An overflowing basket of vegetables

8 Simple Rules for Clean Eating

Food is one of my all-time favorite topics. (Hey, when you’re a nutritionist AND an Italian girl with a big appetite, it comes with the territory!) In fact, I can talk about food for hours and hours. But I can also sum up the most important thing you need to know about food in just two words:

Eat clean.

If you follow this one rule, everything else will fall into place. You’ll lose weight. You’ll look younger. You’ll feel healthier. You’ll have beautiful skin, hair, and nails. And happily, you’ll eat better than you’ve ever eaten before. Put simply, clean eating means giving your body all the good stuff it needs and getting rid of all the junk that makes it sick and fat. I like to sum it up like this: “nutrients in, toxins out.” So how do you eat clean? Here are my eight simple rules.

Don’t eat things you can’t pronounce.

No, I’m not talking here about açai, chipotle, mirepoix, or bouillabaisse! Instead, I’m talking about food additives with names like butylated hydroxytoluene and azodicarbonamide. These are not foods, and your body isn’t designed to process them—so it reacts by becoming inflamed, sick, and fat. To avoid chemicals like these, get in the habit of reading labels. If a food’s label reads more like a chemistry experiment than a meal, put it back on the shelf. And that leads me to my next rule…

Kiss the barcodes goodbye.

Fresh food doesn’t come loaded with artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and emulsifiers—but canned, packaged, and frozen foods typically do. So when you have the choice, go with fresh over processed. For instance:

  • Swap out frozen veggies in sauce (what’s in that weird sauce, anyway?) for fresh veggies seasoned with butter or bone broth.
  • Make your own soups. It’s easy, and you won’t believe how much better they taste than soup from a can. They’re also way healthier than the canned stuff, which often is loaded with sodium, sugar, MSG, and other bad stuff.
  • Whip up your own salad dressings. It takes just minutes, and you’ll avoid nasty ingredients (for instance, soybean oil and monosodium glutamate) that manufacturers often add.
  • Make your own almond milk—check out my how-to here. That way, you won’t be loading your body with carrageenan, an additive that’s bad news for your gut.
  • Bake your own sweet potato fries rather than getting them out of the freezer case. It’s fun, it’s simple, and you’ll avoid ingredients like disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate (remember rule #1?).
  • Make your own hamburger patties. Did you know that the ones you buy frozen in the store can contain weird things like textured soy protein, soy flour, and caramel color? Build your own, and you’ll guarantee that they’re the real deal.

It’s true that making your food from scratch will take more effort than getting it out of a can or a box. But if you make batch cooking part of your healthy new lifestyle—more on that here—you’ll be surprised at how little time you actually need to spend in the kitchen.

Don’t let so-called “health foods” con you.

When you do need to stray into the barcode aisles, avoid products that are labeled as fat-free, low-fat, or low-calorie. Why? In general, manufacturers make products low in fat or calories by adding other ingredients you don’t want. For instance, low-fat yogurt is often packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners, while low-calorie dinners tend to be swimming in sodium.

Also, think twice before loading up on dairy. Some people can handle it fine, but for other people, milk definitely doesn’t “do a body good.” Do a little detective work, and see if dairy causes you to bloat, makes your skin break out, or has other bad effects. If so, cut it out and get your calcium from other sources such as salmon and leafy green veggies. Oh, and P.S—give those soy Frankenfoods a pass. They’re heavily processed, they can put you at risk for autoimmune thyroid disease, and they’re not foods that your body is designed to process.

Go organic when it counts.

In an ideal world, you’d always choose organic fruits and veggies over non-organic produce. That’s because in addition to containing fewer toxins, they contain more antioxidants. However, you live in the real world, where money can be tight. This means that buying organic produce isn’t always an option, especially if you’re feeding a family. So—how can you choose clean fruits and veggies without breaking the bank? Luckily, an organization called the Environmental Working Group has the answer for you. Each year, they issue a report listing the cleanest non-organic fruits and vegetables as well as the dirtiest (most contaminated) ones. Using their list, you can tell when it’s safe to buy non-organic produce and when you should invest a few more pennies and head for the organic section. Here are the EWG’s lists for 2018:

The Dirty Dozen (opt for organic if you can):

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers

The Clean Fifteen (non-organic is safe):

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbages
  • Onions
  • Sweet Peas
  • Papayas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplants
  • Honeydews
  • Kiwis
  • Cantaloupes
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli

Choose pastured if you can… but if not, trim the fat.

Here’s another “ideal world vs. real world” issue. Yes, we’d all like our meat, poultry, and eggs to come from pastured animals. But the price tags for pastured proteins can be astronomical. What’s the answer?

Buy pastured meat when your budget permits it, focusing on cheaper cuts such as chicken legs and ground beef. (Pastured eggs, which are only a few dollars more than regular eggs, are a good buy as well.) When you need to buy non-pastured meat, trim off the fat from beef and remove the skin from chicken. These are the areas where toxins accumulate. If you’d like still more tips on saving money on pastured meat, check out my post on eating healthy on a budget.

Be savvy when it comes to seafood.

Choosing seafood can be tricky. That’s because while it’s loaded with those wonderful omega-3 fatty acids, it can also be high in toxins. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group has once again come to the rescue. To make smart seafood selections, check out the EWG’s Consumer Guide to Healthy Picks and their handy Seafood Calculator.

Break the sugar habit.

You saw this one coming, right? And yes—I know it can be a big challenge to give up the sweets you love. But sugar is absolutely terrible for your body. It hurts your heart, it puts you at greater risk for cancer, and it even makes your face age faster. My advice for escaping the clutches of the Sugar Demon is to simply go cold turkey.

You’ll be miserable for a few days, and then I’m betting that a surprising thing will happen:

You’ll find that those sugary foods start to lose their grip on you. (In the meantime, sip on bone broth to quell your cravings.) While you’re at it, also cut way down on grains or eliminate them from your diet entirely. Grains turn directly into sugar in your body—two slices of whole wheat bread have as much sugar as a candy bar!—and you can get all the nutrients you need without eating them.

Clean up your water.

When we think about clean eating, we tend to think about food. But don’t forget water! You need lots and lots of it—and you need it to be clean. Unfortunately, the water you get from the faucet can contain everything from rocket fuel to Prozac to pesticides. So stop drinking the stuff straight out of the tap, and instead, invest in a water purifying system.

When you make eating clean a lifestyle, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. What’s more, you’ll be amazed at how good clean food tastes. And best of all, you’ll be delighted at how much better you start to feel—typically within weeks or even days. So go clean…and make your body slim, happy, and healthy again!

Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!