What Is Clean Eating (Essential Tips + Clean Eating Meal Plan)



Living a healthy life begins in the kitchen! According to a recent study, over 50% of deaths from heart diseases and diabetes are associated with unhealthy diet.[1] So, what you eat is far more important than how you exercise.

But let’s face it – the deed is done! You’ve gotten yourself into some unhealthy eating habits and now you’ve gained plenty of weight. How do you move out of this unfavorable position into a healthier state? I’ve got just two words for you – clean eating.

Many people desire to lose weight, so, they try out every workout routine they could find on the internet or hit the cycling class next door. But research has shown that 75% of your weight loss exploits depends on your diet.[2] If you are going to succeed in your weight-loss quest and achieve the body of your dreams, it goes beyond hitting the gym night and day… you need to start paying proper attention to clean eating.

Perhaps you’re not an overweight middle-aged man or woman, you just want to live a healthier life. Then read on my friend… this article is just for you.

This guide will tell you what exactly is clean eating an why it is great for you to stay fit and healthy. And as a bonus, you’ll also have access to a sample clean eating meal plan, to get you started. So, be sure to stick around till the end.

  • What is clean eating

    Clean eating, this buzz word has been thrown around a lot in recent times and many have been left confused as per what it actually means. Some say it means total abstinence from all processed food a.k.a. eating only raw food every day… all day! But does that mean you have to resort to the caveman eating style and consume your rice and beans exactly as delivered by nature in order to eat clean? Certainly not!

    Clean eating means staying away from highly processed foods (think fries, chips, sugary stuff – yuck!) and refocusing your attention on consuming whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods more often (thinks brown rice, fruits and veggies – yummy!).

    Rather than focusing on eating more or less of some specific food groups (e.g., less carbs/more protein), the idea of clean eating revolves around being mindful of the food’s processing pathway between the farm and your fork.

    Now you need to pay attention to something, the focus of clean eating is consuming whole foods in their natural state (where possible) or their least processed state, such that no essential nutrient is lost via processing. Clean eating doesn’t mean staying away from all processed food, just the highly processed ones. After all, cooking is also a form of processing.

    Why are highly-processed foods so bad?

    There are so many problems associated with highly-processed foods — from excessive weight gain to risk of cardio-vascular diseases. To start with, foods that have been highly processed have been stripped of essential nutrients required for maintaining overall health.

    The bulk of what you get from these foods is an excessive amount of unrequired calories without the corresponding amounts of proteins and micro-nutrients (which are far more important). The result, of course, is an imbalanced nutritional profile in your body and that predisposes you to a “truck-load” of diseases!

    In addition to this, ultra-processed foods also contain additives (such as refined sugars, preservatives, unhealthy Trans fats etc.,) that tend to stimulate the pleasure neurotransmitter (dopamine), resulting in an insatiable craving for more junk food.

    This infographic has said it all:[3]

    How processed is highly processed?

    When nutrients are removed from food and undesirable ingredients are added as a result of processing, such foods are highly processed. Refined flour, for instance is highly processed because the bran and germ layers (which contain fibre and other micro nutrients) have been removed during processing and that’s really bad news!

    In essence, the emphasis of clean eating is caring about the ingredients in your food and cutting the C.R.A.P (Chemicals, Refined flour/sugar, Artificial colors/sweeteners/flavors and Preservatives) out of your diet.

    However, clean eating doesn’t mean avoidance of all packaged foods. In some cases, packaged foods have essential nutrients added to them — a process called fortification. For instance, iodide is added to salt to ward off goiterism and milk is fortified with vitamin D to prevent rickets in children. But if a packaged food contains some ingredients that don’t exactly roll off the tongue, it’s most likely bad for you.

    There’s a long list of foods that you can incorporate into your clean diet, but here’s a few to get you started:

    • Veggies and Fruits (Fresh over frozen) e.g. bananas, apple, orange, cucumber etc.
    • Eggs
    • Nuts
    • Fresh/unprocessed lean meat e.g. poultry, pork, fish etc.
    • Unrefined grains e.g. whole wheat pasta and bread, steel-cut oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, and quinoa.
    • Oils e.g. extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil etc.
    • Dried legumes
    • Hormone-free dairy

    Benefits of clean eating (that will surprise you)

    Clean eating comes with a plethora of benefits — from weight loss, to a glowing skin, to reduced risk of diabetes and a long list of other amazing perks. Let’s start with how clean eating can help with weight loss.

    1. Help you lose weight

    The fact that clean eating can help you in your weight loss journey has been well documented by several research studies. And there are so many reasons why this is so. Here are a few:

    • It’s rich in micro-nutrients. This means two things for you: improvement in nutritional deficiency and reduction in hunger. In one study of 786 people, it was observed that over 80% of the participants felt fuller after taking meals on a high-micronutrient diet compared to those on a low-micronutrient diet, even though they consumed fewer calories.[4] This calorie deficit coupled with the balanced nutritional profile allows your body to switch from fat storage mode to fat burning mode.
    • It’s loaded with protein. Whole foods are usually higher in protein and lower in calories compared to ultra-processed foods. For instance 3.5 ounces of pork (a clean food option) contains only 21 grams of protein and 145 calories, while it’s processed counterpart bacon (of the same weight) contains only 12 grams of protein and 458 calories. Protein is basically the most important nutrient when it comes to weight loss.[5] Not only does it increase metabolism, it also reduces hunger and controls the production of weight-regulating hormones. This makes it your best bet for weight loss.
    • Whole foods contain more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber comes with a lot of health benefits, one of which is enhancing weight loss.[6] It forms a thick gel after mixing with water in the gut and this slows down the movement of food through the alimentary canal. This process suppresses the production of hunger-inducing hormones while simultaneously boosting the production of hormones that make you feel full.[7] This calorie deficit, in turn, results in weight loss.

    There are several other reasons why clean eating helps with weight loss, but that deserves an entire article on its own. So, let’s move on to other benefits that clean eating has to offer.

    2. Reduce the risk of cancer

    So you want to live a long, healthy, cancer-free life, right? Then eating clean is the way to go. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between clean eating and prevention of different cancer types including breast[8] and colon cancers.[9]

    3. Reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease

    Cardiovascular diseases have been notoriously killing Americans over the years. These diseases are usually linked to high bad-cholesterol levels and this problem can be fixed by simply switching so a clean diet.

    Research has shown that by consuming 3 portions of whole grain meals on a daily basis, the risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease is significantly reduced.[10] If you want a healthy heart and a properly functioning cardiovascular system, you need to break up with junk food and switch to clean eating.

    4. Boost the immune system

    The immune system is one critical system in your body that should always function at maximum capacity. That is, of course, if you want to live a consistently healthy life. Here’s the good news – clean eating can help you achieve just that.

    By eating 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits per day, the body’s antibody response can be improved by up to 82 percent.[11] If you want to maintain a kickass system that knocks infections out of your body regularly, clean eating is the way to go.

    5. Make your skin glow

    If you are looking for a healthy, fresh and glowing skin, you don’t necessarily need to spend hundreds of dollars on cosmetics. All you need is a clean diet. Whole foods are known to contain high amounts of antioxidants, healthy fats and other nutrients which play huge roles in giving you a radiant and healthy skin.

    6. Prevent or reverse diabetes

    The fact that diabetes is a groundbreaking menace is a well-established truth. As a matter of fact, over 750,000 Americans lose their lives to diabetes per year.[12] You don’t have to be one of them. All you need to do is to start eating clean. Previous research studies have shown that by committing yourself to whole-plant-based diets, you can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes.[13]

    Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s move on to how you can actually start reaping these benefits by eating clean.

    How to kick-start clean eating (a step-by-step guide)

    When undergoing any major lifestyle change, you can be sure of one thing – it won’t be easy! The same is true when you are looking to ditch sugar-packed junk foods for a not-so-slick clean diet. This is where the true test of character will come in.

    Follow the tips below in your clean eating journey and you’ll arrive at your desired destination in health.

    1. Identify why you are doing this

    It can be quite difficult to break a habit that has been a part of you for a long time. It’s like climbing a mountain! If you’ll stand any chance of sticking to this new change in lifestyle, then you must understand why you’re making the change in the first place.

    Various research studies have shown that the best form of motivation that inspires a positive change originates from within.[14] Switching to a clean diet simply because someone said you should isn’t a sustainable motivation in the long run.

    You have to be intellectual and intentional about your decision and not merely emotional. So, identify the reason and tell yourself “this is why I’m switching to clean eating and there’s no going back!” This will take some time to get used to though, so go easy on yourself.

    2. Get ready to commit time

    You need to sit down and determine how much time you are willing to commit to this new lifestyle — from grocery shopping, to meal planning, to cooking and yes, you totally should start cooking.

    Are you going to cut out some TV time so you can prepare a healthy lunch instead of ordering pizza? You need to carve out specific number of minutes or hours per day towards your clean eating goal. This is a major step for success.

    3. Set simple and measurable goals

    The next thing you need to do is to set simple and measurable goals for yourself. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, so, ditch it! Measurable goals, though very simple will assure you whether you are on the right track or not.

    For instance, if you happen to love eating cookies so much, saying “I will stop eating many cookies” is too broad and too subjective for you to measure. I mean, how much is many? A dozen? Twenty?

    Rather, you could say “I will only eat one cookie per day and keep the rest in the freezer” or better still you could say “I’m going to stop eating cookies completely and eat fruits instead.” Keeping your goals simple and straight-to-the-point is a major criterion for success.

    4. Get rid of all the bad stuff

    The next step is a pretty radical one. You need to carefully assess your current diet and list out every “unclean” food your body adores and deliberately take an action against them. You need to clean out all artificial/ultra-processed foods from your pantry or refrigerator. If you’re having a hard time doing it all at once, you can do it a little at a time until it’s all cleaned out.

    5. Introduce the clean stuff

    Getting rid of the bad stuff won’t mean anything if you don’t introduce the good stuff. As you gradually eliminate artificial foods from your kitchen, you need to gradually replace them with clean foods. You can start with fruits and veggies, and then add cereals and legumes as you go along.

    6. Start with a clean breakfast

    As I stated earlier, this might take some time – trust me! But there’s no need to hurry or panic. If you’re crunched for time and you can’t imagine yourself spending hours in the kitchen, you can start with a daily clean breakfast. Start your day with a glass of green smoothie and some fruits. Do it for a week or two and the idea of a clean lunch/dinner will become more interesting.

    Here’re some nice smoothie ideas for you: 30+ Flavorful Green Smoothie Recipes That You Can Make In Less Than 5 Minutes

    7. Stop eating when you’re full

    One beautiful thing about a clean diet is that it makes you feel full fast, without you having to consume the awful lot of calories that junk-food equivalent offers. If you’re not sure how much you should be eating, you should stop eating once your stomach begins to give you the “all-good” signal.

    8. Become label-savvy

    Here’s the deal – you need to start paying attention to product labels and what it says. You need to watch out for overly artificial ingredients in your groceries. If a food item has ingredients you can’t seem to pronounce, that’s a good sign you need to return it right back to the shelf. Be sure to stick to food products with all-natural ingredients.

    9. Patronize local food vendors

    Now, this is my favorite option when it comes to purchasing food items – the local sellers, those who sell the raw, unadulterated food stuff. This, of course, is the best if you can spare the time. Getting your fruits, veggies and other foods from the guys who get it from the farm will avail you of the maximum level of nutrients such foods have to offer. So, please go for it.

    10. Start cooking something… anything

    If you really want to achieve your clean eating goal, here’s a solemn truth – you need to start cooking your own food. Even if it’s just a bunch of veggies that don’t taste fantastic, you need to start somewhere. But I’m a terrible cook, you might say. Well, so was I! I had to learn too, but it definitely paid off. Get on your apron and get to work, buddy.

    11. Drink a gallon of water per day

    You’ve probably heard how too much of everything is bad, right? Well, not for water – you could never go wrong with this one! Water does your body a whole lot of good and it also aids proper digestion. So, aim to drink half-a-gallon to a gallon of water per day. Your body will thank you for it.

    12. Use a clean eating meal plan

    If you’re really going to get the best out of your clean diet program, then you need a meal plan, preferably one with specific calorie goals.

    If weight-loss is your goal, then you should target 10 calories per pound of your desired body weight. If you’re looking to slim down to 150 pounds, for instance, you should target a daily intake of 1500 calories.

    A simple clean eating meal plan

    This simple 3-day clean eating plan is just to give you an idea of how this works and to get you started right away. You can tweak it around as you please, to meet your specific calorie goals. For a more comprehensive clean-eating meal plan, tailored towards your specific needs, you can talk to your dietitian or search the web.

    Day 1

    Breakfast (260 calories)

    Enjoy 1 Tablespoon of dry-roasted, unsalted almonds with 3/4 cup of green smoothie. Check out the video below on how to make one:

    Morning Snack (70 calories)

    2 clementines

    Lunch (345 calories)

    Garden Salad with a toast of avocado and egg

    Steps

    • Take one slice of sprouted-grain bread and combine it with mashed ¼ part of a medium-sized avocado.
    • Cook one large egg in 1/4 teaspoon of olive oil.
    • Add a pinch of pepper and salt to season the egg.
    • For the salad, use 1/2 cup of mixed greens together with 2 Tablespoons of grated carrot and 1/2 cup of cucumber slices.
    • You can top the salad with 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, each.

    Evening Snack (48 calories)

    Dried apricots (6)

    Dinner (458 calories)

    Steamed Asparagus with Quinoa and Chicken

    Steps

    • Cook 5 oz. of chicken breast in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
    • Add 3/4 cup of cooked quinoa and drizzle it with 1/2 Tablespoon each of lemon juice and olive oil.
    • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    • Combine this with 10 steamed asparagus spears and munch away.

    Day 2

    Breakfast (265 calories)

    Combine one cup of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup of blueberries and 1/4 cup of muesli.

    Enjoy the goodness.

    Morning Snack (32 calories)

    Munch 1 plum and go your way.

    Lunch (325 calories)

    Veggie Sandwich

    Steps

    • Take 2 slices of bread made from sprouted-grain.
    • Mash the quarter part of a medium-sized avocado combined with 1 tablespoon of hummus.
    • Garnish with any vegetable of your choice (tomato, carrot, cucumber etc.), and enjoy a nutritious meal.

    Evening Snack (86 calories)

    Munch on 4 walnut halves and 4 apricot halves and top it with lots of water.

    Dinner (490 calories)

    Roast Chicken & Fennel with 1/2 cup of brown rice

    Get the recipe here: Roast Chicken & Fennel

    Day 3

    Breakfast (250 calories)

    Egg-Avocado Toast

    Take one slice of sprouted-grain bread. Combine it with mashed ¼ part of a medium-sized avocado. Cook one large egg in 1/4 teaspoon of olive oil. Season the egg with a pinch of pepper and salt. Garnish with 2 slices of tomato and enjoy the goodness.

    Morning Snack (161 calories)

    Devour 1/2 cup of dry-roasted, unsalted pistachios and get on with the day.

    Lunch (336 calories)

    Chickpea & Veggie Salad

    Steps

    • Get two cups of mixed greens.
    • Combine it with 3/4 cup of veggies of your choice (you can try tomatoes and cucumbers).
    • Rinse 1/2 cup of chickpeas and mix with 1/2 Tablespoon of chopped walnuts and 1 Tbsp. of feta cheese (crumbled).
    • Combine all ingredients and top the salad with one tablespoon each of olive oil & balsamic vinegar.

    Evening Snack (111 calories)

    Measure 1/4 cup of dry-roasted, unsalted pistachios (in shell) and enjoy with one plum.

    Dinner (430 calories)

    Enjoy 3/4 cup of brown rice with 1 serving of Green Beans and Poached Cod with Pesto.

    Summing it up

    Nothing is going to happen in your life unless you make it happen! So, don’t just sit there! Rise up, break up with junk food and get to work on your clean diet.

    Start somewhere. Replace refined sugars with natural sweeteners, cook potatoes instead of ordering pizza, have a cup of green smoothie instead of alcohol. With one step at a time, you’ll definitely get there!

    The next time someone asks you what is clean eating; don’t reply them with words only – show them! Let them see exactly what clean foods are — from your kitchen cabinet and your refrigerator.

    Also, remember to constantly remind yourself of why you’re doing this and take it one day at a time. At the beginning of this clean eating journey, the road might seem rough. But as you persist, it’ll get easier, I promise. In the end, a slim body and a long healthy life will be your reward.

    You’ve got this!

    Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

    Reference

    [1] JAMA Network: Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States
    [2] HuffPost: Exercise Vs. Diet: The Truth About Weight Loss
    [3] Juicy Green Mom: What to avoid on food labels: a primer
    [4] NCBI: Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet
    [5] Health Line: How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally
    [6] Health Line: How Eating Fiber Can Help You Lose Belly Fat
    [7] NCBI: Fiber intake predicts ghrelin levels in overweight and obese postmenopausal women.
    [8] NCBI: Dietary fiber and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies.
    [9] The BMJ: Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies
    [10] NCBI: Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial.
    [11] NCBI: Effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on immune function in older people: a randomized controlled trial.
    [12] Jiaquan Xu, M.D.; Sherry L. Murphy, B.S.; Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A.; and Brigham A. Bastian, B.S., Division of Vital Statistics: National Vital Statistics Reports
    [13] NCBI: Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases?
    [14] Harvard Health Publishing: Why it’s hard to change unhealthy behavior – and why you should keep trying

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