What’s The Difference Between Clean Eating and the Raw Diet?

A healthy diet is one the most crucial aspects of living a satisfying and sustainable life, but unfortunately, getting started on a diet is often easier said than done. Not only does it take a remarkable amount of discipline and dedication, but there are so many diets out there that it can be hard to find the one that best suits your needs. 

In this article, we’ll guide you through two popular diets that focus on taking a natural approach, clean eating and a raw diet so that you can make a more informed decision on your dietary habits.

Clean Eating Explained

Clean eating focuses on a plant-based approach to dieting that welcomes a wide range of foods instead of dramatically limiting what you can eat like some other diets. The key to clean eating is cutting primarily processed, inorganic foods as much as possible and placing a greater focus on minimally processed, whole, and natural foods that are made mostly or entirely from plants. This dieting strategy is designed to be widely accessible and requires few restrictions on things like calorie totals, gluten content, and the overall freshness of food.

What You Can Eat When Clean Eating

The most challenging part of starting a diet is figuring out what you can and can’t eat, but clean eating makes this simple and easy to remember. The main thing to avoid when clean eating is processed foods, so everything else fits into what you can eat. The list of things that you can eat when clean eating is as follows:

  • Unprocessed or minimally processed fruits and vegetables

  • Whole grains like brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, and farro

  • Bread, pasta, and tortillas that are made from whole grains

  • Whole beans and legumes which require soaking, draining, and cooking

  • Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi

  • Nuts and seeds without additives

  • Soy foods like tofu and miso, but not any soy foods that have been heavily processed

  • Cold-pressed oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, and walnut oil

  • All herbs and spices

Clean Eating Benefits and Drawbacks

A clean eating diet can have remarkable benefits to a person’s health after just a couple weeks of dedication. Once processed foods have been replaced with clean, natural foods, you may begin to notice that you have much more energy than usual, helping you stay alert and focused in everything you do. The high fiber content of many whole foods can also help you feel full faster, which helps prevent overeating and bloating. The nutrients and natural vitamins in clean foods can also contribute towards your overall health, lowering the risk of things like heart disease, obesity, and cancer.

It is important to realize, however, that not every aspect of clean eating may merge well with every lifestyle. Relying on fresh foods for your diet often means you’ll have to spend more time preparing meals than it usually takes to microwave a frozen dinner. And on the topic of spending, clean and organic foods can be more expensive than processed foods, which might put a strain on your budget as you make the transition.

The Raw Diet Explained

The raw diet has been around for a very long time, but it’s recently gained some more traction as people look for healthier alternatives to their current diet. As the name suggests, this diet comprises mostly raw and unprocessed foods. While it shares some similarities to clean eating regarding processed foods, the reliance on purely raw foods makes it even more natural by placing a greater focus on foods in their purest form.

What You Can Eat on the Raw Diet

The dietary restrictions of the raw diet can be more strict than clean eating, but there’s still a wide range of foods that are included. The diet is mainly plant-based, but it does include some animal products so long as they are in their most raw form. The list of things that you can eat on the raw diet is as follows:

  • All fresh fruits and raw vegetables

  • Raw grains and legumes that have been either sprouted or soaked

  • Raw nuts and seeds

  • Sprouts

  • Dried fruits and meats

  • Raw meat or fish

  • Raw eggs or dairy

  • Nut milks

  • Raw nut butters

  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

  • Seaweed

  • Cold-pressed oils like olive oil and coconut oil

Raw Diet Benefits and Drawbacks

The raw diet can have several benefits, not just on an individual, but on the environment as well. Similar to clean eating, after some time, you may notice that you have more energy or that you’ve begun to lose weight due to the lower calorie count in most raw foods. Choosing a raw diet has the added benefit of relying less on foods that contribute to a large carbon footprint, as most raw foods can be bought from local farmers' markets, cutting out industrial processing and the energy costs of transportation.

While the raw diet can be beneficial in the short term, there are things to consider in the long term as your body adjusts to a new way of eating. The raw diet can make it challenging to get the proper amount of calories, minerals, and protein every day, resulting in an overall nutrient imbalance. There’s also a much greater risk of foodborne illness, as the raw diet doesn’t allow foods to be heated over a certain temperature.

How Clean Eating and the Raw Diet Compare

Clean eating and the raw diet share some similarities, with the primary connection being their restrictions on processed foods. Foods high in sugar, fats, or other additives contribute to things like weight gain and high blood pressure, and both diets seek to alleviate these health concerns by relying solely on natural alternatives. They also support local agriculture, as the best way to get foods that are assuredly natural is to buy from local farmers.

The main difference between clean eating and a raw diet is how your food is prepared. In clean eating, foods can be cooked as needed so long as it’s in a way that doesn’t rely on processed ingredients. The raw diet doesn’t allow any cooking, emphasizing the fact that the food is meant to be in its most pure form. Clean eating is also more lenient in what a person is allowed to eat, as minimally processed foods are allowed, whereas the raw diet doesn’t allow any processed foods.

How to Maintain Clean Eating and the Raw Diet

When switching to either clean eating or the raw diet, it’s essential to take things one step at a time. Changing your dietary habits under any circumstances can put new stress on your body and your wallet, so easing into things will allow you to get acclimated in every respect. Consistency is key with any diet, and building up to that consistency will keep any discouraging roadblocks from popping up.

A great way to get started is by phasing out processed foods for healthier alternatives in your home. Instead of keeping cookies in the pantry, get some naturally sweet fruit that can act as a substitute for your sweet tooth. If you rely on frozen dinners or pre-made breakfasts, try to wake up a little earlier every day, so you have time to prepare fresh eggs or meat. Committing to either diet can be a big lifestyle adjustment, but putting in the work can deliver satisfying results.

Clean Eating vs. Raw Diet: Which is Better?

To decide whether clean eating or the raw diet is better, you’ll have to determine which one better fits the life you want to lead. While clean eating does cut down on processed foods to boost your energy and general well-being, the raw diet takes a comprehensive approach towards a more natural diet. And although the raw diet may show more immediate and sweeping results, it may be unsustainable for people that need a certain amount of nutrients each day.

The best way to figure out which diet is better is to try them for yourself. If you are interested in the raw diet but don’t want to make such an extreme change all at once, start with clean eating and ease into the raw diet as you become more acclimated. Or, if you feel most comfortable with clean eating and are satisfied with the results, commit to that and watch yourself feel healthier over time. An essential part of any diet is simply getting started. Then everything else should fall into place.

Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, health enthusiast, and avid beachgoer living unapologetically in recovery. She writes for Maryville, a residential and outpatient center for addiction treatment in NJ.

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