14 foods to kick out of the kitchen forever

Make the following food swaps to stay on track with your fitness goals—even when your schedule’s insane.
© 2013 Weider Publications // © 2013 Weider Publications

Hitting the grocery store every week isn’t easy when you’re swamped with work, the gym, friends, family—the list goes on. That’s why it’s even more important to have healthy staples in your pantry when you’re looking to maintain your fitness—and avoid the drive-thru. But some shelf-stable foods, like white rice, canned soup and pasta sauce, can sabotage the health goals you’ve been gunning for.

On the other hand, picking nutrient-dense, power-packed foods will help you train longer, build muscle and give you more energy all around, says Jim White, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Click through this list for 14 food swaps to make STAT.

--By Jamie Beckman

More: 5 muscle-building breakfasts

1 of 16 Man shopping in supermarket (iStock /Getty Images)

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereal

When you’re reading a cereal box label, it’s easy to be fooled: By adding vitamins, food companies can make even junky cereals look like good choices. “Even those marketed as ‘healthy’ can be high in sugar,” says nutrition expert Kate Geagan, R.D.N. Think of it this way: Four grams of sugar on the label translates to one teaspoon of added sugar.

Stock this instead: Steel-cut oats
Make this no-cook breakfast in no time. Soak steel-cut oats (not instant oatmeal) overnight. In the morning, top with almond milk, nuts and fresh fruit for sustained energy and performance, suggests Geagan.

More: 6 amazing ways to eat steel-cut oats

2 of 16 Bowl of cereal (iStock/Getty Images)


Newsflash: Buying whole-grain, fat-free pretzels won’t help get rid of your gut. Pretzels lack healthy fat, protein and fiber, so it’s easy to eat an entire bag in one sitting—and still not feel satisfied.

Stock this instead: Pistachios
Pistachios satisfy a craving for something salty but also deliver nutrients that keep you feeling full. They also have the largest serving size of any nut—you get to eat 49 pistachios instead of 23 almonds, 21 hazelnuts, 18 cashews or 14 walnuts. “In-shell pistachios are the best, because research has shown that the shells slow you down considerably, and you will consume about a third to a half less,” Geagan says.

More: 9 foods an athlete would never eat

3 of 16 Pretzels (iStock/Getty Images)

White rice

White rice isn’t as fluffy and harmless as it seems. “Aside from being stripped of nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, white rice is digested and absorbed quickly, creating a spike in blood sugar and insulin, leading to fat storage,” says New York Rangers nutritionist Cynthia Sass, R.D.

Stock this instead: Brown, red, black or wild rice
Pick up brown rice or pilaf in the grocery store, or ask the Chinese takeout guy to substitute brown rice for white. It might cost a few more bucks, but it’ll be worth it. “Whole-grain rice options are higher in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, and are digested and absorbed more slowly, which leads to a slower rise in blood sugar and insulin, allowing your cells to burn the good starch for fuel, rather than stock it away in fat cells,” says Sass.

More: 20 fittest foods

4 of 16 Steamed rice (Getty Images)

White or “multi-grain” bread

As tempting as it is to go old-school and pick up soft white bread, nutritionally you’ll be better off leaving it on the shelf. White bread contains zero whole grains, which help stave off heart disease and diabetes. Even breads labeled “multi-grain” are deceiving, says White. They can contain enriched flour—the stuff without fiber that’ll only spike your blood sugar, not fill you up.

Stock this instead: 100-percent whole-grain wheat or rye bread
“Look for a whole grain as the first ingredient in the ingredients list,” advises Elisa Zied, R.D., author of Younger Next Week. “Better yet, look for '100-percent whole grain' on the label. Men need three or more one-ounce servings of whole grains each day; they help with weight management and protect against many diet-related chronic diseases.”

More: Snacks with 10 grams of carbs or less

5 of 16 Sliced loaf of white bread (James Ross/Getty Images)

Generic peanut butter

Spreading PB on fruit or whole-wheat toast is a smart snack, but many popular brands have a hidden ingredient that can lower levels of “good” cholesterol and make your “bad” cholesterol levels skyrocket: “If it’s not natural, there can be trans fats in peanut butter, and a lot of people don’t know that,” says White. “Even if it says ‘zero trans fats’ on the label, if it’s fully hydrogenated, which a lot of your peanut butters are, there can still be 0.5 grams of trans fats.”

Stock this instead: Natural peanut butter
Read the ingredient list before you pick one. The list should have three things and three things only: peanuts, salt and oil, says White.

More: 5 new ways to eat nut butter

6 of 16 Peanut butter and crackers (Acme Food Arts/Getty Images)

Trail mix

When they’re dressed up with chunks of chocolate and dried fruit, many varieties of trail mix are more like candy. “A lot of the packages are really high in sugar. Just a fourth-cup serving can range up to 150 calories,” says White.

Stock this instead: Homemade trail mix
Customize the ingredients to your goals. To burn fat and build muscle, cut unwanted sugar and up the protein by focusing on oats, almonds and walnuts.

More: 12 healthy foods that make you fat

7 of 16 Trail mix (Kelly Cline/Getty Images)

Canned corn

Vegetables seem like they’d be a good pick no matter which ones you choose, but because corn contains so much starch, it isn’t your best shot when it comes to nutrition.

Stock this instead: Canned green beans
Green beans are low in calories and better than corn due to significant amounts of nutrients like vitamin A, calcium and iron—and a lack of sugar.

More: 7 best post-workout dinner ideas

8 of 16 Corn in can (Chris Harvey/Getty Images)

Plain pasta sauce in a jar

Going with a meatless or cheese-free sauce doesn’t guarantee that it gets an A-plus. “Cooked tomato products are generally low in fat and contain a good amount of the prostate-healthy antioxidant lycopene, but they can also contain outrageous amounts of blood-pressure-raising salt,” says Dr. Janet Bond, R.D., author of Blood Pressure Down.

Stock this instead: Spicy marinara sauce
Look for a jar with some heat. When sauce is flavored with robust seasonings like chili pepper, less sodium is needed, notes Bond.

More: 9 everyday foods with shockingly high sodium

9 of 16 Tomato sauce (John Carey/Getty Images)

White pasta

When you’re eating white pasta, you’re getting robbed, as the stuff’s been stripped of its fiber and bran, says White. Calories are better spent on foods that are going to deliver several nutrients and keep you feeling fuller, longer.

Stock this instead: Whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, black or brown rice, and whole-grain couscous
“The switch will add more fiber and B vitamins,” says White. “And the taste difference? Once you get used to it, I find people prefer that over the white stuff.”

More: 81 ways to be a better chef

10 of 16 Spaghetti (Adam Gault/Getty Images)