What's Haunting Your Kitchen?

7 foods to toss when you're trying to eat more healthfully.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

So you've decided it's time to start eating healthfully. You've stocked up on fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

But what about those less-than-healthy items that may still be lurking in your fridge and pantry. Are there certain foods to which you should give the old heave-ho?

Yes, say experts, who especially recommend tossing processed foods that contain excessive amounts of any of these four ingredients: high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, bleached white flour, and salt.

Below are their recommendations for the top seven foods to lose for the sake of your health. Are any of them haunting your kitchen?

1. Foods High in Trans Fats

"Foods filled with trans-fats are a health problem," Nancy Clark, MS, RD, author of Nancy Clark's Sport Nutrition Guidebook, says in an email interview.

Clark recommends hiding the chips, cookies, and commercially baked goods, and replacing them with a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter and a plate of pre-cut veggies ready in the refrigerator.

"If you use a spread, buy one which is heart-healthy," adds Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "The partial hydrogenation process creates unhealthy fatty acids [trans fats] which promote inflammation and heart disease."

The good news is that the food industry has been working to reduce the level of trans fats in products. Over the past two years, many companies have reformulated products to dramatically reduce or eliminate trans fats.

2. Instant or "Fake" Foods

Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a nutrition researcher with the University of Minnesota, believes one big nutritional no-no is having no "real" food in the kitchen.

"I would get rid of instant food and convince people that food preparation -- including washing, shucking, baking, etc. -- is what makes food special and eating occasions memorable," Slavin says in an email interview.

3. Foods High in High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Toss everything that lists high-fructose corn syrup (or other sugars) as the first ingredient, urges Gerbstadt.

"Sugar is not the evil when YOU control the amount in your food," says Gerbstadt. "The trouble is that most prepared food contains much more than you would add yourself."

Inger Stallmann, MS, RD, a research dietitian with the Georgia Prevention Institute, says she would toss all regular sodas and sweetened beverages, especially those containing high-fructose corn syrup.

4. Most Processed Salty Snacks

Stallmann says she would also clear highly processed, salty snack foods out of the pantry, especially those that contain trans fats. This could include chips, cheese puffs, higher-fat crackers, and higher-fat microwave popping corn.

If you are going to have chips in your pantry -- even the more healthful types -- have only 1 bag of chips, not several. If you have triple the chip options, you might end up eating chips three times more often.

5. Most Commercially Prepared Desserts

"Just about any type of sweet dessert will contain high-fructose corn syrup" if it was made commercially, warns Stallmann.

Beware of products listing high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated fats when shopping in the snack cake and pie section and the frozen dessert section of your supermarket.

6. Shortening, and Foods Made with It

Shortening is traditionally made with partially hydrogenated oil, which means it contributes saturated and trans fats. One tablespoon contains around 3 grams of saturated fat and 1.5 grams of trans fat.

When using a recipe that calls for shortening, you can usually substitute a more healthful margarine -- one with mostly monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat instead of saturated fat and trans fat.

If you still want to use shortening, try the new Zero Trans Fat Shortening by Crisco (one tablespoon contains 3 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fats).

7. High-Sugar, Low-Fiber Cereals

Get rid of breakfast cereals made mostly of refined grains and sugar that contribute less than 1 gram of fiber per serving. You know the ones -- cereal in the shape and flavor of mini-chocolate chip cookies, mini-cinnamon buns, or any brightly colored and fruit-flavored cereals.

So What Can You Eat?

Now that you've cleared some space in your kitchen, what foods should you be sure to have on hand?

Chantal Gariepy, RD, a dietitian with Sansum Medical Clinic, says her top picks are whole grains and whole-grain products like 100% whole-wheat bread and crackers, as well as plant sources of essential fats like olive oil, canola oil, and nuts.