Resisting the temptation to eat everything in your fridge might be the hardest part about starting a new diet. You can’t eat what isn’t there, though. Tricking yourself into eating healthier may not be as hard as you think. Once you know which foods to keep and which you should banish from your kitchen, healthy eating becomes easier.
How do you know what are the worst foods lurking in your fridge? Here are just a few examples.
1. Fat-free or flavored yogurt
Low or non-fat yogurts — especially flavored ones — definitely don’t belong in your fridge. Reduced-fat or fat-free foods have to replace fat with something else. According to Health.com, it’s usually some form of added sugar or artificial sweetener. Yogurt is also often flavored with artificial sweeteners, which might actually cause weight gain if you consume them in excess. A meta-analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests regularly using artificial sweeteners could lead to increased BMI and metabolic problems.
Though it might seem backward to suggest full-fat or Greek yogurt over low or non-fat, the quality of your yogurt may depend on what you put in it. Instead of buying flavored yogurt, start with plain Greek yogurt. Some fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, and a teaspoon of honey can go a long way. You can also choose a yogurt alternative that doesn’t have nearly as much added sugar.
2. White bread
Do you keep white bread within reach in case you get hungry for a sandwich? White bread has a smoother, lighter feel and texture than other breads, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. White bread, like white rice or pasta made with white flour, is a refined grain. Refined grains are missing their most nutritious elements. ChooseMyPlate.gov says these grains are processed this way to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. But there’s really no reason you should settle for white bread when whole grain bread is cheap, and much more valuable to your overall health.
According to Livestrong.com, bread made with whole grains contains all the vitamins and minerals in the original grain it’s made from — but that’s not all. Whole grain bread is also lower in calories and carbohydrates and higher in fiber. Cutting refined grains from your diet could also help you lose or maintain weight — probably because whole grains are more filling than processed ones.
3. Deli meat
What you put between two (whole grain) slices of bread also matters. Deli meats like salami and bologna are popular sandwich fillers, but not for their health benefits. Livestrong.com says some of these processed meats are high in sodium and saturated fat, which can be harmful in large amounts. If you only use deli meat every once in awhile, you’ll probably be fine. If you eat it every day, you’re putting yourself at a much higher risk of heart disease.
Whether you buy deli meat for the convenience or the taste, it might be time to switch to something a lot less salty. You can either choose leaner versions, like thinly sliced turkey breast meat, or go for something else, like frozen chicken or turkey breasts. Regardless of the meat you choose, make sure to add on plenty of veggies to increase your protein and fiber intake as well.
4. American cheese
Individually wrapped cheese slices seem like a dream come true for cheese lovers everywhere. But have you ever actually stopped unwrapping a cheese slice to wonder what you’re actually holding? According to Mental Floss, American cheese doesn’t have a fancy name like gouda or ricotta because it’s not actually real cheese. If you look closely at packaging labels, you’ll notice that some brands, like Kraft Singles, don’t actually have cheese in them at all. American cheese didn’t start out this way, but it’s become one of many processed foods you really could do much better without.
Fresh cheese is always your best option when hunting for a sandwich filler. It doesn’t melt as readily as American cheese, and it can be more expensive. But some types, like cheddar, add much more flavor to anything you put it on. If you’re looking for a flavorful cheese with less saturated fat than cheddar, parmesan, and provolone are among the healthiest, says Fitness Magazine.
5. Orange juice
Is juice a smart way to consume a serving of fruit first thing in the morning? Not at all — though that’s what food companies want you to think. Tropicana, for example, advertises that their orange juice has no added sugar, water, artificial flavors, or preservatives. That all sounds great — it’s much better than soda, at least. However, just one cup of their original orange juice has 22 grams of sugar. So while you’re not drinking any fat or sodium, you’re also not getting any fiber like you’d get from a fresh orange. You’re basically just drinking vitamin-rich sugar water, no matter how “natural.”
So if orange juice is out, what are you supposed to drink with breakfast? If milk isn’t an option either, consider creating a healthy protein shake. Unlike juice, shakes or smoothies include all the edible parts of the fruit — which contain some of the most beneficial nutrients. There are plenty of ways to sweeten and thicken a shake without too much sugar or milk, and it will provide the protein and fiber you need to stay full and feel energized.
6. Salad dressing
If the shelves inside the door of your fridge are where your condiments live, take a careful look at every sneaky bottle’s ingredients. Condiments like salad dressing — especially the creamy ones — are often made with more sugar, fat, and sodium than your beautiful salad deserves. While they add plenty of flavor, they also add calories. If you’re trying to slim down, smothering your lettuce in spicy mayonnaise isn’t going to help much.
Vinegar-based dressings are better, but if you truly want to create the healthiest salad possible, think beyond the bottle. Adding avocado, tomatoes, nuts, berries, apples, and even a sprinkle of cheese can enhance the flavor of your bowl without needing any dressing at all. You can also mix vinegar, olive oil, herbs, and a little lemon juice together to create a dressing that won’t totally ruin your diet.
Pickles start out as vegetables, but their transformation is something more than sour. According to Healthline, a single pickle can contain over 1,000 milligrams of sodium — the recommended daily average for an entire day is 2,300. Cucumbers soak in a salt solution before turning into pickles. Just like potato chips or pretzels, salty snacks put your heart at risk for long-term damage. If you’re serious about eating healthy, keeping your sodium intake to a minimum is extremely important for establishing a healthier future.
Replace pickles with cucumbers to get the same satisfying crunch — if that’s why you love them so much. Vegetables like spinach and onions add both crunch and flavor to any sandwich. Fruits like tomatoes and avocados are also healthy and flavorful sandwich add-ons.