Conscious eating is all the rage, with numerous movements—local first, all organic, green living, etc.—celebrating the virtues of consuming foods that are good for the body and the Earth. This is great news for American families who have an interest in following a more balanced and healthy diet, as the market for nutritious and more natural food products has grown at a staggering rate.
8. White bread
But with this relatively new national obsession with healthy eating, we're constantly bombarded with messages about what we should and should not eat. Many of these messages seem to conflict, or at the very least, urge us to make sweeping prohibitions of entire food groups and/or seemingly unavoidable ingredients (sodium, preservatives, sugar, wheat, carbs, food additives, etc.).
If you're concerned about the foods that you feed your family—and who isn't?—it's worth your while to educate yourself about which foods to avoid and which deserve a place in your kitchen. Instead of setting yourself and your family up for disaster by setting difficult goals - "We won't eat ANY sugar!" - focus on eliminating some of the most blatant offenders and go from there. Small changes can have a huge impact on your wellness. Listed below are the 10 foods to banish from your pantry:
1. The Salt Shaker
OK, you don't have to get rid of your salt shaker altogether. After all, salt does play an essential role in nutrition. However, most Americans consume far more than the recommended daily amount of sodium, which is 2,300 grams for a healthy adult (less than 1 teaspoon of salt). Processed foods are loaded with sodium, and a simple pinch here and there can push anyone over the daily limit. At the very least, get the salt shaker off the dinner table and flavor with dried herbs, pepper and spices.
2. Store-bought cookies
It's far too easy to sit down with a package of store-bought chocolate-chip cookies and mindlessly eat half of the box. Many store-bought cookies are high in trans fat and loaded with sugar, preservatives and empty calories. Serve your family homemade cookies and you'll be able to control the ingredients and cut down on the processed foods your kids eat. Besides, home-baked oatmeal, banana and cranberry cookies are sweet and high in fiber, so they're more satisfying than a store-bought treat.
3. Sweetened cereals
There is much debate about the nutritional merits of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener added to many beverages and other processed foods, including sweetened cereals. This vilified sweetener has taken a lot of heat in recent years for its potential link to obesity. While the jury is out on what role HFCS plays in the national rate of obesity, it's wise to limit your intake of this sweetener—which is commonly found in high-calorie foods—whenever possible. Scan the ingredient list of your favorite cereals for HFCS and you may be surprised where it lurks. It's not just the marshmallow sugar puffs that hide HFCS, but many supposedly "healthy" grown-up varieties as well.
4. Artificial "juices"
While we're on the topic of HFCS, most manufactured, shelf-stable juices are loaded with corn syrup, which is about as close as they come to containing anything once resembling a fruit or vegetable. You've heard it a hundred times, but it bears repeating; skip the sugary juices and give your kids naturally flavored water or milk, instead.
5. Canned soups with high sodium
Many dieters turn to canned soup as a low-calorie, low-fat lunch alternative. But be warned - most canned soups are simply loaded with sodium, which can be detrimental to your heart health. Choose low-sodium versions of your favorites and add herbs to boost the flavor.
6. Regular granola
Granola is another of those sneaky "health" foods that is actually teeming with fat, sugar and calories. Trade the regular granola for good old-fashioned oatmeal, mix in some dried fruit and a handful of low-fat granola and you'll have a low-sugar, high-fiber start to the day.
7. White flour
White flour—also known as bleached flour, enriched flour or wheat flour—is flour that has been chemically treated and stripped of its most important nutrients. Processed foods, like pastas, cereals, bread and baked goods, are typically made with white flour, which can have a negative effect on your blood sugar level and contribute to weight gain.Replace the bag of white flour in your pantry with a bag of whole wheat flour, available at most grocery and health food stores. You may soon find that you prefer the hearty taste in your own homemade baked goods. If you're not sold on 100% whole wheat flour, you can ease into the switch by buying mixes that are 50/50 of white and whole wheat flours, or white whole wheat flour.
8. White bread
Start your children on whole wheat bread when they're young, and they'll thank you when they're enjoying the health benefits years down the road. A study from the University of Washington, published in a 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that making the switch from white bread to whole wheat bread can lower the risk of heart disease by 20%.
9. Grocery store bakery muffins
Today's muffins are monstrosities compared to the smaller versions of the bygone days. The average bakery muffin packs anywhere from 340 to 630 calories each and unhealthy levels of saturated fat, including the particularly dangerous trans fat. Like most baked good, you're better off using whole wheat flour, applesauce and natural fruits and nuts to make portion-controlled muffins in your own kitchen.
Regular soda is nothing but carbonated, highly acidic sugar water, and most diet sodas are flavored with artificial sweeteners of dubious health consequences. Both have been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes (yes, even diet soda has been found to contribute to weight gain). Break the cola addiction by slowly decreasing your daily intake and switch to naturally flavored waters or carbonated water mixed with a splash of 100% real fruit juice.
By banishing these 10 foods from your pantry, you and your family are taking an important first step to living and eating more healthfully and consciously.