Whether or not spring beckons you to start cleaning, consider a spring-cleaning of your kitchen and pantry. Take this month to consciously look at what is in your kitchen cupboards and make a move to get rid of processed foods and to restock with whole foods.
Processed foods are detrimental to our health in several ways. Refined grains (anything made with flour, even whole grain flours) rapidly affect blood sugar levels, and the fats and oils used in processed foods are heat damaged causing free radical damage in our bodies. Additionally, many processed foods are loaded with sugar and sodium. Labels on processed foods can be very misleading as well. A package can claim to be trans fat free, but often companies intentionally make their serving sizes small enough that they don’t have to claim the trans fats on their nutritional labels. The term “natural” is not regulated, so having it on a package doesn’t really mean anything.
Deciding to get rid of processed foods can be a daunting task. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1) Skip breakfast cereals: these are made from highly processed grains, and the sugar content is high. Packages make claims like high fiber or high protein, but check the label for sugar! Instead make or buy a nut and seed based granola that is sweetened with honey (like JK Gourmet). Serve with almond or coconut milk or over fresh fruit. On cold days, dump frozen berries into a pot and stew over low heat. Add a dollop of your favorite fat. Remove from heat, add a tablespoon of chia seeds, cover and let sit for several minutes before serving.
2) Clear out the crackers: full of refined, heat damaged fats, refined grains and sodium, crackers offer very low nutritional value. If it’s the crunch you like, then replace crackers with raw nuts and seeds, kale chips or seaweed snacks. Flax seed crackers are an excellent replacement. These can be found at some health food stores and farmer’s markets, or can be made at home.
3) Ban bars: granola bars, energy bars and breakfast bars are loaded with sugars. While these are convenient to grab when you are rushed or on the go, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by consuming them. Even the healthier versions of bars are full of sugars, though they may use agave syrup or other sweeteners in place of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. If you need some bars on hand for emergencies, then look for ones that have whole nuts or seeds, use dates, other dried fruit or coconut as sweeteners and that have an ingredient list that you understand. Another option is to make your own trail mix and package it into small bags or containers. Try raw pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs and goji berries for a trail mix that is packed with nutrients and anti-oxidants.
If you decide it’s time to purge some of these items from your kitchen, then consider donating unopened items to a food bank or other organization. If you think there are some packaged foods you can’t live without, then see if you can find a version that has no more than 5 ingredients. Fewer ingredients is usually an indication of less processing.
These tips will hopefully provide you with a good starting point. While your cupboards most likely contain the bulk of your processed foods, you may want to keep going and see if your fridge and freezer could also use a spring-cleaning.
Happy, Healthy Eating (and Cleaning)