What does “clean eating” mean? What is a “clean eating diet”? These are questions I’m often asked by people trying to gain muscle and or lose weight.
To me, clean eating means eating as many unprocessed and natural foods as possible. This means eating a lot of vegetables, high-quality meats, wild-caught fish, and healthy oils. As the Mayo Clinic describes – it’s just a way of eating.
Cleaning eating means you should look for:
- Whole food ingredients
- Making food from scratch
- Seeing the actual food that goes into what you eat
- Not using preservatives or pre-made foods
If you’d rather read about my take on “clean eating” look below!
What Confuses People About Clean Eating?
There are plenty of diets out there ranging from vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, and even carnivorous diets, and all of them have their definition of a “clean diet”.
All these colliding definitions of what is considered “clean” inside of their diet plan often causes confusion for the average Joe.
But if a particular diet works for you and is sustainable, then the only thing you need to worry about is getting the highest quality ingredients that are natural and unprocessed.
That’s what I consider clean eating and you can fit that ideology into any particular dieting style.
Clean Eating Food List: What Foods Are & Aren’t Clean Eating?
All animal proteins like chicken, beef, and fish aren’t created the same. Many cheaper grocery store options such as frozen meats have preservatives & additives in them. I strive for high-quality proteins that are:
You really want to pay the extra money to get higher quality proteins that are richer in nutrients and avoid getting the cheaper stuff.
Many people stray away from cheese because it’s deemed as fattening or unhealthy, but high-quality cheeses eaten in moderation are a great source of healthy fat that your body needs.
Aged cheeses made from whole milk provide you with a quality fat source along with a great taste to accompany your meals. My personal favorite is aged cheddar.
However, you should avoid overly processed cheeses like American cheese or Velveeta, because they are full of additives and preservatives.
Organic produce such as veggies, fruits, and starches (potatoes, pasta, rice) are great, because they don’t have chemical additives that make them grow or harsh pesticides that can linger on their surface.
I know buying organic isn’t always an option, but I strongly believe it’s worth the extra buck.
Nuts are a great source of protein, fat, and trace minerals. They’re also a great snack because they’re easy to pack and eat. My favorites include almonds and brazil nuts.
BUT you should avoid coated or flavored nuts and nuts with added salts.
Spices are considered clean eating and most actually have benefits for our bodies such as anti-inflammatory effects.
Buying whole spices is best because some pre-ground spices can be adulterated, but whole spices also have more flavor – it’s really a win-win by getting whole spices.
The only time spices wouldn’t be considered clean eating is by having them in pre-made foods, where you don’t know the quality or quantity of the ingredients in the food.
Many people demonize salt, where you should completely avoid it. But this is because so many fast-foods and pre-made foods have copious amounts of salt in it already.
However, your body actually needs salt to properly function, so flavoring and eating your foods with a moderate amount of salt is actually good for you.
Butters & Oils
We don’t want to avoid all butter and oils, because some have good fats. But we do want to avoid fats that have hydrogenated oils or fats in them, because they’re hard for the body to process.
- Grass-Fed unsalted butter (European style, like Kerrygold’s)
- Olive oil, avocado oil, refined MCT oil
- Low-quality butter or salted butter
- Margarine & butter alternatives
- Vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, (these are just some of the ones you should avoid)
OKAY in Moderation:
- Bacon fat
I personally don’t use animal fats such as bacon fat or lard that often because I’m not used to cooking with them, but these are fine in moderation.
Foods That Aren’t Clean Eating – Ever
Processed Foods & Sugary Drinks
Anything that’s pre-made, comes in a package, has an expiration date or preservatives that prolong its shelf life significantly are often foods that aren’t considered “clean eating”. These include
- Precooked, packaged, or non-perishable meals
- Ready-made dinners that you just stick in the microwave or oven
- Foods with artificially added sugar (candies, cookies, pre-made smoothies, sugary cereal)
- Sodas, Juice, Lemonade (“healthy” drinks like OJ have significant amounts of sugar from multiple oranges packed into a single cup – instead eat the whole fruit)
- Flavored coffee drinks
You can eat whole fruits, unsalted nuts, healthy cereals, or smoothies you make from scratch.
My Weekly Diet
To give you an idea of how I follow clean eating, here’s a list of what I typically eat during the week.
A smoothie made of greens, berries, superfoods like chia seeds, flaxseed, banana, protein peptides, and coconut milk.
Includes 3 eggs with carbs, usually fresh tortillas from the grocery store. I’ll add aged cheddar and avocado for extra fats & calories.
Lunch is often leftovers from whatever I cooked for dinner the day before.
Dinner or supper is always a meal made from scratch and includes protein, veggies, and carbs.
- Protein – grass-fed beef or pasture-raised chicken, wild-caught fish
- Fresh veggies – broccoli, mixed peppers, or zucchini/squash
- Carbs – rice, sweet potatoes, Italian pasta,
The only regular example of a dinner meal not made from scratch is when I use a pre-made sauce like marinara, curry, or tikka masala.
If I’m really hungry and I need food now, I” ll have a cliff bar or an epic bar, but I wouldn’t consider this clean eating. This usually happens 1-2x per week.
My Go-To Pick-Up Meal
These are foods I buy “take-out”. It’s usually Thai food or chipotle, and this happens once per week. And though I wouldn’t put it on the same “clean” level as the food I prepare myself, do consider these to be clean meals, because the food is made from scratch.
But What About “Cheat Meals”
The common understanding of a cheat meal is when you deviate from your planned diet to indulge.
But to me, cheat meals are part of the plan. Never eating ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie isn’t sustainable.
About the author, Dean Pohlman, Founder & CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men.
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