A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Clean eating: How to begin a whole foods diet

Woman prepping vegetables - Whole foods eating

A whole foods diet, also known as clean eating, is based on legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, colorful fruits and a variety of vegetables.

Editor’s note: This post is the first in a series with information to help you on the road to clean eating with a whole foods diet. Remaining posts in the series feature suggestions and recipes for each meal.

Brown rice, broccoli, strawberries and kidney beans – what do they have in common?

They are whole foods.

“When I think about whole foods, I’m thinking about foods mostly unchanged,” said Shelly Wildenberg, a Marshfield Clinic registered dietitian. “In other words, they come as nature gave them to us. ‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,’ is how author Michael Pollan puts it.”

Clean eating benefits

Key nutrients present in a whole foods diet help fight against nutritional deficiencies and chronic disease. Also referred to as “clean eating,” this diet is based on legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, colorful fruits and a variety of vegetables that can reduce risk of:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s

Unprocessed, whole foods retain the “good things,” which may be removed when foods are processed. Whole foods often have higher levels of:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Antioxidants
  • Good fats
  • Fiber
  • Phytochemicals

Tips to begin eating whole foods

“For starters, don’t let yourself think you can’t eat clean because you’re too busy,” she said.

Even with time constraints, you can begin whole foods eating. Start with these strategies:

  • Buy bagged vegetables. Look for frozen vegetables that come in microwavable bags that only take a few minutes to heat. “It doesn’t get much easier than that,” Wildenberg said.
  • Make use of nature’s fast foods. Add nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables to your everyday diet.
  • Purchase pre-cuts. Find convenience in pre-cut fruits and vegetables, though slightly more expensive. Even fresh meats come with pre-cut options.
  • Think simple. A clean meal can be as simple as a microwaveable frozen bag of vegetables, baked fish and roasted or steamed sweet potatoes.
  • When baking swap sugar and fat for fruits and vegetables. Replace oils and sugars with mashed or pureed fruit and vegetables in baked goods. Try avocados, bananas, unsweetened applesauce, pears, dates or figs. Try this whole foods makeover of a cookie recipe.

Start fresh with new recipes

Shine365 has a handful of healthy recipes to help you get on the track to a whole foods diet.

Visit these websites for more recipe inspiration:

More clean eating tips and recipes

Make a whole foods breakfast

Turn whole foods into fast meals

Whole foods dinner and eating out tips

  1. Aug 20, 2022
  2. Aug 22, 2021
    • Aug 24, 2021
  3. Mar 22, 2021
  4. Jul 11, 2020
  5. Jan 28, 2020
  6. Mar 21, 2018
    • Mar 21, 2018
    • Mar 22, 2018
  7. Mar 16, 2017
    • Mar 16, 2017

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