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Diet & Nutrition, Health

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

Written by Richard Adefioye
Richard has a unique passion for healthy living and productivity.
Reviewed by Amy Wilson
Amy Wilson is a Board Certified Geriatric Pharmacist, Fitness Professional and Certified Nutrition Coach.

Fact Checked. Our dedicated editorial team tirelessly evaluates every article we publish to ensure the information is factual, up-to-date and free of bias.

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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] Essentially, what you eat is just as important as how much you exercise. This is why clean eating is so important. What is clean eating, and how can you incorporate it into your life?

It’s likely that 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? Clean eating is the answer.

Many people want to lose weight, so they try out every workout routine they can find. However, 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. This article is also for you.

This guide will tell you all about clean eating and why it is great for you to stay fit and healthy. As a bonus, you’ll also have access to a sample clean eating meal plan to get you started.


What Is Clean Eating?

Clean eating is a buzzword that has been thrown around a lot in recent times, and many have been left confused as to what it actually means. Some say it means total abstinence from all processed food, 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) and refocusing your attention on consuming whole, unprocessed, or minimally processed, “real” foods more often (think brown rice, fruits, and veggies).

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.

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.

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. The result, of course, is an imbalanced nutritional profile in your body, which predisposes you to many health issues.


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

One study discovered that eating 10% more ultra-processed foods increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disorders by more than 10%.[3] Another study involving more than 100,000 people discovered that for every 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption, there was a 12% increase in the risk of cancer.[4]

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 fiber and other micronutrients) have been removed during processing.

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. However, 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

Clean eating comes with a plethora of benefits—from weight loss, to 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. There are so many reasons why this is so.

Rich in Macronutrients

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 eating meals on a high-micronutrient diet compared to those on a low-micronutrient diet, even though they consumed fewer calories.[5]

This calorie deficit, coupled with the balanced nutritional profile, allows your body to switch from fat storage mode to fat burning mode.

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 its 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.[6] Not only does it increase metabolism, but 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.[7] 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.[8] This calorie deficit, in turn, results in weight loss.

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[9] and colon cancers[10].

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 to 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.[11] 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.[12] If you want to maintain a 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 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 radiant 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 each year.[13] 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.[14]

How to Kick-Start Clean Eating

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 Your Why

It can be quite difficult to break a habit that has been a part of you for a long time. 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.[15] Switching to a clean diet simply because someone said you should isn’t a sustainable motivation in the long run.


2. 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.

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! 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.

Instead, 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 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 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 Clean Foods

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 grains and legumes as you go along.

6. Start With a Clean Breakfast With Protein

If you’re short on time and can’t imagine spending hours in the kitchen, start with a daily clean breakfast. Begin your day with a green smoothie and some fruits. If you prefer, add a scoop of clean protein into the smoothie or include boiled eggs in your breakfast. After a week or two, the concept of a clean lunch/dinner will become more appealing.

Here are 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 calories that junk-food equivalents offer. 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

You need to start paying attention to product labels and ingredients listed. 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

This is my favorite option when it comes to purchasing food items–the local sellers, those who sell the raw, unadulterated food stuff.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.

10. Start Cooking

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.

11. Use a 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 you want to lose weight, make sure you get enough protein at each meal, eat whole foods, and limit your intake of processed and ultra-processed foods.

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 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)

1 Tablespoon of dry-roasted, unsalted almonds and a scoop of clean protein powder with 3/4 cup of green smoothie.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 30g
  • Fat: 7g
  • Carbohydrates: 27 grams

Morning Snack (70 calories)

2 clementines (~120-140g) and a couple of organic turkey slices (~56g)

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 11g
  • Fat: 1.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 24g

Lunch (345 calories)

Garden salad with a toast of avocado and egg

  • 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.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 12g
  • Fat: 19.1g
  • Carbohydrates: 22.6g

Evening Snack (48 calories)

6 Dried apricots (~42-48g)

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 1g
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 24g

It’s worth noting that dried apricots are high in fiber and a variety of micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, and potassium.

Dinner (458 calories)

Steamed Asparagus with Quinoa and Chicken:

  • 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.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 44g
  • Fat: 15.8g
  • Carbohydrates: 37g
  • Fiber: 6g

Day 2

Breakfast (265 calories)

Combine one cup of overnight oats with a scoop of protein powder; add in 1/4 cup of blueberries and 1/4 cup of muesli too if you prefer.

  • Protein: 28-33 grams (depending on the brand and type of protein powder)
  • Fat: 4.6g
  • Carbohydrates: 63g
  • Fiber: 7g

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 28-33 grams (depending on the brand and type of protein powder)
  • Fat: 4.6g
  • Carbohydrates: 63g
  • Fiber: 7g

Morning Snack (32 calories)

Munch 1 plum (~65g) and add a handful of almonds (~28g).

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 6.6g
  • Fat: 14.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 14.6g
  • Fiber: 4.1g

Lunch (325 calories)

Veggie Sandwich:

  • 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.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 11.8g
  • Fat: 12.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 45g
  • Fiber: 15g

Evening Snack (86 calories)

Munch on 4 walnut halves and 4 dried plums (a.k.a. prunes) halves, and top it with lots of water.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 2g
  • Fat: 13.9g
  • Carbohydrates: 20.7g
  • Fiber: 3.5g

Dinner (490 calories)

Roast chicken breast & fennel with 1/2 cup of brown rice. Find the recipe here.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 31.6g
  • Fat: 5.1g
  • Carbohydrates: 29.5g
  • Fiber: 4.5g

Day 3

Breakfast (250 calories)

Egg-Avocado Toast (see Day 1 lunch)

Morning Snack (161 calories)

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

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 12.5g
  • Fat: 28g
  • Carbohydrates: 16g
  • Fiber: 7g

Lunch (336 calories)

Chickpea & Veggie Salad:

  • 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.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 12.7g
  • Fat: 19.6g
  • Carbohydrates: 27.3g
  • Fiber: 8.6g

Evening Snack (111 calories)

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

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 6.8g
  • Fat: 14.3g
  • Carbohydrates: 19.4g
  • Fiber: 4.5g

Dinner (430 calories)

Enjoy 3/4 cup of brown rice with 1 serving of green beans and poached cod with pesto. See the recipe here.

The total macronutrient content would be approximately:

  • Protein: 26g
  • Fat: 10g
  • Carbohydrates: 43g
  • Fiber: 4g

Final Thoughts

Start somewhere. Replace refined sugars with natural sweeteners, make a homemade pizza instead of ordering it, or 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 with words only–show them! Let them see exactly what clean foods are—from your grocery store list to 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. However, as you persist, it’ll get easier. In the end, a slim body and a long healthy life will be your reward.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

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

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

Clean eating can help you lose weight, reduce the risk of cancer, reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases, boost the immune system, make your skin glow and prevent or reverse diabetes.

You can start eating clean by setting a simple and measurable goal, getting rid of proccessed food and eating only “real” foods for your daily meals, begining to plan and cook for your own meals, and check the product labels and ingredients listed to ensure you’re eating healthy foods only.

Featured photo credit: Anna Pelzer via unsplash.com


[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]BMJ: Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé)
[4]Harvard Health Publishing: Eating highly processed foods may raise cancer risk
[5]NCBI: Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet
[6]Health Line: How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally
[7]Health Line: How Eating Fiber Can Help You Lose Belly Fat
[8]NCBI: Fiber intake predicts ghrelin levels in overweight and obese postmenopausal women.
[9]NCBI: Dietary fiber and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies.
[10]The BMJ: Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies
[11]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.
[12]NCBI: Effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on immune function in older people: a randomized controlled trial.
[13]Division of Vital Statistics: National Vital Statistics Reports
[14]NCBI: Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases?
[15]Harvard Health Publishing: Why it’s hard to change unhealthy behavior – and why you should keep trying
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