You have probably heard of clean eating but may not know exactly what it is. Simply put, clean eating is about eating whole foods – “real" foods that have not been processed, refined or handled. These foods are as close to their natural form as possible and include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains.

Clean eating can help you manage your weight and help prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

So, how do you get started? Follow these simple guidelines:

1. Avoid processed and refined foods

A quick rule of thumb: Shop the perimeter of your grocery store – the produce, dairy, meat and seafood departments. They’re full of fresh, preservative-free whole foods. Avoid the middle of the store, where the packaged goods reside – products that contain harmful chemical additives, trans fats, salts, refined sugars, artificial ingredients and preservatives.

2. Limit sugar

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and men consume no more than 9 teaspoons a day, much less than the average American consumes. You can cut down on sugars by limiting sweets, including candy and sodas, but don’t stop there. To satisfy a sweet tooth, grab a few red grapes, a square of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) or a handful of homemade trail mix.

3. Load up on veggies

The best way to eat clean and to achieve variety is to eat seasonally. Enjoy vitamin-rich root vegetables, such as beets, radishes, carrots and sweet potatoes, in the fall. Soak up summer power foods, such as green salads, succulent squash, ripe tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, beans and corn in the summer. Avoid store-bought salad dressings, which contain sugar and other additives. Instead, make your own dressings with olive oil, lemon juice and herbs.

4. Eats fresh fruits, in moderation

Many fruits are high in fiber and nutrients, they also contain sugar. Eating too much fruit can lead to problems with the hormones that regulate blood sugar. Eat a variety of fruits in moderation, as part of a broad, balanced diet.

5. Eat healthy fats

Not all fats are created equal. Healthy fats are just that – good for you! You can get healthy fats from fish (choose those that are high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and trout), nuts (almonds and walnuts) and seeds, avocados, oils (olive or coconut oil), dairy products (eggs, fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt) and grass-fed beef.

6. Eat lean protein

If you are a meat eater, choose lean cuts and trim excess fat before cooking. Avoid processed meats like cold cuts, bacon and sausage. Eat fish at least twice a week. Taco Tuesday? Try ground turkey or chicken, instead of beef.

7. Say “no” to the salt shaker

In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in your body, and places an added burden on your heart. Blood pressure tends to rise with age. So, lowering your sodium intake now, regardless of your age, may help curb that rise and reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease.

8. Keep an eye on portion size

Eating clean does not mean eating unlimited quantities. Clean foods are healthful, but they still contain calories. Learn what your target caloric intake is for managing your weight, and understand the relative calorie content of the clean foods you eat.

9. Strive for progress, not perfection

Changing eating habits takes time, and arming yourself with knowledge and resolve is a good first step. If you strive for perfection, you will only set yourself up for failure. Eating clean is a way of life, not a diet. Celebrate incremental progress, and forgive the occasional slip-up.

10. Get started!

Clean eating is heart-healthy eating. Check out our Heart Healthy Shopping Guide, where you can view instructional videos on heart-healthy shopping.

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