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Spring Cleaning 101: Healthy Diet Edition

It puts a genuine grin on my face to finally be able to say that spring is upon us.

Even though it may not quite be reflected in the forecast just yet, it certainly is on the calendar.

And while the longer, warmer and sunnier days are still to come, we must not forget that with great warmth comes great responsibility.

Homeowners know exactly what I am getting at… the dreaded spring cleaning tasks.

I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry I’m not here today to hound you about your doors, floors and windows.

No, instead your favourite neighbourhood dietitian is here today to teach you some of the ways you can improve your diet with some light spring cleaning of your pantry, fridge and freezer.

Let the kitchen cleanup begin!

Spring Cleaning: Diet Edition

Part I – The Pantry

Low Fibre Cereals-   Many Canadians rely on their breakfast cereal to get them through the morning but popular varieties such as Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes lack the fibre that most of us need to get us through to lunch. My advice?  Part with any breakfast cereal in your pantry that has less than 4 grams of fibre per serving and try something like Shredded Wheat Cereal by Post instead.

Instant Oatmeal- Isn’t it so cool that you can cook oatmeal in 60 seconds? Your body doesn’t think so. In order for commonly available varieties of oatmeal to cook that quickly, the grain has to be mechanically refined (ie: rolled). This process allows it to cook quickly, but also means it raises your blood sugar much more rapidly than the less refined Steel Cut oats.  Steel Cut Oatmeal takes longer to cook, but your body will thank you for it in the long haul.

Nuts & Seeds – Should be in pantries across this nation. Although Nuts and seeds (such as almonds, sunflower seeds etc) get a bad reputation because they tend to be high in calories, we know that people who eat them regularly tend to live longer and have a lower risk of disease. This is down to the fact that these foods contain a number of antioxidants and essential nutrients in addition to being high in protein and fibre, which means they do an exceptional job of keeping you feeling full as well.   I recommend consuming about ¼ cup at least every other day of the week.

Chips – Did you know that, statistically speaking, chips represent one of the highest sources of in the Canadian diet from non-food group foods?  There is one very easy solution to this problem, use plain or lightly flavoured popcorn instead! Popcorn comes in at a fraction of the calories and is something you can feel better about snacking on regularly.

Saltine Crackers –   Crackers are an awesome versatile snack but tend not to have much going from a fibre perspective. I personally recommend Ryvita crispbreads as a healthier and more versatile alternative. Take a closer look at the cool creation we made using this product during our Holiday recipe series.

Chocolate – A little bit of chocolate never hurt anyone, but there is a big difference between 85% dark cocoa and a Mars or Snickers bar. You can learn more about how to make the most of the health benefits of dark chocolate without going overboard by clicking here.


Part II – The Fridge & Freezer

Processed Meat – If you are an regular you probably caught our most recent piece on processed meats. Unfortunately, household favourites like bologna, ham, salami and prosciutto are among the least healthy protein choices on the market. This is owing to their high sodium, high saturated fat and high preservative content. Your best bet is to swap those out for leaner, less preserved and less processed options such as PC Blue Menu deli chicken or turkey slices.

Butter – It’s time to finally part with the notion that butter is better for you than margarine. Butter is high in saturated fat (which none of us need more of) and largely lacking nutritionally. Margarine, on the other hand, is usually comprised mostly of canola and sunflower oil, which offer a much healthier fat profile and also contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. As an added bonus, margarine is one of very few foods in our food system that contains significant amounts of vitamin D, which we all need more of. If you read our recent article on how hard it is to get enough vitamin D, you will appreciate why that is such a big deal.

Mayo –   I’d like to gently urge today’s readers to consider parting with mayo and opting for a lower calorie sauce option like mustard or hot sauce.

Fruit Juice –  I thought long and hard about whether or not I should include juice in this list and I ultimately opted to for the simple reason that I want everyone reading this to drink less juice, and eat more real fruit. I think juice is a decent option when whole fruit is not available ( 125 ml = 1 serving of fruit) but should not be a family’s first choice because the skin and pulp of the fruit contains fibre and antioxidant compounds that just aren’t present in juice.

High Calorie Salad Dressing – Salad dressing is another condiment that typically contributes excess calories to the average person’s diet. That’s because salad dressing is calorie dense and very easy to lather on. So rather than tell you to use less, I am going to recommend you aim for a salad dressing that has less than 50 calories per serving. The Bolthouse brand has some great options in this calorie range, and you can always make your own as well.

Ice Cream:   Most of us love ice cream and most of us also acknowledge that it isn’t necessarily the healthiest thing to have al the time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat it. But what if I told you that you could make your own healthy and delicious ice cream alternative using just frozen bananas and milk? You can, read on to learn how.

Frozen Veggies:  Spring cleaning isn’t just about getting rid of the old, it’s also about revisiting the way you think about certain foods. Although frozen veggies may not have the best reputation, they offer the same nutritional value as any other fresh vegetable would and are smart to have heavily stocked in your fridge. In my experience, one of the biggest barriers to vegetable consumption in my clients is running out or simply not having any fresh options around.

I hope today’s article has directed you to at least one food in your home that you can either omit or include to help “clean up” your kitchen this spring.

Remember that although living well is not about making the best choice all the time, it certainly is about making the best choice as often as you can.

andy desantisAndy De Santis RD MPH

Andy is a Toronto-based private practice dietitian and nutrition writer/blogger. He also holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Toronto. If you are interested in learning more about Andy and his services, or you’d like to read more of this nutrition content, you can do so at

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