Oh, January. After a lush holiday season, many of us are heading back to the gym and reevaluating eating habits. One quick and easy way to clean up your diet without ruining your social life is to just eat well at home. A good pantry makeover can ensure that you’re getting plenty of healthy, nutritious foods to offset the occasional indulgence or night on the town.
Food marketers are savvy and find sneaky ways to hide sugars and processed oils into our foods to make them taste better, cost less and last longer. Even seemingly “healthy” food companies and grocers are guilty of stocking these products. Fortunately, however, there are good products out there, we just need to know what to look for!
So, what can you do? Spend an hour or so in your pantry and fridge diligently looking at the labels of your nut butters, milk, crackers, chips, granolas, condiments, cookies, etc. Don’t be fooled by fancy terms on the box, like gluten-free, no added sugars, or no trans fats, and get rid of products with the following ingredients:
1. Processed vegetable oils: This includes highly processed and tasteless vegetables oils, like canola, corn, soybean, safflower or sunflower oil. They are a major cause of inflammation, which leads to a variety of unwanted issues. Avoiding these oils will help you avoid processed foods in general.
2. Refined sugars: Get rid of cane sugar, products with high fructose corn syrup, sugary cookies and treats.
3. Artificial sweeteners: Splenda, NutraSweet, sucralose, aspartame, etc. are chemicals.
4. Ingredients you cannot pronounce or anything that sounds like a chemical: Buh-bye.
Once you have detoxed your kitchen, go shopping! Take your time at the store to find products and brands that use good ingredients. Here’s a quick list of what to stock up on.
1. Good fats and oils: Coconut oil, ghee, good quality butter, olive oil, avocado oil. When cooking, a quick rule of thumb is to cook hot foods with fats that are solid at room temperature and use oils, liquid at room temperature, for non-heated applications (like a salad dressing or garnish).
2. Vegetables and herbs: You don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat a plant-based diet. Make plants the cornerstone of your diet. Introducing variety to your meals will automatically increase your nutrient intake (and add flavour!). Shop the periphery of the grocery store or head to your local farmer’s market. And don’t forget the herbs too: parsley, basil, dill, cilantro – spice things up!
3. Healthy dried goods: These items have a long shelf life and can make for easy snacking and quick meals. Examples include coconut flakes, nuts and seeds, steel cut oats, beans and legumes.
4. Spices: Make sure to keep plenty of healthy and anti-inflammatory spices on hand. Some favourites include turmeric, ginger, cayenne, cumin, curry powder and cinnamon. Get good quality spices and storing them properly (away from heat and bright lights) is important too. Spices last a long time, but if you’ve been using the same cumin for five years, you might want to address that…
If you find one or more of your pantry staples on the toss list, don’t freak out. Try to replace it with something a little better and consider moving that item from a staple to an occasional treat. Life is about balance, after all.