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Creating a Healthy Kitchen

Creating a Healthy Kitchen


A student invited me to look in her refrigerator and cabinets to see if I could make some suggestions about how she could change her eating habits. I took a look around her kitchen and it was full of food, but there was really nothing to eat. Well, there were things you could eat; however, there were very few items I would have recommended that she should eat. Most of the foods were highly processed and many of them were high in sugar, fat and preservatives. Most of the grains were refined and she could have done a lot better in the cooking and salad oils department. There wasn't a bottle of olive oil in sight.

Over time I surveyed other kitchens, students' and others, and I discovered many of their pantries are stocked with foods that are sadly lacking in nutritional value. Sometimes they try to justify these items saying that they just bought them that one time, or that they were for someone else in the household. But these excuses don't negate the damage the unhealthy foods can do. If you know it's not nutritious, simply don't put it in your grocery cart.

Having healthy foods on hand in your kitchen is half the battle. It's kind of like building a house. If you want a sturdy, well built home that won't require constant repairs a few years down the line, you need to use good materials. Likewise with food and your health. Good food habits formed while young pay off in good health throughout your life.

If you want to build healthful meals, you need the right ingredients. As part of your commitment to healthy eating, I urge you to survey your own kitchen and consider tossing out some products that will impede your progress toward health.

Start with oils. You do not need to use anything other than olive oil. Olive oil is the best for your health and it comes in a range of flavor intensities. I personally use extra virgin olive oil. If you need another oil for baking, choose canola. Get rid of polyunsaturates (safflower, peanut and corn oils) as well as saturated fats, chicken fat and trans fats (margarine, hydrogenated oils).

Next, attack refined sugar in your cupboard, beginning with soda. Soda is a mix of sugar, water and artificial flavor and contributes significantly to obesity in this country, in particular, the obesity of children. Juice is another high sugar drink! While it is true that sugar in juice is natural fructose, and most juices come with some vitamins and minerals, still, all that sugar adds up to a substantial number of calories and not all juices are created equal. Apple juice doesn't have nearly as much to offer as citrus juices and some juices such as cranberry are often sweetened with sugar and corn syrup. When buying juices you really need to read the labels closely. So much better to eat apples and oranges in their whole, fiber rich state, and for drinking...

Water is always a great choice, but on those occasions when you want something with more kick to it, you might try one of the many fruit flavored non-carbonated waters.

Back to the kitchen. Once the soda is gone, dump all refined sugar sweets (cookies, pastries, etc.) too, including things you don't think of as sweets but that really are, such as high sugar cereals and jams. Replace them with similar foods that are sugar free or fruit sweetened. I also suggest that you get rid of white bread and other baked goods made with refined white flour and replace them with whole grain versions. This might mean, for instance, switching from white wheat crackers to whole grain crackers or swapping white rice for brown rice.

If, like most Americans, you have been eating refined grain products such as white rice and conventional pasta for years, switching to whole grains might be difficult at first. You might start with whole wheat bread. It's fairly easy to get used to, and is delicious especially toasted. Then gradually add some other whole grain goods to your diet. The added health benefits these foods provide will be worth the initial struggle you have with them, and I feel certain that eventually you will begin to enjoy them.

Fatty processed meats such as salami and bologna as well as full fat dairy products will not benefit your body. Low fat and skim milk, nonfat yogurt and low fat cottage cheese and hard cheeses are good examples of reduced fat foods that can be quite healthy for some people.

Always check ingredients. That is where you will really find the low-down on what you are getting. The first ingredient on the list is contained in the largest amount, and the list descends from there. If sugar (or corn syrup) is the first ingredient, it is not a product you want. If sugar is way down on the list and healthier ingredients such as whole grain flour are first, it's a better choice.

Like any major lifestyle change, restocking your kitchen should be a gradual process. Throw out the unhealthy foods in your kitchen and replace them with healthier choices slowly.

When you are ready to make changes, try the nutritious replacements. Over time you will find that healthy foods are fresher and more intensely flavored then their unhealthy counterparts.

Reprinted with permission from N’shei Chabad Newsletter, a magazine for Jewish women around the world that is published five times a year.
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Discussion (7)
September 8, 2013
Not all fat is bad fat
I question the wisdom of low fat milks and cheeses. Not all fats are bad for you, and I've always learned that while full cream milk has a higher 'fat' content, it is actually more nutritious than skim milk.
Not all fats are evil, and some fats are actually good for you. To cut out all fat is to cut out a lot of nutrition and isn't always the best way to go. I think the key is to eat whole foods rather than processed. The less processed your food, the better.
October 16, 2011
Will definitely give stevia a try. I had been wondering about it, but hadn't tried it yet. Thanks for the info!
Ann Throckmorton
Atlanta, GA
October 16, 2011
raw sugar 2
With what I said about agave and stevia said, I will say one other thing about raw (turbinado) sugar.
I find that I need less of it to satisfy the sweet taste and it doesn't pack the same punch (i.e. I don't get anxious from turbinado like I do from white sugar - mothers hear this!!)

so, as sugar sugar goes, raw would be better, but maybe it's better to say less worse?
Jerusalem, ISRAEL
October 16, 2011
raw sugar
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, sugar is pretty much sugar, whatever way you call it. So raw sugar and honey and even molasses are ... sugar. The latest thinking is that when you want to go no-sugar, even stevia (an herb with amazing sweetening power even if it is a bit bitter to some in large quantities) and agave will trigger sugar cravings.
But for those who don't have issues with sugar balance or overweight, who merely want to prevent problems or eat healthier sweets, agave nectar and stevia are the sweeteners of choice. Stevia is no calorie, and can be used in drinks (I used to drink tea all day long with stevia in it - in the end, I have been tapering off as I see my body craving sugar - see for info on stevia contributing to sweet tooth). Agave is a low glycemic index alternative to sugar and can be used in baking and eating. It even has a very interesting property of thickining - when I make sauces, they come out MUCH nicer, more emulsified, when I use agave.
Jerusalem, ISRAEL
October 12, 2011
Is Raw Sugar Okay?
I started using raw sugar for about a year now for anything calling for sugar in my (especially baking) recipes and also in my coffee and tea. I make a pot of tea every night before bed so that in the morning it is cool enough to take in my lunch to work. Beats sodas for thirst quenching and cost.(Of course, I've got the bottled water also.) If a recipe calls for brown sugar, I use the O-U raw sugar and add a tablespoon or two of unsulphured O-U Molasses; enough to make the sugar the dark brown color of store-bought. Now I use much more Honey and 100% Maple Syrup (like in my homemade granola), and I use Organic O-U Agave Nectar for Margaritas instead of sugar. Among my co-workers, I am seeing more and more people moving away from anything with High Fructose Syrup, just as you recommend.
Ann Throckmorton
Atlanta, GA
November 15, 2009
cause of obesity and finding healthy alternatives
In response to the first comment, exercise is certainly a factor, but more than anything, what seems to be the root of obesity is high-fructose corn syrup, which is MUCH more prevalent today than it was when most of us were growing up (okay, I'm 55 and it certainly wasn't prevalent 45 years ago...)

and to debunk anyone's low-fat theory of losing weight, it ain't so. you must, as the article says, use the right fats. I'd add that avocado, nuts, and olives are all fine sources of good fat. much better than the floury souces...

re the article's advice to use whole grains and find healthy alternatives to highly processed, white-flour, it is very hard to find crackers without trans-fats. read the labels and don't buy it if it has anything but olive or canola oil, pure and simple.
Yerushalayim, Israel
December 23, 2008
fat vs. sugar
I believe it's the amount of exercise kids get that causes childhood obesity today, not what they eat. I grew up on everything -- butter, sugar, even chicken fat in reasonable quantities but we played outside all day and didn't have nintendos and computers and I'm not overweight. The best way to control your weight is not to get fat in the first place. Low fat, low sugar foods are not a way to control your weight because sooner or later people will go back to eating their old ways, portion control and exercise is what works.
Simi Valley, CA