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Purge Your Pantry to Pursue Health and Wellness

Don't let food marketers trick you. Purge your pantry of unhealthy foods that contain ingredients that can hamper your pursuit of better health and wellness.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

What evils lie in wait in the darkness of your pantry? What unhealthy ingredients, mixes, or foods sit on your shelves waiting patiently for some innocent person to visit? Which items in your pantry offer empty calories while linked to serious health conditions and diseases?

If you're determined to start eating healthier, one of your first acts must be to purge your pantry of the many dangerously unhealthy items lurking quietly on your shelves. Which foods are the worst? Sadly, there many, many basic ingredients and widely purchased foods that offer little or no nutritional value while exposing users to numerous health hazards that can contribute to long-term illnesses and diseases.

Here's our list of products to purge from your pantry in your pursuit of better health and wellness:

Sugar. Processed refined sugar -- whether the white granular or powered or brown sugars -- offers no health benefits and many negative side effects. The average person consumes a cup of sugar daily. In fact, some experts report that many of us are addicted to sugar. Start with getting rid of all your refined sugar, but you'll also need to read the ingredient labels of everything in your pantry to eliminate the vast amount of foods that are secretly (over) sweetened with sugar -- see sugary snacks, below. Sugar consumption has been connected with an increase in diabetes, obesity, heart disease, inflammation, depression, and tooth decay. Consider instead either an artificial sweetener such as sucralose (Splenda) or a natural sweetener such as stevia (herb) or agave nectar (plant). (Read more in this article.)

White Flour and Cornstarch. A staple of baking for decades, sadly white flour breaks down into sugar (glucose) and can lead to the same problems caused by consuming processed refined sugars. In addition, the white part comes from a bleaching process in which the flour is stripped of nutrients and fiber. You'll want to not only eliminate the bag of flour, but the many snacks and foods made with white flour, such as pasta, tortillas, bagels, and pretzels. Once eliminated from your pantry, replace these white flour products with products made with whole grain flour -- which contain more nutrients and fiber -- but even then, limit the amount of flour you consume as you should monitor your simple carbohydrate intake.

White Rice. Like white flour, white rice has been stripped of all nutritional benefits, leaving empty calories that raise havoc with your blood sugar levels. Replace the white rice with the real rice -- unaltered brown rice, which is a good source of fiber and contains nutrients like riboflavin, folate, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Even better, replace the rice with an extra portion of vegetables or fruits -- which provide more fiber and nutrients and fewer carbohydrates.

Corn and Blended Vegetable Oil and Shortenings. Get rid of the corn oil and any other polysaturated oils you may have used for cooking or baking. These oils (which are only slightly better than using butter when cooking or baking) have been linked to the creation of free radicals and weakening immune functions. Depending on your needs, switch to better oils such as olive oil (cold-pressed), which is a monounsaturated oil rich in antioxidants that offers many health benefits, including increasing good (HDL) cholesterol levels and decreasing bad (LDL) levels while also reducing inflammation. Canola, peanut, safflower (high-oleic version), and sunflower (high-oleic version) oils are also better choices.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Products. A cheap sweetener and preservative made from cornstarch -- produced by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose -- that has been linked to obesity, diabetes, depression, and hypertension. Fructose can be found in many (and some unexpected) products, including sodas and fruit drinks, sports drinks, fruit-flavored snacks, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, and breads. Replace these items with unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and fruit juices, and natural dressings and sauces. Most importantly, learn to read the ingredients lists on food labels and discard the products that contain HFCS.

Sugary Snacks and Cereals. If you've read this far, you know that all the cookies, toaster pastries, sugar smacks and snacks in your pantry have to go. These products are typically made with processed sugars and flours and have little nutritional value besides the vitamins they "fortify" the products with as a selling point to parents. These products are still empty calories that can lead to serious negative health issues -- diabetes, obesity, heart disease, inflammation, and tooth decay. Remember that sugar has many names as an ingredient (and is often listed more than once), including dextrose, dextran, sucrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltodextrin, and maltose.

Processed High-Fat Foods, Mixes, and Prepackaged Meals. Whether the foods have saturated fats or trans fats or use hydrogenated oils, it's best to never eat them. Discard the cookies, crackers, chips, microwave popcorn, gravy mixes, lunchables, and all the rest. Besides having other bad ingredients, the worst ingredient in these products are the trans fats -- chemically altered saturated fat that shows up on the food labels as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil. Hydrogenated fats are created when an oil has hydrogen added to it -- a process designed to extend the shelf life of the products that contain it. These fats raise levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol while lowering levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, which can lead to heart and other health problems, and have been associated with some cancers.

Flavor-Enhanced Foods. Food marketers are some of the most creative folks working today, convincing people to buy products that are enhanced with chemical additives rather than natural flavorings. There's nothing inherently wrong with chemical flavorings for flavor enhancement, but why consume chemicals that taste like blueberry when you can go out and buy real blueberries? One company produces a guacamole dip that contains hydrogenated soybean oil and artificial green coloring -- and no actual avocado. Using real fruits and vegetables as ingredients offer much more than actual flavor, including various vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients -- and, of course, no potentially harmful chemicals.

Final Thoughts on Purging Your Pantry of Unhealthy Stuff

When purging your pantry of all the bad stuff, get rid of as much of it as you can afford to do. Obviously, one choice is to consume what you currently have and then replace it with the healthier options the next time you shop. And if you can afford to get rid of as much of the bad stuff as you can, instead of throwing it all away, consider giving unopened products to a local food bank or homeless shelter.

Finally, don't let the food marketers trick you. Something that is labeled "healthy" or "natural" may be anything but... just as an item labeled with "no preservatives" or "no artificial ingredients" does not mean there are no harmful ingredients in the product. Your strategy should be to go directly to the ingredients list and carefully review exactly what you're considering buying. By law, ingredients must be listed in order of predominance and weight, from highest quantity to smallest (though some manufacturers even cheat the law here by using, for example, three different types of sugars, so it appears at first glance that there is not much sugar used in the product).

By becoming more accustomed to reading the ingredients list before you buy and choosing products that limit or exclude the bad ingredients discussed in this article, you can gain confidence that the products you are buying are a healthy alternative for you and your family. Reviewing all the labels will be time-consuming at first, but once you've purged the bad stuff from your pantry, you'll be on your way to knowing exactly what to watch out for in the grocery aisles.

Here are just two samples of the ingredients list of commonly purchased items -- a salad dressing and a package of prepared chocolate-chip cookies. Check out the artificial flavorings, chemical preservatives and sugars used in both of these products.
Ingredients of one brand of ranch salad dressing -- which uses sugar and chemical additives: vegetable oil, water, vinegar, egg yolks, sugar, salt, algin derivative (stabilizer), spices, parsley flakes, onion, garlic, celery seed, capers, benzoate of soda (preservative), calcium disodium EDTA (preservative).

Ingredients of one brand of chocolate-chip cookies -- which uses four types of sugar (plus molasses), hydrogenated oil, and chemical additives: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid); semi-sweet chocolate chunks: sugar, chocolate, dextrose, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin (emulsifier), salt, vanilla; sugar; soybean oil; semi-sweet chocolate chips: sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, dextrose, soy lecithin (emulsifier); partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil; fructose; leavening: baking soda, ammonium phosphate; salt; molasses; high fructose corn syrup; whey (from milk); soy lecithin (emulsifier); artificial flavor, caramel color.

Tools to Help in the Grocery Aisles

Here are two great Websites that can assist you in better undertstanding food labels and ingredient lists -- in your effort to purge your pantry:
  • LabelWatch.com
  • HonestFoodGuide.org
  • See also our article, Live Longer. Eat Healthier Daily. Best Foods for You, A-Z.

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    Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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