How To Give Your Fridge a Healthy Makeover

What do you do when you are hungry? If you are at home, chances are that you open the refrigerator door and peer inside for something good to eat. Now that you are ready to reform your eating habits, however, you may be sabotaging your efforts by keeping that fridge stocked with some unhealthy basics.

By making some informed choices, you can replace many common refrigerator staples with more nutritious substitutes. It’s easier than you might think, and the rewards are that you will be fueling your body with healthier, more natural foods without sacrificing taste or convenience. Here is my top 10 list of healthy refrigerator substitutes:

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1.  Eggs

Most commercial egg producers keep their chickens in battery cages. Not only are these cages inhumane and unsanitary, but the eggs from these hens are filled with growth hormones and antibiotics. Eggs that are labelled “cage-free” are one step better, but these chickens are often still kept inside buildings and given antibiotics.

Instead look for pasture-raised organic eggs. A USDA certified organic label means the hens have had access to the outside and have not been given hormones or antibiotics. These eggs have darker yolks and are richer in nutrients than the eggs of caged hens. According to a Pennsylvania State University study, organic eggs contain 40 percent more Vitamin A, double the amount of Vitamin E and are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than factory-farmed eggs.  Plus, the taste is better too.

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2. Butter

Saturated fats, such as those found in butter, work to raise the body’s LDL (bad cholesterol) and can contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease and increased inflammation in the body. When you replace butter with coconut oil, you not only lose the negatives of butter but you gain many health benefits.

Containing lauric, caprylic and capric acids, coconut oil has antioxidant, disinfectant and antibacterial properties that help maintain your liver, kidneys, skin and hair. It can be substituted for butter in most recipes with no change in quantity and little to no change in taste.

In many cases, you can also replace butter with organic, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil — which is free of cholesterol, trans fat, salt, sugar and gluten — or with grape seed oil — which is rich in Vitamin E, flavonoids, Vitamin C, antioxidants and beta carotene. Both oils are tasty, easy to use alternatives to butter.

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3. Juice

Many brands of fruit juice, even those labelled 100 percent fruit juice, are so processed that they are little more than chemical cocktails. Fiber and Vitamin C are lost through extensive processing and storage, and to make up for lost taste, manufacturers add in “flavoring” and coloring.

Replace this juice with fresh, cold pressed juice that you either purchase or make yourself. You will gain better taste as well as all the nutrients that fresh juice can provide, including pulp, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

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4. Soda

Did you know that the average American drinks 56 gallons of soda a year? When you consider that a single can of soda contains an average 10 teaspoons of sugar, you can quickly see that soda can provide a sugar (or fructose) overload. Sodas can also contain phosphoric acid, which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, and food colorings such as 4-MI which may be a carcinogen and has been shown to sicken animals in tests. Diet sodas contain aspartame, which has been linked with numerous health problems, including seizures, brain tumors, diabetes and emotional disorders.

Replace the soda in your fridge with coconut water, kombucha tea or homemade iced green tea. Derived from the clear liquid inside young, green coconuts, coconut water is rich in magnesium and potassium and contains antioxidants and cytokinins, which promote healthy cells. Kombucha tea is made by fermenting sweetened black tea with a culture of yeasts and bacteria. It is rich in many of the enzymes and bacterial acids your body needs to cleanse itself of impurities. Green tea is  in catechins, antioxidants that work to repair cells and to prevent cell damage.

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5. Cheese

Most of the cheese sold in supermarkets has been pasteurized, meaning it has been made from milk that has been heated to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 30 minutes, before the temperature is lowered to no less than 55 degrees. The problem is that even though this process is designed to make cheese “safer,” it also makes it almost devoid of taste and nutrition. In addition, the Weston A. Price Foundation has linked pasteurized milk to allergies, tooth decay, arthritis, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Replace your pasteurized cheese with raw organic goat or cheddar cheese. Raw milk cheeses, which have been part of a traditional diet in much of Europe for centuries, have more nutrition, flavor and complexity than pasteurized cheeses. Raw cheese – and raw milk itself – is rich in vitamin A, omega 3 fats, healthy cholesterol and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

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6. Mayonnaise

Most commercial mayonnaise is made with soybean oil, corn oil or vegetable oil blends that are high in unhealthy omega-6 fats. One tablespoon of commercial mayo may contain 10 grams of fat and provide no protein, fiber, Vitamin A, vitamin C, iron or calcium. Plus it provides 94 calories. Since many Americans use much more than one tablespoon of mayo at a time, this is a fridge staple that needs to be replaced.

Here are a few ways to add taste and nutrition to your sandwich without mayo: coconut milk yogurt, hummus, olive oil, almond butter or mashed avocado.

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7. Syrup

If you serve your family pancakes and waffles with a commercial brand of maple syrup, you will be interested to know that most of the leading brands contain 4-MeI, a chemical used as a food coloring that has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice. Pancake syrup also is high in sodium, containing 230 milligrams per two-ounce serving.  What’s a better choice? Pure honey contains no artificial ingredients and adds sweetness and moisture along with the added benefits of potassium, calcium and phosphorus.

Another idea is to use fresh, raw berries, such as blueberries, strawberries or raspberries or to use stewed fruit, such as peaches, pears, apples and cherries. To make a nutritious and healthy fruit syrup, add chopped fresh fruit to a cup of fresh water. Boil the mixture on the stove until the water is reduced by about half and the mixture has thickened. Unsweetened fruit syrup contains 60 to 80 calories per cup.

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8. Ice Cream

Most of us think of eating ice cream as a calorie splurge, but it is more than that. Ice cream is high in saturated fat, which, when eaten in excess, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Most commercial ice cream manufacturers use toxic substances such as mono- and diglycerides and Polysorbate 80, as emulsifiers, which have been found to negatively affect the immune system.  In addition, many ice creams contain potassium sorbate, which has been shown to have links to certain types of cancer, as a preservative.

For a delicious and satisfying alternative, replace your ice cream with non-dairy organic substitutes that feature coconut milk, coconut cream and organic agave sweetener.

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9. Fruits and Vegetables

Microwaveable vegetables are quick and easy to prepare, but did you know that the microwave process changes food’s chemical structure? According to a study published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, broccoli that was cooked in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97 percent of its beneficial antioxidants. By contrast, broccoli that was steamed lost 11 percent or fewer of its antioxidants. 

For best taste and nutrition, eat fruits and veggies in their most natural state. Here are a few tips for storing them in your fridge:

  • Keep fruits and vegetables separate, in different drawers, because some fruits, such as apples and pears, produce ethylene, a substance that hastens ripening of other produce, causing them to spoil more quickly.
  • Potatoes, onions, squash and garlic aren’t meant for the refrigerator. Instead, they should be stored in cool, dark places, such as kitchen cabinets or pantries. Do not store potatoes and onions together because they each give off gases that can cause the rapid decay of the other.
  • Do not wash fruits and vegetables until you’re ready to eat them because the moisture will increase the chance of mold.
  • Although some fruits and vegetables can last for long periods when properly stored, try to eat them as soon as possible for optimal nutrition and flavor.

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10. Processed Meats

Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni and salami, contain sodium nitrite to keep them looking fresh and of a uniform color. Sodium nitrates have been linked with heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. Meat cooked at high temperatures, as many processed meats usually are, also may contain as many as 20 different kinds of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which also show a connection to certain cancers.

Here’s what you can do to lower your risk. Replace processed meats with organic meats that are grass-fed or free-range. Look for “uncured” varieties that contain none of the following: nitrates, MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavor or artificial color

If you do choose to eat sausage or other processed meat occasionally, purchase them from a small, local farmer who can tell you about the ingredients.

By keeping your refrigerator stocked with healthy, nutritious foods, you will be able to make wise choices the next time you go open the fridge door in search of a satisfying snack or meal. What’s more is that when your body gets used to the great taste of food in its natural state, you will never want to go back to your former diet staples.