The Ultimate Guide to Clean Eating

A Guide to Nutrition and Clean Eating, Self-care

You can spend money now on quality food to maintain health, or you can spend money on expensive medical bills later. Either way, it will be money spent in the long run. The major difference is one impacts your health positively, while one impacts your health and body negatively. -Trish French-


The smell of simmered broth starts to fill the kitchen; the veggies are diced and ready to go. I crunch down on the end of a carrot, as I season my pile of produce with pink salt and herbs. This is heaven for me, and this is my therapy; I think it, I make it, I eat it. It has become so important over the years, now essential in my daily routine. The process of cooking a healthy meal is not only therapeutic, but has greatly improved my mood and overall health. I’ve never felt better and it's clear there is much to be gained in proper eating habits.

Eating clean dates back to the Natural Health Food Movement in the 1960s, which shunned processed foods for the sake of moral and societal values. Clean eating is a simple concept, being mindful of the food's pathway between its origin and your plate. Gaining insight on food allows you to consume healthy, whole, unprocessed foods, close to their natural form.

A simple rule; if you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't eat it.

Learning to read food labels in crucial. One of the best tips is to completely ignore claims on the front of the packaging. Front labels try to lure you into purchasing products by making health claims. Manufacturers tend to use health claims that are misleading and in some cases downright false.

Below are insight tips to use when implementing a Clean Eating lifestyle.

A Guide to Nutrition, Eating Clean and Healthy, Self-care

10 Benefits of Healthy Eating

  1. Improved memory and concentration.

  2. Improved immune system.

  3. Increased energy.

  4. Beautiful skin.

  5. Increased productivity.

  6. More nutrients for the body.

  7. Healthy eating helps to eliminate stress.

  8. Better rest and sleep.

  9. Digestive and cellular health.

  10. Weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight.

A Guide to Nutrition, Eating Clean and Healthy, Self-care


Not all nutrients and other substances that contribute to good health have been identified, so eating a wide assortment of healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables helps to ensure that you get all of the health-promoting benefits on offer from foods. If your diet, day after day, consists of the same half dozen foods, it could fall short. In addition, varying your food choices will limit your exposure to any pesticides or toxic substances that might be present in particular foods.


For many people, food is a chore, a challenge, even a source of dread, as they try to overcome poor eating habits. But eating should be a joy and a centerpiece of family life. Many cultures around the world emphasize the enjoyment of food, which includes cooking and eating with others, as an integral component of good health. Eating healthfully involves “enjoying food and celebrating cultural and personal traditions through food.” Shared mealtimes, especially during childhood, may help protect against nutrition-related health problems as well as increase prosocial behavior in adulthood.


Many people depend on fast food and other quick, unhealthy foods to get them through busy days.

However, making a habit of buying meals and snacks on the run can lead to unhealthy choices and behaviors. Although it’s not practical for everyone to cook all meals at home, preparing fresh, healthy food for yourself should be a priority whenever possible. When eating clean, knowing what’s in your food is important and cooking for yourself is the easiest way to control what goes in and what stays out of your body.


Prepping bulk meals for the week ahead ensures that you will have fresh, healthy options every day. It also keeps you from making poor food choices out of desperation. For example, knowing that you have a delicious meal already prepared and waiting for you in your refrigerator can deter you from stopping at a fast-food restaurant for a quick bite. Try investing in a dry erase board for your kitchen where you can jot down recipe ideas, grocery lists and plan meals for the week ahead.


Food processing isn’t always a bad thing: Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them. But the word “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged. Highly processed foods are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources—everything from hot dogs and margarine to ice cream, candy, and many packaged snack foods. Such foods, which supply more than half the daily calories in most U.S. households, lack key nutrients and fiber and are high in sugars and sodium.

Cereals and oat bars generally aren't the healthiest option for breakfast due to their high concentrations of sugar and cornstarch, but now there's evidence that 6 types of Cheerios, 14 Nature Valley products, and Fiber One's oatmeal raisin soft-baked cookies carry traces of weed-killer, Roundup. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, and at high levels, has been linked to cancer. Cheerios also contain tripotassium phosphate, a powerful cleaning agent.

Product ingredients are listed by quantity — from highest to lowest amount. This means that the first ingredient is what the manufacturer used the most of. A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you're eating. If the first ingredients include refined grains, a type of sugar, or hydrogenated oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy. Instead, try choosing items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients. In addition, an ingredients list that is longer than two to three lines suggests that the product is highly processed. Just remember the simple rule, if you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't eat it.


Eating too much added sugar has been linked to a wide array of health issues ranging from obesity to heart disease. When transitioning over to a cleaner eating pattern, foods and beverages with added sugar should automatically be phased out.

When cleaning up your diet, using healthy substitutes for your favorite sweet treats can satisfy cravings and keep you on track. For example, swap your nightly bowl of ice cream for a clean treat like Greek yogurt topped with berries, unsweetened coconut, and cinnamon.


For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, aim for 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. If you consume more calories, aim for more produce; if you consume fewer calories, you can eat less. Include green, orange, red, blue/purple, and yellow vegetables and fruits. In addition to the fiber, the nutrients and phytochemicals in these foods may help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. Legumes, rich in fiber, can count as vegetables (though they have more calories than most vegetables). For more fiber, choose whole fruits over juice. Limit consumption of sugary foods, beverages, and refined grains.


Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is one of the most popular pieces of nutrition advice.

This is because the perimeter of the grocery store usually contains fresh produce and healthy protein sources like eggs, yogurt, and poultry.

Although the interior aisles of the grocery store do contain healthy items like canned beans and nuts, they also tend to be where most of the unhealthy items like chips, candy, and soda are located.

Making it a priority to fill your cart with foods from the perimeter, including vegetables, fruits, and proteins, before moving on to the interior of the store can help you stay on track and avoid tempting treats.


When trying to lose weight, many people reach for “diet” foods like low-fat dressings, diet soda, meal replacement bars, and weight-loss drinks. These foods can be loaded with artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and added sugar. For example, low-fat yogurts can contain as much as 23 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar in a half-cup serving. When following a clean eating program, choose whole, non-diet foods like unsweetened, full-fat yogurt, and natural peanut butter with no added sugar.


Filling up on white rice, bread and pasta won’t do you any favors when it comes to health. These foods lack the vitamins, minerals, fat, protein, and fiber that your body needs to function. Plus, a high intake of refined carbohydrates has been associated with an increased risk of developing health issues like obesity and diabetes. Swap refined grains for whole, fiber-rich grains like oats, barley, brown rice and farro for cleaner, more nutrient-dense carbohydrate options.


Drinking just a few calories or sugary drinks per day can lead to weight gain over time and may increase your risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes.

Even healthy-sounding drinks like smoothies can be loaded with sugar, which isn’t good for weight loss or overall health.

To keep your added sugar intake to a minimum, hydrate with healthy options like water, water infused with fresh fruit, and unsweetened green tea.


Although cutting out energy-dense, unhealthy items are crucial to weight loss, it’s more important to pay attention to food quality and ingredients than calories. For example, although avocados and nuts are high in calories, they are packed with nutrients like fiber and healthy fats that can promote weight loss by keeping you satisfied between meals. Plus, picking foods based on what will nourish your body rather than obsessing over which foods are “good” or “bad” can help


Diets higher in protein have been shown to suppress hunger, boost metabolism, increase muscle mass, and decrease body fat. Clean sources of protein like eggs, poultry, fish, tofu, dairy, nuts, and beans can be easily added to any meal. What’s more, combining protein sources with high-fiber foods makes for filling snacks that will keep you satisfied between meals. For example, dipping sliced vegetables in a few tablespoons of hummus or topping flax crackers with egg salad provides a winning combination that’s sure to keep hunger in check.


Although coffee is a healthy drink on its own, additives like sweetened syrups, artificial sweeteners, and whipped cream can negatively impact your health and waistline. Popular coffee drinks like frappuccinos, mochas, and sweetened lattes can pack in hundreds of calories. In order to keep your coffee healthy and avoid flooding your body with excessive amounts of sugar, keep your drink simple and opt for unsweetened items.


Limiting your intake of sweets and unhealthy snacks are important when trying to lose weight. Fortunately, there are delicious alternatives that can make clean eating easier. Some healthy sweet treat ideas include:

  • Dipping strawberries in dark chocolate

  • Making energy balls with nut butter, oats, coconut, cocoa, and dark chocolate

  • Preparing chocolate pudding with avocado, coconut milk, dates, and cocoa powder

  • Baking apples stuffed with chopped nuts, oats, and raisins.


Supplements can't substitute for a healthy diet, which supplies other potentially beneficial compounds besides vitamins and minerals. Foods also provide the synergy that many nutrients require to be efficiently used in the body. Still, for many people a basic multivitamin/mineral pill can provide some of the nutrients they may fall short on. Certain people may also need supplements of folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D (see next point).


As found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, and plant oils. You should consume these high-fat foods in place of other high-calorie foods; otherwise, you’ll be adding excess calories to your diet. For instance, substitute extra virgin olive oil for butter, and nuts for chips. Fatty fish may reduce the risk of heart disease and have other benefits, attributed at least in part to their omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.


Saturated fats in animal foods generally boost levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and have other adverse effects. To limit your intake, choose lean meats, skinless poultry, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. It’s also a good idea to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.


These foods—notably vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—should supply about 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day, depending on your calorie needs. (Aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, as advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar, and it provides other health benefits. Try to fill three-quarters of your plate with produce, legumes, and whole grains—leaving only one-quarter for meat, poultry, or other protein sources.


At least half of your grains should be whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, barley, or brown rice. Whole grains retain the bran and germ and thus all (or nearly all) of the nutrients and fiber of the grain. One sure way of finding whole grains is to look for a product labeled “100% whole wheat” or “100%" of some other whole grain. You can also look for a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, though there still may be lots of refined wheat in the product. Another option is to look for the voluntary “Whole Grain Stamp” from the Whole Grains Council. Or try this tip: Look for less than a 10-to-1 ratio of “total carbohydrates” to “fiber” on the nutrition label. 


Excess sodium, found in many processed foods and restaurant meals, raises blood pressure in some people and can have other adverse effects. The Dietary Guidelines recommend a limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for the general population. People with hypertension or prehypertension can benefit from a further reduction to 1,500 milligrams per day. As you cut back on sodium, eat more potassium-rich foods, which help lower blood pressure. These include citrus fruits, bananas, beans, avocados, some fish, and dairy products.


The intake of Calcium and Vitamin D supports bone health and has other possible benefits. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but you can also get it from fortified foods as well as canned salmon, sardines, dark leafy greens, and most tofu. If you can’t get the recommended 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day from food, take a calcium supplement. It’s hard to consume enough vitamin D from foods (the RDA is 600 to 800 IU a day, though other experts advise more). Thus, many people—especially those who are over 60, live at northern latitudes, or have darker skin—should consider taking a supplement


Although fad diets that drastically cut calories can be tempting, especially when trying to lose weight fast, they aren’t the best choice for healthy, long-term weight loss. The most important factor in choosing a healthy method of weight loss is sustainability. The good news is that clean eating is a weight loss method that can be followed for life, without depriving yourself or using unhealthy tactics to reach a healthy weight. By simply cutting out ultra-processed foods and following a diet of whole foods, your health will improve in numerous ways, including losing excess pounds.

Nutritional Tips provided by Berkeley's University Dept of Wellness & Healthline Nutrition


Clean eating isn't a diet — it’s a healthy way of eating that can be followed for life. By increasing your intake of whole, clean foods and eating fewer unhealthy, processed items, you can positively impact your overall health and wellbeing. Moreover, eating clean can help you reach your weight loss goals in a healthy, sustainable way. Try incorporating a few of these tips every week. Before you know it, you will be living a healthier, happier lifestyle.

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-Trish French, MSW, CAP, LCSW