In this guide on how to eat clean for beginners, you’ll learn simple rules to drive your healthy eating habits.

More important than telling you what not to eat, we provide lists of the top 10 healthiest vegetables, fruits, carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. 

So, let’s learn how (and why) to start clean eating. 

healthy foods to eat ultimate guide and shopping list ryan and alex duo life

how to eat clean for beginners

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve decided to eat healthier.

The saying, “you are what you eat,” isn’t just a way to get kids to eat healthier. It’s a fact. If you eat a greasy burger, that excess grease is stored in micro pockets within your spare tire. 

But eating clean isn’t just about weight loss (although it’s the main way to go about it.) By deciding to eat clean, you aren’t starting a diet. Instead, you’re making a lifestyle choice to consume more quality, nutrient-rich, and real foods. 

Clean eating is not about cutting calories or depriving yourself of foods you love. If that greasy burger brings you joy, go for it. However, know that eating a clean diet will change the bacteria in your gut.

When you start eating a clean and healthy diet, you’re going to acquire a taste for healthier foods. Eventually, you’ll lose your appetite for that greasy burger. 

That’s a good sign. Next, you’ll see that your body is performing better. You’ll experience higher quality sleep, fewer aches and pains, and more energy to chase your kids around.

And, naturally, once you learn how to eat clean, weight loss will happen more effortlessly.

What Is Clean Eating?

According to the Mayo Clinic, clean eating encourages you to “consume more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats — and limit highly processed snack foods, sweets, and other packaged foods.”

One of our favorite food writers, Michael Pollan, and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, recommends this rule:

If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it. It doesn’t belong in your clean eating meal plan.

After traveling to over 40 countries in Asia, Europe, Central America, and South America, we’ve learned a lot about healthy eating cultures.

Our most simplified takeaway is this: if it’s fake, skip it. Fake means it is man-made rather than nature-made.

Fast food and ready-made meals from the grocery store are fake and highly processed. They’re also the foods with a long ingredient list of indecipherable chemical names.

Carrots, potatoes, lentils, and bananas are whole foods that are in their natural form. These are the foods that should fill your pantry and fridge.

No ingredient list needed. Generally, these are the foods sold around the perimeter of the grocery store with the processed foods are in the center isles.

Why It’s Important to Start Eating Clean

Because eating 1 hot dog takes 35 minutes off your life. 

The study, performed by the University of Michigan, ranked 5,800 foods on a Health Nutritional Index. The index shares which foods increase or decrease the time of your “healthy” life, aka your good-quality, disease-free life expectancy.

On the worst end of the spectrum is, you guessed it, hot dogs, followed by processed deli meats and bacon (costing you another 27 minutes of your healthy life.) On top of that, every soda takes off 14 minutes.

Before you go into full panic mode, there is a silver lining.

The body is forgiving, and moving forward with eating clean foods can add minutes back to your healthy life expectancy. For example, a small handful (30 grams) of nuts and seeds adds back 25 minutes of your life.

This is why it’s critical for beginners to learn how to eat clean.

Eating clean helps you feel better and supports weight loss. But, most importantly, a clean diet adds years to your life.

See you in the centenarians club!

Simple Tips To start eating Clean for Beginners

These simple tips are easy to remember and harder to implement. Each one is essential to start clean eating.

1. Eat more plants

There is only one nutrition claim that is 100% infallible: eat more plants.

From longevity to gut health to just about everything under the sun, you can’t go wrong with eating more plants.

The previously mentioned study concludes that substituting only 10% of your daily calories from beef or processed meats to fruits, vegetables, and nuts gains 48 minutes of healthy life each day.

Additionally, individuals living in the Blue Zones, the five healthiest and longest-living populations on the globe, consume 95% plants. They only use small amounts of animal products to add flavor.

Eating more plants is an easy way to clean up your diet.

A great way to eat more plants is to stock up on plant-based proteins. Below are the best plant-based protein sources that we love to eat, the brands we buy, and our go-to ways of dishing them up.

2. Eat quality animal products

Whenever possible, avoid industrial animal products. Instead, buy free-range meats and wild-caught fish that lived a natural life. Eggs should come from free-range chickens.

Typically, this means buying from a farmer or a local source. Don’t support the massive meat and dairy companies. Their products are optimized for profit rather than quality. 

While this is more expensive, it’s critical for your health and a requirement to learn how to eat clean for beginners.

We recommend eating less meat but, when you do, eat the highest quality you can. The price should still be in your favor. Additionally, to save money and still consume high-quality dairy, we love to make our own kefir yogurt

If you’re wondering how to eat healthy for cheap, check out our list of healthy foods below. 

3. Read labels

When you’re at the grocery store, you can ignore the marketing buzzwords and the price. Just today we saw “plant-based” popcorn on the shelf!

Instead, we go straight to the numbers on the nutrition facts label because they show the quality and nutritional value. Some foods have a lot of calories but provide few nutrients and ample fat and sugar. That’s low quality.

Others foods are low-calorie but contain significant protein and fiber. That’s high quality.

Next, take a look at the ingredients. You don’t want to see words like refined, modified, enriched, or hydrolyzed. The ingredients should be whole foods that you recognize. 

Our Clean Eating Guide for Beginners, available for download below, highlights only the healthiest foods in the order of highest quality. 

Our quality rating is based on some simple math. Additionally, we take into account our food preferences and availability. While we’d love to eat spirulina and açai every day, but they are hard to find and expensive.

Instead, we are providing you with our cheat sheet of the healthiest, most readily available, and highest-quality foods.

4. Eat more fiber

One of the problems with processed foods is that they are stripped of all their fiber. They have been stripped of it and instead of being a “whole food,” they are now empty calories.

A University of Massachusetts study concluded that adult dieters who consumed 30 grams of fiber per day lost 5 pounds without making other lifestyle changes.

Processed foods contribute to weight gain, which is a known fact. Researchers at Pamona College (published in Food and Nutrition) fed two groups of adults meals identical in calories, fats, proteins, and carbs.

One test group ate whole foods (with fiber) and the other group ate processed and packaged foods (without fiber and with added junk).

They measured the calories that were metabolized and concluded that people who ate processed foods only burned half the calories. Fifty percent! This is why processed, fiberless foods lead to weight gain.

Now that you’re reading nutrition labels, opt for foods that have at least 1 gram of fiber per 10 grams of carbohydrates.

Also, make sure there is more fiber than sugar. You can find these values in the nutritional facts of your favorite cereals, granolas, breads, and pancakes. 

Both men and women should eat at least 25-35 grams of fiber a day, and it is one of the critical numbers tracked in our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.

5. No sugary drinks

Soda and energy drinks are the opposite of clean.

When I lived in China, my colleagues would always joke and ask if I wanted a bottle of liquid obesity with lunch. That was their nickname for Coca-Cola.

Only after living in China did I realize how severe the obesity problem was in the US I had culture shock when I returned to the US and saw people eating way too much fast food or checking out at the grocery store with a whole cart of soda.

Since you’re wondering how to eat clean as a beginner, this is step one:

Cut out all sugary drinks and the chemicals they contain. Instead, use natural sweeteners like stevia and honey.

6. Stay hydrated

I know, we’re supposed to be talking about eating clean, not drinking clean. But, here’s the thing: nothing happens in our bodies without water.

Water is the vehicle that carries every nutrient, hormone, chemical messenger, enzyme, and electrolyte.

To get the most out of eating a clean diet, we need to stay hydrated.

What’s more, drinking enough water has been scientifically linked to weight loss. A Humboldt University study found that drinking just 0.5 liters (about 2 cups) of water could increase metabolism by up to 30%.

On top of that, drinking water helps satiate your appetite, preventing you from overeating. But, more on how to eat clean for weight loss later.

Kickstart your day by drinking a full glass of water upon waking up. If you want to run a fun experiment, try drinking a gallon of water a day for a week and see how you feel.

7. Stock the pantry with clean foods

This is important. Here are our favorite healthy pantry staples.

1. Quinoa
2. Black Beans
3. Frozen Kale and Spinach
4. Canned Tomatoes
5. Dried Lentils
6. Frozen Berries
7. Almond Butter
8. Greek Yogurt
9. Eggs
10. Oatmeal
11. Onion
12. Garlic

Ready, set, get them!

The Clean Eating Guide for Beginners

To select the healthiest foods, follow the recommendations in this article, and download (and print) our healthy foods guide and shopping list.

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating (PDF)

Do you ever wonder which foods have the highest nutritional quality or “bang for their buck?”

Check out our guide and prepare for success before your next grocery store visit. We list our pantry staples, and healthy foods in order of the highest nutrition value. 

How to eat clean for beginners

To understand clean eating for beginners, it’s important to discuss the different food types. Let’s begin with the most important one.

1. Vegetables

The most effective way to improve your health and the health of the planet is by eating a predominantly plant-based diet.

We are vegetarians. However, we’re not proselytizing a vegetarian or vegan diet. Instead, we suggest you eat meat a little less each week. Fill in the extra space on your plate with veggies, and you’ll vastly improve your health.

Eating more vegetables delivers a wide assortment of essential nutrients as well as much-needed fiber.

With 97% of Americans deficient in fiber, vegetables should be your target focus when beginning a healthy diet. Additionally, the average adult needs 5 servings of vegetables but is only getting 1.6.

In the Beginner’s Guide to Clean Eating, we rank the top ten most nutrient-dense vegetables.

Hint: the first spot goes to a dark, leafy green vegetable that lowers cholesterol and boosts antioxidants. Load up on the top ten (fresh or frozen, doesn’t matter) but don’t stop there. Vegetables are healthy foods to eat without any limits.

1. Kale
2. Collard Greens
3. Spinach
4. Broccoli
5. Asparagus
6. Beets
7. Tomato
8. Pumpkin
9. Squash
10. String Beans

Our favorite healthy eating tricks involve disguising veggies as carbs. These “carb replacements” are listed in our article on how to eat more vegetables.

We also love growing our own sprouts. The health benefits of sprouts and their nutrition facts are mind blowing.

2. Protein

Protein has had its share of the limelight, with protein powders filling racks across the world’s grocery stores. It’s also a top question that we get from our clients, “Do I need protein powder?

While protein, one of three macronutrients needed by the body alongside carbohydrates and fats, is important, only 3% of Americans are actually protein deficient.

So, how can we optimize our protein intake, now knowing we probably overdo it?

Our Beginner’s Guide to Clean Eating shares our top ten most quality, protein-rich healthy foods. They’re high in protein but low in calories (mostly from unhealthy fats), giving you that extra bang for your buck.

1. Sardines
2. Chicken Breast
3. Lean Ground Chicken
4. Freshwater Fish (trout)
5. Cold Water Fish (cod)
6. Eggs
7. Greek Yogurt
8. Red Meat
9. Shakeology
10. Tofu

Included are healthy animal proteins like sardines and chicken breasts, as well as healthy vegan protein options like lentils and black beans.

3. Healthy Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are often villainized, most recently with low-carb fad diets like the ketogenic diet. We don’t subscribe to any of that. While there are some obvious health no-no’s, like eliminating chips and donuts, eating healthy, complex carbohydrates is essential.

In short, yes you can lose weight by cutting carbs, but it won’t make you healthy.

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, alongside fats and proteins.

That means that carbohydrates cover a wide range of food — and it’s not just the cakes, breads, pastas, and potatoes that most think of. Vegetables, beans, and fruits are carbohydrates, too. 

As the primary energy source for the human body, your body needs carbohydrates to survive, thrive, repair, and grow.

Fun fact, 25% of this energy goes straight to your brain. Yup, your 3-pound brain takes up a quarter of your energy!

But, won’t carbs make you gain weight?

“If carbs make you fat, then 2 billion people in China never got the message about that.”

– Dr. Pamela Popper, author of Food Over Medicine

Have you been to China? We lived there for three years, and they are not fat.

The devil is in the details with carbohydrates. If we’re talking about eating processed, simple carbohydrates filled with refined sugar and corn syrup then, no, these carbs are not for a clean eating diet.

Examples of bad carbs are soda, cake, pizza, french fries, and white bread. Not only will they make you fat, but these fake foods also make you sick.

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, encompass most fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas).

On average, the longest-lived people in the Blue Zones today eat diets that are predominantly carbohydrates. In Okinawa, famous for its longevity, nearly 85% of their diet comes from the Okinawan sweet potato.

The Clean Eating Guide for Beginners offers the top ten healthy carbohydrates to eat comprised of whole wheat grains, legumes, and root vegetables. Firstly, we’re all happy to know that carbohydrates won’t make you fat. Secondly, let’s not fear the natural sugars in fruit. Here’s our top ten list:

1. Sweet Potato
2. Quinoa
3. Beans (kidney, black)
4. Lentils
5. Peas
6. Brown Rice
7. Fingerling Potato
8. Corn
9. Oatmeal
10. Couscous

4. Fruits

Fruits are a top source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

While some are high in natural sugars, incorporating fruit into your daily diet in moderation is a must. Our bodies know how to deal with natural sugars, unlike the foreign, fake sugar in a bag of Skittles or packet of ketchup.

Fruits are a great snack in your clean eating meal plan.

When choosing our fruits and vegetables, we buy organic to minimize our exposure to chemicals and GMOs. Also, the fresher the food, the more nutrients it contains. 

Whenever possible, shop at the local farmer’s market and buy foods that are in season.

As often touted, the fruits with the highest nutrient value are members of the berry family, known for everything from anti-aging to high fiber to weight loss.

1. Raspberry
2. Blueberry
3. Strawberry
4. Pomegranate
5. Watermelon
6. Cantaloupe
7. Orange
8. Apple
9. Apricot
10. Grapefruit

5. Healthy Fats

Yes, clean eating requires fat.

Healthy fats promote brain function, heart function, and anti-inflammation. While it can be easy to overindulge in fats like almonds, avocados, and peanut butter, a little bit of healthy fat does the body good.

Unhealthy fats to avoid are saturated fats and trans fats, both of which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. To combat this, we recommend cooking with extra virgin olive oil or high-temperature oils like avocado oil and sesame oil.

If you’re worried about what amount of healthy fats are acceptable, don’t overthink it.

Sign up for our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge, and by tracking the five weight loss numbers (the ones way more important than the one on the scale), you’ll learn how to stay within a healthy range.

Here are our top ten, most-nutritious healthy fats:

1. Avocado
2. Almond
3. Pumpkin Seed
4. Cashew
5. Sunflower Seed
6. Pecans
7. Flaxseed
8. Chia Seed
9. Peanut
10. Pistachio

6. Free Foods

These are clean foods that you can eat in unlimited amounts. Go for it!

1. Water
2. Lemon Juice
3. Vinegars
4. Mustard
5. Herbs and Spices
6. Garlic
7. Ginger
8. Green Onion
9. Hot Sauce
10. Flavor Extracts

Now that we have covered all the types of healthy foods to eat let’s break it down by meal. Given our busy lives, healthy snacks and healthy meal delivery are becoming ever so necessary.

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating (PDF)

Do you ever wonder which foods have the highest nutritional quality or “bang for their buck?”

Check out our guide and prepare for success before your next grocery store visit. We list our pantry staples, and healthy foods in order of the highest nutrition value. 

How to Start Eating Clean Meals and Snacks

The following are examples of clean eating, including meal and snack ideas.

Eating Clean for Breakfast

We have a habit of eating a wonderfully huge and substantial breakfast to kickstart our day. Studies show that this is beneficial, and it makes us feel good.

Since we follow intermittent fasting, breakfast is typically our most substantial meal of the day.

It is also where we eat most of our carbohydrates as well as some protein. Here are some of our favorite healthy foods to eat for breakfast.

  • Vegetarian Breakfast Tacos with Black Beans and Mixed Vegetables
  • Oatmeal with Nuts, Cinnamon, and Honey
  • Avocado Whole-Grain Toast with Balsamic Dressing
  • Oatmeal-flour Banana Pancakes with Coconut Oil
  • Greek Yogurt with Granola and Chia Seeds

 

Healthy Foods for Lunch

A few hours after breakfast, we typically make a small lunch. Our plate comprises of 50% vegetables, 25% carbohydrates, and 25% protein. Here are a few healthy foods to eat for lunch.

 

Eating Clean and Snacking

An hour or so after our small lunch, we make an afternoon snack. Depending on how many calories we’ve already eaten throughout the day, these snacks are an excellent way to stay satiated while filling in any gaps.

Hands down, our favorite snack for nearly the past decade has been our smoothies. Even as vegetarians, it’s hard to ‘eat the rainbow’ every day to get all of our phytonutrients. After a lot of research and experimentation (we are engineers after all) we settled on Shakeology.

Shakeology fills in our nutrition gaps, is convenient, and makes our smoothies taste rich. Here are our favorite healthy snack ideas.

We have listed more healthy snacks on our ‘Zero Calorie Food List For Weight Loss.’

Eating Clean for Dinner

At dinnertime, we focus on eating 75% vegetables with 25% protein. We don’t include any simple carbohydrates since those are for energy. At night, we want to wind down, not get tuned up. Here are our favorite healthy foods to eat for dinner.

 

Eating Clean When You’re Busy

While living in the US, we tried several meal delivery and grocery delivery services. We decided that we preferred buying our groceries. However, meal delivery was useful, mainly if they could deliver healthy foods to eat.

For busy people, Freshly provides convenient, healthy meal delivery services, and the cost is $8-10 per meal. We appreciate their meals because they are gluten-free, 100% natural, fresh, never frozen, and ready to eat in 3 minutes.

If you want to try Freshly, you can get 30% off your first order with this link. This is an affiliate link, so we get a small commission for sending you their way. We appreciate it!

Or, if you still want to cook yourself but just don’t have time to grocery shop, Imperfect Foods is our favorite grocery delivery service. Imperfect Foods offer fantastic prices and have the mission to fight food waste. 

Beginner’s Meal Prep for Clean Eating

Above, we’ve outlined a number of meal prep ideas. If you want a specific plan to follow, a grocery shopping list for two, and detailed, easy, and healthy recipes to prepare in bulk, we have you covered.

In our article, how to meal prep for the week, we share our advice on simplifying meal planning and reducing the overwhelm when you start. Also shared in that article are five really easy and healthy recipes to meal prep in bulk.

Intermittent Fasting for Clean Eating

Another trick we love to recommend is intermittent fasting. It’s not a diet that tells you what to eat. Instead, it tells you when to eat. The benefits we have experienced include increased energy, better sleep, leaner bodies, and, most importantly, a simplified day. 

We went from eating three meals and two snacks to two meals and one snack. This reduced a lot of energy expenditure on planning, preparing, and eating meals. If you’d like to try it, we wrote an Intermittent Fasting How To Guide to help you successfully transition from your current eating schedule.

How to Eat Clean for Weight loss or Gain

Which diet should you be following, and what foods should you be eating? Talk about a loaded question.

Most diets have some scientific backing, so it’s about figuring out what works best for your body, health, and lifestyle.

For us, we think of diets like designer clothing. For the last four years, we’ve been happily wearing the “vegetarian diet.”

However, our closet looks more like a boutique shop, mixed with other designer collections from “raw” to “intermittent fasting” to “intuitive eating” to “counting macros.”

We’ve kept our favorite pieces from each designer from over the years to create a sustainable diet customized to us. Actually, after five years as intermittent fasters, we haven’t just kept pieces.

Because of the health benefits of intermittent fasting (weight loss included) and the productivity benefits, we’ve kept the whole plan. 

Clean Eating for Weight Loss

We subscribe to heavily plant-based diets with lots of variety. Each vegetable provides a set of phytonutrients and good old-fashioned fiber. With this strategy, and our top ten nutritious lists from above, you’re on the right path.

One place to start on a weight loss journey is the same way we started. We began using these simple, color portion containers to map out daily portions and calories.

We ate whatever we wanted, but everything we ate fit into the containers. No weight loss plan is easy, but this option is simple.

If you’re looking to lose weight, remember that 1 lb. is correlated to 3500 calories. You can track your calorie intake with free apps like MyFitnessPal. We talk about this in detail in our healthy weight loss challenge.

If you’re not scared of tracking five numbers daily (no other rules) head over and learn about our free 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.

Eat Clean for Weight Gain

Gaining weight for some is often as hard as losing weight for others.

After determining what your calorie intake target is, start by tracking your food on an app like MyFitnessPal to confirm that you’re meeting your goals. Make every bite count by eating foods high in nutrients and increasing the frequency of your meals.

One of our favorite ways to bump up our calories is through our shakes. Adding in extra items like fruit, oats, chia seeds, nut butters, and vegetables in our Shakeology smoothies bulks them up.

Adding healthy fats and nuts to large salads is another excellent tactic.

Healthy Foods For Self-Care

Self-care, self-love, and taking time to reset and rejuvenate is incredibly important. Taking time for yourself reduces the risk of burnout, improves your immune system, and allows time to focus your energy on your goals. 

We’re firm believers of practicing self-care and even created an at-home DIY self-care retreat schedule.

There are certain types of foods that can give you a boost for your focus, memory, immune system, and energy (all listed in the beginner’s clean eating guide). 

One of our favorite ways to incorporate these foods is into our daily shakes. Our smoothies change every day based on how we’re feeling.

If we feel a sore throat coming on we’ll add a tsp of moringa powder or grapefruit. On days when we could use extra energy for a workout later in the day, we’ll add cacao powder or goji berries into the blender.

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating (PDF)

Do you ever wonder which foods have the highest nutritional quality or “bang for their buck?”

Check out our guide and prepare for success before your next grocery store visit. We list our pantry staples, and healthy foods in order of the highest nutrition value. 

Weekly Meal Prep Calendar & Grocery List

Those who placed their bet with Couple's Clean Week have spoken: We want a week-long meal prep calendar, healthy recipes to prepare, and a grocery list for two for the full week.

This downloadable meal prep calendar includes everything you need for a week of healthy eating. 

Featured On

As Seen In Feature Bar Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

Join our 120,000 monthly readers

Select your free gift and receive our newsletter bringing healthy couples practical tips and life-changing ideas based on science.

Pin It on Pinterest