IT'S time to give the cupboards a clear out and get healthy for summer. but it's not all bad news, says Anna Burns
As springtime approaches and the sun shines, our minds turn to spring cleaning, especially when dust becomes visible on windows, moss on patios and paw prints on carpets.
For me, the light-bulb moment was the other day, when I discovered my Christmas cake, complete with Christmas cake tin, was still in my kitchen cupboard!
Time to spring-clean!
A spring clean of our kitchen is an excellent opportunity to clear out any remnants of our bad eating habits.
We all suffer from the impression that convenience foods are time-saving essentials in our busy week. Our cupboards, fridge and freezer can be filled with them.
We are sold on the notion that Chicken Kiev is time-saving, though it takes 40 minutes to cook; that stir-in pasta sauces are the makings of a dinner (they are not); that breaded fish is the only handy form of fish for a busy evening (we can do better than that).
We need to get these out of our kitchen when we do our spring clean.
So why do we need to evolve past these kitchen 'essentials'? What is wrong with having these on stand-by?
Why do we need to spring-clean our kitchen at all?
We are exposed to too much sugar, fat and salt, when we eat such foods, is the answer.
Clear out hidden fats
The dummy's version of making food taste good is 'throw sugar, fat and salt at it; it will eventually taste good'.
Were we to see the amount of fat added to processed food, we might eat considerably less of it.
A Chicken Kiev contains a generous spoonful of fat within in, of poor quality often, that adds huge numbers of calories to the, otherwise humble, chicken.
Add to that the high-fat breading on the outside and you have too large a proportion of the calories coming from fat, per bite.
Stir-in sauces tend to be many times higher in fat than heat-in-the-pot sauces, as we clearly do not want our pasta to stick, thus the high-fat nature of these all-in-one meal-makers.
As for breaded fish portions; these generally supply half their calories in the form of coating (again high-fat) and only just half from the fish (the good part).
Clear these out of your kitchen and replace with the real thing. Chicken, with a spoonful of red pesto on top takes less time to cook than a frozen Chicken Kiev.
Chopped tinned tomatoes, garlic olive oil and a heavy sprinkling of dried oregano, heated together in a saucepan, makes a great pasta sauce.
While salmon, grilled simply with an accompaniment of sweet chilli sauce, makes the basis of a lovely nutritious tea.
Bin the sugary foodstuffs
We all love a biscuit with a cup of tea; the occasional dessert; an ice cream as soon as the sun shines (any excuse!).
What we need to clear out of our cupboards is the stuff of hidden sugars we dose ourselves with at every hand's turn.
You think you may have control over your 'sugar habit'; you can be consuming large amounts unwittingly.
You find sugar in yoghurts, pre-made curry, tinned beans and peas, ready-made soups, breakfast cereals, low-fat meals and many breads.
Throw out as many processed foods as you feel you can, to get a handle on your sugar intake.
Enjoy, instead, sugar in the form of dessert, biscuits or ice cream when you purposely consume them.
Sort out the salt
Again, reducing salt intake is all about balance and an awareness of what you are eating. We do tend to consume too much salt on a daily basis.
Bread is a very significant source of salt. While eating bread is an everyday habit, it is not a bad one.
But do throw out the stock cubes, ready-made gravies (gels as well as powders) and replace with equivalent products that claim to be low in salt.
Clear out, also, any overly salted foods such as crisps (multi-packs are unnecessary), pizza and roasted peanuts.
Choose, instead, an occasional packet of crisps (one at a time), Mediterranean wraps, tomato puree and a handful of cheese to make pizza and raw (unsalted) nuts.
Bye bye additives
Your store cupboards, fridge and freezer can be filled with additives such as nitrites, sulphites, sweeteners, flavour enhancers and preservatives in general, as a matter of routine, when you fill them with whatever takes your fancy.
We get no benefit from such additives, in nutritional terms. The food just stays fresher for longer, tastes better (so we eat more of it) and looks brighter than it otherwise would without such additives.
Clear away as many of these additives as you can. Nitrites, as an example of a preservative, found in sliced ham, react with the protein in the meat upon cooking to form nitrosamines in the body.
Nitrosamines are potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) when consumed in excess. The less of these we consume the better.
Fill your fridge, instead, with cheese, real meat, and a ham without nitrites (it exists).
Sweeteners tend to go hand in hand with low-fat and 'diet' products.
Such products end up being overly sweetened (leaving you with a very sweet tooth) and such sweeteners serve no nutritive role in the body.
The problem with flavour enhancers, is that the food tastes so good (an exaggerated version of what you could ever produce unaided) that we consume the entire packet, when maybe we initially only wanted a little bit (think Pringles and equivalent).
Finally, get lots of the good stuff into your kitchen to rely on when you feel under pressure.
Have pasta galore and tinned tomatoes to depend on; have frozen 'naked' fish at the ready; fill your freezer with great quality breads (already sliced).
Also, have cheese, good quality meats and yoghurt at the ready.
Have Basmati rice aplenty (eight minutes in boiling water); have frozen, as well as fresh, berries; tinned fruit, as well as fresh.
And, of course, have treats that are high in sugar, fat or salt, on occasion and on purpose!