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When I am giving talks I always joke that none of my patients ever eats Oreo cookies. This always gets a big laugh and I believe that folks are laughing at themselves. We aren't always honest with ourselves and probably even more often are not completely honest with our doctors (shocking, I know). I base my assertion that my patients are so good on the fact that when I discuss people's diets with them only one has ever admitted to eating cookies. One. That's it. A single patient in the last fifteen years.
Now, I find this really strange because the aisles in the grocery are FULL of cookies (but none of my patients are buying them).
I would really like to leave the office and drive to their house to root through their cupboards and refrigerator. Maybe I'd be proved wrong, but the research says that folks have an awful lot of cookies in their pantry. Studies of people's trash have shown this repeatedly, with researchers finding a clear disconnect with what people will say they are eating and what ends up in their trash bins.
So, what should you do? First and foremost, be honest with yourself. Some folks can have cookies in the pantry and eat them occasionally as a treat. If this isn't you and you are going to make changes in your diet, it's time to get rid of those things that might tempt you and replace them with foods that are really healthy. Start with the cupboard. Get rid of sugar laden cereals. Replace them with oatmeal, low fat granola and healthy whole grain cereals.
Give away any pre-prepared type foods. If a "complete meal" comes in a box, it almost certainly is pretty bad for you. Such things as Hamburger Helper, Sloppy Joe mixes and Rice a Roni are full of fat and salt that you just don't need.
Replace these with healthy choices, like good quality pasta sauces instead of the Hamburger Helper, and get the ingredients to make fresh mac & cheese. Purchase your own spices to make Sloppy Joes so you can make a healthy version. Fill your pantry with the ingredients that you need to make the fresh and healthy recipes - rice, beans, lentils, whole wheat pasta, canned tomatoes, canned tuna and low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth.
Snacks? If it's processed, get rid of it. Crackers, Cheez-its, potato chips and tortilla chips are simply fat and salt. If you are a savory / salty snacker fill your pantry with nuts. The 100 calorie single serving microwave popcorn is a fantastic choice for snacking, while the same volume of potato chips will set you back almost 400 calories.
The also holds true for those Oreos. If you are a sweet snacker, get rid of the cookies, cakes and candy and fill your kitchen with fruit. Canned, fresh or frozen; it doesn't matter. There's great evidence that you'll be just as satisfied (and happier) eating fruit than candy.
Once you've cleaned out your pantry, the best way to fill it back up with healthy ingredients is to plan your meals and your snacks each week. Plan what you are going to cook for dinner each day and go buy the ingredients to make your meals. Slowly but surely you'll have the pasta, rice, beans, spices, herbs, vegetables, chicken stock, etc. that you need to make great tasting healthy recipes.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.