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Seven Guidelines for Clean Eating

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “clean eating” a few times. But what exactly does clean eating mean? You might also be wondering if it’s just another diet that will leave you feeling like a failure because you can’t keep up with the rules and restrictions?

I’m breaking down the basics and giving you my seven guidelines for clean eating.

Seven Guidelines for Clean Eating - fitliving eats

Let’s start with what clean eating is not.

It is not a diet with preset formulas that become so restrictive it’s almost suffocating. In fact, it’s not really a diet at all. Clean eating is more about a lifestyle change – a different way of thinking about the food you put into your body. The choice to pursue clean eating allows for flexibility in your diet that can be adapted to almost anyone’s routine or any dietary restrictions.

In my research, I came across this definition of clean eating:

“Clean eating is a deceptively simple concept. Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food’s pathway between its origin and your plate.”  

Here are seven guidelines to help you in your journey towards clean eating.

No more processed food.

Replace processed foods (foods found in a box, bag, can, or package) with natural, whole foods that are minimally processed. However, things like bagged spinach or canned tomatoes are an exception.

Reaching for fresh foods as close to their natural state as possible will leave you feeling more satisfied in the long haul.

Eat more produce.

You’ve heard the phrase “Eat the rainbow,” right? Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day will ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs to sustain lasting energy and keep you strong and healthy.

Related: How to Get the Recommended Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day

Whole grains are your friend.

Just because something is advertised as “multigrain” doesn’t mean it’s a healthy option. Look for “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient and try to consume more unrefined grains, such as brown rice, millet, amaranth, and quinoa.

Tart Cherry and Almond Granola

Nix the added and artificial sugars.

Giving your taste buds an overload of added sugars can become addicting. You know, the sugars found in baked goods or your favorite sweet drink. And don’t even get me started on artificial sugars – just consume the real thing in smaller quantities. Natural sugars from fruit, honey, maple syrup, and sugar cane juice are considered “clean” and can be a part of a healthy diet in moderation.

Be mindful of salt.

Most processed foods contain a high salt content, which is why many Americans are hooked on these foods, causing the good-for-you-foods to appear bland. But that’s not the case! By eliminating processed foods from your diet, you can reset your taste buds to enjoy the natural flavors of whole foods and ultimately, crave them.

Keep caffeine and alcohol to a minimum.

This is a tough one for me because one, I like my coffee in the morning (and most afternoons – who am I kidding?) and two, I like my wine. But in order to achieve clean eating most days of the week, I try to limit myself to one cup of coffee a day and save that glass of wine for the weekend. If I’m craving coffee in the afternoon, I often opt for hot green tea or a green smoothie instead.

Increase your water intake.

Drinking a lot of water throughout the day can be a challenge because you might find yourself getting up to go to the bathroom frequently. But look at this way – little breaks of movement throughout the day are good for you, so use them to your advantage.

It is recommended that adults consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. I make sure I have a water bottle with me at all times to help me keep my water intake up. Try some of these tips if you find yourself struggling to with your daily water intake.

With any healthy diet, it’s important to eat a balance of produce (fruits and vegetables), healthy fats, whole grains, and lean protein at every meal. And of course the occasional indulgence is encouraged, even by health experts!

I have found my journey towards clean eating a rewarding and simple one by focusing more on whole, fresh foods and less on those found with a long list of ingredients.

What are your eating habits like? Do you try to eat clean by consuming whole, natural foods? Share how you fit these clean eating guidelines into your daily life in the comments.

-Carly Paige

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125 Responses

  1. For me it is no longer about rules or even guidelines – – just doing the best I can eaxh day and leaving enough in the tank 🙂 that I want to get up again the next morning and try again.

  2. YES YES YES to all of these! It is amazing how much better you feel when you nix processed foods. And it is honestly easy too and I think cheaper. Real foods, real ingredients, real simple! Great post friend! xoxo

    1. I know, right? I have noticed a HUGE difference in my energy level and I’m not a bloated. I totally agree!

  3. Love it Carly! Personally, I don’t do grains – but I definitely follow all those tips plus lots of lean protein and tons tons tons of green leafy friends 🙂

  4. Thanks for the post! I’ve been trying to switch to clean eating and this really helps to keep it simple! I’ll be coming back to this post as I transition to full on clean eating! P.S. Coffee is my problem too! 😉

    1. That’s awesome, Sandra! These are just some guidelines to help get you pointed in the right direction. I don’t always hit them every day, but it gives me something to work towards!

  5. Great tips! We try and eat as”cleanly” as possible – I think it just comes down to making choices about what is going to nourish your body and enjoying guilty pleasures in moderation is important too!

  6. Yep! Love all of these! With my wedding 3 months away, I’m trying to eat clean, so now when I go do groceries, I only shop on the outskirts of the store. Produce, meats, dairy. Not going through all the aisles avoids all the processed foods! Thanks for sharing! xoxox, Kayla

    1. You’re welcome, Kayla. Congrats on the upcoming wedding! I love your point about shopping the outskirts of the grocery store – that’s the key!

  7. I seriously have been eating so bad lately. It’s time to step it up. I know I’m better than what I’ve been eating lately!!

  8. WELL – I guess you would say I “eat clean” except, I love Nesquick syrup straight from the Bottle, Pillsbury Frosting, Gluten Free Betty Crocker Cookies, PLUS all my non processed foods 🙂

  9. I love my veggies and fruit but seem to go the way of the mom and end up eating my kids leftovers while I’m doing about 10 other things. Thank you for this! I have been wanting to learn more about clean eating! I want to implement this in my house.

  10. Love how simply you state it. Since having my daughter I’ve struggled to get back to eating more naturally. I am going to take this list and work one in at a time. Starting with more water in hopes of flooding out my caffeine! Thanks for this post!

  11. Great post! A simple explanation that everyone can understand:-) All of your advice is definitely worth taking into account. I just recently did a week of only eating fruits and veggies (with the exception of one cup of coffee a day;-) and I couldn’t believe how much better I felt after about the third or fourth day! I was starving at times, haha! But I felt great! Considering what we put into our bodies as fuel instead of just eating because we are hungry makes a BIG difference. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, being mindful of what we are eating is important! A healthy balance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and good fats will help keep your body fueled and your energy levels up!

  12. This is become my way of eating and I’m always looking for help, encouragement, and new ideas. Thank you

  13. These are all great tips! I try really hard to feed my little ones a clean diet. They get enough junk everywhere else they go so when they are home I keep it to a minimum. I just try my hardest to walk the perimeter of the grocery store and that usually helps me make better decisions while buying food.

    1. I love to hear that you are teaching your little ones about good nutrition at a young age! Shopping the perimeter of the store is a great way to make sure you stay on track 🙂

    1. Hi Danielle – I’m glad you found them helpful! I have tried to incorporate a few plant-based meals into my diet each week since these are typically cheaper and ensure I am getting a variety of vegetables in my diet 🙂

  14. I’ve been doing my best to implement some clean eating into my family’s life. I’ve found that drinking more water made all of the other changes WAY easier. SO weird, but eliminating sugary unhealthy drinks seemed like the simplest change with a big impact! Now if only I could cut back on the coffee… maybe in my next life! 😉

  15. Hard rules and massive restrictions were the downfalls of past diets and “lifestyle changes”. I’ve listened to my body and know that processed foods, excess sugar, and too many grains aren’t good for me. I do exceptionally well with lots of water, lean meats, and definitely lots of water.

    This is a great post and excellent to share.

    1. Thanks, Regina! Listening to and knowing what your body needs is so important. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. These guidelines really do make clean eating easy to understand! I’ve been eating Paleo/clean for about three years now (while indulging in the occasional donut!), and I love it. I wouldn’t go back to the way I was eating before.

    1. Same! Since focusing more on eating plant-based meals a few times a week, I’m actually starting to crave those foods!

  17. Great tips! I’ve done the Buzzfeed clean eating challenge in the past and am planning to start again in September. Kicking added sugar is the hardest for me, but it can be done.

  18. Thanks so much for breaking it down into simple, easier-than-it-looks I know, steps! The coffee and wine part is SO hard for me too! This is extremely motivational…

  19. Caffeine is SO my weakness! I do find that when I up my water intake, I naturally eat less and eat healthier things. It’s so easy to forget to drink water but I use an app called Balanced that’s so great for helping me remember.

  20. Wonderful little summary of the rules of clean eating, we are a reminder at times, thanks for this one! Love the blog 🙂

  21. These are great guidelines. I do a good job on the vegetables and avoiding caffeine and alcohol. I’m working on increasing my water intake. Thanks for a nice list!

    1. Thanks, Carol! Drinking enough water is a struggle for me, too, especially during these hot summer months. I make sure I always have a water bottle within reach!

  22. Girlfriend, you rock. These tips are GREAT for anyone trying to live a more balanced life. I try to avoid excess added sugars throughout the day, and definitely minimize processed foods (snacks in the middle of the grocery store aisles). I can fill up better on real, whole foods 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jess! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. avoided excess added sugars is key and shopping the perimeter of the store will help you in your pursuit of clean eating!

  23. I’ve been trying to cut down on my weeknight glasses of wine and save them for the weekend. It’s not that difficult, but we usually have opened bottles from the weekend now lying around that are tempting to finish off throughout the week!

  24. Of course I’ve heard of clean eating, and your thoughts immediately go to healthy foods. But I was never really sure exactly what the “rules” were. Thanks for spelling this out! Please come share your blog posts over at the Home Matters Linky Party! We have a VERY SPECIAL PARTY planned this week, and we’d love to have you for a visit. The Door is OPEN. http://lifewithlorelai.com/2015/08/13/home-matters-linky-party-50/ 🙂

    Life With Lorelai

    1. Thanks, Lorelai! I will definitely check out the link party! Link parties have been on my list of things to do and just haven’t gotten there yet. Starting next week, I’m on it!