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!

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON GETTING STARTED, VISIT THE CLEAN EATING 101 SECTION OF THIS BLOG.

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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210 Comments

  1. THANKYOU for this easy to read website! I have been going bonkers seeing people’s posts on social media sites of the food they eat and all the different Crazy ingredients they eat to be more clean. After reading ‘method 2’, I am right on track. I had to swap to this diet due to medical conditions. It took about a month of sadly ordering plain salad and reluctantly cooking with just the basic, non dairy/ gluten, unprocessed food, but, I now enjoy food so much more than ever and it was like my taste buds changed! It sucks at first, but I couldn’t go back to how I ate before even if I was allowed. (Thanks for the tip on Turkey mince too.)

  2. I have a rule. If there is a commercial for it is most likely not good for you. The worst thing I have eaten lately is bacon. It’s my vice.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Haha! You’re not alone there Jennifer. But if it’s organic, pastured bacon, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it on occasion without guilt. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. THANK YOU! For this awesome site, and this list (which is much easier for me to understand!). I do have a question though…my mother and I are both trying to eat clean and a question came up…what about whole wheat bread? I have Tosca Reno’s book (well, one of them!), and she recommends Ezekiel, which I use, but my family and my mom aren’t crazy about it. Is it ok in a clean diet? Thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ezekiel is fine. Most of their breads are clean (I could be wrong but I think one or two of their breads are not. You have to read the ingredient list). See if you can find Alvarado Street Bakery breads. Your mom might like those better.

  4. Lol, I just reread my question; I meant to say is whole wheat bread ok in a clean diet? I will check out your suggestion though!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Yes, it is. As long as it’s 100% whole wheat with no sugar or other “unclean” ingredients added.

  5. No cereal grains for me. No rice,no potatoes, no starchy tubers. No vegetable oils except olive and coconut.

  6. Kylie1403 says:

    I am totally inspired. I have been slowly changing my ways, getting cleaner and cleaner, butting out over processed foods. I cant eat fast food nay more as I find it makes me want to vomit, literally. I loved the line “And remember, if you canโ€™t pronounce it, it probably shouldnโ€™t go into your body.” This will HAVE to be my new motto I think ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I’m so glad you found it useful! ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. I’m trying to eat clean but boy it is difficult.. I am a freshman at college so all I have available is the cafeteria and my microwave ahah. I’m good at keeping my meals all clean for breakfast and lunch, but when it gets to dinner time, some days those grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas sure are calling my name!

    I’ve been doing this for maybe 3 weeks, and I was doing great till this weekend. That’s when I gave in just a little, and then with the help of some liquid substances, the rest of my resolve went flying out the window. Big time.

    But now I’m trying to get back on track. I already noticed a difference in how I felt when I was eating clean, versus this weekend when I binged on the food I had cut out. I literally felt like I had a food hangover! I felt sluggish, greasy and overall bloated after eating all that junk. This really showed me that I WANT to eat clean, and feel good.

    Keep me in your thoughts in my battle against alcohol induced binging and the ever tempting greasiness that is the college cafeteria!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Oh dear. That does sound like a challenge! Have you considered a small-ish slow cooker? Dinner can cook while you’re in class and be ready for you when you get back! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I’m so excited to have stumbled upon your site (thank you Pinterest). We have made the decision to eat clean and I was having a hard time finding snacks for my boys to eat! They love most fruit but it just wasn’t satisfying their hunger. You have some of the best recipes that I’ve seen yet! You also have answered some questions for me regarding what’s clean and what’s not! Thank you!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      My pleasure! Welcome! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. The only disagreement I have with this method is I would not include ANY wheat of any kind. Wheat has been chemically altered in the 1970’s which has led partly to the obesity and type II diabetes epidemic. I would also be careful of some root vegetables too.
    There is an old French saying “to fatten the pigs feed them potatoes to fatten beef feed them corn” It may give you an idea of what they do to us.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      We all do what is right for our own bodies. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I recently stumbled upon your site and have already started to make changes. Thank you for the recipes and helful tips. Your site is such a great resource!

  11. This is WONDERFUL!!! thank you so much for this information! I want to eat better and learn to cook better for my husband, and one day our children. So I’m ready to take a baby step! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Awesome! ๐Ÿ˜€

  12. Sarah Johnston says:

    Hello, i found your site from searching on Pinterest i have heard of clean eating tons before but never really knew what it was until now, I don’t want to be exposed to Chemicals anymore i want to eat organic and healthy as possible but not really sure how i am able to do this, I am No where near a Organic store and not sure if regular stores carry any Chemical, Non GMo Foods. what are some brands that are chemical free/ Non Gmo!? that i can find in almost every store such as walmart etc.?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I have a shopping list for walmart here on my site. But I do not recall seeing anything organic when I was there. This could change from store to store though. Keep in mind that organic does not automatically equal clean.

  13. Great article, just what I was looking for to share with my readers. I know this is from 2010 but the lesson is valuable and worth giving a read again and again. Thanks for sharing your tips and ideas.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      My pleasure!

  14. Jennifer Dery says:

    Fabulous article. Such a simple, concise way of explaining clean eating. I will be sharing with my readers!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  15. SkinnySailor says:

    Hi! I’m in the military, which makes clean eating especially difficult, but I’m doing quite well with it, and whenever anybody asks me about it, I always point them in the direction of your blog. Thanks for all the great tips and info! =)

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      SkinnySailor – Thanks so much!

  16. Love your site…and it’s true when you explain that at first you might complain that clean foods don’t taste good, but your body adjusts and other foods soon won’t taste good. We try to eat clean, but have strayed a bit lately, so I’m here to get back on track. When we eat something that is NOT clean, we pay for eat. After being clean, my body is not happy with me if I eat something processed or full of chemicals. I feel sick and lethargic. Clean eating makes you feel healthy, energized, and I sleep better!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Tara – Yes! It’s amazing how well our bodies function when we give them the fuel they need!

  17. I have never been a healthy eater, here and there I will try it. I have just started to really take it seriously but my allergy to fruits and vegetables is making it really hard. It’s not fun having itchy, swollen and rashes lips, throat and ears when I eat most veggies and fruits. I’ve read where it’s a pollen allergy but how can I avoid this while eating healthy! ๐Ÿ™

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Cortney – Are you sure it’s the actual fruits and veggies? Perhaps it’s a chemical or pesticide you are allergic to? You might want to consider an elimination diet. You sould talk to your doctor and have a few tests done.

  18. “you just cannot get healthy without eating healthy” That really woke me and another version for me would be ” you just cannot be healty without eating healthy” I’ve drifted along thinking that if I’m not “sick” or overweight I can get away with eating any way I want. This month I found that I have diabetes! I’m thankful for finding your website so I will have help and support. I’d forgotten about eating more small meals, you reminded me, thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Barbur – My pleasure!

  19. Christy Hopkins says:

    Thank you for all of your hard work! This blog is amazing! I have just committed to changing my home to clean eating. . .I am so excited to rid my cupboards of junk that is making us sick! After reviewing your information, recipes and shopping lists, I just made my first trip to Sprouts (in a blizzard, no less). Tonight will be the Broccoli Lasagna. . .

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Christy – Fantastic! I hope you enjoy it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. I’ve read that rice and products made with rice may contain trace amounts of arsenic. If that’s true, maybe it also should be considered “unclean”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Mary – Perhaps.