6 Things You’d Never Find in my Kitchen and their Healthy Alternatives

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I’m not going to pretend that I’m perfect when it comes to healthy eating. I occasionally allow myself some comfort food and sweets when I really feel like it.  I usually have a “cheat day” as well once a week to keep my metabolism sharp and prevent deprivation.  But there are some things that I wouldn’t even consider putting into my body, because I know how harmful they can be to my health.  Here’s a list of 6 food items you’d never find in my kitchen and their healthy alternative ideas.

1. Microwavable, pre-packaged or canned meals

When food shopping for the week, avoid any foods that are pre-made, pre-packaged, and ready-to-eat.  All these frozen, canned and packaged meals contain a lot of sodium, sugar, preservatives, and other chemical ingredients.  Just looking at the label you will probably not recognize more than half of the ingredients listed, because they are some form of chemical that helps prolong the shelf life.  These chemicals are extremely harmful to our health, and if consumed over the long term, can cause cancer and diseases.  The exception to this is wild canned salmon that I buy to eat occasionally, when I don’t have a lean protein source handy.  Also, microwaving your food depletes it of most nutrients, so you are eating empty calories. This includes microwavable popcorn – full of butter, salt, and highly toxic.

Healthy alternative: Instead, go for whole foods – foods in their natural state, not processed, not already cooked and packaged.  Stock up on veggies, fruit, grains, and lean proteins to have them handy at all times.  If you really don’t have time to cook, you can buy some roasted chicken at the store and make a fresh side salad. Cook your own soup and store in a glass container in the fridge.

2. Charcoal-grilled or BBQd meat

This is probably one of the worst things you can eat for your health.  When grilling meat, hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals form on it and as our bodies process them, these chemicals bind to our DNA, cause damage and consequently diseases.  One type of these chemicals are HAAs (Heterocyclic aromatic amines) and they occur when meats are cooked at high temperatures, such as grilling or broiling.  Another type are the PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and occur when fat from the meat drips onto the coals and are transported onto the meat by smoke and flare-ups.

Healthy alternative:  Instead of meat, grill vegetables, which do not produce HAAs. Otherwise, instead of grilling chicken, bake it in the oven to avoid PAHs.  If you really must bbq, do it occasionally, and take steps to make it safer.  Trim the fat to reduce the drips onto the coals; use smaller cuts of meat (which cook faster); flip frequently to speed up the cooking; use citrus marinades, which help reduce formation of HAAs; use fresh herbs and spices full of antioxidants to protect your DNA; wrap meat in aluminum foil when cooking.


3. Colas, sodas, flavored drinks

I’m talking about all those sugary, colored drinks, and diet sodas as well.  Diet sodas contain aspartame, which is a chemical that’s been proven to cause cancer and other diseases.  Besides that, it actually leads to weight gain and makes you addicted to the drinks.  The regular sodas are not much better, as they contain incredible amounts of sugar, artificial colorings and other harmful substances that cause diseases. All these drinks are highly acidic too.

Healthy alternative: If you can, drink mineral water – that’s the best thing for your body. However, there are other healthy drinks you can make. Herbal unsweetened tea such as green, black, oolong, white, rosehip and others are full of antioxidants and health benefits. Try making a full pitcher, cooled in the fridge and ready to drink whenever you need it. Or make fresh lemon/cucumber/orange water, it’s so refreshing!  (Just put slices of lemon, orange or cucumber in a pitcher of chilled water)  If you must have some sweet drink, take 100% juice such as grape, pomegranate or cranberry  and use just a splash to dilute a full glass of water.

4. Trans fatty acids and hydrogenated oils

Trans fats boost levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.  These are found in shortenings, margarine, and hydrogenated oils.  Avoid cooking with these types of fats and also check the food labels for hidden trans fats in snacks and packaged foods.

Healthy alternative: When cooking, use plant oils such as canola, olive or coconut – they are the best.  If you must use butter, use it sparingly. When making salad dressings, go for olive oil or toasted nut and seed oils.

5. Candy and chips

I avoid candy and chips when shopping for groceries, as they are so high in calories, salt, sugar, trans fats and refined carbohydrates.  As I mentioned earlier about pre-packaged foods, candy and chips are processed foods that contain a lot of chemicals.

Healthy alternative: When I crave sweets or a snack, I got for fruit first. If that doesn’t do the trick, I keep some organic dark chocolate in my fridge when sweet craving strikes.  Make sure it’s at least 75% cocoa and doesn’t have all the extras like nuts, caramel, nougat and raisins.  Having a few squares of pure dark chocolate will help manage your craving and give you an antioxidant boost.

6. White bread, pasta and rice

White bread/pasta/rice are ok to consume occasionally, and don’t pose any threat to your health, but I don’t keep these items in my kitchen, as they provide little nutritional value.  When the grain is processed and made into bread or pasta, it’s stripped away of all its healthful attributes – bran and germ, which is fiber, minerals and vitamins – and all that is left is an empty husk. The same applies to white rice. Eating too much white rice can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Healthy alternative: What I do keep are whole-grain/whole-wheat bread, brown/wild/red rice, whole-wheat pasta, and other grains such as oats, buckwheat, millet, barley, and quinoa.  These grains are very healthy and contain a lot of fiber and phytonutrients that the body needs to function at its best.

Originally published in Bitter/Sweet Magazine issue 21 volume 5 March 2013. (Click to read online magazine)

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