What Is Clean Eating?

Would you be surprised to hear that there really aren’t any health goals you can achieve without it?

What Is Clean Eating?

The above statement may seem extreme, but the simple truth is, you just cannot get healthy without eating healthy. You can exercise from the time the rooster crows until the cows come home, but if you make a run through your local drive-through afterward, you just are not going to get anywhere fast.

Food is the big-ticket to good health. If you eat garbage, your body will show it. If you eat whole, healthy, and fresh foods, your body, skin, and soul will glow with health that gives you endless energy.

Click Play For An Easy-To-Understand Description Of Clean Eating!!

Three Methods For Following A Clean Eating Diet

Clean eaters all have a different approach to following a clean diet. But generally speaking, there are 3 ways to do that.

Method 1

Chemicals, additives, pesticides, GMO’s, antibiotics, grown hormones, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and other not-so-natural fake foods seem to rule the grocery store aisles these days. Many people wish to avoid these types of fake food in the interest of improving their health. They aren’t necessarily looking to lose fat, but rather improve or maintain their overall health by simply avoiding these items. They will usually eat either three meals per day or simply eat as the need arises. (This is more and more how I am eating these days). The concept of “eating the rainbow” to ensure a broad variety of vitamins, minerals and just general good general nutrition is the idea here. Clean foods are whole foods, and whole foods are healthy. However, anybody with a health condition should always speak to a registered dietitian for the best eating plan.

Method 2

(I believe this is the most common/popular method at the moment)

  1. Eat  Lots Of Plants – Eat food that is straight from nature. (Some people say “as close to the way nature made it as possible”. But I think that leaves too much wiggle room – in my humble opinion) Eating mostly foods that are off a tree, bush, plant or vine are your best option. The idea is to stay away from anything that humans (food corporations) have altered in any way.
  2. Include Meats – Eat meats that are whole and straight from the butcher. Grass-fed is best. Don’t buy pre-packaged meat products because you never know what’s in them. When possible, buy whole meats and grind them yourself. Have you read the ingredients on some packages of ground turkey?! You can also select a few turkey breasts and ask that the butcher grind them for you. Many butchers are more than willing to accommodate.
  3. Enjoy Grains – Stick to whole grains and haven’t been broken down into a “glue-like” substance. Stick to brown rice, whole wheat and other whole grains.(For a list of foods to stock your pantry with, check out this list.)
  4. Read Labels I don’t know how many breads I’ve picked up at the store that say they are whole grain. But when I take a look at the ingredient list, white flour is the second ingredient after whole wheat flour!
  5. Eat Fewer Ingredients. Try not to purchase foods that have more than 3-6 ingredients in the ingredient list as a general rule (although there are always exceptions). And be sure you recognize each and every ingredient. If you find a “mystery ingredient” such as “spices”, contact the company! Ask them what they consider to be spices. If it’s anything other than honest-to-goodness herbs and spices, avoid it. And remember, if you can’t pronounce it, it probably shouldn’t go into your body (yes, there are exceptions here too).
  6. Eat 5-6 small meals per day. This may seem like a lot at first. But remember, you are eating smaller portions. If you really have a hard time with this, prepare your regular three meals and a snack for the day, and divide lunch and dinner in half. You’ve instantly got 6 small meals!
  7. Healthy Fat – When I first started eating clean, low fat eating was all the rage and some of my earlier recipes reflect that via the use of egg whites and such. However, as time has gone on, I’ve taken a more “whole foods” approach to clean eating. Keep in mind that healthy fats are critical and not something you should minimized down to the lowest common denominator. So your approach to fats will depend on your approach to eating in general. If you are a low fat eater, then stick with things like egg whites and sautéing food in chicken broth instead of oil. But if you, like me, believe that we need good fats in our diet, then enjoy healthy fats in moderation, including egg yolks and healthy oils such as coconut, olive or grape seed oil..

Method 3

There is also another method of eating 3 regular meals and squeezing in 1 snack for a total of 4 meals. You eat every four hours instead of every 2-3. This concept is from Jillian Michaels and the theory behind it is that if you eat every 2-3 hours, your insulin stays continuously spiked and you end up with a higher chance of diabetes.

I have no idea if this is actually the case. I’m simply supplying information for you to consider. Do what feels right for you. The Gracious Pantry does not endorse one method over another.

So What Are Whole Foods?

If you aren’t sure what all of this translates to at the grocery store, think about what real food is. Tomatoes, nuts, beans and legumes, avocado, eggs, salmon, chicken, whole grain bread (no white bread), maple syrup or honey instead of sugar, quinoa, coconut oil, real butter, sweet potatoes, carrots, whole-grain pasta, or even just an apple, are all examples of whole, real, clean food.

And before you panic, yes, you can still have desserts.

Many clean eaters will focus on macros. A proper ratio of protein, carbs, and fats. Others will also include fiber in that balance, with calories being a focus too. But macro’s are a whole other blog post.

In Conclusion

Clean eating may feel a bit overwhelming at first, especially if you have a lot of changes to make. My advice is to take baby steps. Make little changes every day and don’t beat yourself up if you make mistakes. We all do. Just realize that it’s what you do the majority of the time that counts.

If you need a little more general information, here are some more ideas to help get you started.

SIDE NOTE: Many folks who are very accustomed to processed foods have a difficult time with the natural flavors of real food. They claim they don’t like vegetables or anything much that is healthy.

If you are one of these people, I’m here to tell you that over time, your taste buds WILL change. If you start eating this way regularly, you’ll see that eventually, the stuff you used to love just doesn’t taste the same any longer. I’ve even found this to be true with organic foods. There are certain foods I ALWAYS buy organic. On occasion, when these foods become available to my dinner plate in a non-organic version, I can definitely taste the difference! It’s amazing how “numb” our taste buds have become to real foods. Give it time. You’ll learn to love your spinach!


Article: © Tiffany McCauley of The Gracious Pantry and may not be reproduced without written permission from the author. This INCLUDES copying and pasting this article onto your blog, tumblr account or Facebook page/group. Just don’t do it. You may, however, pin and share the links to this article. Thank you.

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  1. There is a problem with this clean eating diet (even though I am doing it). It is the fact that nearly all of the common vegetables and fruits have been genetically modified, so you are not really eating what nature intended. Organic fruits and veges may not have added chemicals but they may have been genetically modified. All of them are still good for you, but you cannot say that they are the way nature intended because they are not.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Toni – Actually, no. If something is organic, by law, it cannot be a GMO. That could change at some point in the future of course, but for right now, organics are non-gmo.

  2. i’ve always wanted to eat clean but couldn’t really do it. but now i really want to do it ๐Ÿ™‚ just have to make do with what’s available to the only grocery in town ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jassy – You’d be surprised what you can order from Amazon. I have a ton of clean ingredients in my amazon store if you’re interested. I’ve always found it kinda nice to have my groceries come to me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. This is great information, thank you for sharing! I have been looking for additional clean eating information beyond just the fitness and exercise that I focus on, and this helped me a ton! I do agree that it’s tough to go full nature-based, but watching ingredients, eating small meals, and making it clean is something I am trying to focus on. Thank you for sharing more than one method.


    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Bob – My pleasure!

  4. I began a modified clean diet about 1-1/2 years ago. Still eat dairy (love cheese) and sweets in limited amounts. I have always eaten lots of fruit/veg but was eating all the wrong things after mom passed. I’ve lost about 35 pounds and intend on losing another 10. My doctor was very impressed, especially since the only exercise I do is stairs MANY times a day. I had never known there was an actual term for what I was doing! Thanks for explaining so clearly.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Nancy – Fantastic!

  5. I would really like to know your opinion of Ezekiel Bread and Teeccino on this plan. Do they qualify as clean eating?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Mommar6 – A few of the ezekiel breads are clean, but not all of them. You have to read ingredient labels. I’ve never heard of Teeccino so I can’t comment on that.

  6. when eating clean is eating frozen vegetables ok or do they always have to be fresh.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Becca – Frozen is fine so long as there is nothing added. Always check ingredients just to be sure. But there’s nothing about freezing that is “un-clean”.

  7. Is plan chocolate or vanilla icream considered clean? Is any type of ice cream clean?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Amy – I have not yet found an ice cream in the stores that is clean. That’s why I make my own. I have many recipes in my recipe index under desserts if you’re interested.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Amy – My pleasure!

  8. This is my first week eating clean, I normally eat three meals a day and two snacks.(I have changed what I’m eating) I have noticed that I don’t get that bloat feeling in the middle of the day like I used to. So yay! I did fall off the wagon today and I ate a hand full of pretzels for snack. I love pretzels! Are their any kind that are considered clean! Please help!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Amy – I buy whole grain pretzels for Mini Chef all the time. The spelt ones at whole foods. They’re good!

  9. Okay, I will find those. Thank you!

  10. Thank you so much for all the great information. This is my second day of eating clean. I was always a fat kid and grew up eating nothing but junk. (I honestly don’t think parents knew better back then.) Anyway, I’m 30 now with Multiple Sclerosis and Thyroid Disease and I’ve started this journey, not only for myself, but for my Mom as well, who is 50 and has just been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. She’s my very best friend and I can’t imagine being -here- without her, so I’m willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means eating foods I’ve either never tasted or never given a chance because, junk food! So my question is, with her having to watch her carbs and sugars, does she need to keep her balance at a certain level? Does she need to eat low carbs -and- eat clean? This probably isn’t coming out the right way, because it’s not like I believe, “Yay! Clean eating! You can eat whatever you want, as much as you want!” But, I also don’t want her to feel defeated or that having to think about the carbs/sugars/is it clean trifecta and become overwhelmed. Sorry for the novel, I promise I googled all of this for quite a while before bothering you, but I appreciate any literature/cookbooks/anything you can steer me toward.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jessi – I’m not a dietitian, so I can’t give advice on diets for medical issues. However, I can recommend a book that is just fabulous and does follow clean eating principles. It’s called the Schwartzbein Principle (or Program, can’t remember which). It’s an excellent book on how to deal with diabetes. The program tends to be a little involved, I know I felt overwhelmed with all the food lists. However, even if you just get the basic concept, it’s a wonderful approach. I would also talk to her doctor or a registered dietitian and they will be able to tell her how many carbs she can have per day. That being said, the book and the doctor/dietitian may not have the same advice. So she may need to experiment a bit to see what works best for her blood sugar levels. I know the book really helped me (I was pre-diabetic and following the plan took my numbers down out of that range.)

  11. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply and give great suggestions. I’ve gathered some of your grocery lists and recipes and am looking forward to feeling better. You are appreciated!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jessi – My pleasure! You’ll do great!

  12. Sandy Eborn says:

    I’ve been ill lately and I need to change my ways. It will be very difficult but it must be done. I’m about to be 49, I’m hoping clean eating is still possible. I will be watching this to get started. Any words of encouragement will be appreciated.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sandy – My best advice is, above all else, do NOT let this get overwhelming. It’s a very simple concept and any time you start to feel overwhelmed, come back to the basics. They are simple; Eat. Real. Food. If you can depend on that simple guideline to get you started, it won’t be as difficult to get started. Leave the frequent meals and all the other details by the wayside until you can get the real food thing figured out. Take it one ingredient at a time. Take the time to read labels and educate yourself. The learning curve can be steep, but it doesn’t have to be anywhere close to impossible. You can absolutely do this!

  13. songul - Eka says:

    I use to hate vegies til i had gastric sleeve and didnt really eat for months, during that period my taste buds changed and im in love eith veggies!!! Especially raw mushrooms and peas.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Songul – It’s amazing how our taste buds change!

  14. Hello!

    I have a question about Greek yogurt, taking into consideration weight loss. I understand converting to a clean eating lifestyle will allow me to lose some weight, because clean eating limits the majority of the food I’ve been consuming that is high in fat and calories. Especially fried food! Should I still consume the original yogurt if I am also attempting to lose weight?

    Love your information btw!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Michele – By clean eating guidelines, yes. Of course, you don’t want to eat it by the gallon, but the idea is to get away from as much processing as possible. The lower fat any type of dairy is, the more processing it’s had to go through.

  15. Thank you for responding!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Michele – My pleasure! Happy to help. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Bruce Price says:

    This article is really great I found it useful in many different ways. We all need to start eating better and learn to choose foods wisely because you never know what we’re putting mentor about it with today society I believe this article will help people in many different ways especially achieve goals that they have a cheap in a long time. I’m currently thinking about changing my whole lifestyle cutting out fast food such as McDonald’s Burger King Taco Bell etc. because is not good for the body I want to start watching what I eat and start eating more green vegetables I now have set a goal to achieve a weight-loss plan I plan on losing 60 to 80 pounds in less than a year I’ve done it once so I can do it again as long as I keep track of this article and about by the rules then I should be perfectly fine it shouldn’t be that hard it’s just a life change it’s up to us to do it and you could do it if you want to do it you can do anything you put your mind to it

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Bruce – Absolutely! I’m sure you’ll do great!

  17. Thank you! The information that you provided is gonna be very useful for my journey to the clean lifestyle. I have been pondering this for years especially because I am very picky with foods (meats) being well-done. I also have lupus and I want to make sure I am benefiting from the food I choose. I have always enjoyed fruit and vegetables. I also have transitioned to loving fish such as salmon, halibut, and swai. If you can think of other things that will be a benefit, I thank you in advance.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lennette – I’m not sure what you mean by other things that would benefit you. But it’s critical to properly cook any food you eat to avoid food borne illnesses. Particularly with pork and fish, though it’s really critical with any meat.

  18. Hi
    In your article you mentioned canned beans, and being careful about the sugar content.
    what canned beans should I be looking at.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kerri – Anything canned can have added sugar. So it’s the ingredient list you want to be looking at. It should only have the beans, water and maybe some salt.

  19. Could you give me a few ideas for someone who is starting out eating clean, like kitchen gadgets or books?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Rachel – I have found an immersion blender to be indispensable. A food processor is a good one as well. There are, of course, my cookbooks (in the shop section at the top of the page) and there are many clean eating books on the market these days. Just realize that different books will have different approaches to clean eating, as well as varied definitions of it. So you have to find what works for you, your body and your lifestyle and stick with that. At it’s core, clean eating is about avoiding processed foods. So if you find recipes using things like brown sugar, that’s probably not a good book to buy because the author probably does not understand the basic concepts of truly eating clean. Tosca Reno books are always good. Clean Eating Magazine was good before they were sold, I’m not sure what their recipes are like now. You would have to look and see. Hope that helps!