If you struggle with healthy eating, this guide to clean eating for beginners is a great starting point to reset your nutrition habits.
I think the term “clean eating” often gets over-complicated and begins to feel overwhelming for many people. The overwhelm causes them to stay stuck in poor eating habits rather than pressing in to good nutrition.
First of all, clean eating is not a meal plan itself. It’s simply a principal for the quality of foods you consume. So whether you follow a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or other type of diet, clean eating is something you can incorporate!
So let’s break it down. Below you’ll find guidelines for clean eating and how can you apply these principals to your life today!
1. Minimize Processed Foods
Unless you live entirely off of the land, most of the foods you eat are processed in some way. Food processing is simply taking a fresh, whole food and transitioning it into a food product of some kind.
This process includes the more invasive practices (the ones most people think of when we talk about processed foods), such as refining or adding preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and other unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. But it also includes processing that doesn’t chemically or otherwise alter the nutritional value of our foods (such as washing, chopping, and packaging).
The aim with clean eating is to eat foods that are as minimally processed as possible and that aren’t losing any nutritional benefit. We want to stay as close to those whole foods as we can.
“Whole foods” is just another way of saying foods that are in their natural state. So here’s an example: rather than eating the packaged dried apricots with preservatives and added sugars and whatever other ingredients might be in there, you are simply eating the apricot itself.
When our foods are heavily processed, they lose much of their nutrients and fiber. They also typically have added sugar, sodium, and chemicals to enhance the taste. The more they are they processed before we eat them, the less nutritious they become for us. You want your foods to be mostly processed inside of your body, not outside of it in a factory before you eat! This ensures that you get to maximize your nutrient consumption and your body gets to digest and utilize all that good fuel from your foods!
Make sense? Let’s keep going…
2. Know what you’re eating
I’ll do a deep dive into nutrition labels in a later post, but the most important thing you want to look at right now as you navigate clean eating for beginners is the ingredient list. If it feels like you’re reading something in a foreign language with a long list of words you can’t pronounce and have no idea what they are, don’t eat it! Most often those are additives and preservatives that you’ll want to stay away from.
Here is a good rule of thumb for clean eating for beginners: if the food has 5 ingredients or less (that you know and can pronounce), you’re on the right track. The more ingredients there are, typically the more processed the food has been.
3. Prepare your food yourself
The more often you can make your own food, the more successful you are likely to be with clean eating. When other people cook your meals (restaurants, social events, holiday parties, convenience foods, etc), you can only do so much to ensure that you know exactly what you’re eating.
This will definitely require learning how to plan ahead and be proactive with your nutrition. But with a little practice, this one thing can radically improve your health! There is so much added salt, sugar, chemicals and hormones hidden in many of our favorite restaurant meals and on-the-go snacks!
I know you’re busy! And meal prep can feel so overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be complex and time consuming. Simple is key for clean eating with consistency!
4. Say NO to artificial everything
When something we are eating is deemed artificial, you’d think it would be common sense that it’s not healthy. However, we have artificial additives and colors and sweeteners is so many of our foods today! This includes many of the foods that are marketed as healthy choices for us. These scientifically formulated ingredients are linked to a wide range of health concerns such as cancer, neurological effects, hyperactivity, weight gain, poor gut health, and more!
Artificial ingredients to avoid include, but are not limited to:
- Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, (sweeteners)
- Carrageenan, potassium and sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite and nitrate, sodium phosphate, (additives)
- Yellow, blue, red, caramel (food coloring)
Honestly I could create a massive list of all the ingredients we should avoid! And maybe I’ll do that in a later post, let me know in the comments if that would be helpful! But for the sake of simplicity and getting you started with clean eating today, we will refer back to what we discussed in principal #2. You would avoid most of these ingredients anyway since you don’t know exactly what they are at first glance.
5. skip the added sugar
Sugar is so darn sneaky! And it’s everywhere! We all expect to find sugar on the ingredient list of the cookies and donuts. But how about your pasta sauce? Or your ketchup? Sugar is added in abundance into many condiments and sauces and foods that we might not expect!
Clean eating means avoiding added sugar. Sugar is crazy addictive, it causes weight gain, and an overload will really take a toll on our health. Be sure to be checking into even the unlikeliest foods to watch for added sugar. Stick to healthy alternatives such as maple syrup or honey when necessary.
What is one struggle you’ve had or something that has held you back in the past from clean eating? Tell me in the comments!
You may also be interested in this post: How to Start a Weight Loss Journey