Trying to eat healthier? Take a closer look inside your refrigerator. Some foods — no matter how much you may enjoy them — offer no nutritional value:
Whether it's diet or regular, soda has absolutely no nutritional value, said Donna Simon, MSRD, a registered dietitian with HonorHealth Medical Group. The carbonation can cause you to bloat, the sugar and acid can damage your teeth, and regular soda can cause you to pack on the pounds. If the soda contains caffeine, it won't even hydrate you. A better bet is flavored sparkling water, herbal tea or good old-fashioned H2O.
2. Foods with trans fats
Trans fats have been vilified in the news in recent years. There's good reason for that. These fats, such as stick margarine, have been chemically altered to stay solid at room temperature. Fats that stay solid on your counter also stay solid in your arteries. "Trans fats can be harmful if you have heart issues," Simon said. "They can clog your arteries and increase your cholesterol and triglyceride levels."
Check labels carefully: If you find trans fats on the ingredients list of a processed food, toss it.
3. Low-fat foods
You may be tempted to buy low-fat versions of dairy products and other foods, thinking they're the healthier choice. Not so fast, Donna advises. Low-fat versions of food often have added salt, sugar and stabilizers to help them mimic their full-fat counterparts. She recommends enjoying the full-fat versions in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
For the bulk of your diet, choose foods that are naturally low in fat, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats. Keep in mind that your body needs fat to function. You should get most of the fat you consume from mono and polyunsaturated fats found in such foods as avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
4. Frozen entrees
If you're cooking for one, are on a tight budget or lack culinary skills, you may depend on frozen entrees for one or more meals each day. What these heat-and-eat, processed foods offer in convenience, they often lack in healthfulness. Simon cautions that frozen entrees have preservatives to make them last longer, and they're often loaded with ingredients you wouldn't add if you made the same meal yourself.
If you must go the frozen entrée route, compare labels carefully. Choose items with a short list of ingredients you recognize and that are low in sodium and calories.
A better option is to prepare large batches of fresh meals yourself and freeze the leftovers in single-serving containers. That way you can enjoy the convenience of a microwavable dinner while controlling what goes into it.
5. Expired or old food
If your refrigerator is like a black hole — food goes in but nothing comes out —it's time to give it a good onceover. Pitch anything past its expiration date, food stored in cans or leftovers more than two days old.
If you have uncooked fish, poultry or meat in the refrigerator but haven't gotten around to cooking it within a couple of days, transfer it to the freezer to avoid wasting it. You can also freeze leftover sauces or broth in ice cube trays, which lets you defrost only what you need in the future.
With these unhealthy foods out of the way, you're ready to focus on good-for-you items for a healthier future.