When I get asked what is the best way to start living a more healthy lifestyle, I recommend taking a clean eating approach to food. And, this is exactly why I created this how to begin eating clean article guide.
Why Clean Eating?
Because I believe healthy begins in the kitchen.
Eating healthy, wholesome foods is a super easy place to begin a healthy lifestyle. This combined with regular exercise and stress management techniques (meditation, relaxation etc) creates a nice balance to living a happier, healthful life.
If you are starting out on your new clean eating journey and feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. I felt that way at the beginning, it’s perfectly normal. And this is why I created this Clean Eating For Beginners Guide.
Let me take the stress out of your new healthier eating journey.
Adopting a clean eating plan can boost your overall health. It can be a simple and effective way to lose weight. And keep it off. Typical “weight loss diets” require you to drastically cut calories. But this is unsustainable. Nor is it the best choice for healthy, long-term weight loss.
Clean eating is more sustainable.
Relying less on processed foods and preparing your own meals, can lead to numerous improvements in your health. Plus your likely to lose any excess pounds you may have been carrying. And the best part is your not depriving yourself or counting calories.
But before I start the clean eating tips for beginners lets first get to know a little bit more about clean eating itself.
What Exactly Is Clean Eating?
Clean eating is merely a concept. There is no true definition. It’s more of a lifestyle than a “diet.”
And it’s not a get skinny fast kinda thing.
Many have their own interpretations of clean eating, some with complete avoidance of certain foods etc.
But this is how I view eating clean and is how I started my own journey, which has benefited me tremendously over the years. And likewise, I believe it can help you too as you embark on your healthy living journey.
I like to think of it as more about how you approach the food that you’re using to fuel your body every day. Using more whole, natural foods, as close to the source as possible. While reducing the amount of highly processed and refined foods.
Embracing new foods, truly enjoying nutrition, and the benefits it brings to my life and health.
Filling my plate with the most nutrient-dense foods that support my body. Think foods like vegetables, unrefined grains, lean proteins, legumes, and healthy fats.
While reducing foods that contain artificial flavors and sugars, high amounts of salt and saturated fats for example.
But Try Not to Get Hung Up On Eating Clean
….All The Time
Balance is the key to enjoying a happier, healthier life.
When following any diet plan it’s easy for people to start labelling food as good and bad. We know that we should reduce the amount of overly processed foods, takeaways, sodas, candy etc. We know that things like trans fats have negative impacts on cholesterol levels.
But labelling foods as good and bad can sometimes leave us feeling a bit sad or disappointed in ourself’s just because we ate something that was on the “bad list”. And this is not so healthy. It’s important that you’re enjoying your life too.
So if you have a day, a meal or even a week where you don’t stick to your plan or feel that you’re eating healthily (“or clean “), just remember …..
“What you eat on special occasions is insignificant compared to what you eat day in and day out.” – Dr Micheal Greger
I really like this quote. Sometimes we can overly obsess about being healthy. Clean eating guides us towards the most nutrient-dense foods. But this does not mean complete avoidance of everything…all the time.
Healthy eating does not mean eating perfectly day in and day out. It’s perfectly ok to have ice cream here and there, or whatever takes your fancy. My point is not to let this derail you into thinking that you have failed. Or becoming overly obsessed with eating “PERFECTLY” 24/7!
Furthermore, some additives in foods can be beneficial. Think vitamin D and calcium for example. The point I’m trying to emphasise really is that healthy does not mean you have to eat everything in its purest, most natural state all the time for it to be beneficial to your health.
A healthy lifestyle is made up balance, nourishment, self-love, exercise and limiting stress.
Never feel guilty if you have the occasional food that does not fall into what you or others consider the “clean” category.
How To Begin Eating Clean – 13 Clean Eating Tips For Beginners
1) It’s a lifestyle, not a diet!
Eating clean is not like other diets. In fact, calling it a “diet” may give the wrong impression of what this clean eating business is all about.
A better, more accurate way to view it would be as a lifestyle change.
Instead of focusing on calories or weight loss, eating clean is just a way of life that focuses more on knowing what’s in the food you’re eating.
- Make meals with “real” food rather than foods with most of the goodness stripped away from them.
- Choose food as close to the source as you possibly can, staying away from highly processed “imitation foods.”
- If you can’t pronounce the names on the ingredients lists, chances are you shouldn’t be eating them.
- Limiting processed food. But remember, not everything that comes out of a box or can means that it’s unhealthy.
Clean eating isn’t a strict concept. It’s about making a shift towards including more wholesome foods in your meals.
Think of foods like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, beet greens, oranges, apples, berries, pears, daikon radish, carrots, lemon juice, garlic, onions, ground flax, lean proteins, nuts and legumes. The list is endless.
Explore as many as possible.
Have a look at the foods you like to eat and see how nutritious they are. Is there room for improvement? Pick 1 or 2 of these meals or snacks and aim to make them more nutritious each week.
Remember clean eating isn’t a strict concept. It’s about making a shift towards including more wholesome foods in your meals.
2) Stop avoiding the fruit and veg aisle
Here it is guys…..eating clean is all about choosing the healthier options. Next time you’re in the supermarket spend plenty of time in the fresh produce section.
Fresh veggies and fruit (organic where you can) are a must. They are so beneficial to your long-term health. Check out the EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This will give you an idea of the best foods to try but organic and ones that are ok to eat not organic.
The fact is that the majority of us simply don’t eat enough of them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76% of Americans don’t eat enough fruit each day, while 87% aren’t eating enough vegetables. 1
Fruit and vegetable are nutrient-dense foods. Packed full of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and minerals. These will bring plenty of potential health benefits to the table and help your body thrive better.
Vegetables can help significantly reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. There’s so many different fruits and vegetables available.
Try experimenting with different types to find your favorites.
Leafy greens like kale and spinach are easy to add to meals and are extremely nutritious. Why not try sautéing some spinach into your omelette or adding a mixed green salad to your next meal.
Add some broccoli to your next meal. Broccoli is packed with lots of fiber, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. It’s a great choice when eating clean. And one of my personal favourites.
3) Say no to processed or choose the least processed option
Remember it’s all about whole foods. Foods that look and taste the way they do in their natural state. While avoiding ingredients that have been altered or preserved chemically.
How do we put this into practice?
When shopping only put the least processed foods in your shopping cart. If you love bread, for example, look for a whole grain bread. These will be the least processed and include the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrient density.
Look for products that say “whole-wheat” or “whole-grain” on the list on ingredients, not just on the packing.
Marketing can often be deceiving! Many products, unfortunately, claim to be “whole-grain” but when you look a little closer they may not be.
This is why it’s important to look for products where whole grains are the first ingredient listed. Also, the shorter the ingredient list the better. Products should include ingredients that we recognise and ideally contain as little added sugar as possible.
Keep in mind our bodies digest processed and unprocessed foods differently. Processed food takes much less energy to digest and absorbs compared to whole foods. In these cases, processed foods can end up containing more net calories than whole foods. Large intakes of refined carbohydrates have been associated with an increased risk of developing health issues such as obesity and diabetes.
Eating clean doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out all the foods you love. Or becoming totally obsessed with avoiding packaged foods. As I mentioned above there is no need for 100% perfection all the time in order to lead a healthier happier life.
I like to take an 80/20 approach. This can be a great way to begin eating healthier. I find it easier to stick with, more realistic and sustainable. And is less restrictive so when you’re out with friends, for example, you can enjoy yourself and not feel bad for indulging in something that you wouldn’t have when your eating totally “clean”.
To eat more of those meals and snacks you love but aren’t so good for you…..why not look for the healthiest way possible to make them yourself?
Add some more fiber-rich whole grains such as oats, barley, farro, or brown rice to your next shop. Think of all the extra fiber, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients you will get by choosing whole-grains over their refined counterpart.
Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off long term.
4) DON’T FORGET YOUR PROTEIN
Since clean eating is not a strict concept, some prefer to be more plant-based, others avoid non-genetically modified, sugar or gluten for example. Again the list of what people choose to define as clean eating is endless.
For me, it’s more about choosing whole foods in their least processed way that nourish your body. Find what works for you.
While cutting back on certain meats is healthier for you, there’s no reason lean meats and poultry can’t be part of a clean eating diet.
When eating meat, choose the least processed and leaner meats. Chicken breasts, turkey, sirloin cuts and lean ground beef can be a great choice for meals.
Processed meats include sausages, salami, pepperoni and hot dogs and won’t be as beneficial to you as unprocessed meats.
Look for terms such as “organic grass-fed, free-range” and labels that state that the animal was raised without hormones or antibiotics. Ideally, the animal itself should be the only ingredient. 2 3 4
If you’re not a huge fan of meat, eating more foods like eggs, dairy, beans and nuts will allow you to get all the protein your diet needs – approximately 56 grams daily for men and 46 grams daily for women.
Most Americans get much more than the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
I myself tend to eat a more plant-based diet. I did not start out this way. Over the years I just gradually ended up eating more plant-based foods.
Black beans, lima beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, cranberry beans, white beans, navy beans, chickpeas, lentils, organic soy, tofu or edamame are great sources of protein.
Try to find some lean organic grass-fed meats in your store. Reducing your meat intake can be very beneficial for your health. Try to have smaller amounts. Consider having a vegetarian meal one night a week. Focus on beans, vegetables, and whole grains. Maybe make your breakfast plant-based or even your lunch.
5) WATCH THOSE ADDED SUGARS!
It’s a fact. Most of us eat too many added sugars.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men.
However, the average American gets about 4 times that amount—28 teaspoons of added sugar per day!
Foods in their natural state do not contain added sugar. They contain natural sugars. These natural sugars are found in foods such as fruit and dairy, are much better for you then their processed counterparts.
What we are really talking about when it comes to added sugars are sweeteners that have been mixed into food during the manufacturing process. These are often found in high quantities in items like soda, candy and baked goods.
Table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, for example, are high in fructose. Several studies suggest fructose may play a role in obesity, diabetes, fatty liver and cancer, among other health problems.5 6 7 8
Choose foods without sugar as an ingredient where you can. If this isn’t possible, check the label and aim for products where sugars are not listed at the start of the ingredient list. Ingredients listed at the beginning will typically be used in higher quantities compared to those listed nearer the end.
When eating clean aim to satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sugars, like those found in fruit, while avoiding those empty calories found in added sugars.
Aim to phase out those foods and beverages that have high amounts of added sugars over time. Try using healthier substitutes to satisfy those cravings. This will help make the transition much easier and keep you on track. In time those cravings will soon ease.
6) KEEP WELL HYDRATED
It’s essential you drink plenty of water every day. Water is the healthiest and most natural beverage you can drink and helps the stomach feel full, making you less likely to give in to unhealthy snacks as you go about the day.
Water does not contain any ingredients that may harm your health, so make this a definite on your clean eating rules. Get in the habit of carrying around a water bottle everywhere you go!
If water doesn’t take your fancy try some other ways that get more fluids in. For example, drinking natural herbal teas is a great way to meet your daily fluid needs, as well as consuming many beneficial micronutrients.
Or, try flavouring your water with a lemon slice. Simple little tricks like these can make it much easier to sip on water throughout the day. Why not start your day by drinking a glass of lemon water? There are loads of benefits of drinking this simple mix every day.
Lemons are packed with Vitamin C, which helps to maintain the immune systems and helps to fight off infection; it’s also a natural anti-sceptic. Lemons purify the blood and their high potassium content also takes care of the heart. Lemon water aids digestion relieves symptoms of indigestion and also lessens bloating.
Try hydrate with water or water infused with fresh fruit throughout the day. Adding some herbals teas such as unsweetened green tea can also be a great addition to your diet.
7) FALL IN LOVE WITH COOKING
One of the simplest ways to really master a clean eating lifestyle is by preparing your own meals. This way you can control exactly what’s going into your food.
You control the salt, sugar, flavors, and fats that go in. To help minimize salt while you cook, flavor your food with herbs and spices, citrus and vinegar.
When adding salt, try some coarse sea salt or kosher salt. This will add that little punch you crave, especially when sprinkled your dishes at the end of cooking. The bonus is that they often contain less sodium compared to table salt.
To cook is to be creative and it really is simple to learn.
Pick a few beginner recipes to get you started and don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours and spices. It’s all about building confidence and once you master the basics, you’ll breeze through to making more complex dishes.
Make a plan to cook the majority of meals at home this week. Now, of course, life isn’t always simple. It’s not always practical to cook all your meals at home all the time. But what your striving for is that whenever possible, you make a habit out of it.
When eating out choose meals that are made with fresh produce, complex carbs, lean proteins and healthy fats.
8) BUY FROM LOCAL FARMERS
Foods that are grown locally are picked at their peak of ripeness. This means greater taste and in some cases even cheaper than store-bought.
Since they have travelled less, they don’t sit in distribution centers before it gets to your store. This means they are more nutritious since the nutrient value hasn’t declined as much.
It also means eating seasonally. When food is purchased directly from local farmers, they are full of flavor. Trust me they taste much better than the ones picked before they were ripe and have travelled thousands of miles to be in your local supermarket.
Plus the money that is spent with local farmers stays close to home and is reinvested in your community.
There really is a difference in taste and quality here too. If you’re worried about prices in larger supermarkets, try to get to some local farmers markets. Often the prices will be much more affordable and you can talk to the farmers, growers, or suppliers about the food.
You can find out exactly how it was grown and practices involved in that process. You’ll get great tasting food while supporting your local community, it’s a win-win!
It’s always good to know where your food came from. Try to find a local farmers market. Go explore it. Talk to the farmers. Find out what methods they used to grow their produce and raise their animals.
9) EAT MORE…FREQUENTLY THAT IS!
Aim to eat 5 to 6 healthy balanced meals a day. Rather than focusing on calories, the emphasis should be more what’s in those calories. Food quality and ingredients are what matters when it comes to eating clean.
Strive to make all those calories count by eating nutrient-dense foods at all your meals. Focus on getting in those whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins. Aim to eat a balanced meal or snack every 2-3 hours, including a complex carb, lean protein, and a healthy fat each meal.
There are myths surrounding eating more frequently, but there is little proof to show it makes your metabolism work faster. However, what I have noticed with clients is eating healthier meals, more frequently, makes it much easier to skip snacking on unhealthy foods.
It’s all about making the right food choices and limiting the possibilities that lead to lapsing into bad habits. Eating 5 to 6 meals a day in the right amounts can prevent you from over-eating, skipping meals and feeling fatigued. Many find it a helpful way to lose weight.
Choose foods based on what will nourish your body. Don’t focus on high calories or low calories or whether it is “good” or “bad.” This will help you develop a healthy relationship with food and into a habit of picking up healthy foods to snack on.
10) READ NUTRITION LABELS.
Nutrition labels tell you everything you need to know about the foods your buying.
The shorter list of ingredients the better. The quantity used determines how the order of ingredients are listed. Therefore the items at the beginning of the list will be used in the greatest amount in the product.
Also if you can’t pronounce many of the items on the list it is very likely that you wouldn’t use them yourself when preparing your own meals.
Manufacturers have many different names for sugars. Some of the more common ones include cane sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, agave, crystal dextrose, liquid fructose, maltose, honey and brown sugar.
Next time your shopping have a look at some of the nutrition labels on the back of the foods your purchasing. Put your new knowledge into practice.
11) DON’T DRINK YOUR CALORIES
This is one of the first changes I made. I gave up fizzy drinks.
Sodas tend to be full with high fructose corn syrup or other refined sugars. Swap these for water.
Water helps your body function better. Soda, on the other hand, provides you with no health benefits.
Fruit juices can be better than soda in terms of having more nutrients. However, they will have fewer nutrients than you would get from just eating the piece of fruit. To get all the vitamins and fiber it’s better to eat the fruit in its natural form.
However, fruit juices can be useful when trying to detach from soda.
Aim to reduce the amount of soda you drink this week. Gradually replacing them with water or fruit-infused waters.
12) PLAN AHEAD AND MEAL PREP FOR CLEAN EATING SUCCESS
Before going to the supermarket make a list. Write down all the things you need and then try to stick to the list.
This is so helpful.
It forces you to think about what you’d like to eat for the days or week ahead. This way you can create a plan for what meals you’ d like to try and what snack you’d like to eat.
Plus, if your anything like me, and come home with a bag full of things that you DIDN’T need, making a list can help avoid unnecessary purchases. Maybe even a cheaper shopping experience too.
Writing a list makes it even easier to put the next step into practice.
Take one of your days off, maybe the Sunday, to meal prep. Doing so will set you up for both the week ahead and a more successful transition into a healthier diet.
It’s super handy when you’re caught for time on busy days. You’re also less likely to eat take-out or pick up quick and easy processed meals when feeling tired.
Make all your meals in one batch then use storage containers to divide them out for the week ahead. You can even pick up bento-style containers that will allow you to portion out the foods into sections in the container. This actually can be quite handy to get used to correct portion sizes and ensure you’re having a well-balanced meal.
I think we all get a bit of a shock when we see what the correct portion size is for things like rice and pasta. If your interested in these containers they are very easy to pick up on Amazon.com. I tend to use them more so for my work lunches.
But bento style boxes are not essential. You can use any type of storage container you like. Again you can pick these up on Amazon.com or any home-store should have a selection of suitable containers you could use. Just make sure the lids seal properly if you bring them to work with you or else you can find half your lunch in your handbag!
Take some time to think of the meals you would like to have for the week ahead. Make a list and then go get the ingredients.
13) RESTOCK YOUR KITCHEN WITH PLENTY OF CLEAN EATING FOODS
This last tip is really just to make it easier on yourself. And, it REALLY helped me. Sometimes I am a bit more relaxed on it but I do notice myself eating it more when it’s there. So it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Having less junk food around the house will definitely make eating clean much easier.
Ensuring your pantry and fridge are stocked with healthy foods makes it much easier to make healthy meals and snacks when you feel like it. So be sure to stock up on healthy canned, frozen and bulk ingredients like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, oats, brown rice, wild rice, beans and lentils for example.
Get some fruit and leave that where you can grab it when your craving something sweet.
Keep the foods you don’t want to eat that much of out of sight.
CLEAN EATING FOR BEGINNERS: A final note…
Clean eating focuses on choosing fresh foods that have been minimally processed and retain their nutritional value. Eat well-balanced meals throughout the day. Include lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates into your diet, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and drink 2 to 3 litres of water (about 13 8-ounce cups) every day.
Snack on raw almonds, unsalted nuts, seeds and dried fruits in between meals or when you’re on the go, but don’t forget to watch the portion sizes! Things like nuts, while full of nutrients are calorie-dense. When trying to shed those final few pounds be sure to keep portion sizes under control.
Strive to avoid, or reduce, overly processed foods, especially white flour and sugar, artificial sweeteners, foods with chemical additives, preservatives, and artificial foods such as trans fats. Don’t forget to reduce or limit your intake of alcohol as this contains nutrient empty calories. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and that’s before any of the other ingredients are taken into account.
Eating clean will allow you to appreciate the natural flavors of foods, as they were meant to be consumed. It will help support your health, as well as the planet. You can shop local and support the community. There are little to no drawbacks to eating clean. Keep this in mind if you’re considering switching to a cleaner diet.
Plus, the more you eat clean, the more your taste buds will change. Foods like doughnuts, candy, that you once craved for will taste too sweet or salty.
Clean eating to me is all about making the most nutritious choices I can when it comes to food. Providing my body with the fuel it needs for strength and energy.
If you found this article helpful or if you have any tips to share please let me know in the comments below.
You May Also Enjoy Reading:
- Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables
- Antioxidant status and odour profile in fresh beef from pasture or grain-fed cattle.
- Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet n-3 PUFA in healthy consumers.
- Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health.
- Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease.
- Diet and breast cancer: the possible connection with sugar consumption.
- Dietary sugar and colon cancer.
- Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies.