Wellbeing

A Guide To #CleanEating: How To Have A Whole Foods Diet (Minus The Trends)

‘Clean eating’ has never seemed more complicated – but it doesn’t have to be. Naturopath and herbal medicine expert, Reece Carter, explains fact from fiction and gives us five easy rules to ensure we’re eating whole foods.

Paleo, vegan, raw, low-FODMAP, sugar-free, gluten-free, and the list goes on. Not only are these options confusing, but they seem to be forever changing too. Yesterday’s super food is tomorrow’s nutrition nightmare; first agave lost its status as a health food, then the almighty kale toppled too.

But with endlessly changing foodie fads, have we taken it too far? Has it arrived at the point where we have made healthy eating so unattainable that we’re losing the ‘food as medicine’ message; that good nutrition should be the front line in our defence in promoting good health?

I vote we drop the ‘super food of the moment’ mentality and take a look at how to easily get involved with the whole foods movement. No acai necessary.

Three health trends and whether there’s something to them

Going against the grain

The trend: You may have seen the phrase ‘grains are inflammatory’ floating around the Internet, with nobody really knowing what it means exactly. Paleo enthusiasts will swear that they feel better off grains, and they may be right – it’s just not for the reasons they think it is.

The truth: Leaving the gluten argument aside, from a scientific point of view, there is absolutely no reason to be cutting these out of your diet completely. But with an epidemic of leaky gut and unhappy gut bacteria, there is good reason to believe that eating them in the levels we do may be flaring up symptoms.

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Instead of completely avoiding this totally nutritious food group, reduce your intake to one or two small serves a day, make up the extra carbohydrates with vegetables, and then see a health practitioner to investigate your gut health status.

What the fructose?

The trend: We’re all quitting fructose en masse, but most people don’t know why.

The truth: If you blow up like a balloon after eating apple, honey, or garlic, you’re probably looking at a malabsorption issue. Your doctor can order a hydrogen breath test to confirm.

For the rest of us though, the issue with fructose is a little subtler. High fructose sweeteners like agave and corn syrup have been linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and even fatty liver disease.

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The good news is you don’t need to remove all fruit from your diet – and in fact, you shouldn’t. Instead, limit your sweet treats, and opt for glucose-based sweeteners like rice malt syrup, or sugar alternatives like stevia.

Did I mention I’m vegan?

The trend: There is a new breed of vegan, one that is doing it for #eatclean reasons rather than ethical ones.

The truth: If your moral compass steers you towards an animal-free diet, then go for it, and congratulations on having such strong convictions. On the other hand, if you’ve jumped on the bandwagon because your favourite Insta-model does it, then you need to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

Vegan eaters are sick of hearing it, but it’s true that adequate protein is difficult to get from plant sources alone. And B12? Impossible. You’ll need to throw your intake of nuts, seeds, and legumes through the roof, plus supplement with under-the-tongue B12. A good quality vegan protein powder isn’t out of the question either.

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At the end of the day, the health benefits of a vegan diet do not come from the elimination of meat, but rather from the increase in vegetables – and you can achieve a shift towards plant-based foods without going cold turkey. Similarly, there are plenty of vegemite-on-toast vegans who are nutritionally deficient on multiple fronts. Regardless of the ethical eating camp that you sit in, the core lesson here is to eat your veggies. 

Five fast rules for whole foods eating:

#1 Shop the aupermarket perimeter

Get away from packaged goods and eat the things that grandma would be able to name: vegetables, meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, and the like.

#2 Learn to cook

Cooking for yourself is the number one way to take charge of your health and know exactly what you are putting into your body.

#3 Shift your palate

Enjoying savoury treats rather than sweet ones helps you move away from fructose without even thinking about it.

#4 Rule of thumb

Half your plate should be colourful vegetables, then the rest split evenly between a healthy protein source and a starchy carbohydrate like brown rice or sweet potato. Use just enough healthy fat so you feel satiated, without going overboard.

#5 80-20 Rule

Every now and again, forget everything I just said and allow yourself to indulge.


Reece Carter is a qualified Naturopath, herbal medicine expert and Australia’s very own ‘Garden Pharmacist’. From the planter box to the pantry and with a lifelong passion for all things green, this self-professed herb nerd has the answers.