How To Eat Clean For Beginners + Our Complete Clean Eating Food List

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You will often hear people suggest the advice to “eat clean“ or focus only on “clean foods“ in your diet when you are trying to lose weight or improve your health.

But, what is clean eating? How do you get started with clean eating for beginners? What are some of the foods on a clean eating list that you can add to your diet?

In this article on how to eat clean for beginners, we will discuss what clean eating is, how to eat clean, what constitutes “clean foods,” and provide you with a clean eating list to take to the grocery store when you are ready to get started.

We will cover the following: 

  • What Is Clean Eating?
  • How to Eat Clean for Beginners
  • Tips for How to Eat Clean for Beginners
  • Eating Clean Food List

Let’s jump in!

A variety of clean, unproccessed foods.

What Is Clean Eating?

If you enjoy scrolling social media for diet and fitness challenges, you’ve likely come across a clean food list or targeted ads that have suggestions for products to get started with clean eating for beginners.

But, what is clean eating exactly, and what are “clean foods”? Clean eating falls under the umbrella of healthy diets.

However, unlike many popular weight loss diets and fad diets, clean eating is a lifestyle choice rather than a specific diet with rules about what you can eat or can’t eat.

With clean eating, the goal is to focus on consuming the majority of your calories from whole, fresh, natural, unprocessed foods rather than processed foods.

The principle behind a clean eating diet is that you are making a lifestyle choice to put nutritious natural foods into your body.

Clean foods are nutrient-dense foods that optimize health and are free from additives, excess sugar, chemical ingredients, etc., that make so many processed and packaged foods unhealthy and even addictive.

Clean foods help control blood sugar levels, which has been shown to help prevent adverse sequelae of diabetes, including nerve damage, kidney damage, heart disease, and stroke.

Clean eating foods.

How to Eat Clean for Beginners

There aren’t specific clean eating diet rules such as what you can eat on a weight loss diet like the Paleo diet or Military Diet, nor are there necessarily specific macronutrient ratios like with the Zone diet or about how many grams of carbohydrates you can eat like there are on a low-carb diet like the keto diet.

There are also no specific daily calorie limits that apply to everyone who is trying to eat a diet of clean foods. Your own caloric needs will be based on your body size, activity level, and weight goals.

To that end, one thing that differentiates clean eating as a lifestyle choice rather than a weight loss diet is that plenty of people adopt clean eating practices and try to fill the majority of their plate with things that would fall on a clean foods list who have no intention of losing weight. 

You can aim to maintain your weight, build muscle, or lose body fat and still choose the clean eating dietary approach. 

Clean eating is for everyone, as it is truly intended to optimize health.

A vegetable garden.

This, in turn, should help optimize your body composition by balancing your hormones, removing endocrine disruptors, decreasing simple sugars and processed oils, and providing plenty of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, nuts, and dark leafy greens.

With that said, if you are looking for how to eat clean for beginners, you will still want some tips and guidance on where to start. What are clean foods? What does clean eating for beginners look like?

Ultimately, the emphasis on clean eating is to eat foods in “Mother Nature’s package” rather than a commercial food label package.

For example, instead of drinking orange juice from a carton, you would eat fresh oranges.

Instead of having canned soup with tons of added salt and stabilizers, you would make a fresh bone broth or vegetable soup on the stove or crockpot with real food ingredients such as vegetables, herbs, and lean proteins.

Clean foods are those that are in their whole, natural, unprocessed state or are very minimally processed.

Lean proteins.

For example, all fresh fruits and vegetables are clean foods. A clean food list would also include nuts, seeds, whole eggs, and lean proteins.

Still, there are some items on a clean eating foods list that do have some amount of processing.

For example, nut butters that are natural and do not contain added sugar or much salt, and are free from hydrogenated oils are still considered clean foods even though the nuts have been ground.

Likewise, many whole grains qualify for a clean eating food list even though they may be somewhat processed. For example, whole rolled oats are a clean food, but the very outer coating of the oat, as you’d find with oat groats, has been removed.

Similarly, unlike a raw foods diet which involves eating only uncooked foods or foods that haven’t exceeded a temperature of about 117°F, you can cook any food on a clean foods diet.

Here are some of the key characteristics of clean eating foods:

  • Clean eating foods are natural and contain only recognizable ingredients.
  • Clean eating foods are minimally processed.
  • Clean eating foods contain no artificial sweeteners, artificial flavorings, artificial dyes or colors, refined oils, access sugars, gums, fillers, stabilizers, or chemical ingredients.
  • Clean eating foods are nutrient-dense.
  • Where possible, clean foods are organic and non-GMO.
A person smiling eating a salad.

Tips for How to Eat Clean for Beginners

Here are some tips for clean eating for beginners: 

#1: Take It Step-By-Step

Depending on what you have been eating in your everyday diet up until the point you decide you want to start eating clean, it can be an overwhelming, drastic shift to overhaul your diet and start eating clean all of a sudden. 

Start small, with little changes at a time. For example, instead of processed, sugary breakfast cereals, switch to whole oats that you can soak as overnight oats or steel-cut oatmeal. 

Instead of refined white bread and pasta, switch to whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, quinoa, or brown rice. 

If you eat a lot of fruit snacks, switch to unsweetened dried fruit. If you drink soda and juice, slowly cut back and try flavoring your water with lemon, pineapple, cucumber, or other fruits to add flavor. 

Continue to make small gradual changes in your journey towards clean eating.

A person grocery shopping in the produce section.

#2: Shop the Perimeters

The majority of the foods that you will find on a clean eating foods list can be found in the perimeter of the grocery store, where the produce, lean proteins, eggs, and dairy products are found. 

Most of the foods in the middle aisles of the grocery store are processed and packaged, and it will be harder to find clean foods here.

#3: Read Food Labels

Most foods on the clean foods list do not even necessarily have a package because the food comes in its whole, natural state. 

However, there are some exceptions to packaged foods that are clean foods. 

When you are trying to determine if a food product is a clean-eating food, flip the package over and look at the ingredients. 

If you can recognize all of the foods in the ingredients list as naturally occurring foods rather than chemical compounds, it’s a good indication that the food is at least relatively clean. 

Also, look at the grams of added sugar and what sorts of fat or oil have been used in the food. Avoid anything with lots of sugars or industrial oils, such as palm kernel oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, etc.

A nutrition label.

#4: Use Eating Clean Foods List

A good tip for how to eat clean for beginners is to print out an eating clean foods list to take with you to the grocery store or load one up on your phone so that you have ready access to check before you buy. 

Below, we have a fairly thorough clean eating foods list to help you navigate transitioning to a clean-eating dietary lifestyle.

Eating Clean Food List

Here is a list of clean eating foods to make eating clean for beginners easier to navigate:

  • Vegetables: All fresh and frozen vegetables.
  • Fruits: All fresh and frozen fruit or air-dried fruit, but not fruit snacks, sweetened apple sauce, fruits in syrup, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Lean Proteins and grass-fed meats
  • Whole Grains: Whole, unprocessed oats, whole wheat, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, barley, brown rice, oats, teff, farro, arameth; whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread, oatmeal, healthy cereals, etc.
  • Seeds and Nuts
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Healthy Oils: Olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.
  • Organic and grass-fed dairy
  • Sustainable seafood
  • Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soy, etc.
  • Herbal teas, green tea, matcha tea
  • Fermented foods

If you are trying to limit your carbohydrate intake, check out our guide to low-carb, high-protein breakfast ideas here.

A message that reads, unproccess your diet with an apple next to it.
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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