Updated: May 24
How many products are stocked in modern supermarkets today? The answer: 40,000-60,000 items are within your reach when you enter a grocery store. Wow! The amount of choice we have as food consumers is epic and a dramatic increase from recent decades past, when stores were stocking a mere 7,000-10,000 items.
With so much attractive packaging, expertly marketed products and self-proclaimed superfoods, your trip through the grocery store can leave you exhausted by decision fatigue. Eliminate ‘choice overload’ and discover how to swap out 4 common ingredients and opt for a healthier alternative.
The Usual Suspects
You’ve likely seen enough Netflix documentaries about the food industry and its dark side to know that not every product in the grocery store is beneficial for our body.
Oil, sugar, salt and butter can be detrimental when consumed in excess, but without these foundational ingredients, you might assume your meals will lack flavor and appeal. But that’s not the case! Read on to get the answers you need.
The Lowdown on Oil
With so many oils on the store shelf, what do you choose? By learning about labels and how food is processed, you can make an educated decision. Any product labelled ‘vegetable oil’ is highly processed and due to this, is often void of many nutrients. Manufacturers use the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ on labels which permits them to use any combination of commodity oil - meaning you don’t actually know whether you’re consuming canola, soy, cottonseed or corn oil when you use it in your cooking. As eaters, we have a right to know what we’re ingesting and what potential inflammatory effects it has on our body.
Vegetable Oil Substitute
Olive oil is fantastic for making your own salad dressing. Ensure that it’s labelled ‘extra-virgin’ which assures you’re getting a higher grade product and stick to using it for low to medium-heat cooking due to its lower smoke point. Conversely, avocado oil can handle heat, is flavorless and a perfect vegetable oil substitute in both sweet and savory dishes. Coconut oil is also a good choice for high-heat cooking and healthier baking, when used in moderation due to its levels of saturated fat.
Canola (rapeseed) oil
Rice bran oil
Sweet Tooth Fixes
Studies have determined that sugar has major impacts on the opioid and dopamine systems of the brain and is addictive. We understand its harmful effects on our health such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, but our cravings for the sweet substance continue. Renowned addiction expert, speaker and author Gabor Maté calls companies like Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola “the biggest drug pushers in the world” . Despite this, if you arm yourself with the right mindset and information, you can avoid succumbing to the sweet temptations.
Maple syrup is a fantastic sugar substitute in marinades, salad dressings and baking. Though still chemically similar to sugar and processed by the body in the same fashion, maple syrup contains additional antioxidants and minerals that benefit our body.
If you’ve ever had a persistent cough, you may know that honey is a natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial substance. In the morning, substitute sugar for honey in your oatmeal, tea, or coffee. The third option for a sugar substitute is stevia; a natural sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant. With a high potency factor (100-300 times sweeter than white sugar) it’s a popular choice for avid bakers.
Level Up Your Salt
Not unlike oil, the secret to seeking out salt substitutes is finding options that have been less refined. Table salt is usually derived from salt mines, then heavily processed and treated chemically to remove any impurities. As a result, trace minerals are also removed during production. There are typically also iodine and anti-caking agents added to table salt to prevent it from clumping.
Sea salt and Himalayan salt haven’t been treated with as many chemicals and are therefore more likely to contain trace minerals such as zinc, iron and manganese. The pale rose-colored tones that make Himalayan salt so distinctive are actually the result of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium that are present in the salt!3.Sea salt is produced through the evaporation of ocean or lake water, whereas Himalayan salt is recovered from rock crystals formed from the remnants of an ancient sea beneath lava rock in Pakistan4. Since both these salts are less refined, they contain more flavor and texture than their refined counterparts and are a popular choice amongst acclaimed chefs worldwide.
Better Than Butter
If eaten in excess, butter can be a contributing culprit for hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. High levels of saturated fat should be avoided in your regular diet and that’s why butter is best consumed in moderation. Also being a dairy product, butter can be the source of inflammation for those with allergies or lactose intolerance.
When looking for butter substitutes consider avocados. Avocados are a healthy source of unsaturated fat, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Fresh or even frozen avocado can add a thick richness to sauces, smoothies and other delicious recipes. Coconut butter and almond butter are awesome alternatives as well - especially if you need a binder ingredient for a healthy protein bite or granola bar recipe.
With these 4 healthy substitutes, you’re ready to face the aisles of your grocery store with a renewed confidence in how to make good decisions for your health. What healthy swap will you try out next time you’re restocking your pantry or fridge?