Want to be healthy? Junk these 5 foods

It is not too late to clean out your pantry for Chinese New Year on Sunday.

Start the new year on a good note by replacing unhealthy food, that is, food high in saturated or trans fat, salt and sugar with healthier alternatives.

If you do not keep any junk in the house, you cannot be tempted to eat it, said Ms Lynette Goh, a senior dietitian at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

Ms Goh and Ms Emily Quek Tsu-Hwei, a principal dietitian at the department of dietetics at the Singapore General Hospital, give some tips for a new-look pantry.

Canned food

Sweep out:

  • Canned soup, especially cream-based types
  • Canned meat

Why: Unfortunately, that comforting can of soup tends to be loaded with sodium. Eating too much sodium raises the risk of heart disease.

What is more, popular cream-based soup, such as cream of chicken and cream of mushroom, contains more fat than tomato or vegetable-based soup such as minestrone soup.

Canned meat, such as corned beef, luncheon meat, belly pork and hotdogs, tend to be higher in sodium and fat.

Less is more, in this case.

Welcome in:

  • Canned products that have the Healthier Choice Symbol (right), as they have less salt
  • Canned vegetable or tomato-based soup
  • Canned beans

Why: Canned beans are a great source of protein and can be used as an alternative to meat.

They are low in fat and high in soluble fibre, which could spell good things for cholesterol levels.

As dried beans take a long time to cook, canned varieties make a convenient alternative. But drain them first, as the canning juice is usually full of salt.

Beans can be incorporated into dishes such as salad and curry and desserts such as red or green bean soup and soya bean desserts.

Nuts

Sweep out:

  • Fried or salted nuts

Why: Nuts are a good source of nutrients -- but not if they have been deep fried.

This bumps up their saturated fat content- not good news for the heart, as saturated fat raises the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol that is a risk factor for heart disease.

Deep-fried food is high in trans fat, which is worse than saturated fat. It not only raises the level of "bad" cholesterol, but also lowers that of "good" cholesterol, which helps control the levels of "bad" cholesterol and is good for the heart.

Furthermore, nuts loaded with salt could raise blood pressure. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the strain on the blood vessels and the risk of having problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

Welcome in:

  • Raw, unsalted nuts or dry roasted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and peanuts.

Why: In their pristine forms, nuts contain mostly "good" unsaturated fat, which raises the level of "good" cholesterol.

In fact, the Health Promotion Board said one should eat a small handful of nuts (about 40g) a few times a week as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

However, one has to watch the snacking and be sure not to get too much of a good thing.

Eating too much fat - even good fat - can lead to weight gain.

Most nuts are about 75 to 90 per cent fat. An exception is the chestnut, which contains about 5 per cent fat.

So, a 40g handful of nuts could contain anything from about 230 calories, if they are peanuts, to nearly 300 calories, if they are macadamia nuts.

Cereals

Sweep out:

  • Refined sweetened cereals
  • Regular 3-in-1 cereals

Why: Refined grains are produced when whole grains are milled into flour to create a fine texture and increase shelf life.

Refined cereals may taste good but they are low in fibre and may contain a lot of sugar, which are mostly empty calories. When grains are refined or polished, the bran and germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm, which contains mostly carbohydrates and some protein.

Although vitamins and minerals may be added back to the grain to "enrich" it, refined grains are lightweights compared with whole grains for fibre and nutrients.

They are digested and absorbed more quickly and you will feel hungry more quickly after eating refined cereals than if you had whole grains.

Welcome in:

  • Oats (instant or rolled)
  • Cereals with the Healthier Choice Symbol (higher in whole-grains)

Why: A whole grain is the entire kernel from the bran to the endosperm and the germ. Thus, unrefined whole grains retain their full nutritional value.

Keep these in the pantry for a heart-healthy breakfast which will not lead to weight gain.

The fibre in wholegrain food promotes a feeling of fullness and discourages overeating. It also promotes regular bowel movements and the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.

It helps to slow down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream after a meal and research shows that a diet rich in whole grains can improve blood glucose control. Research also shows that such a diet may protect against some types of cancer.

Look for cereals that carry the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol (higher in whole-grains). Cereals that have this stamp of approval contain at least 25 per cent whole grain, while oats with this logo are 100 per cent whole grain.

To ensure that a product is a whole grain, look out for the word whole in the ingredient list, as in wholemeal, wholegrain or wholewheat.

The whole grain should ideally be listed among the first few items on the product's list of ingredients.

Instant noodles

Sweep out:

  • Instant noodles

Why: Generally, instant noodles are high in fat (the noodles are fried in the manufacturing process) and sodium (particularly if the flavouring sachet is added).

However, there are instant noodles which have not been fried and some are even made from whole grains.

Toss out the seasoning packet and add meat and vegetables for a reasonably nutritious meal.

Welcome in:

  • Wholegrain varieties of instant noodles
  • Brown rice beehoon
  • Fat-free instant noodles
  • Low-fat cup noodles
  • Wholewheat pasta

Why: As above for cereals

Snacks

Sweep out:

  • Chips and crisps
  • Prawn crackers
  • Chocolate bars
  • Candies
  • Cookies

Why: These snacks may taste good, but you do not want them in your house. They are high in fat, salt and sugar. The cookies may also contain trans fat, created by the hydrogenation of vegetable oil.

Welcome in:

  • Plain biscuits, cookies, crisps, ice cream or plain cakes with the Healthier Snacks Symbol
  • Wholewheat or wholemeal biscuits
  • Brown rice crackers

Why: The Healthier Snacks Symbol is a variation of the Healthier Choice Symbol. To qualify as a healthier snack, products must be individually packed in small portions and have less saturated fat, sodium or sugar than their regular counterparts.

Eat no more than two servings a day. Choose crackers that are made of brown rice, which is a whole grain.


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