What Is Clean Eating? Your Guide To Healthy Eating Habits

Choosing to eat clean is becoming more and more popular as we collectively become more health-conscious. It's certainly a good thing that people are seeking ways to make healthier choices regarding their diet. But what is clean eating and what does it even mean? In this guide, we'll explore the concept of clean eating. We’ll cover how it can improve your nutrition just by going back to basics and making good food choices throughout the day. Learn about the clean eating fad (which is actually quite a good one) and help your body achieve better health. Let's go!

What Is Clean Eating?

Although there is no official definition of "clean eating", it has been a dietary trend for the past decade. It is more of a lifestyle philosophy rather than a specific diet. The concept of clean eating involves consuming whole foods while avoiding processed and convenience foods for the purpose of achieving better health. Some variations of the diet may also involve excluding gluten, grains, and dairy products, and promoting the consumption of raw foods. Organic and seasonally available food should be the foundations for this way of eating whenever you can source them.

This approach is intended to help the body function optimally and promote overall health and well-being. The danger of consuming processed, chemically-laden foods is that they often lack nutrients and can contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, and even cancer. There are several benefits to eating a clean diet, as well as some simple ways to get it done. Let's take a look at these below.

What Are The Benefits Of Clean Eating?

lady eating healthy food

The benefits of clean eating are numerous and include better digestion, improved nutrient absorption, and higher energy levels. Eating clean also helps to reduce your risk of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, as well as reducing inflammation throughout the body. 

Finally, you'll be helping to support local farmers by buying fresh, local produce, which can help to reduce your carbon footprint and provide better nutrition for you.

There are many perks to clean eating, including:

  • Naturally supports a healthy weight range
  • Increased consumption of fresh, whole foods and pure water boosts energy, brain function and immunity
  • Suitable for the whole family
  • Simple to follow grocery list that can be affordable (if you keep things simple!)
  • Suitable for those following different diets, including vegan, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free, paleo, and keto.

How To Adopt a Clean Eating Lifestyle

Some of the best ways to ensure you're eating 'clean' foods is to buy organic produce and avoid pesticide exposure, limit processed foods, and drink plenty of pure, filtered water. This will mean you're supporting your body and mind optimally, maximising your healthy eating habits.

Let's break down the essentials of understanding clean eating: food and water.

Choose Organic Foods & Avoid Pesticides

Introducing the dirty dozen and clean fifteen foods lists. These are two perennial lists that change slightly each year according to data from a US nonprofit, the Environmental Working Group. These lists have frequented the health and wellness industry for the past few years, identifying the most and least chemically-sprayed conventional fresh fruits and vegetables available.

list of clean foods and dirty foods

One core problem with consuming foods that have been sprayed heavily with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, is that these compounds destroy the microbial ecology of the soil within which fruits and vegetables are grown. This also impacts the plant's ability to uptake nutrients from the soil and impairs plant-based communication within the natural ecosystem. (Yes, plants communicate with each other!).

Plants reflect their environment and share information about growth conditions with human consumers, much like the bi-directional communication that occurs within our microbiome. Foods that are grown organically, in micronutrient-rich environments, without the harsh impact of chemicals, can do what they're supposed to do, naturally. Plants will absorb important vitamins and minerals that we can benefit from and enjoy.

Of course, there's an inevitable downstream effect of ingesting chemicals for us as consumers. Our microbiome and subsequently our health is negatively affected by the toxic pesticides in the foods we eat. Research demonstrates that pesticides cause disruptions to our reproductive health and may contribute to cardiotoxicity and cancer.

Here is a list of the most heavily-sprayed fruits and vegetables according to recent data:

The Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Blueberries
  3. Capsicum
  4. Cherries
  5. Grapes
  6. Green beans
  7. Kale/mustard greens
  8. Nectarines
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Spinach
  12. Strawberries

This data is based solely on research and studies conducted in the USA. However, it's worth noting that since 8% of Australia's fruit and vegetable imports can come from the United States, these findings still have relevance to Aussie consumers.

For as long as these lists have been in public awareness, there are a few mainstays that reappear each year. Strawberries, apples and spinach have been repeat offenders for the last 5 years, and you should always choose organic varieties if possible. 

When you think about it, the foods that bugs love to eat are obviously going to be the ones that are heavily sprayed. Leafy greens, fleshy fruits and berries are favourites for insects and animals alike, which make them vulnerable unless they're sprayed as a deterrent. Foods that have a larger surface area (again like leafy greens) incur more pesticide absorption as a result.

Produce with thin skins, a delicate structure or those that can be easily broken down in the presence of mould, air or water are foods that typically have the highest amount of chemical contamination.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, this list might be worth keeping handy. Use this "the dirty dozen" list as a helpful guide, and you can be sure you're reducing your overall toxic load, which will make you feel healthier in the long run.

An easy way to alleviate worries about pesticides, chemicals and other byproducts of industrial farming, is to purchase your produce locally and ensure that it is certified organic.

The Clean Fifteen

In Australia, there is a valuable body of research and interesting data that supports the consumption of organically-grown, clean foods wherever possible. A study by Dr Liza Oates published in 2013 at RMIT, found that switching to an organic diet for one week can result in a nearly 90% decrease in pesticide levels in adults. The study found that organophosphate levels (pesticide metabolites) in participants' urine were 89% lower after consuming an organic diet for seven days, compared to a conventional diet for the same duration.

It's clear that opting for organic foods supports your clean eating efforts. However, it may not always be affordable or accessible for your entire grocery shop, especially if you're feeding the family. Luckily, there's a list of foods known as the 'clean fifteen', which denotes the least sprayed and least affected by pesticides.

Here is a list of the least-sprayed fruits and vegetables according to recent data:

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Carrots
  5. Corn
  6. Honeydew
  7. Kiwi fruit
  8. Mangoes
  9. Mushrooms
  10. Papaya
  11. Pineapple
  12. Sweet frozen peas
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Onions
  15. Watermelon

In contrast to the 'dirty dozen' food list, the 'clean fifteen' foods are fruits and vegetables that have very low pesticide residue and contamination. Many of these foods have thicker skins which naturally protect the interior from harmful chemicals. You can confidently buy these foods at your regular supermarket or greengrocer, without needing them to be organic.

Drink Pure Filtered Water

filtered water being poured into a cup

If you're not drinking water, there's no way you can be functioning optimally. It's that simple. When the water composition of your blood is 82% water, your muscles are 75% and your brain is 76%, it's clear that water is an essential component of life on earth and an important element to a clean eating lifestyle

Water delivers nutrients to the entire body, oxygenates your cells, supports elimination and weight loss and promotes increased energy. Not drinking pure, filtered water can impair your brain function and nervous system.

How To Avoid Dehydration

To ensure you stay hydrated, try to drink water before you actually feel thirsty. This will help keep you replenished and feeling your best. The body has specific ways of controlling hydration levels. If water is lost from the extracellular space, water is drawn out from inside cells to balance the concentration. This causes cells to decrease in size, sending a message to the brain that the body is dehydrated, which triggers a thirst sensation.

Recent scientific findings indicate that even mild, low-grade and chronic dehydration could have negative health consequences for most people. Typical signs of dehydration include fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, irritability, muscle cramps, decreased urine output, high blood pressure, headaches, and body aches and pains.

Do you really have skin issues, lymphatic problems and fatigue? Sure, it could be allergies, sedentary lifestyle habits or iron deficiency. But... it could also be that you're just chronically dehydrated. It's such an easy, free fix to increase your water intake to test whether these symptoms are improved or resolved. If you boost your clean water intake and you still experience problems or have other health concerns, it's best to consult a health provider.

If you start drinking water regularly, you also might feel less inclined to consume unhealthy snacks and beverages. The main thing to remember is that attempting to drink 2L of water per day will always do you some good. Your body will appreciate the uplevel as you continue on your clean eating path.

What Is Clean Eating: Final Thoughts

Incorporating fresh, locally sourced, and organic produce can do wonders for your overall health and well-being. And, when it comes to mealtimes, fresh foods, fruits, vegetables and clean water are perfect examples of how to adopt a clean eating lifestyle. 

Clean eating is a great way to promote healthy eating habits in easy, nutritious and delicious ways. By adopting clean eating habits into your lifestyle, you'll feel healthier and more energised in no time.

Clean Eating Recipes for Optimal Health

Here are a few clean eating recipes that pack a huge punch when it comes to nutrition, flavour and health benefits. Wherever possible, source organic, free-range, local and natural ingredients.


Roast Chicken with Winter Vegetables, Green Beans & Gravy

This recipe is perfect for a hearty and delicious family dinner. Combining classic roasted chicken with veggie sides and gravy makes for a warming and nutritious meal. Here's what you need:


  • 1 whole free-range, organic chicken (1.5-2.5kg)
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, halved
  • 1 whole lemon, halved
  • 2 large organic sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped into chunks)
  • 2 large organic parsnips (peeled and chopped into chunks)
  • 400g of green beans (trimmed)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Gravy:

  • 2 cups organic chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp organic, grass-fed butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour or cornstarch)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Prepare the chicken for roasting by patting dry any excess moisture with paper towels.
  3. Rub the chicken with olive oil, salt, and pepper and add garlic and lemon to the chicken cavity.
  4. In a bowl, toss the sweet potatoes, parsnips and green beans with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  5. Place the chicken in a roasting dish and begin roasting in the oven for 60 to 90 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear.
  6. At the halfway point, add veggies and continue cooking.
  7. Once everything is roasted and caramelised, remove from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for at least 20 mins.

For the Gravy

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add flour and whisk until well combined.
  3. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.
  5. Simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the gravy thickens.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Carve chicken, serve with veggies, gravy and enjoy.

Sardines on Toast with Sunflower Seeds, Chilli & Herbs

This recipe is perfect for a quick and healthy breakfast, snack or light meal. It only takes a few minutes to prepare and is packed with flavour and nutrients. Here's what you need:


  • 1 can of sardines in olive oil
  • 2 slices of organic bread (toasted)
  • Handful of sunflower seeds
  • Small red chilli pepper (chopped)
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, coriander or basil)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Toast two slices of bread and place them on a plate.
  2. Open the can of sardines and drain the excess oil.
  3. Place the sardines on top of the toast, dividing them equally between the two slices.
  4. Sprinkle the chopped chilli over the sardines.
  5. Add a handful of sunflower seed sprouts on top of each slice.
  6. Finally, add some fresh herbs on top of the sprouts.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy.

Article References

Corona, G., Giuliani, C., Parenti, G., Colombo, G. L., Sforza, A., Maggi, M., Forti, G., & Peri, A. (2016). The Economic Burden of Hyponatremia: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American journal of medicine, 129(8), 823–835.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.03.007

Damalas, C. A., & Eleftherohorinos, I. G. (2011). Pesticide exposure, safety issues, and risk assessment indicators. International journal of environmental research and public health8(5), 1402–1419. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph8051402

El-Nahhal, Y., & El-Nahhal, I. (2021). Cardiotoxicity of some pesticides and their amelioration. Environmental science and pollution research international28(33), 44726–44754. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-14999-9

El-Sharkawy, A. M., Sahota, O., & Lobo, D. N. (2015). Acute and chronic effects of hydration status on health. Nutrition reviews, 73 Suppl 2, 97–109. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuv038

Fucic, A., Duca, R. C., Galea, K. S., Maric, T., Garcia, K., Bloom, M. S., Andersen, H. R., & Vena, J. E. (2021). Reproductive Health Risks Associated with Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Pesticides. International journal of environmental research and public health18(12), 6576. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18126576

Oates, L., Cohen, M., Braun, L., Schembri, A., & Taskova, R. (2014). Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a week-long organic diet. Environmental research132, 105–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2014.03.021

Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, May 4). Clean eating. Retrieved from Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_eating, viewed May 4, 2023