Best Clean Eats: Plant-based Clean Eating Food List for 2021

what is eating cleanWhen you claim to have created the world’s cleanest plant-based protein powder like we do, you better darn well know a thing or two about clean eats.

So with that said, I can tell you with conviction that I have spent countless hours reading labels, poring over nutrition research studies and articles, and dropping half my paychecks at Whole Foods in search of the healthiest “clean” products on the market that meet my dietary restrictions (I’m allergic to dairy and corn and avoid most products with gluten and soy too).

In this post, I will share my findings with you. You’ll discover:

1) What clean eating actually means.

2) How to spot and avoid brands posing as “clean.”

3) My 10 favorite clean eating packaged foods.

Let’s start with #1 …

Clean Eating Basics

What does it mean to “eat clean”?

clean eatsI’ll be the first to admit that the term clean eating is ambiguous … enough to elicit some scathing reactions.

Like this response from one of the top writers on Quora:

It’s a vague term for faddish eating, mostly with an orthorexic bent. It has no scientific basis and, like pretty much all food fads, is rooted in a fear of modernity.

And this one from a registered dietitian published in the British Medical Journal:

The command to eat cleanly implies that everyone else is filthy, being careless with their bodies and lives. It comes with promises of energy boosts, glowing skin, spirituality, purity, and possibly immortality. But this nonsense is all based on a loose interpretation of facts and a desire to make the pursuit of wellbeing an obsessive, full time occupation.

Ouch.

I disagree with both and I’ll tell you why in a minute.

First, here’s my definition of clean eating:

A whole food, plant-focused diet that’s low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and other artificial ingredients.

The body of evidence that supports the health benefits of eating this way is enormous. So maybe eating “clean” is just another label … but it’s one that I believe can be of real, tangible benefit to people who don’t know how to eat healthy (or who do but aspire to eat better).

What’s the harm in that?

To me, there are bigger fish to fry anyway …

clean eats product marketing claimsThe real problem with clean eating

One of the underlying reasons for much of the aforementioned ambiguity and debate is Big Food coming in and slapping clean eating claims on all types of unhealthy packaged foods.

For example, some of my competitors in the protein powder industry sell sugar sweetened beverages to children that are marketed as clean and “all-natural”.

Not cool.

In addition to added sugar or artificial sugar, many so-called “clean” products on the market contain mystery ingredients and fillers like gums and “natural flavors,” which are now the fourth most common ingredient on food labels.

It should come as no surprise that those clever food product marketers have found ways to exploit the “all-natural” and “clean” claims, since the FDA doesn’t regulate use of these terms.

So how do you know what’s clean and what’s not?

Well, clearly “clean” is open to interpretation. But here’s what I look for:

  1. Organic ingredients I recognize as whole, real foods.
  2. No added sugar.
  3. No refined white flour.
  4. No dairy or corn-based ingredients.
  5. No mystery fillers like gums, “flavors”, and other additives.

If you stick with products that meet those criteria, it’s hard to go wrong.

When in doubt, the ingredients and nutrition facts label are the two objective sources of truth on any packaged food product.

If you don’t know what something is, don’t buy it until you research the safety of the ingredients. Check out credible sources that back their claims with peer-reviewed science (like the EWGCSPI and Pubmed).

10 Best Plant-based “Clean Label” Packaged Food Brands for 2021

I’m not saying you need to be a vegetarian or vegan to eat clean. But the focus on my clean eating approach is plants … because 99.9% of us can benefit from eating plant-based.

The clean eating brands I’m going to show you below contains food products with no or extremely minimal:

  • Added sugar
  • Artificial ingredients
  • Allergens like soy, dairy, gluten, and corn
  • Animal products
  • Highly processed ingredients posing as “natural” (e.g., flavors, gums, and other additives)

Malk: Their unsweetened almond and cashew milks are among the very few without gums, fillers, and additives. Here are the ingredients in the almond milk: organic almonds, Himalayan salt, filtered water. They also have a great almond milk/oat milk non-dairy creamer. Use their Store Finder to see if it’s available near you.

Made Good: Made Good Foods has a line of better-for-you granola products and delicious cookies that  are certified vegan, organic, and non-GMO with just 6 grams of sugar and 110 calories.

From the Ground Up: These guys sell some mighty tasty cauliflower crackers, pretzels, and potato chips. Their ingredients are plant-based, super simple, and contain no corn, wheat, dairy, or artificial junk.

Autumn’s Gold: Their grain-free, Paleo-certified granola and granola bars are very good tasting and contain much less sugar than your run-of-the-mill granola. Available on Amazon too.

Italian Volcano: Dream Foods International makes organic citrus juices and natural ethnic foods. The company began bottling juices near the Mt. Etna volcano in Sicily. I absolutely love their Italian Volcano Lemon Juice, which I add to my water (and it’s great for soups and sauces). They sell a 2-pack at Costco here in Michigan.

Nutiva: Great source for organic coconut oil and hemp seeds. Here’s the Store Locator. Most of their products can be found on Amazon as well. I love their coconut manna as a high fat dessert for all you keto people out there!

Bragg Organic: Bragg apple cider vinegar, “liquid aminos” (non-GMO, lower sodium soy sauce), coconut aminos (soy free), and nutritional yeast are staples in my clean eating recipes.

The Brinery: Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, their fermented products are among the best I’ve ever had. From their website: “People often hear “sauerkraut” and think of vinegary limp vegetables in a can or bag, but at The Brinery, we transform vegetables through the process of lacto-fermentation.  Our name tells you everything you need to know about this ancient art of food preservation – we add a natural salt brine to farm fresh vegetables. That’s it.” Love that.

Wildbrine: My co-favorite fermented foods company. Wildbrine now sells sauerkraut, kimchi, salsa, hot sauce, and plant-based cheese. They are all fantastic. This brand is legit … and so are the health benefits associated with all of its fermented products. Eat more fermented foods, people!

Alter Eco: Alter Eco’s dark blackout chocolate is dairy-free, has 4 simple, organic ingredients, and contains 85% cacao for a healthy dose of antioxidants. It has just 4 grams of sugar and also 4 grams of fiber per serving (a Snickers bar has 20 grams of sugar, for comparison’s sake). They also sell other chocolates, coconut truffles, quinoa, and rice.

Final Thoughts About Clean Eats

Hopefully this provides some inspiration and ideas to help you find cleaner products. It hasn’t been easy in the past but now you’re starting to see a lot of brands jumping on the clean eating bandwagon … and I think that’s a good thing.

Minimally processed foods with ingredients you can pronounce are generally (but not always) healthier.

If you have questions or want to share your favorite clean eating foods and/or packaged products, leave a comment below.

And don’t forget to hit those share buttons on the left if you found this post helpful. 🙂

14 thoughts on “Best Clean Eats: Plant-based Clean Eating Food List for 2021

  1. Debbe says:

    What about Lectins? I read that lectins are not healthy for the body. What is your opinion on this. This is from Dr. Gundry and he’s a cardiologist. I hear so much and do my best to stay natural, meaning, nothing processed. no microwave etc. Thanks for your protein shakes so far so good (yummy, both chocolate and vanilla, I mix them up. I’m happy to have found you. With so much info out there enough to make your head spin. I just do my best. Thanks again.

    • Scott Christ says:

      Great question, Debbe. While many types of lectins cause negative reactions in the body, there are also health promoting lectins that can decrease incidence of certain diseases. Plus, the body uses lectins to achieve many basic functions, including cell to cell adherence, inflammatory modulation and programmed cell death.

      With that said, the body of evidence to date seems to show that chronic ingestion of untreated (not soaked, fermented, or sprouted) high-lectin foods may warrant further consideration because of their apparent propensity to lead to immune responses and possible intestinal damage.

      If you consume a diet with lectin-rich foods, try to reduce the amount of lectins you’re getting by soaking, fermenting, sprouting and/or cooking (or choosing packaged foods that contains legumes/grains that are sprouted/fermented, like Pure Food). 🙂

      Here’s a good article from a very well respected science writer (and doctor) that seems to suggest Dr. Gundry has some conflicts of interest.

  2. ron says:

    Great article on a sometimes confusing subject, “Healthy Food”. One that confuses me is white flour. I don’t think we can consider white flour as bad but maybe some are. How do you know is? And what is good.

    • Scott Christ says:

      There are lots of reasons why I don’t like white flour, Ron. I’m quoting below directly from this journal article published in the Journal of Nutrition that outlines some of the research to support my argument:

      During the refining of whole grains into white flour, the outer bran and inner germ layers are removed and the remaining endosperm is processed into flour. Thus, compared with refined grains, whole grains are inherently richer in dietary fiber, containing ∼80% more dietary fiber than refined grains (3, 4). Furthermore, as a consequence of the refining process, there are substantial losses in essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients (3, 4).

      In summary, whole grains have higher phytonutrient content and antioxidant activity than refined grains. Refined wheat flour loses 83% of total phenolic acids, 79% of total flavonoids, 93% of ferulic acid, 78% of total zeaxanthin, 51% of total lutein, and 42% of total β-cryptoxanthin compared with whole wheat flour (16).

      Katcher et al. (39) observed similar weight loss with a whole grain hypocaloric diet compared with a refined grain hypocaloric diet, but observed a greater decrease in percent abdominal body fat in the whole grain group compared with the refined grain group.

      Tighe et al. (67) reported 6- and 3-mm Hg reductions in systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure, respectively, among middle-aged healthy individuals consuming 3 servings of whole grain foods per day compared with individuals consuming refined grains.

      Gross et al. (83) suggested that increased intake of refined carbohydrates, along with decreased intake of fiber, contributes to the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the US.

      In summary, dietary patterns characterized by refined carbohydrates may adversely affect metabolic intermediates and such a diet may increase the risk of vascular diseases, such as diabetes and CHD, especially among individuals prone to insulin resistance. To lower disease risk and improve vascular health outcomes, it is imperative to replace refined grains with whole grains to improve glucose homeostasis.

  3. MiMi DM says:

    Love this! Great read for clean eating…which I attempt every day. Started my cleanse from holiday mishaps today. This is very timely for starting the year off right. Thank you!!

    • Scott Christ says:

      Thanks! “Holiday mishaps” … I’m gonna have to steal that from you. And I’m just as guilty as anyone else of splurging this time of year. 😉

      Cheers to a healthy and happy 2018!

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