What Is Clean Eating?

Last Update: September 29, 2022

A cleanse sounds a little overwhelming, but I think I could try a day of clean eating. I’m just not exactly sure what that is! How do I eat clean on my own?  – Alyson M.

You’re totally right—clean eating isn’t actually all that hard! Contrary to what lots of people think, it doesn’t require impossible restrictions, crazy vegetable juices, or expensive “superfood” ingredients. In fact, there are just two basic rules:

  1. Eat whole foods.
  2. Avoid packaged and highly processed food.

Told you it was simple. As far as “clean” foods go, vegetables, fruits, protein, nuts and seeds,  and whole grains are all safe options. Examples of clean meals run the gamut, from a piece of salmon sauteed in coconut oil with a side of spinach to a burrito bowl with rice, chicken, guacamole, and beans.

I’m a fan of clean eating because you can enjoy a LOT of food, and still feel really good. Many people find that they lose weight when they start eating this way, even though there isn’t much of a change in their daily caloric intake. When I eat clean, I notice that I have more energy, it’s easier for me to wake up in the morning, and I can recover from workouts more quickly.

Other than basically getting to eat as much as you’d like, the great thing about this diet is that it’s very flexible. If you’d like to be a little more stringent with yourself, you can also try avoiding dairy, soy, and gluten. These foods are highly allergenic, and a lot of us have reactions to them without even realizing it. Symptoms of food allergies or intolerance can range from a chronic stuffy nose and sinus infections to serious gastrointestinal distress, and often it’s not until you cut out these foods that you realize they’re causing problems.

Of course, if you’re planning to eat clean for a whole week, it can be hard to totally avoid packaged foods. In general, stick to minimally processed items with less than five ingredients. For snacking, I love crackers that let me see the grains and seeds in them—I know they’re basically as clean as crackers I’d make at home (except they probably taste a little better!)

When it comes to sauces and condiments, stick to the same rules. I’m a big fan of coconut aminos—made from aged coconut sap and sea salt—as a swap for soy sauce, which may have soy, wheat, and other unlisted ingredients that can cause allergy and water retention.

Whether you’re eating clean for one day, or all of 2016 (bravo!), be sure to check out our recipes from food editor Merce Muse—almost all of them fall under the “clean eating” umbrella, and they all taste incredible.

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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