What is Clean Eating: A Beginner’s Guide

Written by Team Biotrust

What is Clean Eating

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “clean eating” thrown around lately. Sure, it sounds healthy, but exactly what is clean eating? That’s a great question, and in this article, we’ll give you our take on the topic as well as provide you with step-by-step guidance on how to start eating clean!

What is Clean Eating

The basic premise of clean eating is to consume mostly healthy, whole, minimally-processed foods. “Clean” food doesn’t have a lot of ingredients and hasn’t been changed or processed much. In fact, most clean foods have one ingredient: the food itself. Contrast that with foods that are more heavily processed, which tend to have a laundry list of ingredients, many of which you and I can’t even pronounce.

For example, an apple is “cleaner” than applesauce, which is “cleaner” (arguably, much cleaner) than an apple pastry. Likewise, fresh chicken is “cleaner” than deli-sliced chicken, which is “cleaner” than chicken nuggets. Or, brown rice is “cleaner” than white rice, which is “cleaner” than flavored, instant rice.

Having said that, clean eating is more than what you eat; it’s also how you eat. Along those lines, clean eating is less of a “diet” and more of a way of life. Don’t let that scare you. The great thing about eating cleaner is that you can start where you are and make changes that you’re ready, willing, and able to take on.

Read on to learn how you can get on the path to eating clean.

Eating Clean Diet

Standard American Diet: The Rival of Eating Clean

Sometimes to learn what you should be doing, you must understand and acknowledge what you shouldn’t be doing. Enter the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is the virtual opposite of clean eating. The typical Western-style diet, which is composed of more than 70% processed foods, is tied to all sorts of health risks and problems characterized by excessive oxidative stress and unhealthy levels of inflammation—negatively affecting your heart, brain, waistline, and virtually every tissue and organ in your body while accelerating aging.


You see, the foes of eating clean are processing and refining. Generally speaking, these steps tend to take away something (e.g., fiber) from the food in its original form while frequently adding in things you don’t want or may want to limit, like artificial ingredients (e.g., sweeteners, colors, flavors, preservatives), sugar, salt, and low-quality oils (more on that below).

You can use a product’s ingredients list as your guide. Remember, a good rule of thumb is that the “cleanest” foods typically only have one ingredient, sometimes two. For instance, the only ingredient in pint of strawberries is…strawberries. The only ingredient in a salmon filet is…salmon. The only ingredient in…you see the picture. When a “food” boasts a long, complex ingredient list, this is a good indication that it’s heavily processed and further away from “clean” on the continuum.

Another clue that food isn’t clean is the amount of added salt, sugar, and fat. While consuming these from naturally-occurring sources (e.g., olives, fruit, and fatty fish, respectively) is healthy—and in the cases of sodium and certain fats, necessary—heavily processed foods rely on these added ingredients to enhance flavor and make them more palatable. There’s a reason that you can’t eat just one; it’s handiwork of the processed-food industry, which has “cracked the code” on making its food addictive.

How to Start Eating Clean

How to Start Eating Clean: 8 Easy Steps

Chances are, you could probably guess at least a dozen different reasons why “cleaning up” your diet and eating cleaner is good for you—a healthier body weight, better sleep, more energy, better overall health and feelings of wellbeing, and the list goes on. So, the question of how to start eating clean would be a good one to discuss.

Remember, clean eating is not so much a diet as it a lifestyle approach. That’s a good thing because, for most people, the thought of completely revamping the way you eat overnight is overwhelming, and in most cases, sets you up for failure. With that in mind, check out this list of things you can do to get started on cleaning up your diet.

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. While most people recognize that fruits and vegetables are packed with important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins, minerals) and fiber, their true super powers may lie in their phytonutrients (i.e., phytochemicals). It’s these phytonutrients, which give fruits and veggies their vibrant colors, that possess potent fat-fighting, anti-aging, and antioxidant properties. Generally speaking, the more colors you eat, the greater array of beneficial phytonutrients you nourish your body with; along those lines, it’s a good idea to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. To optimize health, you may consider trying to include at least one serving of each of the primary colors each day:

  • Greens: Various lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini
  • Reds: Tomatoes, red bell peppers, red cabbage, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, raspberries, cherries, papaya, cranberries, strawberries
  • Oranges: Carrots, orange bell peppers, various squashes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, pineapple, citrus fruits, peaches, mango
  • Whites: Onions, garlic, parsnips, cauliflower, yellow squash
  • Purples: Eggplant, purple cabbage, beets, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, prunes

2. While we recommend eating protein-rich foods, which help keep you feeling full and satisfied and promote a healthy body composition, with each meal, we suggest investing in the highest quality that your budget allows (e.g., organic, pasture-raised, wild, sustainable, hormone- and antibiotic-free, etc.). What protein sources are best? Glad you asked. We’ve prepared a list of our Top 55 High-Protein Foods just for you, and you can download it completely free.

3. Drink clean water—lots of it. Let’s put it this way: The human body is made up of about 60% water (or, at least it’s intended to), and dehydration of just 0.5% can negatively affect how your brain, heart, and muscles work. While water needs vary significantly from person to person based body size, activity levels, temperature and humidity, food choices, and more, a good starting point for most is to drink about 64 ounces, or 2 liters, of water per day.

4. Overall, carbohydrate intake should match activity levels and body type (e.g., insulin sensitivity), and when you do eat carbs, we recommend choosing “smart carbs,” which are whole, minimally-processed, slow-digesting, and high in fiber, such as the following:

  • Colorful, starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, winter squash)
  • Colorful fruits (e.g., berries)
  • Sweet/starchy fruits and vegetables (e.g., bananas, plantains, potatoes)
  • Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils)
  • Whole, intact grains (rather than “foods” made from refined flour), including whole or steel-cut oats; wild, brown, or red rice; quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat groats; sprouted grains; kamut or spelt grains; maize; millet; and barley

5. Replace less healthy fats (e.g., soybean, canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, and sunflower oils), which are typically found in processed/packaged foods, with healthier fats such as:

  • Raw nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews) and nut butters
  • Raw seeds (e.g., pumpkin, chia, hemp)
  • Olives and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocados and extra-virgin avocado oil
  • Other cold-pressed, extra-virgin oils (e.g., walnut, macadamia nut, hemp)
  • Butter and ghee (from pasture-raised cows)
  • Fresh coconut, coconut milk, and extra-virgin coconut oil
  • Fatty fish and shellfish (e.g., salmon, anchovies, sardines, oysters, mussels, herring, tuna, white fish)

6. At the supermarket, concentrate your shopping on the perimeter of the store. Most of the “clean” stuff can be found here, while most of the stuff to avoid is in the inner aisles and beside the checkout.

7. Shop at your local farmer’s market. Not only will you be supporting local business, by purchasing fresh, seasonal produce, you’ll also be reducing your carbon footprint.

8. Choose organic foods when possible and when your budget allows. Speaking generally, produce grown under organic standards has been shown to provide significantly greater amounts of antioxidant phytonutrients while reducing exposure to potentially harmful pesticide residues, heavy metals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Meanwhile, compared to conventional meat and dairy, organic varieties have been shown to have higher levels of healthy fats (e.g., omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid).

Clean Up Your Act

Clean eating means different things to different people, but if you begin to put the above steps into action and eat mostly healthy, whole, minimally-processed foods in the appropriate amounts for your activity level, then you should be well on your way to a healthier body weight and improved health.

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More From Team Biotrust

  • Cande Kirk

    This is a Great article!! Learning about foods and the right foods is how I lost 61 pounds….no diet…just eating clean and right!! I am going to share this! Thank you! I hope more people will start to realize what all these packaged and canned foods are doing to their bodies.

    • Cristina

      Hello Cande. Congratulations on your outstanding weight loss. I am throwing up a virtual high five to you, girl. I am so thrilled that the information we are providing has been helpful in providing you with guidance and additional resources.

      I believe by creating an awareness and discovering what works for you, as an individual, you are able to achieve optimal health, body composition, and performance.

      Please feel free to share any information that you have found to be helpful along your journey with us, and keep up the phenomenal work!

  • R Monty

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!! I NEED THIS INFORMATION FOR MY WIFE TO SHOP & GROW THESES GREEN, RED, WHITE, PURPLE, ORANGE PLANTS!!

    • Try some calming tea, also. You seem really stressed out, or your type is stuck on capital letters…..?

      • R Monty

        SORRY YOU CAN NOT SEE ME PERSONALLY SIR/MAM!! BUT MY EYES HAVE BEEN MESSED WITH SINCE 1968 IN DA NANG PROVINCE, VIET NAM! AT WHICH TIME A 20LB ANTI TANK MINE BLEW UP UNDER MY BULLDOZER ! IF I DON’T USE CAPS, I CAN NOT SEE ALL THE LETTERS I NEED TO COMPOSE!! I DO HOPE YOU HAVE A BLESSED DAY AND PLEASE TRY TO UNDERSTAND SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM! IN FACT I AM FAR FROM STRESSED THOUGH! I LIVE ON AN ISLAND IN THE PHILIPPINE WATERS OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA! RIGHT NOW IT IS 1:30 IN THE AFTERNOON AND IT IS 80 DEGREES OUTSIDE, WITH A FEW PUFFY CLOUDS ABOVE, A SMALL SOUTHERLY BREEZE KEEPS ME COOL!! HOW IS YOUR DAY SIR/MAM?

    • Cristina

      Hello R Monty. If you are interested in some helpful hints for what to plant and when for your specific area, the Farmer’s Almanac has always been my go-to resource.

      Garden Planner

      Let us know if there is any additional information we can provide you with to help you and your wife have a successful harvest this season!

      • R Monty

        HI AND THANK YOU CRISTINA! WE LIVE IN LUTOBAN, ZAMBOANGUITA, NEGROS ORIENTAL, PHILIPPINES 6218 THANKS AGAIN!! I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE, IN RELATION TO THE WEATHER, BUT THIS TIME OF YEAR, LIVING TO THE NORTH HAS ITS DOWNFALLS, REGARDING CROPS AND ITS PLANTINGS!! RIGHT NOW IT IS 1:50 PM IN THE AFTERNOON OF FEB.28! AND IT IS 27C ( 82 F)! SOME SMALL WHITE FLUFFY CLOUDS ABOVE THIS BEACH OF WHITE SAND, A SOFT SOUTHERLY BREEZE KEEPS US COOLISH!! WE ARE PLANNING TO BUILD A HOUSE HERE AND PLANT SOME OF OUR FOOD FOR OUR OWN TABLE! SO THE CROPS YOU WERE STATING WILL FIT GREAT IF IT WILL GROW IN WARMER CLIMATES!! I AM FROM OREGON ORIGINALLY AND WE CAN GROW MANY THINGS THERE! INCLUDING COLD WEATHER PLANTS AND SOME WARM WEATHER ALSO IN THE EASTERN PART OF THE STATE!! LIKE WATERMELON!! LOOK FORWARD TO ANY SCRIPT YOU MIGHT HAVE!! PLEASE EMAIL ME IF YOU WANT!! [email protected]

        • Cristina

          Hi there, Monty. You are just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Pacific Ocean from where I am located. Although it would appear when you did live in the United States you were on the West Coast, I reside on the southern part of the East Coast.

          Although we don’t typically see any snow or temperatures below freezing, we have been experiencing an unseasonably warm winter. Some folks have already begun to plant leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, kale, cabbage, and broccoli. These crops should do fairly well for us now, and maybe later this month we will plant carrots, celery, and onions.

          Your area sounds quite lovely, and I would imagine it will be a great place to put down some roots (both with your new house, as well as your crops).

          • R Monty

            THANK YOU FOR THE REPLY CRISTINA!! YES THERE ARE ALOT OF PLANTINGS GOING ON, STARTING MAINLY NEXT MONTH!! THERE ARE HUGE FARMS HERE GROWING RICE OR SUGAR OR CORN!! USUALLY THE PEOPLE HERE WILL EAT THE CORN EVEN IF IT IS THE VARIETY USED FOR ANIMAL FEED IN THE STATES! I HOLD OUT FOR THE PALTRY SWEET CORN FIELDS TO RIPEN!! THEY ONLY USUALLY GET ONE GROW PER YEAR WHERE THE NORMAL CORN; THEY CAN GET 2 GROWS A YEAR!! BUT IN REALITY, RICE AND SUGAR TAKES UP MOST OF THE FIELDS IN THIS COUNTRY !! MY WIFE IS A SCHOOLED AGRICULTURIST AND KNOWS MUCH MUCH MORE THAN I DO!! SO I LET HER HANDLE OUR COMPANIES BUSINESS END OF FERTILIZERS FOR THE FARMERS!! WE HANDLE THE ONLY 100% ORGANIC FERTILIZER IN THE WORLD!! IT IS SO NEW TO THESE FARMERS THEY FLIP OUT WHEN THEY SEE THE RESULTS IN COMPARISON ! MASSIVE INCREASES IN YIELD IN ALL TYPES OF CROPS!! COME ON OVER & VISIT US! WE WOULD LOVE TO MEET YOU!!

  • Patrick

    Great article for the basics of clean eating. We all have choices so if we can improve on those we’ll be heading in the right direction.

    • Cristina

      Hi Patrick. Great feedback, my friend. Repeatedly making smart choices are what creates healthy habits. Healthy habits lead to a wholesome lifestyle.

      We would love for you to share some of your healthy habits with us, so maybe you can help others to make smarter choices for themselves.

      Thank you for stopping by, Patrick.

  • drbarney

    A good approach is to make a list of all the corporations that design food to be unhealthy; that is, to cause obesity. For instance, Nestle, Coca Cola, Kellogg, General Mills, Quaker, Nabisco, Dole, Del Monte, and organic food companies they have bought out. Almost all these foods are at least in part owned by the tobacco industry and that tells us everything we need to know. If it is aggressively advertised, and you recognize the name, it will go on your list. Use this list the same way you would use a sex offender registry if you were a principal hiring teachers. Do not even bother to read their labels because they are always designed to be deceptive.
    If you have peers who offer you soft drinks or fast food do not compromise with them. If they cannot take no for an answer, “Just one serving of Doritos won’t hurt you,” be aggressive and territorial about your body the same way a pulchritudinous lady has a right to be territorial about her body when sexually harassed by the president. If you have to shock them to get it through their thick skulls that you and you alone decides what is acceptable to put in your body tell them, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t possibly eat potato chips. Do I look like a trailer park?” If you alienate them it is no loss because you deserve friends who respect your right to respect yourself in the foods you choose.

    • Cristina

      Hi drbarney. I think it was Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who said “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”. Bottom line is you are what you eat.

      If we feed our bodies with clean, healthy food, it will allow us to live a healthy and clean life. It is our responsibility to discover which foods best fuel our bodies, and allow them to thrive. Developing a healthy relationship with food and being able to provide nourishment to our bodies in the cleanest way possible is what will ultimately provide us with the best results.

      Social support is critical, drbarney. And while I would never suggest finding new friends, you certainly have the option to be a leader and not a follower. You could offer healthier suggestions for your friends, and if that doesn’t work, perhaps you could suggest the restaurant where you dine at so you know you will have healthy options available to you.

      I am sure it’s difficult to be the one to vote against burgers for lunch, but it sounds like you aren’t one to fall victim to peer pressure anyway, drbarney.

  • Peaster63

    AWESOME Article!!! Clean Eating is BEST!!!

    • Cristina

      Hi Peaster63. Thanks for checking out our article on clean eating. We definitely agree with you that clean eating is best.

      If there are any foods that you believe would be great to add to our list, please feel free to share them with us.

      To your health!

  • At 62, after eating cleaner than anyone around me, I am so much healthier than everyone around me they marvel at how I look and how much younger I seem. I have gotten to the point in my diet, the only cooked food I eat is brown rice and eggs. I never eat seafood after Fukushima, so I get my Omegas through purselane and other natural plants. I did this under the most severe poverty situation, so if I can do it raising kids and being so poor it hurts, anyone can.

    • Cristina

      Hello clark.dianna. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I can appreciate that regardless of your circumstances, you were mindful of good nutrition and teaching your children the importance of a healthy diet.

      I often tell folks that most things nutrition-related exist along a continuum of Good => Better => Best. So, for example when we make the suggestion to choose organic foods whenever possible, this doesn’t mean that if you can’t eat only organic produce, then you shouldn’t eat fruits and vegetables at
      all. In fact, you’re nearly always better off eating more vegetables and fruit than not at all.

      I love that you have found ways to make things work for you and your family, and it certainly shows in your quality of life, and how you look and feel.

      Hopefully by you sharing your own journey, you may be inspiring others to eat clean.

  • FooFoo

    Clean eating is……….Eat as single foods as possible…..don’t mix too many foods together……and hopefully those foods are REAL…..

    • Cristina

      Hi FooFoo. I love how you summed it up. Short and sweet.

      While we definitely recommend eating real foods, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you shouldn’t mix too many foods together. Your diet should consist of a balance of healthy fats, lean proteins, smart carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables.

      The emphasis being placed on avoiding all of the additives typically found in processed/pre-packaged foods.

      It sounds like you have the right idea, FooFoo. Keep up the great work.