Clean Up Your Health By Spring Cleaning Your Pantry

When was the last time your kitchen pantry received the personal attention it deserves? Today is the First Day of Spring (Spring Equinox), so why not give yourself a pantry makeover?! There are so many benefits of having an organized, healthy pantry, but the hard part is knowing where to even begin.

Here are three steps to take when you’re ready to dive into your makeover.

FIRST: Minimize empty-calorie foods, starting withSUGAR.

Empty calorie foods include the ones that deliver lots of calories without much nutrition. Common pantry foods high in sugar include: sugar cold cereal, soda and sweetened drinks, donuts, candy, cookies, pastries, pies, chocolate bars, snack cakes, and cereal bars. Even some "nutrition bars" contain a lot of sugar. Here are common, and not so common, terms that indicate sugar in the food. To get you started, here are 10 so-called healthy foods that aren’t as nutritious as they seem on the surface:

One caveat, when you minimize these types of foods, decide your strategy: for some people, "out of sight, out of mind" works best, and for others, keeping a few, token empty-calorie foods around works best. That way, you know they're there if you truly want them (and are truly hungry) but they're not mainstays of your pantry. Here's how I, a registered dietitian, kick a sugar addiction

SECOND: Minimize foods high in UNHEALTHY FATS AND OILS

Do it for your heart and blood vessels---eliminate or greatly reduce foods in your pantry with trans fats and vegetable oil. Nothing good, healthwise, comes from eating trans fats. Some experts say our trans fat intake should be as close to zero as possible.

Common pantry foods with unhealthy fat: chips, crackers, microwave popcorn, cookies, pies and pastries, packaged muffins, hydrogenated peanut butter, vegetable oil, crisco

Here are healthy fats your heart does love and to include most often. 

THIRD: Stock up on great-tasting, more HEALTHFUL ALTERNATIVES

Find healthy alternatives for foods you know and love. Look for foods high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, healthy fat, phytochemicals and antioxidants. 

When possible, switch to alternatives to your empty-calorie favorites that are, well, less "empty." Could you be happy with a fruit & nut bar instead of a high sugar cereal bar? Can you eat a mini-size dark chocolate bar instead of a peanut butter cup? Is there a higher-fiber, less-sugary breakfast cereal that suits you? Would you switch to olive oil or macadamia nut oil for cooking rather than vegetable oil?

Here are my pantry swap suggestions:

Soup and Snack Shelf

  • Skip the Kraft Handi Snacks, and buy white cheddar cheese (in the refrigerator) and whole wheat crackers instead.
  • Buy fresh fruit instead of canned fruit in a cup, which is full of added sugar, and more than likely contains high fructose corn syrup.
  • Buy low sodium vegetable broth instead of full sodium cans of soup. Consider making more homemade soups.
  • Buy organic cream condensed soup for use in recipes instead of canned soup high in sodium and unhealthy fat.
  • Instead of canned soup (very high in salt, MSG, and a bunch of other junky ingredients), buy canned diced tomatoes, dried beans and lentils for homemade soup and sauces.
  • Make air-popped popcorn with real popcorn kernels rather than buying microwave and bagged popcorn. The bag almost all microwave popcorn come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical is the same toxic stuff found in teflon pots and pans. It can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. I also like this healthy kettle corn recipe.
  • Buy extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, and coconut oil instead of vegetable, corn, canola, and safflower oil.
  • Buy coconut aminos instead of soy sauce (very high in salt).
  • Assess your spaghetti sauce for added sugar. If it contains sugar, look for no added sugar versions. 

Chips and Crackers Shelf

  • Buy whole grain or sprouted seed crackers instead of high-fat, enriched crackers and chips.
  • Buy dried coconut, dried mango, dried apricots, dried pineapple, dates, dried white mulberries, and raisins instead of chips, crackers, and candy.
  • Buy seeds and nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds) instead of chips.

Sugared Cereal, Cereal Bars, Pasta Shelf

  • Buy fruit & nut bars and healthier nutrition bars instead of Kudos and other high-sugar, enriched cereal bars.
  • Buy trail mix or instead of pop tarts and snack cakes.
  • Buy no added sugar granola and oats instead of captain crunch, fruit loops and cocoa puffs.  
  • Buy steel cut or old fashioned oats instead of instant oatmeal that's high in sugar.
  • Buy whole wheat spaghetti instead of enriched spaghetti.
  • Buy brown rice instead of white rice.

Nuts, Nut Butter, Grains, and Snack Cakes Shelf

  • Buy natural peanut butter instead of peanut butter with hydrogenated fat (ie: Jif).
  • Try other types of nut butters for more variety, such as sunflower seed butter, almond butter, and cashew butter. 
  • Buy dark chocolate bars >70% cacao instead of boxed chocolates.
  • Instead of "pancake" syrup buy 100% pure maple syrup. The first two ingredients in many "pancake" syrups are corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, which are horrible for the body! Here are a few things I despise about high fructose corn syrup.
  • Buy olives, pickles and dried seaweed snacks (nori) instead of chips and candy.
  • Instead of Pub Mix, buy other mixes, such as a sprouted spicy seed mix. 
  • Buy raw, unroasted nuts instead of roasted, salted nuts, which more than likely contain MSG and aren't nearly as nutritious.
  • Buy 100% whole wheat bread or super seed bread instead of enriched buttermilk bread or white bread.
  • Buy 100% whole wheat buns and tortillas instead of enriched hamburger buns and white flour tortillas.
  • Buy honey to add to plain yogurt or Greek yogurt to eat as a snack instead of snack cakes or other sweet treats.
  • Buy cans of tuna fish for quick meals and an easy snack.

Fill your pantry with these shelf basics, and then, once or twice a week, shop for more perishable foods.

What pantry swap ideas do you have on this first day of Spring?

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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