Eat more of the good. Eat less of the bad.
That’s the whole idea behind clean eating. It’s all about, well, cleaning up your diet so that there’s a greater focus on whole foods (think fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy fats), and less reliance on processed or refined foods.
The benefits of adopting a clean diet are pretty clear (reduced incidence of disease, increased quality of life, and a longer life expectancy, just to name a few). But ditching the donuts, pizza and mocha lattes can be a lot tougher than it sounds.
Here are a few tips to help get your eating on track:
Load Up On Fruits and Vegetables
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, most of us aren’t getting enough. Eating more fruit and vegetables can help significantly reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. The fiber in whole produce also helps keep your microbiome (the collection of good bacteria that live in your gut) happy, which can reduce your risk for autoimmune diseases, fight off pathogens and infections and even improve your mood.
Eat Less Meat
More and more research suggests cutting back on meat is healthier for you and the planet. Veganism isn’t a requirement for clean eating though—just eating less meat can help reduce your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease and help keep your weight in check. Plus, eating more plants helps bump up the fiber, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals in your diet. And if you’re worried about getting enough protein by cutting down on meat—that shouldn’t be an issue.
Eggs, dairy (for a clean option, choose dairy with no added sugar and simple ingredients) beans and nuts all offer protein—see our list of top vegetarian protein sources for even more options. When you do eat meat, choose options that haven’t been pumped with antibiotics and even better if they’ve lived and eaten like they would in the wild (think grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon). Clean eating also means cutting down on processed meats like cold cuts, bacon and sausage.
Go Whole Grain
The cleanest whole grains are the ones that have been touched the least by processing. Think whole grains that look most like their just-harvested state—quinoa, wild rice, oats. While some people abstain from eating any processed grains, we think that whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread made with simple ingredients are part of eating clean. Sometimes you just need a hearty slice of avocado toast or a bowl of pasta. Don’t get duped by “whole-grain” claims on labels though, to eat clean packaged whole grains you’re going need to take a closer look at the ingredients. Whole grains should always be the first ingredient, the ingredient list should be short and recognizable, and it should have minimal (if any) added sugar. When you swap out refined carbs (like white pasta, sugar, and white bread) for whole grains you’ll get more fiber, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. Plus, people who eat more whole grains have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off long term.
Limit Added Sugar
Most people eat too many added sugars. It is recommended no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. The average American gets about 4 times that amount—28 teaspoons of added sugar per day. To clean up your diet, cut down on added sugars by limiting sweets like soda, candy and baked goods. But it’s more than just desserts—keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain), tomato sauce and cereal. Look for foods without sugar as an ingredient, or make sure it’s listed towards the bottom, which means less of it is used in the food. And you don’t have to worry as much about naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy. They come packaged with fiber, protein or fat to help blunt the effect of sugar on insulin levels. They also deliver nutrients so you’re not just getting empty, sugary calories.