Eat Clean Diet Guide: How To, Plus A Complete Clean Eating Food List

Our nutrition coach analyzes the wholesome eating movement.

We often hear about “clean eating, “ but it can feel like a rather nebulous term such that many people don’t really know what a clean eating diet plan looks like.

What foods are on an eat clean diet meal plan? What does clean eating mean in the first place? Is a clean eating diet plant good for weight loss or just overall health in general?

In this diet guide, we will discuss what an eat clean diet plan involves, how to follow it this healthy lifestyle, and a complete list of foods to eat and avoid on the eat clean diet meal plan.

Let’s jump in!

Eat clean diet foods including lean proteins, vegetables and healthy fats.

What Is a Clean Eating Diet Plan?

An eat clean diet plan isn’t a specific weight loss or health diet with a set meal plan, number of calories, or macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbs) ratios.

Rather, a clean eating diet plan or clean foods diet refers to a healthy eating diet that focuses on whole, natural, unprocessed foods, which are considered to be “clean foods.“

The more natural the food is in its original state, or as clean eating diet proponents like to say, “foods in mother nature‘s packaging,“ the better.

Simultaneously, the best clean eating diet plans remove all processed foods with additives and preservatives.

Particularly ultra processed foods should be removed, such as refined grains, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, artificial sweeteners, chemical food ingredients, fried foods, or foods with colors or dyes made from chemicals, industrial oils, frozen prepared meals, etc.1National Institutes of Health. (2019, June 4). Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/eating-highly-processed-foods-linked-weight-gain

Ultra-processed foods can cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin, increase blood pressure, increase circulating triglycerides, increase cholesterol, cause weight gain, increase the risk of insulin resistance, and contribute to food cravings and increases in appetite.

A person eating a salad.

How Do You Follow a Clean Eating Diet Plan?

An eat clean diet plan doesn’t necessarily have to be followed for weight loss.

Of course, a clean eating diet is always going to be the healthiest or best approach to weight loss rather than following a crash diet, fad diet, or diet that involves lots of prepared, pre-portioned diet foods, meal replacement shakes, and meal replacement diet bars.

That said, you can also follow a clean eating diet for weight management or even healthy weight gain.

Depending on your weight goals, you would adjust your clean eating diet calories accordingly. 

To lose weight, your clean eating diet calories need to be fewer than the number of calories you are burning in a day, termed your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).2Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

For weight maintenance, you want to be in a caloric balance, and if you are trying to gain weight or build muscle on a clean eating diet for bulking, you will want to consume more calories than you are burning by choosing higher-calorie, nutrient-dense foods.

Salad on a fork.

There are no specific macro ratios to target on a clean eating diet plan.

Generally, the goal should be to have a fairly balanced macro split between carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, depending so much on your clean eating diet, weight loss or weight gain goals, and your activity level.

For weight loss or for building muscle, increase protein.

For weight gain or endurance athletes, increase carbohydrates and healthy fats.

A good starting place for a clean eating diet for beginners macronutrient split would be 25-30% of your calories from protein, 30% from healthy fats, and 40-45% from healthy carbohydrates.

However, with the trend towards eating more healthy fats and lean proteins and following a low-carb diet, many people prefer a high protein clean eating plan with:

  • 35% of calories from protein
  • 35% of calories from fat
  • 30% of calories per day from healthy carbohydrates, particularly those high in fiber and low in sugar
Eat clean diet foods including fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.

What Can You Eat on an Eat Clean Diet Plan?

There isn’t one rigidly defined clean eating diet meal plan in the way that many weight loss diets are spelled out with rules regarding specific foods to eat, foods to avoid, or even how often and how much you can eat.

The ultimate goal of an eat clean diet meal plan is to eat foods in “Mother Nature’s package” rather than a commercial food label package.

Therefore, an eat clean diet focuses on whole, natural, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods.

These generally center around plant-based foods with potentially small amounts of animal-based foods such as organic dairy and eggs (like a vegetarian diet), organic lean meat, and free-range organic poultry.

Processed foods are avoided.

For example, instead of having canned soup packed with added salt, you would make a fresh bone broth or vegetable soup on the stove or crockpot with real food ingredients such as veggies, herbs, and lean proteins.

A person cooking in their kitchen.

While many clean, healthy foods are completely unadulterated—such as fresh vegetables and fresh fruits—some items on an eat clean diet foods list undergo some processing.

For example, many whole grains can be part of an eat clean diet food list even though they may be somewhat processed. 

Whole rolled oats have the very outer coating of the oat that you’d find on oat groats removed, but whole rolled oats are still minimally processed compared to packets of quick oats oatmeal with added sugar, flavorings, and powdered milk.

Nut butters that are natural and do not contain added sugar or hydrogenated oils are still considered clean foods even though the nuts have been ground, and perhaps some salt has been added.

You can also cook foods on an eat clean diet plan, unlike a raw foods diet in which you can only eat uncooked foods or foods that haven’t exceeded a temperature of about 117°F in their preparations.

A salad.

Here we have provides a complete ingredient list of the types of foods to eat on a whole foods plant-based meal plan:

  • Vegetables: Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, leeks, kale, mushrooms, mustard greens, olives, okra, onions, peas, radishes, radicchio, scallions, shallots, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocado, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruit, red and green grapes, melons, lemons, limes, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranates, raspberries and strawberries.
  • Tubers and Starchy Vegetables: Turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, pumpkin, rutabaga, kohlrabi, carrots
  • Legumes: Lentils, beans (cannellini, lima, fava, green, kidney, and navy), peas, chickpeas, hummus, peanuts, split peas, etc.
  • Whole Grains: Buckwheat, barley, bulgar, quinoa, whole wheat, rye, brown rice, whole oats, farro, orzo, freekeh, amaranth, wheat berries, etc.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, sesame seeds, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, pine nuts, tahini, peanut butter, almond butter, seed butter, etc.
  • Fish and Seafood: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, scallops, mussels, clams, trout, halibut, shrimp, octopus, etc.
  • Organic, Cage-Free Eggs
  • Organic, Free-Range Poultry: Chicken, turkey, squab, duck
  • Organic Soy Foods: Tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk
  • Low-Fat Dairy: Cheese (asiago, feta, goat cheese, halloumi, gouda, gruyère, manchego, mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino, ricotta), cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, kefir
  • Organic, Grass-Fed Lean Mean: Beef, bison, lean pork, etc.
  • Healthy Fats: Olives, olive oil, avocados, flaxseed oil, coconut
  • Herbs and Spices: Basil, anise, bay leaves, clove, crushed red pepper, oregano, dill, mustard seeds, cumin, mint, garlic, parsley, cinnamon, black and white pepper, thyme, sage, paprika, sumac, rosemary, za’atar, etc.
  • Condiments: Vinegar (apple cider, balsamic and red wine), olive oil, stone ground mustard, nut butter
  • Herbal tea or unsweetened caffeinated tea, black coffee
A beet salad.

Eat clean diet foods contain no artificial ingredients such as sweeteners, artificial flavorings, artificial dyes or colors, refined oils, access sugars, gums, fillers, stabilizers, hormones, antibiotics (in meat), or chemical ingredients.

Therefore, you would avoid things like fast food, processed meats like hot dogs and sausage, frozen pizza, frozen entrees, pudding, reduced-fat ice cream, fat-free cheese, shredded cheese with stabilizers, creamer, granola bars, boxed cereal, soda, protein bars, bottled salad dressing, packaged sweets, etc.

Overall, an eat clean diet is a commitment to yourself and your body, aiming to put the best foods with the utmost nutritional value into your body for general health benefits and wellness.

A clean eating diet will promote health by eliminating “fake foods” and focusing on nutrient-dense, real foods.3How Can I Eat More Nutrient-Dense Foods? (n.d.). Www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-can-i-eat-more-nutrient-dense-foods#:~:text=Nutrient%20density%20is%20the%20amount

‌However, you don’t have to be perfect—it’s okay to have your favorite treats or eat out occasionally, even if you’re unsure where the food was sourced.

If you would like to find which eating plan works best for you, working with a registered dietitian can guide you and support you need to reach your goals.

Food, a notebook and pencil for diet meal planning.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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