artificial sweeteners or low-fat options. These foods are full of chemicals.
- Include high-quality, responsibly sourced protein at every meal such as pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, or wild-caught fish.
- Eat “good” carbs from fresh, preferably organic, fruits and vegetables.
- Consume healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.
- Combine lean protein + healthy fats + good carbs at every meal.
- Eat five to six smaller meals per day spaced about three hours apart.
- Never skip a meal, especially breakfast.
- Cut back on alcohol.
- Don’t drink your calories. Opt for water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea or coffee.
- Stay hydrated. Drink two to three liters of water each day.
Purge Your Pantry
Now that you know the rules, it’s time to make room for your clean eats. And that means getting rid of all the bad stuff hiding out in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Yes, all of it. Start with your pantry or cabinets. Position a trash can and an empty box nearby. Go through every food item, one by one. Unless it’s obviously junk food (hello Oreos!), take a minute to read the ingredient list. If a product contains an ingredient you don’t recognize or one you can’t pronounce, toss it! If it’s an unopened can, bottle, or package, put it in the box, which will eventually contain items you’ll be donating. If it’s been opened or is past its expiration date, put it in the trash. Be ruthless.
Put any clean food that’s left back on the shelves in an orderly way. Using the same strategy, move on to the refrigerator and freezer. Try to keep only those foods that contain a maximum of five or six ingredients. Donate non-perishable items to your local food pantry. Perishable items can be given away to friends.
Ready, Set, Shop!
Once you’ve done a pantry overhaul, it’s likely your cabinets are pretty bare. But before you restock, make a list of the clean foods you plan to buy. Your first trip will probably be a big one and, since you’ll be reading labels on any packaged products, it will likely take you an hour or more. While it may be age-old advice, it bears repeating: don’t go shopping if you’re hungry. Nothing will undermine your clean eating shopping list (or your budget) faster than succumbing to cravings just because you forgot to eat first!
Don’t limit yourself to your big box grocery store. It’s also smart to search out clean options at your local natural food stores and farmers’ markets. These resources can be found in urban and suburban neighborhoods and often offer a wider variety of local and organic foods. For those hailing from a more rural landscape, check out localharvest.org for a listing of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) that pair local farmers with consumers who support them—and get farm-fresh produce in return.
Your Clean Eating Shopping List
Focus on the perimeter of your grocery store, dipping in to the inner aisles only as needed to get staples like oil, tomato paste, or coconut milk. Read labels! If you MUST eat something from a package, make sure you can identify all of the ingredients. If it appears to contain more chemicals than actual food, leave it on the shelf.
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Romaine lettuce
- Sweet potatoes
Beans and Legumes
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
Meat, Poultry, Seafood
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Cod or other sustainable white fish
- Lean beef or bison
- Lean ground turkey
- Whole chicken
- Wild-caught salmon
- Wild-caught shrimp
- Full-fat organic cheese
- Full-fat organic milk or milk alternative
- Organic or pastured butter or ghee
- Pastured eggs
- Plain Greek yogurt
Nuts and Seeds
- Almond butter
- Brazil nuts
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Brown rice
- Organic tortillas
- Rolled oats
- Sprouted bread
- Almond meal/flour
- Baking powder (aluminum-free)
- Baking soda
- Cocoa powder
- Coconut flour
- Coconut sugar
- Dark or bakers chocolate
- Honey or Grade B maple syrup
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Whole wheat flour or gluten-free baking mix
- Apple cider vinegar
- Avocado oil
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili powder
- Coconut aminos or soy sauce
- Coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
Food manufacturers change the ingredients in their products from time to time. If you make it a habit to read the ingredient labels on a regular basis, you’ll never be caught by surprise.
The percentage you can boost your antioxidant intake by choosing organic fruits and veggies over conventional produce, according to a new review of 343 studies that appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition.
A Day of Clean Eating
Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with ground turkey; spinach sautéed in olive oil
Snack 1: 1 apple and 12 raw almonds
Lunch: Kale Caesar salad with 4 oz. grilled chicken breast
Snack 2: One-half avocado with salsa
Dinner: 4 oz. baked salmon and 2 cups steamed vegetables
Snack 3 (Optional): Handful of carrots and celery sticks with 2 tablespoons hummus