woman at farmers market
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Pick Whole Foods

The basic idea of clean eating is to choose foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. So instead of boxed, bagged, or packaged foods, choose fresh, whole ones. Think whole turkey instead of frozen turkey meatballs or raw grapes instead of gummy snacks made with fruit juice. Bonus: When you avoid highly processed foods, like chips, cookies, and ready-to-eat meals, you skip their loads of calories, sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

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whole grain bread
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Eat More Whole Grains

Refined carbs, like white bread, pasta, and rice, lose nutrients during the manufacturing process. Trade them for whole wheat bread and pasta and brown or wild rice. Or opt for other whole grains like oatmeal, popcorn, barley, or bulgur. This change can have a big impact: Studies show that a diet high in whole grains can lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.

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woman making salad
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Load Up on Fruits and Veggies

These natural foods are two staples of clean eating. Some clean eaters say all your produce should be fresh. But others say that frozen and canned options are the next best thing, since they have just as many nutrients. Just read the label to make sure you’re not getting extra sugar or salt. Also choose whole fruits instead of juices, which have less fiber and more sugar. Aim to get at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, depending on the calories you need and your level of physical activity.

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man reading yogurt label
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Watch Out for Salt and Added Sugar

Clean foods are naturally low in salt and sugar, and adding them goes against the as-natural-as-possible approach. Since processed foods are a major source of them, you can slash your intake when you avoid them. Otherwise, read food labels to look for added sweeteners and salt, even in foods that seem healthy, like yogurt or tomato sauce. Also keep tabs on how much you add to your foods and drinks. Try flavoring with spices and herbs instead.

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blue pasta
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Skip Artificial Ingredients

Artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives, and other manmade ingredients don’t have a place in a clean-eating diet. At the grocery store, read food labels and avoid items with the fake stuff.

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mint citrus water
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Sip Plenty of Water

Instead of sugar-heavy soft drinks and juices, sip low-calorie beverages, such as water and herbal tea. Water can curb your hunger and help you feel full, but it can also fend off fatigue and give you more energy. Miss flavored drinks? Try infusing your water with a slice of citrus or sprig of mint.

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green tea
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Rethink Alcohol and Caffeine

Some clean eaters cut them out entirely in favor of drinking plenty of water. Others say it’s OK to have them in moderation. Clean eater or not, experts recommend no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine (about three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee) per day, and one serving of alcohol for women and two for men. Also skip the sugary extras: Opt for plain tea or coffee, and avoid sweet mixers for alcohol.

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local produce
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Decide If You’ll Go Organic

Organic farmers use natural pesticides and avoid man-made ones, so some people say organic produce is the best way to eat clean. It’s up to you to decide how important it is to your diet. You can also shop at your local farmers market to find out what kinds of pesticides the vendors use. Another tip: Pesticides usually wind up on the outsides of fruits and veggies, so you can choose non-organic foods with skins you don't eat, like avocados, corn, and onions

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farmer milking cow
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Be Smart About Meat and Dairy

Meat, dairy, and eggs you buy at the store may come from animals that get growth hormones and antibiotics. Clean eaters avoid them and choose organic or opt for local sources that raise animals humanely. A farmer’s market is a good place to learn more about where your meat and dairy come from. Seafood isn’t labeled as organic, so look for items low in mercury and that use sustainable fishing. The cleanest approach to protein? Get most of it from nuts, beans, and legumes.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/17/2020 Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 17, 2020


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Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Poti, J. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2015.

American Heart Association: “Whole Grains and Fiber.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Whole Grains.”

Fruit & Veggies More Matters: “Experts Recommend 5-9 Servings of Fruits & Veggies Daily.”

American Heart Association: “About Sodium (Salt);” “By Any Other Name It’s Still Sweetener;” and “Alcohol and Heart Health.”

Choose My Plate: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions.”

Environmental Working Group: “EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.”

Monterey Bay Aquarium: “Seafood Recommendations.”

McCann, D. The Lancet, September 2007.

Suez, J. Nature, September 2014.

CDC: “Consumption of Sugar Drinks in the United States 2005-2008.”

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 17, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.