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A beginner’s guide to clean eating: How to get started

1 min Read

Kayla Reynolds

Director of Knowledge, Learning & Behavior Change Curricula, NASM CPT

Discover the essentials of clean eating with Noom’s guidance. Learn how to choose whole, unprocessed foods for better health and well-being.

What you’ll learn:

  • Clean eating focuses on whole, minimally processed foods for better nutrition without restrictive dieting.
  • Starting a clean eating journey is more sustainable with gradual changes, meal prep, and carefully considering your food choices.
  • Noom’s color-coded system helps easily identify nutrient-dense foods, making clean eating simpler.

Have you heard of “clean eating”? No, it’s not about washing your fruits and vegetables before you eat them—though that’s important. Clean eating is about nourishing your body with the best possible fuel in the most natural form. Seems simple, right? It can be, but with so many food choices out there, having a little guidance and support can make a world of difference. 

Clean eating and Noom go hand in hand. With the right support, replacing sweet and savory processed treats with delicious, nourishing foods that fuel your body and mind becomes easier than you think. Noom helps transform your relationship with food, guiding you toward balance, breaking free from unhealthy patterns, and creating a sustainable, healthy lifestyle that lasts.

Let’s explore the principles of clean eating and how you can incorporate them into your daily life. With Noom by your side, you’ll have the tools and support to make clean eating a delicious and enjoyable part of your routine.

What is clean eating?

At its simplest, clean eating emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods. It also involves being mindful of how much fat, salt, and sugar you eat. You will prioritize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, but there isn’t one way to approach it. Unlike other diets that have a clear roadmap and specific foods, clean eating is more of an ideology. It’s flexible without being overly restrictive. And, the best part is many of its principles will be familiar to you if you use Noom.

Clean eating aligns nearly perfectly with Noom’s innovative color system, which categorizes foods based on their caloric and nutrient density. Here’s a rundown if it’s new to you:

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  • Green foods are the least calorie-dense and packed with essential nutrients. These will typically form the foundation of a clean eating plan. Think oatmeal, spinach, and apples.  
  • Yellow foods, like avocado and cottage cheese, are still nutritious but you won’t want to overdo them due to their calorie density. 
  • Orange foods are the ones you want to eat sparingly because they are higher in calories and generally lower in nutrients. Limit your pizza, cookies, cakes, and other high-fat or sugary foods. 

By incorporating a variety of healthy foods into your diet, you’re not just eating clean—you’re setting yourself up for long-term health success. 

Clean eating terms you need to know

In addition to knowing what clean eating is, it helps to understand the terms we use to define it. Here are the words you should be familiar with:

  • Whole foods: These are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, like a fresh apple or brown rice.
  • Nutrient-dense foods: These foods pack a big nutritional punch for their calorie count, like a handful of spinach or a serving of salmon. 
  • Minimally-processed foods: This group includes foods that have been slightly altered for convenience but still retain most of their natural nutrients. Baby carrots or roasted nuts are good examples. 
  • Ultra-processed foods: Foods that have undergone significant processing and contain many added ingredients, usually making them unrecognizable from their raw ingredients. Examples include a bag of cheesy puffs or a burger from a fast food restaurant. 
  • Artificial ingredients: These are synthetic substances added to foods for various purposes, like flavoring, coloring, or preserving. Aspartame, nitrates, or red dye #40 are some examples. Usually, they don’t provide any nutritional benefits.

How does clean eating differ from other diet plans? 

Unlike diet plans that focus on calorie counting or eliminating foods, clean eating is about being more aware of the foods you choose to eat and aiming for quality. Clean eating also allows for flexibility and can be adapted to various dietary preferences. Sounds a lot like Noom, doesn’t it? 

What are the potential health benefits of clean eating?

While the scientific research specifically focused on “clean eating” is limited, its emphasis on whole, minimally processed foods aligns with well-established nutritional guidelines. This approach offers a range of potential benefits:

It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized guidance before making big changes to how you eat.

Does clean eating have any risks?

With all the buzz and hype around clean eating, it’s easy to overlook the potential risks, especially if taken to extremes. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Restrictive mindset: Focusing too rigidly on “clean” vs. “unclean” foods can lead to a restrictive mindset, potentially triggering unhealthy eating patterns or disordered eating behaviors.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Eliminating entire food groups (like grains or dairy) without proper guidance can lead to nutrient deficiencies. It’s crucial to ensure a balanced intake of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
  • Orthorexia nervosa: In some cases, an obsession with clean eating can develop into orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy fixation on healthy eating.

Clean eating can be beneficial, but if it develops into a fixation it could become a problem. Noom can help you strike the right balance, ensuring clean eating complements your life, not complicates it. With personalized coaching and expert tools, you’ll discover a healthy relationship with food, one that prioritizes nourishment and enjoyment without the stress of restriction.

How to start clean eating

Beginning a clean eating journey doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. Start with these few tips and incorporate them one at a time:

  • Read ingredient labels carefully, focusing on products with fewer and more recognizable ingredients.
  • Gradually reduce how much sugar you eat by swapping processed sweets (like candy, cookies, cakes, and ice cream) with whole fruits.
  • Amp up the nutritional value of your meals by adding lean protein and fruits and vegetables.
  • Swap out refined grains such as white rice and white bread for nutritious whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread.
  • Cook your own meals using only whole ingredients, which gives you control over what goes into your food.

Foods to eat while clean eating

So now that you have the basic concept, you’re ready to try clean eating. Now what? 

The next step is to know the types of foods you should be eating. While prioritizing Noom’s green and yellow foods is a great start, here are the categories you should focus on:

Food Why?Examples
FruitsProvide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, promoting optimal health and well-being. Can be enjoyed fresh or frozen.Apples, bananas, berries, oranges, mangoes, grapes, melons
VegetablesNature’s superfoods, brimming with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Low in calories and fat.Broccoli, spinach, carrots, kale, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, onions, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers
Whole grainsA good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and B vitamins. Help you feel full and satisfied.Brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, 
Lean proteinImportant for building and repairing muscle tissue.Chicken breast, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
Healthy fatsImportant for heart health, brain function, and absorption of some vitamins.Avocados, nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews), seeds (chia, flax, sunflower), olive oil, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)

These are just a few examples of whole foods that you can eat while clean eating. There are many other healthy and delicious options available. Transitioning to clean eating is a process. Be patient with yourself and make changes at a pace that feels sustainable for you.

Foods to limit white clean eating

Just as important as knowing what to eat is knowing what to limit. While no food is off limits with Noom, our orange foods are higher in healthy fats and/or sugar, or lack nutrients. Here’s a breakdown of foods to limit while clean eating:

Foods to avoidWhat’s the deal?Examples
Highly-processed foodsLoaded with sodium, sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors.Sugary drinks, packaged snacks, instant meals, pre-made bakery goods, processed meats (hot dogs, lunch meats)
Refined grainsStripped of some nutritional value during processing.White rice, white bread, most pastries
Added sugarsCalories with little nutritional value; can contribute to health problems.Table sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sweeteners in sugary drinks, candies, and processed foods
Unhealthy fatsTrans fats and saturated fats are associated with cardiovascular disease.Fried foods, processed snacks, fatty cuts of meat
Artificial sweetenersCan reinforce sweet cravings and some people report negative digestion effects.Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin
AlcoholCan impact blood sugar and overall healthBeer, wine, liquor

Remember, clean eating is not about deprivation; it’s about making healthy choices most of the time. You can still enjoy occasional treats, but focus on filling your diet with plenty of whole foods.

Noom’s color-coded system can help you easily identify nutrient-dense foods that align with clean eating principles, making your journey even smoother.

Common clean eating challenges and how to overcome them

Clean eating can be tricky, but with the right strategies, you can figure it out. Let’s address some common questions to help you navigate your clean eating path.

How can I identify processed foods to avoid?

Processed foods are frequently filled with added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial ingredients. You usually cant identify its ingredients just by looking at it. Read product labels and look for long lists of unfamiliar ingredients or those high in sodium, sugar, or unhealthy fats. 

If you’re still confused, use Noom to look up a food or scan the barcode to see whether it’s a green, yellow, or orange food. Noom will also recommend some healthy swaps. 

What can I do to manage cravings for unhealthy foods?

Cravings are normal, especially when transitioning to clean eating. Try satisfying sweet cravings with fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate. For salty cravings, opt for nuts or homemade air-popped popcorn. Gradually reducing the amount of processed foods you eat can help reset your taste buds over time.

How can I eat clean on a busy schedule?

Meal prep is key for maintaining clean eating habits when time is tight. Allocate a few hours each week to prepare meals and snacks in advance. Keep a variety of easy-to-grab clean options on hand. These don’t have to be boring! We’ve got over 100 healthy snack ideas for you to choose from.

Is clean eating more expensive?

While some whole foods can be pricier, clean eating doesn’t have to break the bank. Buy seasonal produce and consider frozen fruits and vegetables which are often more affordable and just as nutritious. Bulk buying and home cooking can also help reduce costs compared to processed convenience foods.

How can I stay motivated on my clean eating journey?

Noom can help you set attainable goals and assess your progress. We’ll help motivate you with one-on-one coaching, support groups, and SOS plans, making it easier to stay on track with your healthy eating goals. 

Start Your Journey Towards Healthier Eating Today

Clean eating offers a straightforward yet effective method to enhance your overall health and well-being. By centering your diet around whole, unprocessed foods and making mindful dietary choices, you can reshape your relationship with food and enjoy a multitude of health benefits.

Making changes to your diet is hard, for sure, but know that it’s never too late to prioritize your well-being. Noom’s innovative color-coded system can make clean eating easier and more intuitive. With personalized guidance and tools to support your journey, you can expect to lose an average of one to two pounds per week while developing lasting healthy habits. Sign up for Noom today and discover how it can help you achieve your health goals.