What it really means to eat clean

It seems like these days everybody claims to be eating clean, but none of those individuals are eating the same way. One friend isn’t touching sugar while another is going vegetarian. One won’t drink alcohol but another claims so long as it’s clear alcohol, they’re in the clear with clean eating. Does anybody know what they’re doing? Can anybody just be a self-proclaimed clean eater? Or are there some actual guidelines? Yes, there are. You can be a healthy eater. You can be a light eater. You can even be a conscious eater. But you’re not really a clean eater unless you live by some important food rules. If you’re really hoping to rid your body of toxins and foreign ingredients it doesn’t quite know how to digest, then cutting calories or sugar alone won’t cut it. Here’s what it actually means to eat clean.

It’s all or nothing

You need to know that the cleaner you eat, the less your body can tolerate unclean food. So eating clean for most meals of the week, but having a cheat day where you indulge in trans fat, processed sugar and tons of full-fat cheese isn’t a good idea. Look at your body like a large pond now; one drop of toxins will spread through it quickly.

You can barely eat at restaurants

Unless you’re dining at a restaurant whose entire marketing campaign is that they serve strictly clean meals made in a kitchen that doesn’t even house unclean ingredients, you should eat at home. Most regular restaurants don’t realize that just because the beans were fresh when they were canned doesn’t mean they are fresh now. Or that you can’t have sugar even in non-sweet items, like pasta sauce.

Oh, you can’t have sugar in pasta sauce

More on that last note, many people think that cutting sugar just means cutting sweet things. But there is added sugar in so much of what you eat, including foods that taste totally savory. If it comes in a jar or store packaging, it probably contains some sugar.

Eat one-ingredient food

Apples. Chicken. Rice. These are one-ingredient foods. The moment your food requires a label to list multiple ingredients, it stops being a whole food aka a clean food. Of course, you can have things where the label isn’t really necessary, like a fruit salad, but the store just added one for clarity.

You should eat carbs

People confuse eating clean with eating a low-calorie diet. Clean eating has nothing to do with cutting calories. There are clean foods that are high in calories, and clean foods that are low in calories. On that note, you can eat carbs! In fact, you should eat carbs like sweet potatoes and brown rice. These can fight off cravings for processed sugar.

Watch your protein sources

Eggs, chicken, and steak are all one-ingredient foods, so you’re off to a good start with these. But eggs should be free-range. Meat should be antibiotic free. Beef should be grass-fed. Remember that you wind up eating whatever your meat ate, when it was alive. Yup: you need to look that far back into the food process.

Don’t forget grain-fed beef

One more note on eating beef: you can also opt for grain-fed beef. Don’t write a steak off if it isn’t grass-fed. So long as it is grass or grain-fed, you’re still eating clean. Just avoid frozen beef patties, even if they are grass or grain-fed, since these are processed.

You can have juice

Don’t confuse pressed juice and store-bought, brand-name juice. Pressed juice doesn’t contain any of the added sugars of most store-bought juice. Pressed juice can be a nice addition to a clean diet. If you can make smoothies, even better, since you can hang onto the fibers of the fruit.

You can have canned fruit

Since dried fruit is typically not in a clean-eating diet (it tends to contain added sugar, or become too sugary in the drying process) people can believe that only fresh fruit is allowed. But you can still eat canned fruit, so long as it is stewed in strictly 100% fruit juice (rather than syrup). In other words, you don’t need to stop at the store three times a week for fresh fruit to eat clean.

There are chips!

It’s hard to believe you can eat chips on a clean diet, but you can. Just make sure they’re baked, corn chips. The only ingredients should be corn and a healthy oil like grape seed or olive oil.

Deli meat is off limits

Unless your sandwich meat was just carved off a roast that came immediately out of the oven, it’s been processed. Don’t fall for the “antibiotic-free” labels. Sliced deli meat has been processed. If you want a ham sandwich, you need freshly carved ham.

Grains are debatable

Some individuals will claim that, if our ancestors thousands of years ago didn’t eat it then neither should we. For this reason, many cut out grains. But if you’re just looking at it from a clean perspective (it’s good for your body and doesn’t contain toxins or multiple ingredients) whole grains are fine to eat. Try things like quinoa, oats and wild rice.

Don’t overdo it on the meat

Some people confuse a clean diet with a paleo one. Or, they simply think, “Hey if it’s a one-ingredient food, I can have as much as I want, and pork is a one-ingredient food.” But you should watch your meat intake, whether you’re on a clean diet or not. Overdoing it can cause things like high cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Even if that meat is grass-fed and free-range. Your diet should consist mostly of fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs.

You can eat dairy

While some people cut dairy entirely because it’s high in calories, or causes some flatulence, you don’t have to cut it to eat clean. Just stick to low-fat dairy like cottage cheese and skim milk. And, again, make sure it comes from cows that aren’t fed antibiotics.

You can eat soy

While the jury is out on the health risks and benefits of eating a lot of soy, it is a clean food. Soybeans are pure, clean food. Tofu that is made from simply soybeans is fine to eat. Again, that’s as far as clean eating goes.