Plan ahead with a shopping list before you go to the grocery shop, to avoid impulsive purchases of unhealthy foods. Fresh foods are always a healthier alternate to packaged foods that are loaded with fat, sugar, calories and salt. “The more perishable the food, the easier to digest”, says Dr. Anil Mehta, GP. “The longer the shelf life, the longer the food sits in our stomach.” Moreover, it is helpful to store healthy foods at eye level and unhealthy foods stacked away. Remember – out of sight, out of mouth. Every few weeks, empty your fridge to segregate the good choices from the not-so-good ones.
A Healthy Fridge
Best carbohydrate choices
Grains (yes, some grains are best stored in the fridge)
- Buy a variety of fresh and different coloured vegetables and fruit, including seasonal and local produce. “Naturally dark vegetables and fruits are rich in anti-oxidants”, says Sheela Mahapatra, in-charge Principal, Women’s Technical Education and Research (L.A.D College, Nagpur) and also a registered dietitian.
- Whole wheat bread, pita bread, pizza bread
Best protein sources
- Fresh fish or chicken
- Low fat or skim: Dairy milk, soy milk, plain yogurt
- Cottage cheese (low-fat options are healthier)
- Sprouts:Chana, moong, matki, alfalfa
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Butter:Peanut butter has healthy fats. In addition, "It may help control total and LDL cholesterol, and keep blood sugar stable,” says nutritionist Naini Setalvad.
- Unsalted nuts: Almonds, walnuts and pistachios
- Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds
- Fresh herbs: Mint, coriander, celery, basil leaves, oregano (super anti-aging foods)
- Mustard, salsa, coriander chutney, mint chutney, home-made pesto
- Dry fruit: Prunes, figs and raisins
Some storage tips for practical eating
Most dietitians balk at the thought of prepared or packaged foods. Realistically, our busy lives sometimes leave us with little other options. Here are some quick options that are better alternatives to eating out or instant foods.
Healthier substitutes for unhealthy foods
- Cut vegetables and store overnight only
- Leftover homemade food like cooked vegetables and cooked lentils: Store in air-tight containers in the freezer and consume within one day (unfortunately, little nutrition is retained the next day).
- Prepare the following during the weekends and store for 5 days:
- Porridge: Boil barley/oats and store. Consume with milk and fruit or vegetables.
- Knead dough (e.g. soy flour) and store. Prepare different stuffing like legumes,leafy vegetables and store. Mix the two while consuming.
Unhealthy options best avoided
- Readymade pasta, pizza, Chinese sauces: Best to prepare home-made fresh sauces (find easy recipes). But if you must purchase readymade tomato ketchup, buy in smaller bottles to preserve lycopene (carotene present in tomatoes and other red fruit and vegetables).
- Cheese: Replace soft mellow cheeses with sharp, harder cheeses and low fat options.
- Low fat/ fat free dressings and sauces like mayonnaise, salad dressings: Replace with homemade dressings made of curd, vinaigrette, etc.
- Chocolate: Choose darker variety with 70 percent or more cocoa
- Ice cream(including fat-free) and gelatos: Replace with sorbet made with fruit juices or pulp
Decoding food labels – what they really mean
- Pre-cut and packaged fruit and vegetables
- Cold cuts – “Full of sodium” (says Setalvad).
- Readymade frozen paratha/ French fries
- Samosa patti
- Pastries and Indian sweets including sugar-free versions
- Readymade fruit and vegetable juices
- Aerated drinks including diet sodas
The bottom line
- Check expiry dates: Products with an expiry date of 2-3 years are bad because they are full of preservatives.
- Scan the ingredient list: It is listed in descending order of weight. E.g. if sugar is listed among the top three ingredients, it has too much sugar. Remember, natural foods don’t require much labeling.
- Check the nutrition label for serving size: The number of calories per serving. You might be consuming more calories than you think.
- Check the Daily Value (%DV): This tells you what percent of daily nutrient requirements a food contains. The percentage of DV in one serving is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
- Check the calories that come from fat: Healthy fats include unsaturated fats. Keep intake of unhealthy fats like saturated fat and trans fat as low as possible. However, remember that all fats are high in calories.
- Remember, even low fat or fat free foods can be high in calories and sugar.
- Limit the cholesterol and sodium.
- Keeping your entire diet in mind, make sure you get enough of vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, calcium, vitamin C and iron.
- Check for fibre content: Normally the higher, the better.
- Check for protein content, especially if you are a vegetarian.
- Choose 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat.
Wonder foods/super foods in your fridge
- If you suffer from hypertension or heart disease, compare products based on cholesterol, sodium, total fat and unhealthy fats.
- If you are trying to keep your weight in control, check products for fat and calories.
- If you have diabetes, compare added sugar, fibre and carbohydrates on the products.
- Fruit: Vitamin, fibre, cartenoids, nutrients – provide anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
- Vegetables: Phytonutrients and fibre – compounds that may help prevent diabetes, heart disease and some cancers
- Fish, walnuts, avocados: Omega 3 – maintain a healthy heart
- Eggs, milk, chicken: Vitamin B12 – needed for normal blood formation, a healthy nervous system, produce DNA
- Tomato sauce: Lycopene – an anti-oxidant which could fight heart disease, certain types of cancer etc.
- Green tea: Flavonoids – helps you reduce arterial and immune aging