Tips and Tricks for Healthy Clean Eating

Clever Cookstr chats with Amie Valpone--personal chef, culinary nutritionist, and food writer/blogger--about clean eating. Want to learn how to cure a sweet tooth without refined sugar, or create flavor without gluten, dairy, or soy? Amie has the answers.

Kara Rota
6-minute read
Episode #8

Welcome to the Clever Cookstr, your ultimate window into the kitchens of the world’s best cooks.

Our guest today is Amie Valpone, a personal chef, culinary nutritionist, food writer, and blogger at TheHealthyApple.com. She's also authoring an upcoming cookbook. Amie is joining us today to talk about clean eating. Thanks for being here, Amie!.

CC: What is clean eating?

AV: Clean eating is really about eating one-ingredient foods. I have pretty much healed myself from ten years of chronic illness, and I only eat one-ingredient foods. People ask me how I can live eating this way, but if you think about it, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins like organic chicken and turkey--those are all one-ingredient foods.

If you just combine all of these one-ingredient, healthy foods to put together your meals and snacks, that’s clean eating. Not eating out of a can or box, and nothing with additives and dyes. Instead of buying a bottle of iced tea with added sugar, it’s brewing your own tea.

CC: I think there’s a misconception that it takes longer to eat that way--that you have to spend all this time making things from scratch rather than buying them, the way most people are used to doing. How do you find that eating clean fits into your daily lifestyle? What tips can you share for making it happen in a quick and easy way?

AV: At first, people are often overwhelmed. It can be intimidating. But when you think about how much better you feel when you’re eating foods without additives, the benefits are pretty amazing. I focus a lot with my clients on anti-inflammatory foods. These help people that either have chronic health issues or just want to feel better, becasue they’re not sure why they’re having migraines, arthritis, eczema, or whatever it may be. I encourage clean foods like walnuts or almonds or avocados--things that are going to fight inflammation, but also keep them feeling healthy and happy, and not deprived.

Also, when beginning a clean eating lifestyle, identify the main foods that you love, write them down on a piece of paper, and figure out how to recreate them. So if you really like tacos, how can you make them healthier? Instead of buying traditional GMO corn tortillas, maybe switch to organic corn tortillas--and then maybe after that, you’ll just start using romaine or kale or collard green leaves. So little steps like that at first can help people move along, rather than wiping everything out, going cold turkey, and feeling deprived.

CC: I think that when you’re trying to eat in a healthier way, it’s helpful to think not about what you’re taking away, but what you’re adding. About what kinds of foods you’ve been missing out on, and what you can focus on making room for once you cut out some of the processed foods. But people do always want to know, “What can’t I eat?” What are the things that you advocate cutting out?

AV: Gluten, dairy, soy, and refined sugar are things that I can’t eat. I really feel that there’s such a huge difference for people, especially with gluten, dairy, and soy. I don’t think everyone should be on a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free diet, but if you’re having issues with inflammation, you can start there. Just switching out refined sugar for ingredients like raw honey, maple syrup, dates, raw cacao, cocoa powder, and cinnamon sticks is a start.There’s one recipe I love to make for clients:

  • Poach raw chicken or turkey breasts in water or chicken broth with whole cinnamon sticks and bay leaves
  • Let simmer for 45 minutes
  • People can’t believe there’s no oil, butter, sugar, or other additives.

You start to realize that things like store-bought barbecue sauce or salsa in your fridge might have ten grams of added sugar in it. People don’t realize where there’s added sugar, as opposed to naturally occurring sugars from fruits and vegetables. There are tons of salsas out there that are great, and in which the sugars come from just tomatoes and corn. But there are hidden sugars that no one really realizes are there. We expect them in a doughnut or a box of cereal, but not in food that is not obviously sweet--but it’s those hidden sugars that add up over time and then start to create inflammation.

CC: So how do you create flavor without gluten, dairy, and soy? What are some of the best ways that people can start to phase out extra salt and butter?

AV: I always have my clients using regular sea salt, because there are minerals in it. Table salt is kind of like refined sugar: it’s stripped of everything good and is inflammation-causing, whereas a nice sea salt is the opposite. It’s actually replenishing your body with minerals, and it creates such flavor. And a freshly ground pepper mill. Those are two things that I use often.

I really love nut butters: almond butter, cashew butter, pistachio butter, walnut butter, things like that. Like peanut butter, without the peanuts. You’re just pureeing some kind of nut or seed. I’ve really created a lot of flavor with coconut oil, another anti-inflammatory. It helps a lot of people with auto-immune diseases. So I’ve worked a lot with that, and with coconut flakes. All these things are adding flavor without adding sugar or preservatives. Oh, and fresh herbs!

  • Put chives, scallions, or other fresh herbs in the food processer
  • Add 1 avocado (for creaminess without dairy)
  • Spread on crackers or toast, in a salad, or in tacos


About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.