Clean eating is a bit of a touchy subject among those in the fitness industry or dieting world. But that’s primarily due to misconceptions around the idea of clean eating. I’m writing this post to break it down, Clean Eating 101 style. And make sure you grab your FREE clean eating shopping list at the bottom!
So here you go: Your Clean Eating FAQs!
What is Clean Eating?
Well – it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You eat foods that are “clean” – which means not eating foods considered “dirty.”
This has nothing to do with dropping your cupcake on the floor and shoving it in your mouth while yelling “5 second rule!!”
Clean eating expert and author of “Eat Clean Diet” Tosca Reno says:
Put simply, clean eating is avoiding all processed food, relying on fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains rather than prepackaged or fast food.-Tosca Reno
Think of it as minimalism for your food. Instead of overly processed foods that come in packages with lots of ingredients, you eat more of simple foods. REAL foods. Foods that come directly from plants and animals.
Why Do People Eat Clean?
There are a variety of reasons why people try clean eating. Some do it with a goal of losing weight. Some hear that it’s a good thing to do and they jump on board.
Others, like your girl Amanda over here, use a clean eating lifestyle to try to be as healthy as possible.
Here’s the thing.
While modern technology is amazing, and I am in no way poo-pooing on advancements in science… there are some ingredients in our food that we just can’t be 100% sure of what effect they are having on our bodies.
And then there are some ingredients in our food that we DO know what effect they are having – and it isn’t good. Yet, we continue to consume those ingredients anyway.
Eating clean foods – foods that are not processed or minimally processed – is the best way to make sure we are getting the right nourishment for our bodies. Eating a variety of produce and protein sources can help us to look and feel our best.
The simple reason for eating clean is to fuel our bodies with the best foods possible.
Sooo… How Do You Eat Clean?
I’m so glad you asked!
Here’s the low down on what to eat on the clean eating diet:
- whole grains
- proteins (including meat, dairy, and meat alternatives)
- healthy fats
And here’s what NOT to eat:
- white sugar
- artificial sweeteners
- soda and other sugary drinks
- trans fats and saturated fats
- overly processed foods (including white flour)
- preservatives and other chemicals
- large portions of foods (especially those with little nutritional value)
The reason we want to avoid (or at least limit) these foods – the “dirty” foods if you want to call them that – is because they do not add nutrition to our bodies. There’s no value in eating them, other than they taste delicious (I’m human, not perfect).
In addition to eating the most nutritious foods for your body, you should also:
- Eat at least 3 meals a day (some say eat 6 meals a day)
- Eat breakfast within an hour of waking
- Include lean protein and complex carbs at every meal
- Eat healthy fats every day
- Drink plenty of water daily
- Eat proper portion sizes at every meal
Do I Have to Buy All Organic Foods?
Not at all! While all organic/local/fresh foods would be ideal, that’s not a requirement.
And honestly – there are many people who can’t buy all organic foods. Either because they can’t afford it or because organic foods aren’t easily available to them.
The Environmental Working Group recommends certain fruits and vegetables that should be bought organic. These are the Dirty Dozen – the 12 foods highest in pesticides.
They also have a list called the Clean Fifteen – the 15 foods considered the safest to buy non-organic.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Honeydew Melons
The same goes when buying dairy or meats. If you can get local and/or organic or humanely raised meats, then great! Not only will those be the best for you, but humanely and ethically raised meat products are the best for the animals and the earth as well.
Ok But Will the Clean Eating Diet Make You Lose Weight?
Well… yes and no.
You hate it when I use that response, don’t you?
But here’s why: If you’re used to eating a lot of garbage foods and feeling like crap so you have zero energy to exercise. And then your sleep is disrupted because your body is all “what the heck are you doing to me” all the time… then yeah, you might lose weight by changing your eating habits.
But at the same time – if you start eating 5 avocados a day as an appetizer to your steak and you dip your carrots in your full fat yogurt… then you could see the scale creep up.
For the most part, eating clean foods, drinking plenty of water, getting a balanced diet full of a variety of produce… all of this is going to help your body reach and maintain a healthy weight.
The clean eating diet should NOT be seen as a “diet” in the sense that it’s a temporary way of eating so you lose a few pounds.
The word “diet” literally means “the kids of food that a person habitually eats.“
Clean eating is more of a lifestyle shift so that you fill your day (and your body) with better, healthier habits. Losing (or gaining) weight is something totally different and is not the focus of this article.
Isn’t Clean Eating Expensive?
You’ve been talking to my husband, haven’t you?
Again with the vague answers – sure, it can be. But NO, it doesn’t HAVE to be. And I can prove it.
If you go to the most expensive grocery store and purchase all organic foods, and don’t meal plan or meal prep, and don’t pay attention to what’s in season or on sale – then YES, you’ll go broke faster than I can clip a coupon.
But there are absolutely ways to eat clean foods without breaking the bank!
- Check what’s on sale
- Buy produce that’s in season
- Stock up on meats during a big sale
- Buy meat in bulk (like from a local cow farm)
- Use coupons for clean foods (yes, they exist) and/or use apps that give rebates
Check out my post on Clean Eating on a Budget for my tips on how to shop smart and still have money to keep the lights on.
And you know what? Usually foods prepared at home are much cheaper than foods you buy when eating out, or when purchasing packaged and processed foods!
What Clean Eating is NOT
Just to clear up any misconceptions, here is what I don’t want you to think:
Clean eating is not eating boring diet food.
You do not need to live off of chicken and broccoli. You can eat a variety of nutritious foods – which ever ones you like! Spices and herbs provide lots of flavor to jazz up your foods.
It does not require tons of kitchen work.
You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and washing dishes. You don’t even have to cook every day! This busy mom does NOT have time for that.
I love a good slow cooker recipe, or sometimes I throw things in the pressure cooker or air fryer. Anything that helps make my life easier (and healthier) is a win! Oh and sheet pan meals that only use one dish for cooking? YES PLEASE.
You don’t have to eat foods you hate.
Now for this one, you actually DO need to talk to my husband.
The man hates veggies. He has a list of like 3 veggies he will tolerate (all of them are raw), and a handful of other veggies he will allow on his pizza.
He will literally pick the cucumber strips out of his sushi rolls. It’s ridiculous and infuriating.
Nobodyy is going to force you to eat cauliflower or Brussels sprouts (mmm YUM). Just buy the foods you already enjoy – the unprocessed ones – and cook them the way you like them. Emphasize keeping things as healthy as possible.
You don’t have to replace your favorite foods.
Nobody says you need to eat cauliflower crust pizza (poor cauliflower, always getting picked on). You don’t HAVE to swap white rice for brown rice. You don’t need to toss your white potatoes and only eat sweet potatoes.
This is where I bend the rules a little to make clean eating a sustainable lifestyle.
I love pizza. As of today, I have zero plans to ever stop eating pizza. And while I don’t mind alternative crusts, I love a thick, gooey, deliciously unhealthy pizza.
Clean eating doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you want to go all in – that’s awesome. If you want to go all in except for pizza and beer and stealing your kids’ chocolates on Halloween, then that’s ok too!
It’s called the 80/20 rule.
You eat nutritious foods that fuel your body 80% of the time. You make healthy choices for most of your meals. And the other 20% of the time, you enjoy the foods and drinks you love.
That’s right. You ENJOY THEM. You don’t feel guilty for eating them. And you don’t punish yourself because you “cheated.” It’s a conscious choice to eat something delicious, even though it doesn’t necessarily nourish your body.
Because nourishing your soul is also a part of being a healthy person and living a healthy lifestyle.
Clean eating is not obsessing over food.
For some people, it can be easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with foods. Clean eating should be a mindset to help you make better, healthier choices about what foods to eat most of the time.
It should not become an obsession with rigid rules or fixations on what to eat and what not to eat.
If you choose to eat a food that is not considered “clean,” it should be a decision you make without guilt. It’s totally ok to do that. There is no completely right or wrong here, and any unhealthy relationships with food should be discussed with your doctor.
Family Friendly Clean Eating Tips
Here’s how clean eating works for our family:
- Follow the 80/20 rule
- Buy whole/unprocessed foods when possible
- Read the labels & check ingredients
- Avoid HFCS, added sugars, food dyes, “natural flavors” and things I can’t pronounce
- Make a colorful plate (eat a variety of produce!)
- Drink water most of the time
- Use ethically raised animals for our meats
- Buy local when possible (produce and meats)
- Grow our own! (We haven’t started yet, but we are all planning to grow veggies this year!)
My kids have not been blessed by some broccoli-wielding angel, and they do not love every vegetable. There are plenty of protests at meal times – from all four of them.
My husband doesn’t protest – he just ignores any foods he doesn’t like.
But I do involve my kids in our clean eating plans, and it has been fairly successful. I teach them to read labels, I ask them to help with meal planning, and sometimes they help with preparing and cooking dinner!
I also just don’t bring some of the junkier foods into our house. There’s no argument about cheese puffs when they aren’t even an option in our pantry.
Now – just to be clear – we do have snack foods. My tiny terrors don’t survive on carrot sticks and apple slices. But that’s where reading labels comes in, and we buy better-for-you snacks that aren’t full of chemicals and strange ingredients.
We also stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle outside of the kitchen. The foods we eat aren’t the only piece of the puzzle! We exercise together and try to get out of the house on nice days. We also encourage educational activities and talk about ways to manage stress in healthy ways. Having an eco-friendly lifestyle and being Earth-conscious is also important to our family.
In the end, I’ve found that being a good role model and involving them when appropriate is the best way to get them to follow along with healthier habits.
Can You Just Shop for Me?
Lol, no. I hate grocery shopping. But I can give you a printable clean eating shopping list! And if you want to be eco-friendly, just save a screenshot to your phone and mark it up before heading out to the store. Here are a few tips for the grocery store:
Grocery Shopping for Clean Eating
1. Stay out of the middle of the grocery store as much as possible. Shop the perimeter. That means fresh fruits, veggies, and meats. Some people avoid dairy, but we still buy milk, cheese, and yogurt. Just read the labels.
2. I’ll say it again – READ THE LABELS. If you see some crazy ingredient that you can’t even pronounce, it’s probably not good for you. And the longer the ingredient list, the worse it probably is.
3. If/when you do buy things like rice, pasta, or bread, try to stick with the ones what are whole wheat or whole grain options. Again – check that label. There are MANY products that are marketed as healthy when in fact they aren’t. I saw a “healthy” cereal the other day that had about 20 grams of sugar in one serving. What the what?!! No thanks.
4. Don’t eat fast food. Instead, meal prep so you have even faster food in your fridge.
5. Avoid foods that have High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and food dyes.
6. Check the frozen foods too! Frozen fruits and veggies are a great (and often cheaper) alternative to fresh produce. Canned or jarred veggies are ok too, but check the label. Avoid those with excess sodium or other preservatives.
Kitchen Tools & Essentials for Clean Eating
There are a few kitchen items that really make my life easier – click through below to grab them on Amazon!
- Zavor Programmable Multi-Cooker (or the popular Instant Pot)
- Air Fryer
- Vitamix Blender (for soups or shakes)
- Nutribullet (for single serve shakes)
- Immersion Blender
- Really good knife set
- Cutting boards
So what is clean eating to your family? What changes can you make to eat better foods? Don’t feel like you have to be perfect, but work towards eating as clean as possible. You’ll get there.
Have questions or need more help with your planning? Drop me a comment below or contact me! I’d be happy to help you out. 🙂