Clean eating is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days, one without a specific scientific or culinary definition. Self-proclaimed “experts” are coming out of the woodworks with their theories and views on the topic -- some with very confusing philosophies that are difficult to follow. The overall concept—eat food in as close to its natural state as possible—sounds simple enough. But what exactly does that mean and how realistic is it?

Here’s our take at Cooking Light: Clean eating is about transparency: reading labels and being mindful of your own personal connection to food by understanding where the ingredients come from and what process they went through to get from the farm to the table.

We’ve boiled the definition down into 5 tenets – use these to help jumpstart your efforts to clean up your diet one meal at a time.

1) It’s about cooking more—so that you are in control of what goes into your body. Cooking allows you to cut out extra salt and sugar – and to buy meat raised without antibiotics, produce without pesticides and preservatives, and boxed ingredients without artificial flavors and colors.

2) It’s about putting food on a balanced plate, not eating out of a bag, in a car, or on a couch—so that you see what you are eating. How do you balance a plate? Make half your plate with fruits and veggies. Choose whole grains over refined grains like white bread and pasta. Look for meat that is grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and preferably sold without an ingredient list.

3) It’s the ingredients and additives that we can’t see that are making our food less wholesome and less clean. If only markets were filled with goods found in the perimeter of the grocery store! Instead, they’re packed with boxes and bags of prepackaged food, making the decision to eat clean more difficult than ever. Look at the ingredient list. The shorter the list, the better. Aim for less than 10 ingredients, and focus on the first few items listed. Skip the junk food. Instead, fill your pantry with grains and spices from the bulk bins, fresh fruits and veggies, and organically raised meats – all foods that don’t carry a label.

4) It’s about knowing where your food comes from. Buy food that didn’t have to travel more than a few hours to get into your kitchen. The typical American meal contains ingredients from 5 foreign countries, with produce traveling an average of 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate.

5) It’s about drinking more water. Beverages deliver more sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol to the system than any other food source. Spruce up your everyday-H2O with simple infused waters.

Keep Reading: