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6 smart shortcuts to cleaner eating

If your vision of clean eating is expensive shakes or cutting out your favorite foods — read on.
by Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD /
grocery cart
Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables.Stokkete / Shutterstock
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Clean eating is an easy concept and it focuses on basic, simply prepared foods. It’s all about “real foods” that are minimally processed and refined. But while the concept may be easy … what about putting it into practice in your daily life? Try these easy hacks toward cleaner eating. Since clean eating is not an all-or-nothing approach, start with one shortcut and build on your progress.

Limit processed and refined foods

This includes foods with added salt, sugars and fat that often have long ingredient lists. Look for foods the way they are found in nature, that is, not refined. For example, use brown rice instead of white rice that has the nutrient rich coating stripped off.

Stay hydrated

While the latest guidelines rely on thirst to promote adequate hydration, most people forget to drink — or put it off. The best way to ensure sufficient fluids is to take a peek in the toilet! If your urine is pale yellow (the color of lemonade) you’re in a good zone. If it’s any darker, drink up with water or other no-calorie drinks. When you return to the bathroom, take another look — and you can gauge whether you need to boost your fluid intake even more. And remember that most fruits and vegetables are nearly all water and serve as a good alternate when you’re tired of plain H2O.

Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables

They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — so choose whichever produce you enjoy. Mix and match for different colors — since each color provides different kinds of health-boosting antioxidants and nutrient profiles, including fiber. Plus, they’re a great source of added fluids. If you’re worried about waste — go for frozen fruits or vegetables and be sure to skip any added sugary syrups or sauces.

Focus on lean proteins, mixing plant and animal sources

Plant proteins are naturally lean, since plants don’t have saturated, artery-clogging fats. Look for soy, beans, nuts and other legumes. If you’re a beginner to plant proteins, try soy-based “beef” and “chicken” patties. For animal proteins, look for fish, skinless poultry, and lean beef cuts, like round and sirloin. Eggs and dairy are both solid animal protein sources. Look for reduced or non-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. If you choose to avoid dairy, look for alternatives like soy and almond milk, fortified with vitamin D and calcium.

Track your caffeine consumption

While caffeine can be a boost to mental focus and has health-promoting traits, more than 300 mg daily (largest size house coffee or two home mugs) can have some negative effects, like stomach upset or feeling jittery and anxious. Drink your caffeine from sources in nature — like coffee or tea — and avoid caffeine sources in supplements, or power drinks.

Moderate your alcohol intake

If you enjoy alcohol, it can be part of clean eating — but it’s all about the amount. While moderate alcohol has some documented health benefits, a serving is not the size of your glass! For women, up to one serving a day is the recommended guideline — that is, one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces (a jigger) of spirits. And don’t add alcohol as a health booster, if you don’t already consume it!

Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.

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