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. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Shyam – Thanks.

  1. Guillermina says:

    Hi! Thank you for all the work you’ve done and for posting and sharing these wonderful recipes.
    I just wanted to let you know that your Method 3 is actually correct. I have Insuline Resistance and I am suppossed to eat many times a day with no more than 4 hours in between meals, it does keep your insuline levels steady as Jillian Michaels says. So it is true.
    I will try and adapt your recipes, in Mexico it is hard to sometimes find some of the ingredients you use in the US. Thank you again!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Guillermina – If you have a hard time with the ingredients, just post a comment and I can try to help you find a substitute. I can’t promise I’ll know of one every time, but I’ll certainly try. I’m leaning more towards method #3 myself these days!

  2. I am on a Raw Eating Plan.
    People crack up when I tell them I make Raw Smoothies, and add clean raw oatmeal. I try to explain you don’t have to cook stuff till it is dead. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I was raised on a Dairy Farm. We grew all our own food. Had our meat butchered for us. Veggie’s were like candy to us. That is all we really knew. Everything was organic than.
    I still managed to get sick……I have MS & Fibromyalgia.
    I continue to eat a Raw Plan. It works great for me. I drink water or Organic Green naturally Decaf Tea. (Whole Food Market) That is it.
    I do however fine your site interesting. I believe I found it on Pinterest. I haven’t read as much as I would like to yet.
    So, what is your take on Organic Sugar Free Almond Milk?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Diana – The almond milk you buy in the stores (at least the ones I’ve seen) are not clean. If you want truly clean almond milk, you’d have to make it yourself. That said, many clean eaters who can’t have dairy and don’t have the capacity to make their own almond milk, make an exception here. Really, if buying unsweetened almond milk is the worst thing you are doing in your eating plan, you’re doing pretty good. You have to be realistic about this stuff. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Hi! Love seeing people excited about clean eating! I just wanted to comment on the piece about eating 2-3 hours raising the risk of diabetes – this is completely not true. I have a masters degree in nutrition and always advise patients with diabetes to eat every 2-3 hours to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This isn’t creating a constant spike, simply stability. The worry would come in if patients (both with or without diabetes) were eating this often and eating highly processed foods and/or those with a high glycemic load – meaning foods that cause drastic spikes in blood sugar levels. I couldn’t find where Jillian M. may have said that about diabetes, but you may want to re-read the source. Just trying to help out, happy blogging!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sara – It was in one of her books. I’ll have to go check to see which one, but she definitely said that. I was also told to eat every 2-3 hours when I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I think, aside from the processed food issue, quantity is also an issue when eating that often. You can’t have a huge meal every 2-3 hours. Clean and small meals. That’s the way to go!!

  4. Your blog is very interesting to me. I have been eating clean for years. I did hear something that concerned me about decaf coffee and I heard you mention switching from regular to decaf coffee.

    I work in a coffee shop and was told that in order to make decaf coffee, chemicals are added to the coffee…

    Have you heard about this? I don’t drink decaf anymore…

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Tanya B – All coffee has some amount of chemicals and processing. But you’d be hard pressed to get most clean eaters to give up their morning cup of joe. I switched to decaf simply because the caffeine was too hard on my blood sugar. So it’s all a personal choice.

  5. Hello! I was wondering if I could have permission to use some pictures and maybe a quote or two from your website? I need it for a presentation about clean eating. Thanks so much!

  6. Easiest way to get your greens? I really cant scarf down a salad, and when I do, it is smothered in cheese and bacon and salad dressing. Which is why salad is not healthy for me! Easier way- Green smoothies ๐Ÿ™‚ Easy to just drink your 5 servings all a once. And it tastes delicious. Start out with spinach smoothies (you cant taste it) and add other greens in as you start to feel adventurous. Just a hint- carrots are always a good add in, even for beginners! Made it ‘too green’ for your taste? Add berries! They mask the flavor. ON rare ocasions I have made smoothies that just werent delicious. Usually this was due to unripened mango, which is why I buy frozen now. However, blueberries in particular can save any smoothie from the sink drain. For creamy texture, use bananas, or frozen mango. Yogurt is a lovely addition, but recently I realized I am dairy intolerant, so I skip it. Drinking a green smoothie or two a day for a few weeks can cure you of your sweets addiction…It did for me! And I didnt even realize it until I had a piece of cake in front of me, and didnt want to eat it! Wooot! Google ‘green smoothie’ and you will find a plethora of recipes and information. Good luck

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Laura – Yes, green smoothies are great for getting your greens! I make one for Mini Chef almost every morning. Can we say “quick and easy breakfast”???!!!

  7. I have a question about a clean eating diet and canned goods. Are there any relatively clean canned goods? For items like stewed tomatoes, canned beans, etc. canned goods can save a lot of time in cooking. I don’t think I’m up to giving up my tomato sauce! It’s also the only way to include vegetables in food storage for hard times, which is a more difficult hurdle to overcome. Any suggestions?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Victoria – Yes, there are clean, canned foods. But you have to hunt for them. A big issue with canned goods is the BPA. I try to buy in glass jars whenever possible.

  8. Soooo glad I stumbled upon your site! I have been trying to start eating clean and you just gave me a boost! Thank you!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

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

  9. Denise Passero says:

    I think the thing about the blood sugar depends on what you are eating all day, don’t you? For instance, I have also read that you should include a small amount of protein with each meal or snack. That tends to stabilize blood sugar. In addition, I think listening to your body is important. If you are crashing in the afternoon, that is telling you something. I used to crash but since I have eliminated refined sugars, I don’t any more. I use natural sweeteners but not nearly as much. I do about a tablespoon a day of pure maple syrup. I also watch the carbs and the kinds of carbs I eat. I learned that starchy carbs are not necessarily my friends — especially late in the day. Just a thought anyway.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Denise – Absolutely!! I agree completely.

  10. Denise Passero says:

    PS — I read what you said about the almond milk. Won’t be buying that anymore. What are your thoughts about quinoa milk? Just bought some. It is supposed to help with migraines. I use it in smoothies.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Denise – I’ve never seen quinoa milk. What’s in it? I have a recipe for clean almond milk. It’s pretty simple and crazy good.

  11. For real? ??? THIS!!!! is the definition of clean eating??? I thought it was something else … but … definitely i was very much wrong, and i’m so glad that i was wrong ๐Ÿ˜€ :)) because i “clean eating” since 5 years for now, exception from time to time when i eat REAL “natural” GARBAGE food, like chips and all that, but no more then one bag from time to time, and when i say “time to time” i say VERY LONG TIME :))

    Oh! and by the way! I heard that cabbage and especially pickled cabbage work magic on human body ๐Ÿ˜‰ Like …. is not that hard to go buy some raw cabbage, cut it down, or NOT, put it in a real big jar pour some water and sprinkle some water. This process can be done on multiple vegetables or fruits, like melons, or, like i heard recently, even with meat.

    OH!!! and another tip … never ever EVER buy grind meat and don’t EVEN request to be grinded in butchery, instead, make yourself a favor and buy a grinder, especially if you have cats. You, (whoever read this) and your cats will thank yourself for such wise and inspiration decision ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Leo – Yup! That’s the definition of clean eating. Not as complicated as people think. But I’m curious, why do you say people shouldn’t have a butcher grind the meat onsite? If they do it right in front of you, what would be the issue?

  12. When it comes to turkey breasts or ground turkey, what is important to look for or to be cautious of?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Natalie – That will really depend on your personal preferences and your budget. Organic is always best. Also look for birds fed a non-gmo diet. I don’t tend to worry about getting the lean stuff, I really don’t think it’s an issue unless that is your preference. So really, the focus is on how the birds are raised and being sure they don’t add anything else like flavorings to the ground meats.

  13. Tiffany: About 2 years ago, I THOUGHT I was eating “clean”…lost quite a bit of weight and felt good, however, 1 year ago, I went off my way of eating “clean” way of eating.
    Now, 2014 I started again and re-learned a lot, especially your recent post on what cleaning really is about; i.e., reading labels, etc. and thank you. One of the keys, is not to beat yourself up, every day is a learning experience Thank you for everything you have shared with us.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Phyllis – Absolutely!! Life and everything about it, including nutrition, is a huge learning experience. I’m so happy you’re finding my site so useful! Happy new year! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I am really new to this. The good thing is I haven’t found a veggie I didn’t like yet and I eat many more fruits than I did growing up.. I have been doing quite well even before learning about this site.. I work at a college downstairs from an all you can eat dining hall.. I take advantage of the healthy options there daily when we’re working and I have found I like quite a few vegetarian foods too..

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Pam – Awesome! ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. I’m confused….I like to eat clean…meaning I avoid all processed foods, refined sugar, starchy carbs(ok the odd bit of potato, I’m not perfect I cheat!) and eat lots of veggies, fruit, some dairy (greek yogurt, some cheese) and I have not eliminated alcohol (meaning a glass or two of wine on the weekend) The Paleo/Primal folks have you believing all grains and legumes are off limits (legumes because they don’t allow important nutrients to be absorbed) You read one article and it says this and seems to have the studies to back it up then you read another point of view and they have the studies to back it up….so what am I supposed to believe?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Nancy – Welcome to the wonderful world of nutrition and science. The problem is, people with an agenda usually go in and interpret study results in whatever way benefits them. Then they yell from the rooftops how right they are about whatever it is they want to prove. In the end, everyone is confused because everyone is yelling the opposite of somebody else. The truth is, you should pay attention to your own body. Do you bloat up and have digestions problems when you eat beans? Then maybe you need to avoid them. But if you feel great after eating them, then there shouldn’t be a problems unless you have a medical situation that says otherwise. It’s all about what works for you, your body and your health goals. The rest is hot air.

  16. Thank you for the reply. I understand that legumes are high in protein and fibre, but if the phytates in them prevent the nutrients from being absorbed by the body during digestion, then am I just eating something very high in carbs with no other value?
    thanks again ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Nancy – I have never heard of this, so I can’t comment on it. Sorry!

  17. Carol Jansen says:

    Hi, My name is Carol and I happened on your website. I grew up with a Mom who used wheat germ and whole grain cereals My husband is not much for whole grains and vegetables. I have sensitivities to many foods and cannot eat prepared foods. As a result, I have learned to read labels, I have to make my own yeast-free breads and I eat only foods
    we have made ourselves. My husband has even learned to cook for me, but he still eats what he wants. I find many recipes difficult to follow because they have ingredients that I don’t tolerate, like garlic, tomatoes, onions, peppers etc. I am always on the search for recipes that I can alter for me that I husband will eat also. It is quite a challenge. If you have any suggestions, I would appreciate it.
    Thank you,

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Carol – That’s hard because it seems that there is a long list of foods you can’t tolerate. You could try my 5 Ingredients section. Perhaps using recipes with fewer ingredients would make it much easier to swap out ingredients that you can’t have? Sorry, wish I could be more help….

  18. I am very new to clean eating and I’m trying to figure out if there is a basic guide line of what foods groups to split between your meals. Do you need to eat a carb and veggie with every meal?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Savannah – You will find that most people have their own guidelines. But it’s been my experience that most folks focus on a protein and a veggie at every meal and add the carbs in where needed. That won’t work for everyone though. You have to experiment a little and see what works best for you personally.