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Clean eating for weight loss: Here's what you need to know

Is clean eating truly more effective than other diets?

Clean Eating For Weight Loss | Juniper

While the fundamentals of losing weight are simple in theory (eat fewer calories than you burn), there are a multitude of different paths you can take to get there.

Some people swear by cardio and cleanses, while others are all about meal prep and counting macros. And, if you've been on your weight loss journey for a while, you've almost certainly come across the term 'clean eating.'

It's been a popular diet in health circles for many years — although its followers will be quick to tell you it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle.

But, what does it actually mean to 'eat clean?' And does it imply that certain foods are 'dirtier' than others? Read on to get the lowdown on clean eating for weight loss.

What does clean eating mean?

In simple terms, clean eating means eating foods as close to their natural form as possible. This means staying away from processed foods and instead opting for 'whole foods' — those that are naturally derived from the earth.

Often, this involves lean protein sources, fatty fish, fresh fruits and veggies, healthy fats like avocado, and whole-grain foods such as brown rice and oats.

The term 'clean eating' seems to date back to 2007, when Canadian fitness model Tosca Reno published a book called The Eat-Clean Diet. Inside, she detailed how she lost 34kg by avoiding over-refined or packaged foods, especially white flour and sugar.

Since then, many variations of clean eating diets have emerged, including Whole30 and paleo. Often, clean eating is synonymous with gluten-free and sugar-free regimes and in extreme cases, can even involve eating only raw foods.

What foods do you have to avoid with clean eating?

Eating clean is all about consuming minimally processed (and where possible, organic) foods. If food has been manufactured in a factory, it's probably going to be off the menu in a clean-eating diet. Some of the foods you would typically avoid on a clean eating protocol [1] include:

  • Processed meats such as bacon, salami, and sausages
  • Refined carbs such as white bread, rice, and pasta
  • Sugary foods, including milk chocolate (dark chocolate is allowed), cakes, muffins, and ice-cream
  • Low-fat but highly processed foods, like low-fat yogurts or diet snacks
  • Sugary beverages, like soft drinks and fruit juice
  • Trans fats, like deep-fried foods
  • Artificial sweeteners such as stevia and aspartame (that means no diet soft drinks)
  • Alcohol

What is an example of clean eating?

Wondering what a clean eating plan for weight loss might look like? Here are some meals and snacks you could have in a day of clean eating:


  • 1 slice of whole wheat toast, 2 boiled eggs, and 1 small apple or a handful of berries


  • 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter or almond butter with sliced cucumber or carrot sticks


  • Mixed green salad with leafy greens (such as spinach or lettuce), cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, thinly sliced red onion, sliced avocado, grilled chicken breast (optional), and 1 cup wild rice
  • Dressing made with olive oil and lemon juice or your preferred vinegar


  • 1 medium-sized orange or a handful of grapes


  • Grilled salmon fillet seasoned with herbs and lemon juice served with steamed broccoli or roasted vegetables (such as squash, zucchini, and carrots)

Other meal options you might eat on a clean-eating meal plan could include:

  • Stir-fried tofu or tempeh with a variety of colourful vegetables and brown rice
  • Quinoa or lentil salad with diced vegetables, fresh herbs, and a light vinaigrette dressing
  • Veggie omelette made with organic eggs, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms
  • Zucchini noodles (zoodles) with homemade tomato sauce and lean ground beef
  • Roasted chicken or turkey breast with roasted root vegetables like carrots, beets, and parsnips

And we can't forget about snacks too:

  • Fresh fruit like apples, berries, or sliced melon
  • Raw nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds
  • Rice cakes topped with avocado and cherry tomatoes
  • Homemade energy balls made with dates, nuts, and coconut
  • Sliced capsicum with guacamole or salsa

Is adopting a clean eating diet a good idea?

At its core, clean eating comes down to eating less processed and packaged foods. Given that consuming ultra-processed foods has been linked to everything from depression and heart disease, eating less of it is always going to be a good thing [2].

Not only that, but it's well-accepted that cutting down on processed foods is an effective way to lose weight and feel better overall [3]. So, there are definitely aspects of adopting a clean eating lifestyle that are beneficial.

However, clean eating diets also tend to take an 'all or nothing' approach.' When you embark upon a clean eating challenge for weight loss, you'll usually find that you have to cut out entire food groups. Often, this will leave you feeling restricted, and craving those foods more than ever (because that's just how our rebellious brains work!).

Plus, labelling certain foods as clean (and by contrast, dirty) can be problematic. Sure, certain foods are more natural and have a higher nutritional value than others. If you're trying to fuel your body, you're going to get more bang for your buck with sweet potatoes than hot chips.

But, foods do not have inherent moral value — healthy foods are no more virtuous than less healthy foods. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and there's a time and place for all foods, in moderation.

It's also important to note that clean eating has been linked to orthorexia [4] — a medical condition in which sufferers systematically avoid foods they consider unhealthy or 'unclean' [5].

So, if you have a history of eating disorders or obsessive thinking, it's best to steer clear of a clean eating diet.

Can you lose weight just through clean eating?

It goes without saying that if you're consuming lots of junk food and you switch to healthier choices, you're likely going to see results. But, this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the foods themselves.

Foods like doughnuts, burgers, and packets of chips not only tend to be high in trans fats, added sugar and sodium, but also in calories. So, if you ditch these foods from your diet, you'll likely consume fewer calories, which can lead to weight loss.

However, there's very little research to indicate that clean eating by itself is a silver bullet for weight loss. A 2017 study published in the Nutrients Journal looked at dietary patterns and weight loss in overweight or obese adults [5].

They found no evidence to suggest that clean food diets are any more effective for losing weight than other types of diets, including low-carb and low-GI diets.

Another 2018 study published in JAMA found it was the quality of diet, rather than the specific focus on clean or unprocessed foods, that was more important for weight loss [6].

So, while eating whole, nutrient-dense foods can definitely give you some health benefits, it doesn't seem to be the key determining factor for losing weight.

What are clean foods to lose weight?

When it comes to losing weight, not all whole foods are created equal. For example, while fresh fruit is a clean food, some (like bananas, mangoes, and avocados) are higher in calories than others.

So, you don't necessarily want to have them too often or in big portions, if you're trying to lose weight. Some good clean foods for weight loss include:

  • Greek yoghurt
  • Lean proteins
  • Eggs, such as hard-boiled or scrambled eggs
  • Complex carbs such as sweet potatoes
  • High-satiety vegetables such as spinach, carrot, and broccoli
  • Minimally processed protein powders or meal replacement shakes, like Juniper's Nourish Shakes

All of these clean foods are loaded with nutritious goodness, and will also keep you full.

What's the best way to approach clean eating for weight loss?

If you're looking to adopt a healthy lifestyle and lose weight, clean eating can be a good place to start. It can give you some helpful ground rules for choosing healthy ingredients and making better food choices.

However, when it comes down to it, clean eating is really just diet culture repackaged in a more natural-sounding way. If you're following a clean eating meal plan, it's really no different to any other fad diet.

Due to the psychology of weight loss, if you're being too restrictive, you'll likely set yourself up to fail.

Plus, at the end of the day, eating healthy is only 1 piece of the puzzle. In order for a diet to be sustainable, it needs to fit into your lifestyle — not the other way around. What's more realistic is a holistic approach, that combines a varied, healthy diet with moderate exercise and small behaviour changes.

Juniper's Weight Loss Programme combines breakthrough medication with dietitian-led health coaching, to reset your metabolism and lose weight for good. You get access to unlimited consultations with clinicians to support you every step of the way, and to a community of like-minded women to celebrate every win with you, so you can stay motivated and on track. Check your eligibility today.

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