Clean eating: What to buy

While clean eating may not be something you can do all the time, starting to incorporate more whole foods into your diet and actively avoiding over-processed ingredients will do wonders for your health. Read our expert guide to stocking your cupboards with nourishing, natural foods...

Clean eating: What to buy

What does clean eating mean?

Clean food is as close to its natural form as possible – unprocessed, minimally handled from source to shop, and preferably with little in the way of packaging. For many, clean also means organic. BBC Good Food's nutirtional therapist Kerry Torrens recommends you buy the best quality you can afford and, where budget permits, invest in organic meat, eggs and dairy.

Going totally organic can be an expensive business and choosing from the wealth of options available can be confusing. Below, we’ve taken a look at the major food groups and tried to demystify these decisions, helping you to navigate the food aisles...

Fruit and vegetablesOrganic vegetable box

Some fruit and vegetables retain higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Here are 10 that are worth buying organic:

✹ Apples

✹ Carrots

✹ Celery

✹ Grapes

✹ Greens, including spinach and kale

✹ Peaches and nectarines

✹ Peppers

✹ Potatoes

✹ Strawberries

✹ Tomatoes

Meat and eggs

Grass-fed and organic livestock will have enjoyed a more relaxed life and better quality diet and as a consequence their meat will contain higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. They’re also less likely to have been treated with antibiotics, which can have a detrimental effect on our gut health.

- Meat – lamb, beef, pork, venison, rabbit Lean meat

BEST – 100% grass-fed and organic

GOOD – Lean, fat trimmed

- Poultry and game – duck, chicken, turkey, pheasant, quail, guinea fowl

BEST – Free range and organic

GOOD – Fat trimmed

- Eggs – duck, chicken, goose, quail

BEST – Free range and organic

GOOD – Omega-3 enriched

SardinesFish and Shellfish

Wild and sustainably caught fish rather than farmed will have a superior fat composition – with more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, a large proportion of the fish available in our supermarkets is farmed, so look for ‘sustainably caught’ fish or, if you’re lucky enough to live close enough, buy direct from the dockside. When buying frozen shellfish like prawns, look for those frozen in their shells – that’s because they’re not preserved in a salt glaze like their peeled counterparts.

Fish - Salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pollock, halibut, turbot, cod, haddock, sea bass, sea bream, sole, mullet

Shellfish – prawns, scallops, squid, mussels, clams, crab

BEST – Wild-caught and sustainably fished

GOOD – Sustainably farmed


If budget permits go organic, as these products are less likely to have been produced with the use of hormones or antibiotics. Want to try something different? Nut milks made from scratch using almonds, cashew or hazelnuts are delicious, or you could try coconut products including coconut milk, cream and yogurt.

Milk, yogurt, cheese and butter including goat, sheep and cow products

BEST – Organic

GOOD – Locally purchased

Pulses, nuts and seedsChia seeds

These are a nutritious addition to your diet, each with their own unique properties. They can be used to bulk up and add flavour to a wide range of dishes.

Legumes, beans and pulses – lentils, peas, peanuts, alfalfa, haricot beans, kidney beans, butter beans, black-eyed beans, broad beans, chickpeas

Nuts – unsalted almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, Brazils, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashews, chestnuts, coconut

Seedschia, flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, pine nuts

Grains and pseudo-grainsamaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, freekeh, whole-grain barley, rice (wild, brown/ black/ red), millet

Cooking fats, salad oils and seasoningsButter

Animal fats make ideal cooking fats because they’re rich in saturates, which are stable at high temperatures. For vegetarians, opt for coconut oil or rapeseed, this is a stable cooking oil and is a great source of healthy omega-3 fats.

Keep the unsaturated plant oils like flax, avocado, pumpkin and walnut, as well as cold-pressed olive oil, for dressings and drizzles. These unsaturated oils are more delicate and easily damaged at high temperatures, which impacts their rich flavour and will be detrimental to their nutritional benefits.

Fats (animal) – butter, ghee, duck and goose fat, lard or dripping

Fats (plant) – coconut (organic, unfiltered, raw), chia, flax, avocado, olive, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, walnut, rapeseed, tahini and nut butters (sugar and salt free)

Seasonings – spices, herbs (fresh, dried), vanilla pods, vinegar (balsamic, organic apple cider), tabasco (original), garlic granules, chilli flakes, tamari, mustard powder, tomato puree, beef / chicken / vegetable stock (preferably homemade or select a good quality, low-salt bouillon powder), salt (preferably Himalayan) sea salt, black pepper, capers, olives, miso (organic and non-GM), sea vegetables (nori, kelp, wakame)


Hydrate yourself with drinks that do not contain added sugar, sweeteners and caffeine. The cleanest options are:

Beverages – coconut water (not from concentrate), mineral water, herbal teas, vegetable juice (not from concentrate), fruit juice (not from concentrate)

To find out what to avoid when you're shopping, take a look at our Clean eating guide - what not to buy.

Want to try clean eating but need help getting started? Sign up for our 7-Day clean eating Summer Diet Plan.

For more healthy eating tips, take a look at our How to eat well section.

Comments, questions and tips

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5th Aug, 2015
According to the latest research, as reported by the BBC, olive oil is the oil of choice for cooking: 'samples of oil and fat, after cooking, were collected and sent to Leicester School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University in Leicester, where Prof Martin Grootveld and his team ran a parallel experiment where they heated up these same oils and fats to frying temperatures. ....Prof Grootveld generally recommends olive oil for frying or cooking. "Firstly because lower levels of these toxic compounds are generated, and secondly the compounds that are formed are actually less threatening to the human body." His research also suggests that when it comes to cooking, frying in saturate-rich animal fats or butter may be preferable to frying in sunflower or corn oil. "If I had a choice," he says, "between lard and polyunsaturates, I'd use lard every time." ' you can read the article by searching'cooking' on the BBC website, it's title is 'which oils are best to cook with? '
8th Jul, 2015
I have been clean eating for 11 weeks and my metabolic age has changed from 50 to 32! I am fitter, healthier, and 100 times more energetic. I will never go back.
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