Whether you are looking to lose those last five pounds or you’re starting a long-term weight loss program, eating clean is the way to go.
There is no downside when it comes to eating clean to lose weight, yet there are many perks, like…
- Flawless skin
- Strong bones
- All-day energy
- Healthy heart
- All-over weight loss (even stubborn belly fat and thigh fat melts away with clean eating)
But, there is a lot of confusion about what clean eating means, especially when it comes to weight loss.
What do I snack on?
How do I eat clean at a restaurant?
What makes a clean food “clean”?
By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what to eat, how to identify clean foods, and how to pull it all together to create a slim and healthy body that feels good to live in.
What Makes a Clean Food Clean?
Let’s make this simple.
Clean foods are not necessarily…
While clean food might fit into one of these categories, being a match does not make “clean” food clean. Here’s what does.
Clean foods are…
- “Clean” (no sauces or breading)
- Low- or no-sugar
Clean Foods are found on the Edge of the Store
The easiest way to find clean foods is to shop around the outer edge of your local grocery store.
Clean foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and meats are stocked around the perimeter of the store, while unhealthy processed foods are mainly found in the aisles.
Processed foods have been altered in some way to increase their shelf life or boost their flavor.
Processing typically involves removing food components that easily spoil. For instance, grains are milled to remove the bran and germ.
The remaining part of the grain can be ground into flour to create cereals, snack cakes, and noodles that last on the shelves for months.
The problem with processing food is that it also removes healthy fiber, nutrients, and often the flavor. To recapture the flavor, sugar, fat, and salt is often added to processed food. These additions are the perfect formula for food addiction.
To get started with a healthy lifestyle and eating clean to lose weight, load your shopping cart with unpackaged foods whenever possible.
Clean Eating Tips: If the food does come in a box, bag, or can, look at the sell by date, if the item will last in your pantry for a month or more, it is a clue that it’s a processed food that might not fit your clean eating lifestyle.
“Clean Fats” come from Whole Foods
Eating clean to lose weight is not about eating a low-fat diet.
Fats are vital for hunger and craving control. Without fats in your diet, your body cannot absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Your body senses that you’re low on these vitamins, and triggers hunger and cravings to get you to eat more.
The myth that eating fat makes you fat has been disproven and replaced with the understanding that the right fats benefit your health. Fats from whole foods, which include nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and avocados aid in slimming your waist, improve your heart health, give your skin a healthy glow, and provide sustained energy.
Oils are processed fats that should be limited or avoided. To make oil, whole fruits, and seeds are crushed, pressed, and washed to squeeze out every drop of the oil, which leaves the vitamins, minerals, and fiber to be discarded or turned into a meal for animal feed.
Weight Loss Calorie Tip: Whole fats from nuts and seed are an important part of your weight loss strategy, but you can get too much of a good thing.
Nuts and seeds are high in calories, so avoid eating them as a snack, which encourages overeating. Instead, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons onto your oatmeal or salad each day.
Make Fruit Your New Candy
Fruit is naturally sweet and satisfying. It’s also rich in vitamin C and minerals, which gives your immune system a boost, so you get fewer sniffles.
Buy fruit fresh or frozen for a clean, unprocessed snack or a fruity dessert. Frozen blueberries can be eaten right out of the bag for a cool summer snack.
Dried fruit like apricots, cranberries, and raisins add a burst of sweetness to oatmeal or salad, but to stay clean, check the ingredients list. The only ingredient listed should be the fruit. If there’s added sugar, leave it at the store.
Eating Clean to Lose Weight Tip: The natural sugars in fruit are balanced by fiber and nutrients, so you don’t have to worry about the unhealthy blood sugar spikes that encourage fat storage.
However, for faster weight loss, choose lower sugar fruits, like lemons, cantaloupe, clementines, berries and grapefruit.
Eat More Plant Proteins and Fewer Animal Proteins
Eating clean to lose weight does not mean you must become a vegetarian, but substituting plant proteins for some of your animal proteins will limit unhealthy fats and create a more alkaline state in your body.
Your fat-burning metabolism performs better when the pH of your body is slightly alkaline.
Animal proteins, like meats, shellfish, and dairy foods, tend to be on the acidic side, which can impair the speed of metabolic reactions.
The right pH balance is also important for bone health. To buffer an acidic diet, calcium is pulled from your bones causing them to become weaker.
Plant proteins create an alkaline environment, which is perfect for your metabolism and bone health.
High protein plant foods include:
- Lentils (18g protein/cup)
- Beans (15g protein in 1 cup, cooked)
- Peas (8g protein in 1 cup)
- Nuts & Seeds (7-9g protein in a ¼ cup)
- Quinoa (7-9g in a ½ cup, cooked)
- Spinach (5g in 1 cup, cooked)
Clean Eating Weight Loss Tip: Adding some unprocessed meat (chicken, turkey, grass-fed or organic beef) to your clean eating diet is fine, but you should avoid deli meats.
Deli lunchmeats top of the list when it comes to acidic meats. They are highly processed, which robs them of nutrients, and fills them with unhealthy nitrates.
Avoid These 3 White Foods
As a general rule, eating clean to lose weight means eating fewer of the white foods: flour, sugar, and salt.
Flour is a refined grain, which has been stripped of its vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Flour is used by food manufacturers and in kitchens to make junky snack foods and baked goods. These foods are often filled with sugar, salt, and fat, which is the recipe for addictive and inflammatory foods.
Avoid boxes and bags of refined carbs, like crackers and cookies, and also swap white bread for a high-fiber alternative, like Ezekiel bread.
Clean Eating Tip: Food manufacturers use food dye and fancy packaging to give bread, cereals, and baked goods the appearance of health, but you don’t have to be fooled.
Turn the package over and look for the word “whole” before the first ingredient listed (i.e. “whole wheat”, not just “wheat”), or check the fiber content. There should be at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Eat a Fresh Rainbow Each Day
Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to satisfy hunger and fill your body with craving-busting nutrients. These colorful foods also contain antioxidants that keep you healthy by destroying cell-damaging free radicals.
To get the most antioxidants into your clean eating day, eat a variety of the following foods.
Red (strawberries, cranberries, pomegranate, red apples, tomatoes, beets, red peppers, kidney beans)
Orange (oranges, clementines, apricots, peaches, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes)
Yellow (bananas, grapefruit, lemons, pineapple, corn, yellow peppers, spaghetti squash, garbanzo beans)
Green (grapes, honeydew, kiwi, green apples, olives, leafy greens, kale, romaine lettuce, green peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchinis, green beans, peas, celery, avocados)
Blue (blueberries, purple broccoli, purple carrots, seaweed)
Indigo (blackberries, black cherries, prunes, raisins, plums, eggplant, black beans, black olives)
Violet (mulberries, elderberries, passion fruit, purple plums, purple onions, purple peppers)
Grocery Shopping Tips: To remember the colors of the rainbow while you’re in the produce section, remember the mnemonic ROY G. BIV. Each letter in the name stands for a color in the rainbow.
Read Nutritional Facts Label, Not the Wording on the Package
“Made with real fruit”
These are just a few examples of the misleading wording used on food labels. Food manufacturers use these words to make you believe you are eating healthy, but they don’t mean much at all.
For instance, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the word natural, so any food from a sugary Popsicle to a chocolate Pop-Tart could legally write “contains natural ingredients” on its package.
Many clean foods don’t come in packages, but some do. When eating clean to lose weight is your goal, you need a quick way to figure out if a food is truly good for you. The trick is to flip the package over and read the back panel.
Red flags include a long list of ingredients or hard to pronounce ingredients that look like chemical names (i.e. sodium hexametaphosphate)
Clean foods have the following things on their Nutritional Facts Label:
- Low or no added sugar
- Low in saturated and trans fats
- Low in sodium
- High fiber (more than 3 grams per serving)
- High in vitamins
Clean Eating Snack Tip: Store-bought granola or sport bars are not clean foods.
These quick snacks are packed with calories and high in sugar. For a clean snack on the go, choose a piece of fruit, or try my Good Health Garbanzo Beans for a protein and energy punch.
Eating Clean to Lose Weight at a Restaurant
Eating clean at a restaurant can be a challenge, but you can boost your success by using the following simple strategy.
Turn to the salad section of your menu, and make your choice from that section without looking at the rest of the menu.
In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz states that the more options you consider, the unhappier you’ll be with your final decision.
By limiting your choices to just one healthy section of the menu, you maximize your enjoyment of the meal.
If salad is not on the menu, look for the seafood section or for leaner meats, such as chicken, turkey, pork, or leaner cuts of beef. Steaks with “loin” in their name are leaner cuts because they come from the less fatty parts of the animal, so sticking with tenderloin, top loin, or sirloin tip is a simple calorie-cutting hack.
Things to avoid in a restaurant are pasta dishes, white sauces, breaded meats, fried foods, and the breadbasket.
For a side dish, stay away from refined foods, like white rice, chips, and fries; instead, select steamed vegetables without sauce.
Eating Clean to Lose Weight Restaurant Tip: Salad is a great clean eating choice at a restaurant, but be careful of the dressing.
Ask for the dressing on the side, and avoid oily or creamy dressing, which is high in calories.
Your best choices are low-sugar vinaigrettes. For some, lemon juice with a sprinkling of salt and pepper is enough. If fresh fruit, like pineapple, mango, strawberries or oranges are available, you might be able to forgo the dressing entirely.
Drink Clean to Lose Weight
When you’re eating clean to lose weight, don’t forget the drinks! What you choose to drink is as important as what you choose to eat.
Make the wrong choice, and you’ll sabotage your weight loss.
- Avoid fruit juice
- Avoid soda, both diet and regular
- Avoid sport and energy drinks (even low-calorie varieties)
Here’s a list of your best clean drinks
- Ice Tea, unsweetened
- Hot Tea
- Homemade Fruit Smoothie (Blend 1 cup of frozen berries with ice and a 1/2 cup of milk, almond milk, or Greek yogurt.)
Clean Drinking to Lose Weight Tip: Need a good reason to boost your water intake? A large study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics showed that increasing water intake could cut your daily calorie consumption by 68 to 205 calories. The best part? This reduced calorie benefit started when just one percent increase in water consumption.
Pulling Your Clean Eating Plan Together
Your perfect body starts with clean eating. Not only is eating clean the best way to lose weight, but it also clears up your skin, strengthens your bones, gives you energy, and makes your heart healthy.
Clean foods are unprocessed and close to how nature made them. To ensure that you’re eating clean, leave the pre-packaged foods and sugary drinks at the grocery store, and pick up fresh produce, beans, nuts, and seeds to meet your body’s protein, carb, fat and vitamin needs. Stay hydrated with water and tea.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.