Growing up, my grandparents had their pantry under their staircase. Although it was stacked with Oma’s pickled onions and cabbage, we also used it as the coolest little fort. Today, my pantry is nothing like that awesome childhood hangout. To be honest, it’s more of a spice cupboard than anything else.
I cleared out our pantry long ago. Since then, very few junk foods have found their way back in. What do you currently have hiding in your pantry?
Things you should not have in your pantry
At the end of the day, preservatives have allowed food companies to create a range of questionable foods that can sit for years on end. From canned soup to powdered packet gravy, these items have now become a staple in most homes. Unfortunately, they could be slowly harming your family with each daily bite.
1. Refined cereals
From the fun loveable characters to the toys found inside, cereal has always been targeted towards children. The unfortunate reality is, the majority of cereals on the market are packed with GMO ingredients. They’re also covered in sugar and often void of any true beneficial nutrients — yet parents continue to buy box after box.
What to try instead: Steel cut oatmeal or your own homemade granola.
2. Microwave popcorn
There’s nothing quite like snuggling up on the couch to enjoy a big bowl of chemically-coated popped kernels, right? When it comes to microwave popcorn, the most harmful component is the bag it is popped in. Lined with PFOA, this is the same toxin that is used to line Teflon pots.
Depending on the brand you buy, there is a long list of possible ingredients, including TBHQ (a toxic additive that is made from butane) as well as trans fat and harmful preservatives. All of these ingredients create a chemical cocktail — not a beneficial snack.
Although these popcorn bags have received a lot of coverage over the past few years, it’s the butter flavoring that I find alarming. More specifically, diacetyl butter flavoring has been shown to threaten brain health and may increase beta-amyloid plaques in the brain — a clear hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s.
What to try instead: Air-popped popcorn with grass-fed butter, lemon zest or even dusted with cinnamon.
3. Boxed mac and cheese
Home-cooked macaroni and cheese is considered a comfort food. Although it may not be the healthiest side dish, at least it’s at least made with real ingredients. In comparison, I’m not really sure where to start when it comes to boxed macaroni options, complete with sketchy powdered cheese.
Thousands of children associate mac and cheese with an almost radioactive orange coloration — something which made headlines the past couple of years. The synthetic color of Kraft Dinner is just the beginning, as there’s nothing natural about this food. In fact, I won’t touch the stuff.
What to try instead: Vegetable pasta served with homemade tomato sauce.
Related: Gluten-Free Healthy Zucchini Pasta Alla Puttanesca
4. Pre-packaged soup
During winter, many individuals are looking to warm up with a big bowl of soup. Unfortunately, instead of chopping onions and carrots, most people go straight for a can opener. From BPA cans to the heavy use of MSG and GMOs, it’s best to leave this sodium-packed food on the shelves.
What to try instead: A large pot of kale and bean soup. Freeze it into numerous portions for when you want a quick lunch or dinner.
When it comes to chips, you can never eat just one. And before you know it, your hand is touching the bottom of the bag. Being an inexpensive snack, many families fill their pantry with chip bags. Although the odd handful won’t kill you, regular consumption can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, nutritional deficiencies and high cholesterol.
What to try instead: Baked sweet potato or apple chips.
I’m not over exaggerating when I say that I have about one to two sodas a year, if that. My mom only ever bought pop when we had a birthday party. And now, it’s not something I would ever go out of my way to get as an adult. Especially because the associated dangers of soda keep stacking up in terms of obesity and disease.
In fact, researchers at Harvard found that for every additional soda consumed, you increase your risk of obesity by 1.6 times. If you think diet varieties are any better, think again. The heavy use of aspartame is resulting in an increased risk of diabetes and even neurological degeneration.
What to try instead: Carbonated water infused with fresh herbs and fruit.
7. Salad dressing
You may think you’re doing yourself a favor by eating a salad. However, if you pour on unhealthy dressing, you could actually do more harm than good. Most low-fat dressings, for instance, are marketed as the “healthy” choice, yet they’re often packed with sodium and sugar.
More importantly, low-fat dressings actually reduce your body’s ability to absorb key nutrients from the greens you consume — which is why homemade olive oil-based dressings are ideal. Although you should avoid any preservative-packed dressing that can sit in your pantry, the worst are creamy options. They can add more than 200 calories per serving.
What to try instead: This quick, easy-to-make basil and lemon vinaigrette.
If your juice can be stored for over a year on a shelf, it’s safe to say it’s not the most natural. Not only do the majority of juices lack true nutrients, they’re also packed with sugar. In fact, most juices provide the same intake of sugar as soda. Also, since juice is heavily processed, the fiber content of the fruit itself is essentially non-existent in the finished product.
What to try instead: Chilled herbal tea or make your own vegetable-rich juices.
9. Packaged gravy or sauces
You may be a sucker for fries and gravy, but having packets of gravy on hand isn’t doing your health any good. If you look at the ingredient list, your head will spin trying to pronounce each additive. This also includes condiments such as BBQ sauce, ketchup and mayonnaise.
What to try instead: A homemade hot sauce or herb-infused dipping oil made with ingredients fresh from your windowsill or back garden. You can also utilize fresh lemon juice, a flavorful salsa or spices.
If you truly want to improve your health, the “magic” formula is pretty simple — eat well and remain active. This year, start with your pantry. Eliminate all processed foods as you move towards whole food options. Create new habits that promote your well-being today!
— Krista Hillis