From a scientific perspective, the term “clean eating” doesn’t actually mean anything. However, the concept of cleaning up your diet and emphasizing more whole foods over processed ingredients is rooted in good advice. Decreasing your intake of ultra-processed foods and eating more high quality, nutritious foods can support weight loss and better health.
If you’re new to the idea of eating clean and not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about this trendy eating style, including how to use it to lose weight, put on lean muscle, or improve your health.
What is Clean Eating?
Clean eating is a popular lifestyle approach that emphasizes nutritious, whole foods while minimizing the intake of processed foods and ingredients. Although, because this term is loosely defined, the definition can vary widely depending on who you ask.
At the strictest level, clean eating would allow for only organic foods, free from any artificial ingredients and preservatives, and no packaged foods - commonly referred to as” natural foods” or “real foods” you would find in nature, not in a box on a shelf. This would include plenty of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Sometimes people also interpret clean as free from dairy, wheat, soy, and other modernized food ingredients. Trifecta’s clean meal delivery follows this approach to eliminate common food allergens and support more dietary needs.
Clean eating can also be just identified as “less processed” by allowing some minimally processed packaged foods with simple ingredients like fruit juice, whole-grain bread, Greek yogurt, and olive oil while restricting more refined versions like soda, white bread, and canola oil.
Here's your complete guide to clean eating foods to get started!
Is Clean Eating Healthy?
The notable benefits of a well balanced clean eating plan can include the following:
Increasing your intake of whole foods while cutting back on processed foods high in added sugars, trans fats, and empty calories can help improve your nutrition intake (1,2). Whole foods tend to be a source of essential nutrients like vitamins minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats - supporting good nutrition.
However, just because something contains natural ingredients doesn’t mean it is automatically good for you - total calories and nutritional value still matter.
Additionally, it is likely that no single food is going to make or break your health. To get the best nutrition possible, you will still need to pay attention to your overall portions, macronutrient balance, and micronutrient intake to ensure your body is getting what it needs to thrive.
Diets high in plant-based foods like fruits and veggies, nutrient-dense proteins, and healthy fats have long been associated with positive health benefits including heart health, brain health, improved blood sugar control, and reduced risk of diet-related chronic disease (3,4,5,6,7).
However, these benefits are not unique to a clean diet only - a standard approach to healthy eating also includes high amounts these beneficial foods. Plus, as mentioned above, your overall nutrition intake plays a major role. In other words, just “eating clean” alone doesn’t guarantee improved health.
Many people will find that they lose weight on a clean diet because they have cut back on a lot of empty calories from beverages, snack foods, and sweets. Additionally, their increased intake of key nutrients supports improved mood, energy, and reduced cravings and appetite, all of which can make cutting calories feel easier (8,9,10,11).
Regardless, it is impossible to lose weight on a clean diet without calorie control. Eating whole foods alone won’t result in weight loss unless you are eating fewer calories than you burn every day.
A clean approach to bulking or weight gain is also thought to result in less fat gain and more muscle gain. Of course, this is just one factor to consider - your macros and workout routine are also crucial.
Disadvantages of Eating Clean
It is important to note that the term clean is arbitrary and does not necessarily mean foods that don’t meet the standard for a clean diet are “dirty” or necessarily harmful to consume.
It is possible to be too restrictive when it comes to your food choices and there’s no strong research showing that the occasional processed food is going to make or break your health. Like most diet styles, getting the full benefits of a clean meal plan requires balance.
If you are finding that following a strict ingredient approach is supporting a negative relationship with food, it might not be the best approach for you. Try switching your mindset from restricting everything “dirty” to just cutting back to a level that makes sense for you.
How to Start Eating Clean
Mastering clean eating is fairly simple. All you need is a basic understanding of your personal nutrition needs and then identify the types of foods that will help get you there.
Here are some key things to know when starting a clean diet:
1. Learn Your Macro Goals
The best way to achieve your fitness goals is to know your macro needs. This includes exactly how many grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrates your body needs each day for either weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance.
Once you’ve figured this out, all you need to do is track your daily intake to ensure what you are eating is matching your nutrition needs. Do this consistently and you will get results. Period.
2. Give it Time
Results don’t happen overnight. You didn’t get to where you are now in a few weeks so don’t expect things to change that quickly. If you really want to improve your health or achieve your body goals, you’re gonna need to make some serious lifestyle changes and be patient.
Learn more about how weight loss works and when you can start seeing results.
3. Pay Attention to How You Feel
How you feel from the inside out is generally a good indicator of how well a certain dietary approach is working for you.
You might also find that there’s an adjustment period to cleaning up your food intake. While ultimately your energy levels, mood, and appetite will likely improve after upgrading your nutrition, this might not be the case right out the gate - especially if you were eating fairly unhealthy prior to.
Once you start making drastic changes in your eating, you might notice a decrease in energy and side effects like headaches, cravings, and increased appetite, but this should resolve itself over time if you are getting good nutrition.
4. Eat the Foods You Enjoy
Try not to get sucked into the latest health food trend and remind yourself that it’s about the bigger picture, not a single food item. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on the latest superfood to get results, you just need to find nutritious foods that you enjoy eating.
Besides, the more you enjoy the process, the more likely you are to stick to it. And the longer you stick to it, the more likely you are to achieve lasting results!
Take our diet quiz to see if clean eating is the right fit for you!
5. Focus on Consistency, Not Perfection
Cutting everything out all at once and banning your once-favorite foods from your life is not only drastic but pretty hard to sustain. Don’t set yourself up for diet failure with an all or nothing mindset, instead, start slow with small changes and work your way towards a healthier lifestyle.
You will be much more likely to keep it up and be happier in the long run. Plus, it’s a proven fact that months of consistency will get you much further than a few weeks of perfect eating.
Ready to clean up your diet? Download your free meal prep toolkit for clean eating. Complete with a macro meal planner, food lists, and expert advice to help you get results.