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.