Most people think of their fridge as a nutritional safety zone, home to non-or-minimally processed foods like fruits and veggies, yogurt, and milk. However some of the other not-as-healthy refrigerator staples you may buy take up space in there, too. The easy solution is to keep only healthy foods in your fridge—even the condiments in the fridge door. “If you don’t have it, you’re not going to eat it or use it, it’s as simple as that,” says Sarah Krieger, RD, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Read on to see which foods to pass up when it comes to stocking your fridge.
1. Worst Staple: White Bread
You may think a loaf of reliable, all-American white bread is a harmless vehicle for peanut butter or other sandwich fillers. But white bread is made with refined flour, which has been stripped of the bran and the germ (as well as protein and key nutrients). Besides being lower in protein and fiber than whole wheat bread, studies show that these refined grains may even be dangerous to your heart. Better option: Whole grain breads. Be sure that they say 100% whole grains and carry the Whole Grains Council stamp of approval.
2. Worst Sandwich Filler: Processed Meats
“Hot dogs and luncheon meats are so high in sodium, I cringe when I see their labels,” says Krieger. Many of these foods contain as much as 1,000 mg of sodium per serving (nearly half your daily recommended intake), in addition to saturated fats. Researchers at Harvard University found that people eating a 1.8-ounce serving of processed meat each day had a 42% higher risk of heart disease and 19% higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Other studies have shown that eating cured meats a few times a month puts you at risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Better option: You can still have deli meat—just stock your fridge with brands that offer varieties with no added nitrates and low sodium, like Applegate Farms and Hormel Natural.
3. Worst Drink: Soda
Your typical can of soda contains about 140 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar—not exactly the makings of a healthy thirst-quencher—and diet soda isn’t any better. Drinking both regular and diet soda has been linked to adult metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors, including high blood pressure, weight gain in the stomach area, and insulin resistance, that increases your odds for developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s also not a great drink to have stocked for kids or teenagers. The extra calories from these sugar-sweetened beverages are a big determinant of childhood obesity. Better option: Water, fresh juice, or iced tea. Just be sure to keep the juice to smaller servings.
4. Worst “Healthy” Food: Frozen Veggies with Sauce
Frozen vegetables are a great way to ensure you’re getting your greens without worrying about them going bad. They also can hold a nutritional bonus: “Frozen veggies are often frozen close to the farm. The transit time is shorter so more nutrition is sealed in that bag,” says Krieger. However, leave the bags with sauces included on the shelves. They contain much more fat and sodium than if you were to add a pat of butter at home. One cup of Birds Eye broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots contains just 34 calories and 40 mg sodium. One cup of the California Blend & Cheddar Cheese Sauce contains 141 calories, 693 mg sodium, and 7 grams of saturated fat. Better option: Buy plain frozen veggies and drizzle olive oil on top. Sure, the oil adds calories, but it’s still a better bargain than a cheesy blend.
5. Worst Spread and Cooking Fat: Butter
Milk, butter, eggs. They’re probably on nearly everyone’s grocery list. But one tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat, and 30 mg cholesterol, so it’s not hard to see why this could be a diet danger if used too often. Unfortunately margarine isn’t much better, because it often contains cholesterol-raising trans fats. Even the trans fat-free varieties can legally contain anything less than 0.5 g per serving. If you love the taste of butter, Krieger recommends choosing wisely when you use it. “If you sauté your vegetables in butter, the flavor disappears, even though you still get the calories.” She recommends steaming your green beans, then placing a teaspoon on top to really get the buttery flavor. Better option: Olive oil. Though olive oil is caloric, it contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that make it a better bet.
6. Worst Dessert: Ice Cream
What’s easier than picking up a carton of ice cream? And while even full-fat ice cream only contains about 150 calories per half-cup serving, it’s a portion control challenge. If you go spoon-first into a pint, it’s easy to consume 2-3 servings in a matter of minutes, leading to more fat, sugar, and calories than you bargained for. “Ice cream can be a trigger food,” says Krieger. “So if ice cream is your dessert or snack of choice, buy individual containers for portion control.” Better option: Freeze containers of plain regular or Greek yogurt for a lower-cal treat. Top with fresh fruit, honey, or even a crushed up cookie.
7. Worst Quick-Fix Side Dish: Frozen French Fries
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that French fries are just another way to get a serving of potatoes. “Most frozen potato products are flash fried. The fat and salt contents are higher than if you did it yourself,” says Krieger. A recent study from Harvard University found that eating certain foods caused people to pack on the pounds more quickly than others. The worst culprit of weight gain? French fries! Eating one serving of French fries per day alone resulted in a 3.4-pound weight gain in four years! Better option: Making your own French fries. Cut up potatoes with the skins on (there are 60 different kinds of phytochemicals and vitamins in the skins and flesh), add some olive oil and a pinch of salt, and bake in the oven. DIY French Fries for 150 Calories
8. Worst Condiment: Mayonnaise
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that mayonnaise is a common staple in fridges nationwide. But with 100 calories per tablespoon, this condiment can turn a typical sandwich into a calorie bomb. Better option: Mustards are a great alternative, but if you crave that creamy texture and rich flavor, try pesto, which is made with heart-healthy olive oil.