Spring cleaning isn’t just for your closets. This is your chance to get rid of excess baggage in your kitchen, too. With a fridge and pantry full of nutritious, whole foods you’ll be able to make healthier meal choices and create the foundation for optimal health. Bonus: You’ll feel lighter, too.
The first step to cleaning your fridge and pantry is to read labels. Follow these guidelines to help you decide what to keep and what to toss.
How to Read Labels
- Look for five or fewer ingredients.
- Look for ingredients that you can pronounce, or to quote Michael Pollan, “Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.”
- Pay attention to serving size, often something you may think is a single serving is actually labeled as two or even three servings.
- Look at fat content and aim for zero trans fat. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils and have been directly linked to heart disease.
- Look at sodium content and aim for low-sodium or no-sodium foods. The daily-recommended guideline for sodium is between 1,500 and 2,300 mg per day.
- Look at sugar content and aim for no more than 26 grams (6 teaspoons) per day.
- Look for artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine, and artificial flavorings and colorings. Studies have shown these artificial ingredients to be carcinogenic with the potential to damage DNA.
Toss foods that don’t meet the guidelines and re-stock your fridge and pantry with healthier options. Aim for re-stocking mostly whole foods, with a minimum of processed or packaged foods. Here’s what to look for …
Spring Clean the Fridge
- Many condiments like ketchup, relish, bar-b-cue sauce, and salad dressings are loaded with sugar and salt. Consider making your own salad dressings from scratch for a healthier alternative to prepared salad dressings.
- Some yellow mustards contain artificial coloring, look for brands that don’t.
- Imitation mayonnaise may contain artificial ingredients, aim for all natural mayonnaise, or better yet make your own from scratch.
- Check expiration dates of condiments, which tend to sit in the fridge for a long time, and toss any that are expired. When in doubt, check the guidelines from Consumer Reports on how long to safely keep condiments.
- Eat organic produce whenever possible—it’s more nutritious and less toxic for your body, and it’s healthier for the planet too.
- Eat from all colors of the rainbow.
- Follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guidelines.
- Shop local farmers markets for seasonal produce, which is often pesticide free even if it’s not certified organic.
Meats, Eggs, and Dairy
- Look for labels stating non-GMO, no antibiotics, and no growth hormones.
- Buy organic, free-range poultry.
- Try to find grass-fed beef and lamb.
- Avoid farm-raised fish; buy only wild-caught.
- Get cage-free eggs.
- Choose organic, no rbGH dairy products.
- This is the number one place that sugar hides so ditch the naturally and artificially sweetened drinks in favor of water or herbal teas.
- Substitute soda with sparkling water—add a squeeze of lemon or lime, or a few cucumber slices, mint, or organic berries for flavor.
- Stock a variety of flavorful herbal teas, some of which are naturally sweet (such as those containing licorice root).
- Buy organic, fair trade coffee, and aim for only one or two cups per day, preferably before noon.
- Following Ayurvedic tradition, Dr. Suhas recommends not eating anything older then 24 hours. According to Ayurveda, leftovers are difficult to convert into Ojas, the vital nectar of life.
- The Mayo Clinic recommends not eating anything older than 3 or 4 days, after which food poisoning becomes more likely.
- Review the federal government food safety website for a list of limits on how long you should store frozen foods.
- Do not re-freeze thawed, raw meats until after they’ve been cooked.
- Ice cream and other frozen fats are hard to digest, and are also loaded with sugar. Try substituting fruit sorbets made from scratch for ice cream. This blueberry-lemon sorbet even has anti-aging properties.
Spring Clean the Pantry
Breads, Flours, and Pastas
- Aim to eat complex carbohydrates rather than simple, refined or processed carbohydrates whenever possible. Complex carbs take longer to digest and aren’t as likely to spike your blood sugar.
- Breads are often high in sodium and sugar, and may not actually contain whole grains even if they say they do. Look for sprouted true whole grain breads that don’t contain flours but actually list the whole grains in the ingredients.
- Ditch any products that contain refined or bleached flours.
- Toss your white flour pastas and replace with brown rice, quinoa, or lentil-flour pasta. Alternatively try using spaghetti squash or julienned zucchini.
Breakfast Cereals and Grains
- Look forGMO-free cereals and grains. If you’re gluten-sensitive or celiac avoid wheat, barley, and rye. Most breakfast cereals are over-processed so try substituting with whole-grain cereals instead.
- Try steel cut oats, or quinoa, amaranth, and other ancient grains for breakfast.
- Replace your white rice with wild rice, forbidden (black), brown, or red rice.
- Soak or ferment whole grains overnight to make the nutrients more bio available and easier to digest.
- Try making your own grain-free granola out of nuts, seeds, coconut, and berries.
Chips, Cookies, and Crackers
- If you can, ditch all chips, cookies, and crackers. These are likely to contain hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) and are usually high in sodium, sugar, and empty calories. Many chips and crackers also contain GMO ingredients.
- Bake your own cookies from scratch like these gluten-free pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
- Look for whole-grain and seed crackers. There are several brands available in natural food markets.
- Almost all chips contain unhealthy oils including: sunflower or safflower oil, both are high in omega 6’s which most people consume too much of. Also keep an eye out for other unhealthy oils like cottonseed oil (often GMO) and canola oil, which are frequently found in chips and crackers.
Every type of oil has its own optimal cooking temperature as well as a type of fat it contains. Some of the most and least healthy oils include:
- Olive oil is healthiest eaten raw, or used at low to medium heat for cooking. Beware that many olive oils have recently been adulterated with other oils, and artificial colorings and flavorings. Check this list to find pure olive oils.
- Coconut oil has a high flash point, meaning it’s excellent to use at medium to high heat for sautés and stir-fries. Though coconut oil does contain saturated fat, it is comprised of medium-chain fatty acids, which metabolize differently than the long-chain fatty acids found in other saturated fats, so it’s healthier for you.
- Nut and seed oils such as avocado oil, walnut oil, grape seed, and sesame oil are all options.
- All hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) have been shown to increase heart disease risk.
- Cottonseed oil is high in saturated fat and pesticides
- Canola oil contains GMOs unless specified “organic”
- Palm oil is high in saturated fat. It is also unsustainably farmed and a leading cause of rainforest deforestation.
- Whenever possible try for fresh, dried, or frozen legumes instead of canned legumes.
- Canned legumes can be very high in sodium as well as BPA leached from the cans.
- To aid in digestion, soak dried legumes overnight or for 12 to 24 hours before cooking.
- If eating soybeans, make sure they’re organic—otherwise they’re likely GMO. Soy is also healthiest eaten whole (edamame form) or fermented (tempeh and miso).
- Overall, fresh or frozen foods are healthier than canned goods.
- Look for boxed alternatives to cans, or look for BPA-free cans.
- Look for single ingredients. Many canned goods are high in sodium, have added sugar and sometimes hidden gluten ingredients as well.
Nuts and Seeds
- Choose raw or dry roasted. Both types are a healthy source of fats and protein and make a great snack.
- Dry roasted nuts can be high in sodium and can turn rancid more quickly if they’re roasted in oil, so look for dry roasted nuts that have low- or no-sodium with no added oils.
- Store all nuts in a cool, dark location, and eat within 30 days to prevent rancidity.
- Nut butters are a great source of protein as well as healthy fats. Again pay attention to sodium content, sugar, and other added ingredients. The healthiest nut butters contain just ground up nuts, nothing else. You can even grind your own at most natural food markets. (Note: Peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut.)
- High in antioxidants, some studies have shown chocolate to be heart-healthy in moderation.
- Aim for chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa for the healthiest option.
- Look for organic and/or soy-free chocolate. Non-organic soy is likely GMO.
- Look for fair-trade chocolate to avoid contributing to child slavery, which plays a part in the energy of the food you eat.
While you’re spring-cleaning the food in your fridge and pantry, clean your cupboards and refrigerator by wiping everything down with toxin-free household cleaners. Or consider making your own non-toxic cleaners out of white vinegar and lemon juice.
Spring-cleaning your fridge and pantry and re-stocking with healthy, whole food options will put you on the right track for optimal health.