Clean eating is a pretty simple concept. The basic idea of clean eating is to eat foods that are “as-close-to-its-natural-state” as possible and foods that have no or few additional ingredients. Food choices should focus on those that are not processed or are minimally processed. Pay attention to the food’s journey from origin (field or farm) to your plate. What has been added to it and how it is packaged will often indicate how much processing it has undergone. The pillars of clean eating are whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables.
Additions to food of any kind, changing the form of the food (removing bran and germ from whole grains), and adding ingredients that cannot be pronounced are all examples of processing. It is important to understand that not all processing is bad. The key is to avoid food that has been ultra-processed. Ultra-processed foods often contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are often stripped of nutrients needed for overall health; and often have additives that overstimulate the production of dopamine, the “pleasure” neurotransmitter, perpetuating a negative cycle of constant junk food cravings.
Unprocessed foods include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Dried legumes
- Farm-fresh eggs
Minimally processed foods include:
- Unrefined grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Unprocessed meat; wild over pastured, pastured over grain-fed
- Hormone-free dairy
Shopping the perimeter of the store is a good strategy for coming in contact with mainly clean foods. Eating clean does not mean that everything consumed must be raw and straight from the ground. It means choosing minimally processed foods with few ingredients on the label, if it has a label at all. When evaluating a packaged food, check the ingredient label. It should be short, and all ingredients should be recognizable. Scan for easy-to-avoid additives like artificial coloring and flavors.
Fran Matteson, MS, RD