Quick disclosure! This article covers what does clean eating mean. I LOVE food, am passionate about eating clean, and I have read up on clean eating a lot over the past 4ish years. BUT, I am by no means an expert. I do not hold a medical degree (I did not care for Biology 101), and am not qualified to give out medical advice. Consider this my opinion only 🙂 If you have any specific questions regarding your health, please check with a qualified medical professional.
Over the past few years, you may have seen more and more recipes and foods labeled “clean eating”, and if you haven’t taken the plunge into clean eating, you may be wondering what clean eating means. The truth is, the definition and meaning will vary from person to person!
What Does Clean Eating Mean?
In a nutshell, clean eating means eating food that is as close to its original state, as possible. Think of picking an apple off a tree, digging a potato out of the ground, or roasting sunflowers seeds picked right off the flower. The less altered a food is, the “cleaner” it is. Of course, we don’t all have lakes of fish, or chickens laying eggs in our backyard, so to put clean eating into practical terms, I want to cover a few popular clean eating concepts.
Get a full week’s clean eating meal plan here
Weston A Price
On one end of the spectrum is Weston A Price, which has published a list of dietary guidelines that is comprehensive and well researched. These guidelines includes eating meat from pasture-fed animals, drinking full-fat milk products (also from pasture-fed cows), organic fruits and veggies, homemade bone broths, and even specifying the use of stainless steel, cast iron or glass for cooking. I tried to follow those guidelines for a while, but found them to be quite rigorous and challenging for me, since I was juggling kids and a full time job. It is a great guideline, but it’s intense.
100 Days of Real Food
My first exposure to clean eating, or “real food” was on 100DaysofRealFood. I found her website to be a great resource, and still visit it weekly. Her view of real food is approachable and easy to understand. Her rules (or guidelines) include whole foods, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, whole dairy products, and even allows for wine (maybe that’s why I like her so much!). She also has a ton of recipes on her website.
Get 24 Yummy Clean Eating Breakfasts Recipes
My Approach to Clean Eating
My view of clean eating is probably the most lenient, which I think is a great place to start, especially if you’re new to eating clean. If you have been living on a standard american diet (SAD) for all your life, it is unlikely that you’re going to go from eating McDonalds everyday to eating wild fresh caught salmon, cooked in a specific type of pan, with a side of organic quinoa. I mean, great if you can do that! But I find that little changes at a time build on each other, and are generally more sustainable.
So, you’re ready to start eating clean. Now what?
First, let’s see what a typical plate looks like. For this, we’ll check in with the experts. The USDA is moving away from the food pyramid, and is now recommending individuals strive to eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. Of course, this may not be the perfect fit for everyone, especially with food allergies or intolerance, but it is recommended for the general public. According to the USDA, a typical adult’s plate should look like this:
Here are some ideas on what to put in each section of your plate
- Apples, pears, apricots, peaches, pineapples, tomatoes, plums, bananas, kiwis, grapes, lemons, limes, blueberries, mango, grapefruit, pomegranate, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, avocados, watermelon, cantaloupe
- Spinach, lettuce, broccoli, beets, carrots, cucumbers, butternut squash, celery, avocados, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, peas, green beans, kale, zucchini, spaghetti squash, swiss chard, and peppers
- Whole wheat pasta, wild rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread, barley, quinoa,
- Chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, nuts, fish, pork, and beans
- Whole milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, and cream
Here are my general guidelines to clean eating:
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Organic when possible. Fresh is best, frozen is the next best thing to fresh, and canned as a last resort. Buy and eat produce that is in season.
- Eat meat in moderation and nix the processed meats. Beef, chicken, pork and seafood that can be baked, slow cooked or grilled. Stay away from processed meats, like lunch meat and bacon, except for special occasions. Grass-fed animals are a better option, when available and within budget.
- Use Whole Dairy Products – skip the low-fat versions of dairy, as much of the current research shows that full fat is better for you. Pick full fat milk (organic when possible), blocks of whole cheese (shred it yourself), and don’t be afraid of butter in moderation (throw the margarine straight into the trash).
- Eat Whole Grains – the technical definition of a whole grain is a grain that contains all three parts of the kernal: the bran, germ and endosperm. Eating grains in their whole state ensures you receive optimimum nutrition. Some of the most common whole grains include wheat, rye, oats, wild rice, and quinoa. For a complete list of whole grains, go here.
- Drink Good Drinks – Basically, I drink coffee and tea in moderation, and I drink mostly water. I stay away from sodas, juices, vitamin waters, etc. I also drink red wine in moderation.
- It’s Okay to Cheat – No one is perfect. Do the best you can. Make good choices most of the time, and don’t feel guilty when you have an occasional splurge!
I have sooo much more to share on this topic, but I am going to break it up into segments! Next week, I will share some buzz words in the clean eating world, to get a better handle on why you’re paying a premium for cage-free eggs at the grocery store.
Don’t forget clean eating can be fun! Here are 37 homemade cocktails to try
Stay tuned, check out my clean eating recipes, and be sure to leave a comment below if you have any specific questions!
Hi Elle! I love your site! I downloaded all of your clean eating weekly menus and I am super excited to start my clean eating journey! Thank you for your easy to follow recipes and great information.
Hi Lisa – Thanks for the feedback! 🙂 I know you’re going to love clean eating!!
Hi Andrea, Thanks for the tip. I never really thought about how much-processed foods were all in the middle and sectioning my plate idea was great. Good tip!
Vid Grosek says
Hello Andrea, I have read your article, and I have liked it a lot – I have a few things I would like to add if you do not mind. While exploring the clean eating fad I noticed that on your page you do not have written which are the most and least toxin vegetables out there by EWG. Do with it what you please.
I just wanted to say keep with the good work!
What great information and recipes. Have just finished reading the book “Always Hungry” about clean eating and how to make these important nutritional changes.
I am curious about popcorn. Is this a clean food?
Pat – I consider popcorn clean eating as long as it is non-gmo 🙂
Juliet Aloaye says
Thanks for sharing…..
Thank you for sharing all this info and for the ideas and recipes. I start today.
I’ve been on a gradual journey to a healthier lifestyle and trying to eat clean has been one of my big initiatives. I agree that it’s best to take it in small steps if you really want to make a lifestyle change. We started by limiting processed food. I love all of the other resources now that I feel like we’ve made great progress. Thanks for sharing these!
Andrea, you’ve been opening my eyes to clean eating over the past year. You make is reasonable and doable.