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The Beginner's Guide to Clean Eating

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Posted by ISSA Online

Clean eating is popular and trending, and it could have staying power. Health experts and nutritionists approve of the basic tenets of clean eating: eat less processed, refined foods and more whole foods.


It’s a simple concept that can get surprisingly complicated. The ISSA doesn’t necessarily recommend a particular diet, but instead aims to make sure you’re up to date on fitness and nutrition trends to stay relevant with clients. If you have clients asking about diets and clean eating, here’s what you need to know.


What Is Clean Eating?

Some people would call this a diet, but for true followers, clean eating is more accurately a lifestyle. In its most basic form, clean eating is a diet, a way of eating that includes consuming mostly whole, unprocessed foods.


As a lifestyle, it encompasses food choices as well as an emphasis on wellness, physical and mental health, and being active. Rather than making it a restrictive way to eat for weight loss, proponents of clean eating see it as a lifestyle full of healthy choices.

These are the fundamentals of the clean eating foods, philosophy, and lifestyle:

  • Eat “real” foods. This means avoiding refined, processed food and sticking with whole foods, like produce, whole grain options, beans, nuts, seeds, and meat and fish. Whole foods do not have added sugar, salt, preservatives, or flavorings.

  • Eat more plant-based foods. Clean eating doesn’t require that you cut out meat, but it recognizes that eating less meat can be beneficial for health.

  • Food is for nourishment. Meals and snacks should be thoughtful, planned, and not rushed.

  • Make lifestyle choices for all-around well-being: exercise regularly, get enough sleep, take care of physical health, and manage stress and mental health.

Sugar is one of the worst and most pervasive additives in food. Help your clients learn more about how and why to cut down on added sugar.


Beginner Tips for Clean Eating

For a beginner to clean eating, some of the so-called rules can seem overwhelming. The above fundamentals are a great place to start. Avoid putting pressure on yourself to eat perfectly clean. A healthy lifestyle is all about balance. You will be in great shape if you practice clean eating most of the time.

  1. Focus on What You Can Eat.

Too many people face diets and even healthy eating plans as restrictive. Yes, a clean eating guide will have you avoiding certain foods, but focusing on that sacrifice can cause you to backslide on healthy eating. Instead, focus on how much you can eat. There is a whole world of whole foods out there, waiting for you to try. Find and share new recipes to get excited about all the opportunities.

  1. Eat Whole Fruits and Vegetables.

One easy but important change you can make right away is to replace some of your snacks, processed foods, and starchy, fatty side dishes with fruits and vegetables. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in ten American adults eat enough fruits and vegetables (1). Aim for whole produce, frozen or fresh.


1. Choose Unprocessed, Lean Protein and Healthy Fat.

The majority of your proteins should be lean, like chicken breast, fish, and lean beef. Include plant-based protein, like combinations of whole grains with beans and legumes for a complete protein profile. Fats are allowed in clean eating, but focus on high-quality, healthy fats like olive oil and avocados. Organic food like dairy and eggs are also acceptable.


2. Include Whole Grains, Nuts, Seeds, and Beans.

This category rounds out the foods that are acceptable for clean eating. If you’re new to this it can seem restrictive but be adventurous and choose new foods you haven’t tried. Grains go well beyond rice, for instance. Try farro, polenta, or barley.


3. Drink Water.

Drinks are among the worst offenders in the American diet when it comes to added sugar and empty calories. Even 100 percent juice drinks do not offer much nutrition. A simple rule is to mostly drink water and to avoid all drinks with added sugar.


4. Learn to Cook.

Clean eating doesn’t have to be complicated. The simple rule of eliminating processed, refined foods and replacing them with whole foods is a simple concept. By going out to eat, though, the situation gets complicated, murky, and difficult. Make most of your meals at home to simplify the process and save money.


5. Create Weekly Meal Plans.

A major roadblock people encounter when faced with nothing but produce and other whole foods in their kitchens is what to do with them. Research clean food recipes and plan your meals and snacks for a week in advance. This will make grocery shopping easier. It will also make mealtimes faster and more efficient because you won’t have to think about what to make.


6. Choose Packaged Food Wisely.

Eating only whole, unpackaged foods can be difficult. An easier way to approach clean eating is not to go all-or-nothing, but to make healthier choices. When looking at processed or packaged foods, read the labels and choose the cleanest option. For example:

  • Canned fruit in juice or water is better than canned fruit in syrup.

  • Organic, uncured deli meats are better than cured meats loaded with preservatives.

  • Plain, unflavored beans beat baked beans.

  • Plain yogurt beats sweetened yogurts.

Learn to read labels and pick packaged foods that have fewer ingredients. Peanut butter, for example, is processed, but it’s still nutritious. Just pick the one with two ingredients: peanuts and vegetable oil. Avoid those with added sugar, salt, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.



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