You’ve probably heard a lot recently about “clean eating”. But what does it actually mean to eat clean and how does it differ or work together with low carb eating? If you’re new to this concept, take a moment to familiarize yourself with it in our clean eating for beginners guide.
The Mayo Clinic explains that the basic premise of clean eating is choosing and eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, also known as whole foods.
That means no packaged, boxed, or made-in-a-factory foods.
Whole foods are nutrient dense, versus processed foods that are energy dense. What makes whole food superior is that they provide vital nutrients that the body needs, like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants without added sugar and fat, while energy dense foods are high in empty calories that provide little or no nutrition.
What Does it Mean to Eat Clean?
Eating clean means eating whole foods, made from just one ingredient and completely unprocessed.
- Real butter versus margarine
- Black coffee versus Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino
- Whole vegetables versus veggie chips
- Slices of roast chicken or turkey versus spam, hot dogs and processed lunch meats
- Grilled fish fillet versus fish sticks
- Whole fruit instead of fruit snacks
- An apple versus apple juice
- Whole chicken breast instead of chicken nuggets
While whole food can be cooked and combined with other whole food ingredients, the individual foods themselves maintain their whole integrity because they are not altered from their original state.
Why Eat Whole Foods
Whole foods are unprocessed, unrefined, and as pure as they possibly can be.
The Mayo Clinic makes the point that greater nutrition, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals is derived from whole food. Additionally, WebMD emphasizes the significant impact that clean eating has your health, not just from weight loss, but in overall health.
The Harvard School of Public Health delves into the benefits of vegetables. In addition to gastrointestinal health, fighting cancer, cardiovascular and diabetes, vegetables keep your vision healthy. They can prevent the two most common eye diseases that are related to aging: cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Additionally, tomatoes can help fight against prostate cancer, while lettuce and leafy greens can ward off throat, mouth, stomach, and esophageal cancers.
Eating clean provides you with additional energy which can improve your performance in many aspects of life. This may be one of its best benefits, allowing you to see the results of your efforts every single day.
Whole Foods Have Nothing “Added”
Eliminating processed food allows you to get the most nutrients from food and eliminates preservatives, added sugar, salt and often extra unneeded calories.
Clean foods are typically low in salt and sugar naturally, but processed food is typically loaded with these ingredients so they are no longer clean. That’s why reading labels is vital to eating clean.
Manmade ingredients like preservatives, sweeteners, and artificial colorings do not have a home when it comes to clean eating.
Ideally, eating clean also means purchasing meat, dairy, and eggs from a farmer’s market to ensure that the animals haven’t been given antibiotics or growth hormones. It can also mean buying organic fruits and vegetables, which are grown without pesticides.
WebMD Prescribes The Following Main Principles Of Eating Clean:
- Eat real whole food
- Eat six small meals daily
- Eat breakfast within an hour of getting up, and every day
- Include lean protein at every meal
- Drink 100 ounces of water daily (equates to around 3 liters)
- Have around 3 servings of healthy fats daily
- Use fresh fruits and vegetables as your source of fiber, nutrients, vitamins and enzymes
Clean eating supports good health, weight loss, blood sugar control, reducing risks for heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
AND, guess what?
So does low carb eating.
Eating Clean & Eating Low Carb
So how do you put it all together and manage a ketogenic diet that is in line with eating clean?
Actually, the two are quite harmonious, and possibly easier to achieve than with any other eating plans when you consider how many processed foods contain unhealthy carbs and carry a high glycemic load that interferes with the fat burning process of ketosis.
Neither concept seeks to restrict your enjoyment of food, or prevent you from eating delicious whole real food. You just need to switch your mindset from purchasing and consuming processed foods to buying and eating whole foods.
With the exception of eliminating fruit, grains and starches, both clean eating and low carb plans are synonymous.
Enjoy natural whole food fats when eating low carb:
Get organic when possible to further eliminate unnatural additives.
- Grass fed butter
- Range free eggs
- Natural plant oils, like extra virgin olive and coconut oil
- Range free or pasture raised eggs
- Full fat cheeses – whole block and not shredded is best as shredded cheeses typically have preservatives. White cheeses have no coloring, yellow cheeses do. Organic or grass fed is best.
- Heavy cream
The best protein sources are whole food choices eaten in their natural state without any coatings and include:
- Grilled chicken and turkey
- Organ Meats
- Game Meats
Free range, grass fed, pasture raised, organic or those raised without hormones and not grain fed are all optimal protein choices when eating clean.
- Wild caught fish and seafood
Carb intake is limited to non-starchy vegetables, all of which are whole foods:
Get organic to eliminate pesticide intake.
- Alfalfa Sprouts – .4 grams per cup
- Daikon – 1 gram per ½ cup
- Endive – >1 gram per ounce
- Escarole – >1 gram per ounce
- Arugula – .2 grams per ½ cup
- Bok Choy – .8 grams per 1 cup/raw
- Celery – .8 grams per 1 stalk
- Chicory Greens – .6 grams per ½ cup
- Green Onions – .1 per 1 tablespoon
- Cucumber – 1 gram per ½ cup sliced
- Fennel – 3.6 grams per 1 cup
- Iceberg Lettuce – .1 grams per 1/2 cup
- Parsley – >1 gram per ounce
- Bell Peppers – 2.3 grams per ½ cup
- Radicchio – .7 grams per ½ cup
- Radishes – .9 grams per 10 pieces
- Romaine Lettuce – .2 grams per ½ cup
- Artichoke (1/4 Steamed) – 4 grams
- Artichoke Hearts In Water – 2 grams per 1 heart
- Asparagus – 2.4 grams per 6 spears
- Bamboo Shoots – 1.1 grams per 1 cup
- Broccoli – 1 gram per 1/2 cup
- Brussels sprouts – 2.4 grams per ¼ cup
- Cabbage – 2 grams per ½ cup
- Cauliflower – 2 grams per 1 cup
- Chard – 1.8 grams per ½ cup
- Collard Greens – 4.2 grams per 1/2 cup
- Eggplant – 1.8 grams per ½ cup
- Hearts of Palm – .7 grams per 1 heart
- Kale – 2.4 grams per ½ cup
- Mushrooms – 1 gram per ½ cup
- Kohlrabi – 4.6 grams per ½ cup
- Leeks – 1.7 grams per ¼ cup
- Okra – 2.4 grams per ½ cup
- Black Olives (10 small, 5 large, or 3 jumbo olives) – 1 gram
- Onions – 2.8 grams per ¼ cup
- Pumpkin – 2.4 grams per ¼ cup
- Sauerkraut – 1.2 grams per ½ cup
- Spinach – .2 grams per ½ cup
- Summer Squash – 2 grams per ½ cup
- Tomato (1 medium) – 4 grams
- Cherry Tomatoes – 4 grams per cup
- Turnips – 2.2 grams per ½ cup
- Fresh herbs and spices
Some clean eaters suggest that all of your vegetables should be fresh, however frozen and canned may still be fine, just be sure to check the label to ensure there is no added salt, preservatives or sugar.
Another way to ensure that you eat clean and save money is by growing your own vegetables and fruits. Whether you have a large yard to plant as far as the eye can see, or you have a small area where you can garden in containers.
You have total control over pesticides, and it’s cheaper than having to purchase them. You can also grow your own herbs, and fruits.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, nut butters and some seeds, like flax seeds are allowed in moderation when eating low carb.
Best low carb nut choices:
Eating clean and low carb means choosing nuts in their natural state without added sugars, coatings, or flavorings. Nut butters should be 100% pure without any added sugar or preservatives. Many whole food markets and health stores carry these, and some allow you to make your own in a machine that simply grinds nuts into butters.
Avoiding Preservatives And Additives
Both diets suggest avoiding preservatives and hidden additives. If you look at all of the meals and products on the list, you will see that the majority of them can be purchased clean.
Many beverages are not clean but made in factories, and have added sugar and preservatives, your best choices in low carb and clean drinks include:
- Unsweetened tea
- Unsweetened coffee (organic if possible) and for creamer use only 100% real heavy cream
- Club soda
- Herbal tea without added barley or fruit sugars
The above foods are foods that you can eat on the ketogenic diet, and still eat clean.
The goal of both clean eating and low carb is the same: to change your lifestyle and introduce a healthy eating balance that will result in weight loss and improved overall health and wellbeing.
Low Carb Clean Eating Tips
Eat To Satisfaction
Don’t worry about portion sizes, eat until you are satisfied, but don’t gorge. One of the best things about low carb eating is that it naturally regulates the appetite. This occurs as result of stable blood sugars and because it helps regulate the hunger hormone leptin that allows the brain to effectively register satiety, so typically, when you eat low carb, calorie intake is naturally regulated.
Take your time at meals so your brain has time to let your stomach know it’s full as eating quickly tends to lead to overeating.
A little extra salt can help avoid keto flu that may occur as the body adjusts to ketosis, and includes headaches, muscle cramps or weakness that occurs as result of an electrolyte imbalance and since a low carb diet is naturally diuretic, and you don’t have to avoid salt to minimize water retention.
Get that salt from 1 to 2 cups of broth daily or soy sauce over food. Be sure to ask your doctor about increasing salt, especially if you are being treated for a condition that requires limited sodium intake, like hypertension.
Be sure to drink lots of water, as it is a natural appetite suppressant that supports the metabolization of fat. Several studies found that reducing intake of water may cause fat deposits to increase, while drinking more reduces them. Hydration promotes weight loss, and the more active you are the more water you will need.
Exercise regularly, even if it means starting out with a 15-minute walk, and then building up to more.
Yoga is an excellent form of exercise that promotes relaxation and reduces stress that curbs the release of the stress hormone cortisol that promotes belly fat. Keep in mind that the more you exercise the more carbs you can eat and still lose weight.
Plan Your Meals
Plan your meals at least 3 days in advance to avoid falling off your plan, ideally, a 7-day plan works best. Have handy, healthy snacks ready and keep them in your car, at the office and at home.
You should always set goals in your new lifestyle journey so that you have something to strive for, and ideally keep a food journal to keep track of those goals, your successes, as well as meals that worked particularly well for you or ones that didn’t.
Typical Low Carb Menu
Breakfast: 1-2 eggs any style, half an avocado, grilled mushrooms, and a slice of bacon.
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast or steak and green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, raw spinach, kale or any non-starchy vegetable you like, with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar dressing.
Dinner: Caprese salad and turkey lettuce wrap with mayo, onion, and pickle slices.
Snack ideas include: cucumber, celery, and jicama with ranch dressing, turkey lettuce wraps, hard-boiled eggs, lox and tomatoes, roast chicken, celery with almond butter, chicken wings (not fried or coated with flour), pickles, 1 ounce of cheese with a vegetable, and many more.
Eating clean, low carb meals does not mean eating repetitive, tasteless, or boring meals!
Your only limit is your imagination, experiment with creating your own recipes or search the internet for amazing ideas like low carb lasagna, pasta dishes and pancakes.
Our lives have been built around convenience, with packaged, boxed, and bagged foods offering us less preparation time, but these foods lack in essential nutrients to the point that obesity and poor health is at epidemic levels.
However, if you have been purchasing prepared and packaged foods with the excuse that it’s easier, you’re just letting yourself down.
Instead of buying fruit snacks, eat an apple. Instead of drinking soda, drink water. Instead of making an elaborate boxed casserole, make a piece of chicken and broccoli. It’s actually simpler to go with whole foods.
The truth of the matter is that most of us find eating healthy to be inconvenient. However, with the tips mentioned above there is no reason why you cannot join the healthy low carb clean eating revolution.
A clean ketogenic diet is entirely possible, and might be easier than you think.
There have been plenty of studies to show that having a diet buddy or a support network, and keeping a food diary can improve your success in dieting and exercise. Therefore, if your whole family is making this change you are more likely to succeed.
If that isn’t possible, look online for dieters that are following the same eating plan as you are. There is a Ketogenic meetup site, and several for low carb dieters and clean eaters, check and see if there are any in your area or simply join an online forum.
These are great tools to meet likeminded people, exchange recipes, and ideas and to get support.
Remember, when you adjust your lifestyle to incorporate healthy eating, and exercise, you are improving your overall health and wellbeing.
Combined with clean eating choices, a low carb diet will set you up for the best health and life possible.
It is never too late to start and to make changes that will greatly improve your health, wellness, and quality of life!
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Laura is an avid home cook and recipe creator. She shares her favorite low-carb recipes here that are both easy to make and full of flavor, so you don’t even miss the carbs.