Looking to clean up your diet? Or perhaps you're just not quite sure what "eating clean" really means? We've got you covered with the best “clean” foods to add nutrition to your meal prep and expert tips to help you crush your fitness goals.
Here’s your ultimate clean-eating grocery list:
What is Clean Eating?
Clean eating is traditionally defined as eating simple, whole foods without any artificial ingredients. This typically involves the elimination of most processed foods, trans fats, heavily saturated fats, added sugar, and refined grains. And some choose to take clean eating a notch further by also eliminating gluten, dairy, and soy as well.
For those looking to clean up their diet, learning how to eat clean can be a great place to start. Especially when whole, nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and quality proteins are emphasized, as these make up the bulk of a well-balanced diet. But it is also important to note that just because a food doesn’t qualify as “clean” doesn't automatically mean they are “dirty” or bad for you in any way.
Moreover, some research suggests that the quality of your food choices may matter when it comes to weight loss (1,2,3,4). However, eating less processed foods does not outweigh the need for calorie control in the first place.
Clean Eating for Beginners
Learning how to start eating clean is fairly simple. Use the following suggested guidelines to help you identify which healthy foods would fit into your clean eating diet:
- Eat foods your great great grandmother would recognize.
- Eat more whole foods you can identify without having to read the ingredient labels. This includes foods you would find in the produce section and perimeter of the grocery store.
- Eat minimally processed foods with little to no ingredients.
- If there is an ingredient list, aim to stick to ingredients you recognize as food.
- Pay attention to the food's nutrition and look for calorie-controlled options that are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Lastly, if you are looking to lose weight, calorie control is still essential. To get the most out of your clean-eating meals, track your daily food intake and ensure you are staying on top of your daily calorie needs.
Your Clean Eating Grocery List
It is entirely possible to eat clean and still have a poor diet if you aren't paying attention to your overall nutrition intake. That's why the best "clean" foods are not only minimally processed but also high in important nutrients.
To help dial in your macros and nutrition, here are the best clean foods to add to your meal prep broken down by macronutrients.
The best proteins are high in quality protein (containing more protein than fat and carbs), lean, and loaded with nutrition. For meat and dairy, this typically means opting for more grass-fed, sustainably caught, and free-range options. And for many people, this also means considering more organic proteins.
There is some limited research that suggests grass-fed meat may be lower in fat and higher in vitamin A, and that cage-free eggs are higher in vitamin D and lower in cholesterol (5,6,7). Some studies suggest that sustainably caught fish may have a superior lipid profile, and the USDA national nutrient database also implies some varieties of sustainably caught salmon are higher in certain nutrients compared to farm-raised salmon (8). Research also suggests that organic dairy from grass-fed cows has a more beneficial fatty acid complex, that's higher in heart-healthy omega-3s (9).
Here are some excellent protein choices to look for:
- 100% Grass-fed Beef and Steak
Organic and Free-Range Proteins
- Egg whites
Sustainably Caught Seafood
- Fatty Fish: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sea bass, Sardines, Sablefish, Pompano, Eel, Carp, and Herring
- Lean Fish: Tuna, Basa, Cod, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Tilapia, Pollock, Halibut, Rockfish, Trout, Bass, Catfish, Flounder, Grouper, Haddock, Pike, Snapper
- Shellfish: Sustainably-Caught Shrimp, Oysters, Calms, Muscles, Lobster, Crab, and Scallop
- Mycoprotein (corn-based)
- Beans and Legumes: Navy Beans, Pinto Beans, Black Beans, Butter Beans, Fava Beans, Chickpeas, Lima Beans, Black Eyed Peas, etc.
- Green Peas
- Nutritional Yeast
- Pea Protein
- Beyond Burger
- Edamame and Tofu (Contain Soy)
Organic and Grass-Fed Dairy
- Cows Milk
- Goats Milk
- Sheep's Milk
- Cottage Cheese
- Ice cream
Carbohydrates come from a variety of healthy foods including fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains. But carbs can also come from less desirable choices. For more health benefits, limit more refined sugars like processed grains and table sugar and choose whole food sources of complex, fiber-rich carbs instead (10).
Here are some of the most nutritious carb foods broken out by category, including gluten-free and gluten-containing grains. As well as some more "natural", less-processed sweeteners to use in small quantities.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains
- Air-popped Popcorn
Gluten-Containing Whole Grains
- Ancient Grains
- Cereal Grains
- Sweet Potatoes
- Other Potatoes
- Acorn Squash
- Butternut Squash
- Goji Berries
- Black Currants
- Dried Fruit
- Frozen Fruit
- 100% Fruit Juice
- Raw sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Coconut Sugar
- Date Paste
We Make It Easy!
Fat is typically eaten as an added ingredient or topping, such as cooking oil, dressings, butter, and sauces. But it is also naturally occurring in many foods, including proteins. The best healthy fats tend to come from plant-based sources and are found in whole foods, packaged with other key nutrients (11).
To get the right balance of fat in your diet, make sure you are tracking your macro intake and portioning high-fat foods to meet your fitness goals.
Here are some great fats to add to your diet:
- Peanuts and Peanut Butter
- Nuts and Nut Butters: Almonds, Cashews, Pistachios, Pecans, Brazil Nuts, Walnuts, etc.
- Seeds: Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, etc.
- Oils: Flax Seed Oil, Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, and Canola Oil
Other Clean Foods
The following options don't necessarily fall into a certain macro category, but can still be beneficial to your clean meal plan.
Non-starchy vegetables don’t easily fall into any macro category since they tend to be so low in calories and aren’t a significant source of any macro. They are, however, high in micronutrients that provide essential nutrition and can help with your weight loss or muscle gain diet in a number of different ways. And play a major role in long-term health (12).
Here is your list of non-starchy veggies to load up on at each meal:
- Non-Starchy Veggies: Leafy Greens, Radishes, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Tomato, Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumber, Peppers, Green Beans, Celery, Bok Choy, Jicama, Mushrooms, Artichokes, Cabbage, Beets, Onions and Carrots.
- Sea Vegetables: Seaweed, Kelp, and Algae
- Melons: Watermelon, Cantaloupe, and Honeydew
- Berries: Acai, Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries
- All Fresh Herbs
- Lemons and Limes
If you’re following a dairy-free diet, there are a number of dairy alternatives you can opt for. However, it is important to understand that many dairy-free milks and yogurts, don’t have a similar nutrition profile to dairy-based foods - specifically when it comes to protein. Be sure to check the nutrition facts labels for any of the following and look for versions with less added sugar and more protein.
- Almond Milk and other plant-based milk
- Cashew milk
- Oat milk
- Coconut milk
- Rice milk
- Hemp milk
- Flax milk
- Yogurt made from soy, almond, or coconut
- Vegan cheeses made from almond, soy, cashews, or nutritional yeast
- Vegan ice cream
Foods to Avoid
When it comes to what foods you should avoid on a clean diet, the list is mainly comprised of highly processed foods that are high in added sugar, sodium, and trans fats, and low in overall nutritional value. These foods are typically sources of empty calories. Some of these foods can also be associated with potential negative health consequences when included as part of an overall unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
Here are some of the top foods to limit in your clean diet:
Processed Foods and Ingredients
- Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Neotame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Xylitol, Erythritol
- Refined Sugars: Brown sugar, Table Sugar, Corn Syrup
- Processed Meats: Hot Dogs, Spam
- Packaged Foods and Snacks
Clean Eating Meal Plan
Sticking to a balanced, clean diet can feel like a lot of work. If you’re new to meal prep, or just not interested in spending hours shopping, cooking, and portioning out your food each week, there might be an easier way!
Check out the Trifecta clean meal plan and let us do all of the hard work for you. Or mix and match your favorite pre-cooked clean foods using our A La Carte line.
Our clean meal plan meets the strictest standards making it gluten-free, made with organic whole foods, grass-fed and sustainably caught proteins, and contains zero artificial ingredients or preservatives.