What is Clean Eating? (Problems, Facts, Weight Loss, Recipes)
There has been a diet trend out for a while called ‘clean eating.’ Now some might wonder what that is, how to do it, if it is effective, and if there is such a thing as ‘dirty eating.’
Today, I would like to shine a light on what clean eating is, how to make clean eating choices, the stages of clean eating, some recipes, and much more. If you are a beginner in the world of healthy eating, looking to change your lifestyle, searching for ways to treat disease with better eating, or trying to lose weight, you are in the right place.
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The problem with ‘clean eating’
First and foremost I would like to mention the problem I have with the phrase ‘clean eating.’ There is another way to say clean eating. In reality it is simply called ‘healthy eating.’ I think someone just used another word for the concept of healthy eating and it became a new trend.
There are stages of clean eating that I will talk about further below. You can always make cleaner (healthier) choices so there is a hierarchy of clean eating. For example: From cutting out sodas to cutting out sugars at all. Both examples can be a healthier/cleaner choice but they fall into different diets.
The other problem that occurs is the misconception of following ‘clean recipes’ or buying ‘clean products.’ If you use honey or a similar sweetener to sweeten your meal/drink your body reacts the same way to the “natural” sugar as if you use normal table sugar. Or a clean recipe calls for fish, but studies have shown that fish can be the most contaminated food. So it sounds more like a ‘dirty’ food to me, but if you eat home cooked fish instead of a McDonalds burger you have made a healthier, or cleaner, choice.
To sum this up, I think putting the label ‘clean eating’ on something is somewhat misleading. Therefore, know that when I mention ‘clean eating’ in this post I am talking about making healthier food choices that are backed up by science.
Clean eating steps to consider (for beginners)
Below you will find a list of clean eating choices you can make to reach a healthier lifestyle. If you are a beginner you can start with making one small change at a time and once you are comfortable with the lifestyle change you can implement another change.
- Eat close to nature (consume apples instead of apple juice)
- No processed food (pre-packaged food often contains lots of sugar/fillers)
- Cut out energy drinks and sodas
- Stop eating out (most restaurants add too much oil, salt, sugar)
- No added sugar (only natural from fruit/dried fruit)
- Eat whole grains/bread/pasta
- Swap dairy with plant based milk
- Eat walnuts/flaxseed for omega-3 instead of fish
- Replace meat in your dinner with beans/peas/lentils
- Eat 3-5 servings of vegetables
- Eat 2-3 servings of fruits
- Cut out all animal products altogether
- Drink only water and herbal tea
- Cut out oils
- Buy organic
The closer you eat to nature the better. For example, olive oil is processed (which means ‘dirty’ ingredients can be added in the process) and also contains saturated fatty acids. It would be better to eat olives. 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 119 calories, 1.9g saturated fat, no fiber, no protein, barely any minerals and vitamins. 10 olives, on the other hand, have only 0.6g saturated fat, 46 calories, at least 0.3g protein, 35 mg calcium, 1.3 mg iron, and more.
If you are wondering how to cook without oil (or at least to reduce it) you can check out this recipe, where I use the water-fry method.
Alternatively, daily consumption of 3 portions of whole-grain foods can significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged people mainly through blood pressure-lowering mechanisms (source). The result is nearly the same benefits from symptom reducing drugs without side effects.
“We found that compared with never/rare consumers of whole grains, those consuming 48-80 g whole grain/d (3-5 serving/d) had an ~26% lower risk of T2D [RR = 0.74 (95% CI: 0.69, 0.80)], ~21% lower risk of CVD [RR = 0.79 (95% CI: 0.74, 0.85)], and consistently less weight gain during 8-13 y (1.27 vs 1.64 kg; P = 0.001).”(source)
White grains increase the risk! However, people who eat greater portions of whole grains showed the least narrowing of arteries. (source)
Don’t be afraid of the naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables. They come with great health benefits and break down differently than added sugar. Sugar variants have many names (aspartame, stevia, sucralose) and most of them are not good for your health. I suggest using normal table sugar if you need to (no more than 25g a day/6 teaspoons) and otherwise cut it out or use bananas/dried fruits to sweeten.
Cow’s milk is loaded with hormones, IGF-1, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Milk is also associated with acne, eczema, digestive issues, and can easily be replaced with soy, almond, or pea milk. 1 cup of cow milk contains 148 calories, 7.9g fat, 4.6g of that is saturated, 24.4mg cholesterol, 275 mg calcium. 1 cup of almond milk has only 36 calories, 2.6g fat, 0.0g saturated fat, 0.0mg cholesterol, BUT 472.8g calcium.
So you don’t need to drink the breastmilk of a cow to get your calcium. The cleaner (healthier) option is clearly the almond milk.
As this study shows, increasing bean intake by 70g a day cuts back pre-cancer clusters (for colon cancer) up to 65 percent, a pretty significant number by simply switching your meat with beans.
“Recently IP(6) has received much attention for its role in cancer prevention and control of experimental tumor growth, progression, and metastasis. In addition, IP(6) possesses other significant benefits for human health, such as the ability to enhance immune system, prevent pathological calcification and kidney stone formation, lower elevated serum cholesterol, and reduce pathological platelet activity.”(source).
IP(6) is found in beans and cereal.
On the other side, meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer and heart disease even with controlling for other factors such as smoking and exercise. (source)
One of many reasons to switch your beef with beans!
Fat from animals is significantly associated with pancreatic cancer risk (source) and there is a 72% increased risk of pancreatic cancer for every fifty grams of chicken (2 oz) daily (source). This study was done for one decade on 447,000 people and pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death worldwide.
How to eat clean(er)
In my personal opinion the cleanest you can eat is a whole food plant based diet: Eating whole produce, getting your sugar from fruits, your fat from nuts, seeds, avocados, cooking your own meals, getting calcium, protein and vitamins from plants, and increasing your fiber intake.
It is recommended to eat at least 25g of fiber daily and most Americans eat only 10g. Fiber reduces the risk of colon cancer (source), breast cancer (source), diabetes (source), heart disease (source), obesity (source), and stroke (source). It helps control cholesterol (source) and blood sugar levels (source). Fiber also binds toxins, lead, and mercury (source), which is mostly accumulated in animal fat.
To get started I suggest implementing healthier choices weekly, including more whole foods and leaving out the “junk.” You can make one change per week, or be bold and try to make more healthy changes. Check out my dinner recipes that are whole food plant based and mostly oil free (and budget friendly).
If you want a total diet change and are ready to jump right in, I highly recommend you check out the Vegan Starter Kit. It will answer all your questions, provide you with recipes and meal plans, and also give you helpful guides and printables.
Clean recipes (on a budget)
- Creamy Avocado Pesto
- Curried Chickpeas with Water-fried Potatoes
- One Pot Pasta with Zucchini, Beans, Tomatoes
- Vegan Meal Prep: 2 One Pot Meals in under 45 minutes
- 8-Day Plant Based Meal Plan on a Budget
Clean eating for weight loss
Can I lose weight by eating cleaner?
Of course! And here is why:
When you look at the list above and make healthy changes, you automatically reduce calories and fat intake. For example, swapping milk with almond milk will reduce calories. Also cutting out oils, switching to beans instead of meat, and cutting out sugar (especially energy drinks) will reduce calorie intake.
What are the results?
You only need a calorie deficit of 250-500 calories per day to see weekly weight loss results, which can be achieved naturally by the suggested swaps. BUT, not only will you lose weight, you will also fuel your body with better food.
Eating more vegetables and fiber while eating less saturated fat will heal inflammation, disease and your gut. On top of that, it will unclog arteries, help you get lean faster, and provide you with many additional benefits.
If you would rather be guided through steps to lose weight on a clean diet I recommend this plant based weight loss bundle: