Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Clean Out Your Pantry, Clean Out Your Life!

Published on April 26, 2010 by   ·   12 Comments Pin It

Guest Blogger and Nutritional Consultant Katherine Pennington of   Be In Balance explains why the state of your pantry is a metaphor for the state of your life;

Have a pantry overstocked with food and unable to see what is there? Perhaps you often feel overburdened with life and need to simplify! Have a pantry with nothing in it but white pasta, canned soup and snacks high in sugar and salt? Perhaps you are not taking care of yourself!

If there is one thing you can do with respect to creating healthier patterns in your life as well as your loved ones is to clean out your pantry! I always tell my clients that the first step to eating healthily is having a well-organized, uncluttered pantry! Not only do you want to make sure that what you have in your pantry is healthy, but you also want to organize it in such a way that you can actually see the healthy food!

One of the services I provide is helping clients clean out their pantry then take them shopping afterwards to restock. If unhealthy food is not in the pantry then it won’t be there to eat! And, if you have an abundance of healthy choices, then you will make better choices overall. Although it is nice to have someone do it for you, you don’t need me to do it for you!

Here are 4 easy steps yourself you can take to clean out your pantry and make major changes in your life!

Step 1: Be Brutal and Throw Out Anything Containing:

1) White (or even brown organic) sugar
American’s consume on average a staggering 142 pounds of sugar per person per year, causing a near epidemic of diabetes and obesity in this country. And, never before have we seen such diseases previously associated with adults showing up in record numbers of children! When we consume sugar, excess sugar is stored in the liver as glycogen and eventually excess amounts are returned to the bloodstream as fatty acids, which ultimately end up as fat. In addition to contributing to diabetes and obesity, consumption of refined sugar has been linked to hypoglycemia, a weakened immune system, yeast infections, hyperactivity, ADHD, mental and emotional disorders and chemical imbalances in the brain.

Many of us are addicted to sugar and we don’t even know it! Sugar addiction can create a spiral effect for your whole day that will cause you to have mood swings, crave carbohydrates and sugar-laden foods, reach for caffeine to give you a boost and overall make bad food choices.

Sugar is lurking where you would least expect to find it. It is in cereals, crackers, bread, and, of course, candy and junk food! It is also in many pasta sauces and salad dressings! Sugar is highly addictive, and manufactures know it so they add it to their products so you will buy more.
And, no! Organic brown sugar is not ok!!! Sugar is sugar is sugar. Sure, the brown sugar is a tad bit better than the white sugar, which has been stripped of all of its enzymes and minerals. But, brown sugar, like white sugar, will still reek havoc on your blood sugar levels. Either way, not good for the waist-line, or your health!

2) High fructose corn syrup
High-fructose corn syrup would be on my list as even worse than sugar! Althoughyou might first assume by its name that high-fructose corn syrup is a natural fructose sweetener that comes from corn nothing could be farther from the truth! High-fructose corn syrup is made by milling corn to produce corn starch, and then processing this corn into glucose and then adding enzymes to it to turn some of the glucose into fructose. The end result is a very highly processed sweetener that is very far from the natural corn from which it came from and little in common with the fructose found in fruit!

Once you read labels, you will notice that high-fructose syrup is sneaky and lurks where you least expect it also! Manufacturers put high-fructose corn syrup it in pasta sauces, jelly, Gatorade, salad dressings, cookies and even many children’s fruit drinks and snacks.I was having breakfast at my mother’s recently when she brought out some “homemade” jam with an old-fashioned label that she received as a gift. We read the label expecting to find sugar but instead we found…yep, high-fructose corn syrup!

Manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup have spent 30 million dollars on add campaigns trying to convince consumers that HFCS is not unhealthy and does not promote disease. What is undisputable, though , is that most foods containing HFCS are high in calories and low in nutritional value. When we regularly consume these foods, often it results in obesity, diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease.

3) Trans Fats (Hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils) and saturated fats!
Consuming foods high in trans fats such as hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils and saturated fats such as butter, margarine, shortening, corn oils, and the like has been shown to contribute to heart disease, high-blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.

These unhealthy fats can be found not only in the obvious butter and oils but also in chips, cookies, cereals, breads and just about any highly processed food item. The rule of 3 often takes care of saturated fats and hydrogenated oils but carefully read labels and avoid anything with hydrogenated oils and saturated fats.

A good rule of them is the only oils you should have in your pantry are olive oil, canola and safflower oil. I also keep pumpkin seed, flax seed, hemp seed and sesame seed oil on hand for salads and other delicious recipes. Even though it is a saturated fat, I also use coconut oil because it is a plant-based oil and it is one of the only oils that can be safely heated at high-temperatures.

4) White flour
Food products containing white flour such as pastas, breads and cereals are simple carbohydrates that do nothing to contribute to your health and, like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, lead to elevated blood sugar levels and, therefore, weight-gain! White flour starts as a whole grain flour that has been processed and literally been stripped of its vital vitamins, minerals, fiber and enzymes leaving just starch and has no redeeming value nutritionally! You might as well eat straight sugar!

Consuming simple carbohydrates like white flour, bread, pastas and cereals results in weight-gain, a slower metabolism, and contributes to diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

5) Anything that has more than 3 unrecognizable ingredients!
This is a biggie…if you read a label of a food product and do not understand what the ingredients are, they do not belong in your body!!! I usually operate on the rule of 3. If something has more than 3 ingredients, do not buy it! Children absolutely love being detective sleuths and have so much fun with this so make sure you include them when you are cleaning out your pantry and restocking, or buying them a snack after-school!

Step 2: Take Action! Go Shopping and Buy Substitutions.

When I clean out a pantry, I literally have trash bags in one hand and a clip board in the other. When I throw something out, I put a note indicating what we need to buy to replace that item. If you do not work on a system of replacement, I find that people feel “punished” or like they are “on a diet,” and become literally paralyzed not knowing what to eat. Substitute your favorites and usual mealtime staples with healthier options and it will make a big difference in your health and your waist-line! Following are some initial steps to get you started…

Throw out
White or brown sugar

Replace With
Agave nectar, brown rice syrup or unrefined organic cane juice.

Throw out
White flour
White pasta

Replace with
Whole wheat, spelt, buckwheat, kamut, or brown rice pasta (my favorites are Vita Spelt, Eden’s Organic and Ancient Harvest)

Throw out
Cookies laden with sugar
Peanut butter with sugar

Replace with
Cookies sweetened with unrefined cane juice or agave nectar   (Kashi, Late July, & Back to Nature)
Natural almond butter

Throw out
Regular Potato chips

Replace with
Chips with whole grains (my favorites are FoodShouldTasteGood Multi-Grain Chips, Guiltless Gourmet , Terra, Maine Coast Sea Vegetable “Chips”, Suzie’s Spelt Rice Cakes & Puffed Cakes)

Throw out
Margarine & butter
Regular cooking oils & sprays

Replace with
Earth balance
Olive oil spray, olive oil, coconut butter, unrefined sesame oil, sunflower or safflower oil, flax seed oil, pumpkin seed oil, hemp seed oil, sesame oil.

Throw out
White salt

Replace with
Sea salt

Step 3: Practice Good Pantry Feng Shui
Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system to improve one’s Chi or energy! Messy closet or pantry? Often, messy life. Once you have made sure you have healthy foods in your pantry, you want to make sure you can actually see all of the wonderful food you have in there! If you can easily see what is in your cupboard then you are more likely to make healthy decisions and not say, “there is nothing in the pantry, lets order in!”

A well-organized pantry is a well-used pantry! I recommend using stackable, vacuum-packed containers (can be purchased at Crate & Barrel or William Sonoma) for storing grains, pastas, cereals and the like. Not only will you be able to see them but they will keep your food fresh for longer. I also recommend that you order your pantry according to the categories. I have a section in my pantry for cereals, another for grains, and another for pasta sauces, salad dressings and other condiments. When you can see what you have it is a lot easier to make good decisions and get inspired when you are cooking!

Step 4: You are the Master of Your Own Domain
Take responsibility for your life and realize that you control your health and that of your family. While, yes, it may be easier to hire someone like me to come clean out your pantry and take you shopping, you can easily do it yourself! If you feel uninspired in the kitchen or open up your pantry and find chaos, make it a priority to make yourself a priority and clean out your pantry! It should take you an hour or two depending on where you are coming from but worth every minute.

Article by Nutritional consultant Katherine Pennington, Be in Balance, offers holistic health and lifestyle counseling in New York for women and men who want to lose weight, gain energy, sleep better, reduce stress, get in shape and achieve a greater sense of well-being, balance and happiness in their lives and those of their families.   For more information, please visit her website at or   send an email to   Adapted from Katherine’s monthly article in

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Readers Comments (12)

  1. Catherine says:

    With all due respect, telling people to “be brutal” and “throw out” food seems extremely wasteful, both financially and environmentally. I don’t think anyone’s health will be jeopardized by finishing up their brown sugar, white pasta or flour, etc. I’d rather see people use what they have and make better choices next time around. So many people go hungry, and this is no time to be throwing food away in mass quantities.

  2. Emily says:

    I concur with Catherine – but for those who would rather not finish up the products, consider donating items (especially unopened containers) to your local food bank, community center, or place of worship. Even after-school programs sometimes take various non-perishable food items. Of course, it’s not like kids need processed food any more than adults, but it’s better than wasting it.

  3. Angie says:

    So Catherine, would you choose to continue stuffing your face with all those ARTIFICIAL ingredients that do your nutrition no good? Or would you rather THROW it away and buy your body something better? Maybe buy a little something for the food bank while you’re at it… Stop being cheap. No food bank wants that awefully refined JUNK and you shouldn’t either. Sorry Emily, I understand where you’re comming from, but it’s really not better to give someone else something you refuse to put in your body, now is it?

  4. Catherine says:

    I don’t consider ingredients like salt and sugar to be artificial. They’ll continue to remain in my pantry, and I’m not going to apologize for it to some insulting person on the internet. I don’t think people should have to defend their economic choices. Food waste is very much an environmental issue to me.

    Emily, I praise your idea. A food bank in my area serves 500 people each week. I suspect they’d be horrified to hear anyone saying they don’t want donations of unopened, current items. I cannot believe some would rather see hungry people turned away empty-handed vs. meet their perfect standards. I recently donated organic, vegan items to the food bank. I hope others who can afford to might consider doing the same.

    Find one through Feeding America:

  5. Dear Catherine & other readers,
    “Throw out” was purely metaphoric and did not intend to be wasteful BUT I completely disagree with you that you should just “finish up” what is in your pantry because it is there. When you are ready to make life changes, there is no reason why you should eat something that you know is bad for you. That would be like ordering a meal at a restaurant and forcing yourself to eat it all and “clean your plate” because it is there. Of course, if you could donate the food that would make much more sense but truly that is up to the individual client to make their own decisions. Many of my clients give it to people who work for them. Truly a food bank would be an amazing option- and one I would support but in the end someone is not going to be getting any nutrition from white sugar and it will just contribute to diabetes, obesity etc… and I don’t think that is good either. Take the article for what it is- a way to discuss diet and pantry issues with people who want to change their lives. This is NOT a political article on wasting, although again I do agree with you and would support a client’s desire to donate their food.

  6. Malou says:

    I agree with Catherine, throwing away perfectly good food is not only wasteful but an insult to the farmer who planted that sugarcane so you would have sugar. Please don’t blame the white/brown sugar for diabetes or heart problems. It’s the result of bad diet and inactivity (hours sitting in front of the TV or PC)

    Consuming sugar, salt and oil is perfectly fine, it’s how much we put in our body that we should pay attention to. Instead of throwing those away, consider cutting back on how much salt or sugar you use in your food. Eating fried food is fine so long as you keep it to the minimum (say 2x a week is perfectly fine with me)and if you want to completely do away with the oil, consider donating your cooking oil to any local soap making clubs, they will thank you for it. White pasta and rice is ok, so long as you consume them in moderation. Butter and Peanut Butter is fine with me too, so long as you don’t finish one container in one go.

    The only thing I agree to throw away is the Junk Food.

    My final word: For me moderation is key to a healthier lifestyle. Diabetes and Heart Problems is the result of overdoing the use of artificial food additives. White/ brown Sugar and Salt are not artificial additives (and mind you sea salt and table salt are the same no matter what the companies say!)

  7. Jessica says:

    There is diabetes in my family and I have been all for ‘eating clean’ since the mid-80’s, but the cost of these foods was then and still are outrageous! There is no way I can afford to buy these things in this economy. I do what I can by using coupons, watching for sale items and I love going to my local farmers market but this doesn’t always work. IMHO, eating organic one month then having to switch back to the ‘junk’ the next month is more difficult and frustrating than just sticking with the ‘junk’. I’d like to know who we can petition to make these item choices more affordable.

  8. Felicia says:

    These are ALL great tips, Katherine. The information is GREATLY appreciated (especially considering I just cleaned out my pantry two days ago – I wish I had read this blog BEFORE taking up that challenge! :-). However, as a footnote to Rule #3, shouldn’t canola (“Ca”nadian “O”il “L”ow “A”cid) oil also be included in that list of hydrogenated oils as it is a genetically modified oil that was made “consumable” by removing great amounts (but not all) of the euric acid inherent in the genmod process (hence, the “low acid” moniker)? From what I understand, ‘hydrogenated’ and/or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils include any that were created using genetic modification. What are your thoughts on this?

  9. Dear Felicia,
    I absolutely, completely agree with you and Canola oil is certainly not in my pantry! But, I do find that you have to start tackling issues in layers. And, if a client has thrown away most of his pantry, a little bit of canola oil in a salad dressing is not going to be terrible. I advocate using olive oil, lemon and sea salt for a simple dressing and ask clients to stock olive oil, coconut butter, hemp oil and pumpkin seed oil. So, naturally, my recipes contain these oils not the canola. I should definately amend the list to include this one but have to say that I don’t come across it often unless it is an ingredient in a condiment… Good for you for cleaning out your pantry- truly it is such an important first step!!!

  10. Ally says:

    Another option for some of the “bad” items in the pantry is to use them in a non-food capacity. For instance, mix oil with refined white sugar, add a little essential oil or dried herbs like lavender or rosemary (if you want), and you have a great moisturizing, exfoliating scrub. If you have kids, let them use your pasta for crafts, and make homemade play-dough with table salt and white flour (there are recipes all over the place). Use peanut butter to make pine-cone bird feeders to hang in your yard. That way, you are not wasting these items by throwing them away, but you are not expecting them to be consumed by human beings, either. :)

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  12. Justine says:

    We’re all saying to not throw away everything because people are low on food. But throwing away your food or eating it is not going to help that person who of starving. Donating to a food bank is not going to help because most of the things are already open, such as sugar and rice ect. So if you really care about your body you can either throw it away or put it in a far away drawer. You never know when you might need to bake a cake or even allow yourself to have a little piece of chocolate if you have reached a goal in your life. Choose your own way. This website is only a guideline.

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