Pantry Makeover (part 1)

What’s lurking in your pantry? Come on, be honest. Are the shelves full of crackers, like Goldfish, Cheeze-its, and Ritz? What about the cookies? What’s your favorite childhood sweet? Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nilla Wafers? How about that cereal? Are you hiding the Frosted Flakes, Trix, and Lucky Charms in the back of the pantry, hoping no one will see them there? If this sounds like you, then it’s time for a pantry makeover.

As you go through your pantry, I want you to read the labels of the foods you have. Really look at those ingredient lists. The two main things I want you to try and spot are high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and partially hydrogenated oil. The HFCS is a highly-processed sweetener that’s been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and liver problems. The partially hydrogenated oils are trans fats, which are just as bad for your heart, if not worse.

The following are some of the most common pantry offenders and two suggested improvements, the first being a healthier swap and the second being the healthiest.

1. Minute Rice:  Yes, it’s quick and convenient, but it has also been stripped of the most important part of the rice – the fiber. What you’re left with is a highly-processed grain that quickly spikes your blood sugar.

Healthier: Slow-cooking Brown Rice. It may take 45 minutes to cook, but it’s the whole, intact rice grain, full of fiber and important vitamins and minerals and will keep you full for hours.

Healthiest: Quinoa. You know how much I love quinoa. It’s a super grain, as it’s the only grain that is a complete protein. Fiber + protein + complex carbs all rolled up into one!

2. Peanut Butter (Skippy, Jif, Peter Pan): Did you read the label on this one? I’m sure you found sugar, HFCS, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Not so wholesome.

Healthier: All Natural Peanut Butter. The only ingredients that should be listed on your peanut butter jar are peanuts. That’s it. And you’re looking for the kind with the oil that’s risen to the top, which you should mix in to the peanut butter when you first open it. Peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy-healthy fat. Yes, it’s high in calories, but a little goes a long way.

Healthiest: Raw Almond Butter. Similar to peanut butter, almond butter is a good source of protein, but scores higher nutritionally with more of the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Enjoy on some toasted bread, spread on some apple or banana slices, mixed into a smoothie, or stirred into some Greek yogurt for a dip.

3. Vegetable Oil: Most people have in their pantry some kind of vegetable oil blend. While this kind of oil works for high-heat cooking, like frying, the real truth is that the fatty acid profile of these oils is less than healthy. Besides, we should all be eating less oils and fried foods if we want to improve our overall health and keep our weight at a healthy place.

Healthier: Canola Oil. This oil is the highest in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, has a high smoke point (which makes it good for high-temperature cooking), and is neutral tasting, so it can be used in just about any recipe. Don’t forget, like all other oils, it has 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.

Healthiest: Cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil. There’s a reason why people who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet are some of the healthiest, longest-lving in the world. Part of it has to do with the olive oil (of course they also eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, fish, very little processed or fired foods, and are very active).

4. Cold Cereal: Step away from the sugared-cereal!  And don’t be deceived by the major cereal makers, like General Mills and Kellogg’s, who claim that their cereals are now healthy because they’re made with whole grains. Really? Frosted Flakes is now healthy because you’ve added whole grains? Does it really cancel out all of that sugar? NOT! Make sure the cereal you choose has less than 6 grams of sugar per serving (and watch your servings).

Healthier: How about good-old-fashioned yellow box Cheerios? You know, the kind we all grew up eating? The kind we give to babies as one of their first finger foods? It’s made with cholesterol-reducing oats, a good source of fiber, and ridiculously low in sugar. Other favorite cereal manufacturers include Barbara’s Bakery, Optimum, and Kashi.

Healthiest: Switch from cold to hot cereal and belly up to a bowl of steel-cut oats. High in fiber and no sugar, these oats will leave you full for hours. And you can get creative with flavoring them up – add some cinnamon, vanilla extract, ground flax seed, chopped almonds or walnuts, fresh or frozen fruit, or even some dried fruit.

5. Cookies: Sure, we all want a sweet treat every now and then (maybe even daily). I’m fully in favor of giving yourself permission to have a daily treat so you don’t ever feel deprived. When you do so, you’re less likely to binge and more likely to stop after just one (provided you really took the time to enjoy each and every bite). Unfortunately, most of the mass-produced cookies you find in the market are terrible for you – white, refined flour, high fat, and high sugar. While cookies will never be considered a health food, there are some better options.

Healthier: Kashi Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. These cookies are made with whole grain flours, whole grains (including oats), no refined sugars, and dark chocolate. One large, soft cookie has 150 calories.

Healthiest: Back to Nature Chocolate Chunk Cookies are made with no high fructose corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, and no artificial flaovr or colors. Each cookie has 130 calories and only 8 grams of sugar.

Check out U Rock Girl’s own Tiffani Bachus doing a pantry makeover on Sonoran Living.

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