The word convenience and healthy food doesn’t always go together. Eating a real food diet – which is optimal for your health – does take time and mental commitment to have fresh foods in stock and cooking in the kitchen.
Luckily we live in an age where the consumer demand is resulting in healthier food choices that were not available or easily accessible even five years ago. Over the years, I’ve been looking for healthy upgrades of packaged and “convenient” foods that I feel good about feeding myself and my family. Healthy upgrades mean that the ingredient list is not a mile long but have as many real, whole, natural, “normal” (you know what I mean) ingredients as possible and the list is simple.
Healthy upgrades you can try
Here are a few healthy upgrades to grocery staples that I started swapping when I learned more about the industrialized food system and nutrition.
The bread selection in my house has gotten denser and seedier over the years. And while my kids haven’t noticed too much, my husband will do a solo grocery run to grab an “oishi” bread at the Japanese bakery – a delicious fluffy white bread as a treat.
With bread it’s an eye-opening exercise when you look at the ingredient list and the sugar content among the different brands on the shelf. Next time you’re at the bread aisle compare a few brands and see how they differ. Are there added sugars? Or preservatives? Do you recognize all the ingredients?
- I like a local NY bakery brand available at my local grocery called “Bread Alone” – their sourdough is scrumptious. Vermont organics is generally widely available. They are both organic which is important to me in the grain category. Organic means they are non-GMO and don’t have artificial preservatives or toxic pesticides. Organic farming practices are also better for the environment. My kids get their fare share of toast and PB and J so I like to keep their pesticide exposure to the minimum. I’ll also rotate with sprouted bread because they are easier to digest and the nutrients are more bioavailable. A great option is Ezekiel bread which can be found in the frozen section.
I wanted to call out industrialized seed oils (e.g. soy, corn, cotton, safflower, and canola oils) that are used in a lot of snack foods. Most processed snacks (e.g. chips, baked goods like cookies and muffins) use these oils. These oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and when in excess, compared to omega-3 creates a pro-inflammatory environment in our body. Try to avoid snack products that include the oils listed above. Doing this will drastically reduce a lot of junk food in your diet.
- Chips and such: Here’s an example of healthier a bag of chips that checks the healthier snack list – see how it’s 100% avocado oil? And this bag of popcorn looks clean and delish! Opt for products with 100% avocado oil or coconut oil. Many new lines of snacks from mainstream brands are hopping on the trend but be careful. When you look closely they are often mixed with industrial oils and who knows how much of the avocado oil is actually in there.
- Trail mix: Industrial seed oils and other additives can lurk in pre-roasted nuts. I like to get raw nuts from Trader Joes (best deal in town!) and toast them in my mini toaster oven. When it’s freshly toasted it’s so much better!
- Granola bars: There is such a range of what we call granola bars these days! Some are more like dessert bars, or hand pies. I handle them mostly as a “treat” especially with my kids. I select ones that have minimal, real ingredients like Lara Bars, RX bars, or I’ll make my own by mixing up some dates, cacao and nuts in the food processor!
ah, Cereal. I know this is a staple American food and what kid (or adult) doesn’t love cereal with some cold milk! We went through a streak of regular cereal consumption in our house. I noticed that my kids were addicted to it and took over their breakfast. And with good reason, they often have high sugar content and devoid of nutrients. I’m still looking for a good cereal option that we can have as “a once in a while” food around the house. But if we do have it, I get organic with a simple ingredient list and we try to ensure its “part of a complete breakfast” 🙂 meaning they’re getting enough protein + fiber in their breakfast. I’ll keep you posted on some brands that I like.
I mentioned industrialized seed oils are not the oils we want in our bodies. This is because they are highly refined, unstable and inflammatory due to its high omega-6 content compared to omega-3. You may have noticed the conversation around fat is different from a few decades ago, when margarine and vegetable oils were touted as health food and kitchen staples. The latest research is showing us that those processed oils and fats are not health promoting, but detrimental. For more on this topic here’s some more research on cooking oils and fat.
Instead of vegetable, corn, soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower oil and margarine swap out for olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee and real butter preferably grass fed pastured. When you start making the shift to better oil, you may feel it in your wallet ($$$) but remember that you are paying for the quality and your health.
The food and nutrition landscape is ever-changing and there are a lot of new options out there. It can be confusing and overwhelming. My piece of advice is to stay rooted in getting back to basics and simple food. Even if it’s convenient food, there are better options if you research and know what to look for.
So what are you going to swap in your next grocery run? Let me know in the comments!