It's quick, it's easy, it keeps forever and it's perfect for your busy lifestyle; the food in your cupboards is saving you time, but it could be causing you to pack on the pounds, costing you your health. Toronto-based registered dietitian, Shauna Lindzon explains how to overhaul your kitchen pantry for a healthier diet—helping you lose weight.
What to toss
Instant meals: Meals in a box or can, like canned pasta, flavoured rice and pre-made soups are loaded with salt. ''In one of those meals, you're consuming half to three quarters of your sodium requirements for the day,'' Lindzon explains. Excessive sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, a leading cause of stroke, heart disease or kidney disease.
Canned fruits and vegetables: ''Fresh or frozen is way healthier! Canned vegetables are typically high in sodium and also may be lower in nutrients because some vitamins are leached out into the water in the can,'' Lindzon says. ''With canned fruit, the peel is often removed, so a lot of nutrients are lost there. And, fresh fruit has more fibre.''
Trans fats: Often implemented by manufacturers to extend the shelf life of their product, trans fats are lurking in cookies, crackers, muffins and pastries, to name a few pantry patrons. In the short term, they create that melt-in-you-mouth goodness, but in the long term, they'll raise your risk of heart disease.
What to keep
A healthy cupboard should contain mostly cooking staples – ingredients you can use to put together fresh meals. Lindzon shared her list of non-perishable must-haves:
In a bottle: Olive oil, canola oil and vinegars for sauces, salad dressings and general cooking needs.
In a can: Canned tomatoes, tomato paste and canned beans (rinsed to reduce sodium) to make homemade sauces, pizzas and healthy, fibre-rich mains.
In a bag: Nuts and seeds for snacking, brown rice to bulk up vegetable dishes and different flours, like spelt, whole wheat and all-purpose, for baking.
In a box: Cereal, low-sodium stock and whole wheat pasta for low-maintenance meals, any time of day.
Lindzon recommends doing a purge every few months. ''Canned and packaged foods can go bad and it's important to check the expiry date on products like whole wheat flour. I actually store whole wheat flour in the freezer because the essential fats can go rancid,'' she says.
Page 1 of 2 -- On page 2: Learn the healthy substitutes for your favourite pantry items!
What to replace
Substituting certain cupboard staples with healthier alternatives is an easy and relatively painless way to revamp your pantry line up.
White-flour products: Swap rice, pastas and even crackers with brown and whole-grain options. This simple switch will lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and digestive disorders, and it also helps with managing weight by making you feel fuller, for a longer period of time.
Sugary cereals: Choosing the right cereal, especially for children, can be a sugary minefield, but they're a good thing to keep around. ''They contain many essential nutrients such as fibre and iron,'' Lindzon says. ''My golden rule is to choose a cereal that has more than four or five grams of fibre, less than eight grams of sugar and less than three grams of fat.''
Sweet and salty snacks: Chips, granola bars, cookies and other snack foods should all be replaced with healthier substitutes, as most of these products are loaded with sodium, hydrogenated fats or both. Try munching on nuts and seeds to curb your appetite, or Lindzon recommends finding healthier cookie or bar recipes here and keeping ingredients on hand for delicious homemade snacks. (Try tasty Chewy Granola Bars for a healthy family snack).
You can freeze leftovers for lunches throughout the week, and by eliminating the convenience of the pre-made box of cookies, you might not eat as many!
Remember: Fresh is the best
The healthiest diets rely heavily on fresh produce and protein sources, so by sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store and shopping two or three times a week (instead of just once), you'll notice your cupboard content shrinking on its own. And when you do shop to restock your staples' supply, remember to examine labels carefully and put content before convenience.
Is your fridge healthy? Find out if it's a bacteria breeding ground here.
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