Some of my favorite things to discover as I move along on this Earth and dive deeper into my health & wellness journey are healthier options in the kitchen.
Having been fortunate enough to be raised by very health-conscious parents, I have always considered myself a pretty healthy person. While kids were swapping Lunchables and Fruit by the Foot in the cafeteria, I was busy dusting Nature Valley crumbs off my overalls, savoring my last Fig Newton before the bell rang. I was the overexcited kid going for seconds at the sleepover because I had never heard of Hamburger Helper and boy oh boy, was it amazing.
That being said, I have to admit, I owe a lot of my healthier eating habits to my boyfriend *shoutout Mike*. I will never forget one of my first visits over at his place; I opened the fridge, only to find it more or less barren, save for a few cans of sardines and some homemade beet juice. The mini panic attack that ensued after this revelation…
It was safe to say that Mike’s health regime put mine to shame. He has and continues to inspire healthy changes in my diet, although the breakfast chicken breasts are something I will just never get down with. You best believe I make sure our kitchen is always stocked with bananas, sourdough bread, Cowboy Caviar (IYKYK), almond butter, biscottis, etc., etc. I’ve definitely cleaned it up here and there but I still indulge in my after-dinner treats and prefer my coffee sweetened, thank you very much.
I have found that for me personally, sometimes the most intimidating thing about eating healthier is not knowing where to start at the grocery store. There are so many options out there — where the hell does one begin?
When it comes to cleaning up my eating habits, I find that starting out slow is the secret to success. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or stuck, and giving up before you’ve even started, cut yourself a break and start with just one thing. Pick one item in your kitchen and try swapping it out with it’s healthier cousin. If this starts to feel (and taste) good, continue making the swaps the following week and so on. Pretty soon, you will have upgraded your entire pantry without even realizing it.
Play around with different brands, too. Don’t give up just because you discovered you hate cauliflower rice. I mean who among us actually ENJOYS cauliflower rice? Maybe instead you give quinoa a go — you might find you actually love it!
Below are some healthy substitutions that I’ve made over the years. These products are things I have tried, LOVED and truly stand behind if you’re looking to make some healthy tweaks in the kitchen. I hope this inspires you to try even just one of these swaps the next time you hit up the grocery store.
SWAP: Table Salt for Pink Himalayan Salt
This is an easy one. While studies aren’t necessarily confounding in terms of Himalayan’s superiority over other types of salt, in my mind, if there IS a chance that it’s healthier than the others, then why not make the change? Ranjini Rao states the following about Himalayan salt in this article:
“Experts usually claim that Pink Himalayan is a healthy everyday choice because it is lower in sodium and contains more minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and fluoride. Dr. Pandya says that Himalayan salt is drier, as it has been out of the sea and soaking up the sun, and as a result, usually does not cause water retention and sliminess in the body.
Dr. Pandya explains that salt, when used in moderation, has the ability to re-route food and gas downward in the body, and also disintegrate certain accumulations in the body, the way it works with melting snow on the roads.
Dr Suresh says the variety of pink salt matters -- the darker pink salt is higher in nutritional value compared to the lighter ones. The origin and soil quality are key indicators of this, too, and in general, Himalayan pink salt is said to be on top of the list. She recommends buttermilk, spiced with pink salt, ajwain and saunf, which helps with digestive issues like indigestion and bloating.”
When picking out your Himalyan salt, beware of a lot of sneaky labeling! It’s easy to be fooled into buying “pink salt” that is not actually Himalayan (as seen above), making it no healthier than regular table salt. So, in this case ^^, you want to buy the salt on the left, not right (whoops).
We like this one!
SWAP: Canola & Seed Oils for Olive, Avocado, or Coconut Oil
I'm obsessed with olive oil and put it on just about everything, including my body (my Grammy's old secret to glowing skin & hair). Lisa Howard, author of The Big Book of Healthy Cooking Oils says the following about olive oil in this article:
“Nutrition and cooking experts agree that one of the most versatile and healthy oils to cook with and eat is olive oil, as long as it’s extra virgin. “You want an oil that is not refined and overly processed,” says Howard. An “extra virgin” label means that the olive oil is not refined, and therefore of high quality. Extra virgin olive oil contains a large amount of monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids; many studies have linked it to better heart health. Olive oil has a relatively lower smoke point compared to other oils, so it’s best for low and medium-heat cooking.
It’s also one of the healthiest oils to use when baking. “As a dressing it’s great, too,” says Howard. “And I like to put it into my lattes.””
This is a good one, or generally any olive oils from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.
Hot tip: thanks to Mike, I make sure any olive oil I buy is always first cold pressed. This is important.
“Avocado oil is a great choice. It’s unrefined like extra virgin olive oil, but it has a higher smoking point, which means it can be used to cook at higher heat and is great for stir-frys. It doesn’t have much flavor, which makes it a good option for cooking. “It’s just creamy, like an avocado,” says Howard. Avocado oil contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (it has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils) as well as vitamin E. One downside is that it tends to be more expensive.” says Alexandra Sifferlin in this Time article.
We like this brand but I recently just got some
at Trader Joe's for a lot cheaper!
I love, love, love coconut oil. I used to put it in my coffee, smoothies, on my face (never again), etc. Now, after doing my research and chilling out on my trend-following, I use it more sparingly. I tend not to cook with it as much because I find it has a sweeter taste, but I love to use it when baking. Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says the following about coconut oil:
“Generally speaking, there’s a lot of hype around coconut products that overall aren’t backed by sound science. That’s not to say this oil is going to make you sick, but don’t go overboard. “I am not anti-coconut oil,” says Weinandy. “Our bodies do need some saturated fat. But the industry has done a good job to make it seem like it’s a superfood. The research is definitely not there.”
“That doesn’t mean it should be banned from the pantry. Saturated fats can be a healthier oil to use when you’re cooking at a very high temperature or frying food (something that definitely should be done in moderation), because they are more stable at high heat. This means that they are less likely to break down and smoke.”
This is my go-to coconut oil as it is affordable, but I'm sure you could find "healthier" options out there.
SWAP: Wheat Flour Pastas for Brown Rice, Lentil, Chickpea, or Cassava Flour Pastas
Some of our favorite meals include pasta. Rather than devouring a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs or bolognese (my fav) and feeling the sluggish aftermath, we like to use the following pastas in our weeknight rotation instead:
This is a classic staple in our kitchen cabinets. I was weary of trying this at first but I have found that when I cook it just right, it actually tastes great! Katherine Alexis Athanasiou says the following about chickpea pasta in this article:
“...the high fiber content of chickpeas promotes digestive health by aiding in gut microbiome diversity and regulating bowel movements. Chickpea pasta's high protein content also helps with building and repairing muscle.”
Brown Rice Pasta:
Another staple from Trader Joes. Just cook for a shorter amount of time and rinse with cold water quickly before eating.
“Brown rice pasta is one of the most popular varieties of gluten-free pasta due to its mild flavor and chewy texture — both of which work well as a substitute for most traditional pasta dishes. Compared to most other types of pasta, brown rice pasta is a good source of fiber, with nearly three grams in a one-cup (195-gram) serving of cooked pasta.
Brown rice is also high in important micronutrients like manganese, selenium and magnesium. Plus, research shows that the bran found in brown rice is loaded with antioxidants, powerful compounds that can help fight oxidative damage to cells and promote better health. Some studies have found that eating brown rice can increase antioxidant levels in the blood and may aid in preventing chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.”
“Lentil pasta has more protein and fiber than regular wheat pasta, which gives it a lower score on the glycemic index. It is also typically higher in iron than regular pasta. However, lentil pasta is not a low-calorie or low-carb food, so portion size is still important for many dieters.”
Cassava Flour Pasta:
This is probably my least-favorite alternative to wheat pasta. It IS good, and I would definitely give it a shot, but I find myself reaching for it the least for whatever reason. We buy this one a lot.
“Cassava flour is a good gluten-free alternative to wheat flours. It comes from the dried, ground root of the cassava plant. Cassava flour contains resistant starches. There are a variety of possible health benefits to eating resistant starches. These potential health benefits may include improved digestive and colon health and improved insulin sensitivity. Resistant starch in cassava flour may also help with weight loss efforts.”
SWAP Ketchup for Sriracha &/or Buffalo Sauce
Okay, so, I was surprised when doing my research to find that Sriracha isn't that much healthier for you than Ketchup (if at all). Both condiments aren't THE BEST and should be used sparingly, but here are some fun facts I gathered from this article:
Ketchup has more thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6 and folate.
Ketchup is a great source of potassium.
Sriracha has 74% less carbohydrates than ketchup.
Sriracha has 45% less calories than ketchup - ketchup has 101 calories per 100 grams and sriracha has 56 calories.
Sriracha is a great source of calcium.
Sriracha is an excellent source of Vitamin C.
On the other hand, hot/buffalo sauce, is a great option if you're looking to spice things up and not worry too much about the health ramifications.
"Believe it or not, Tabasco doesn't have any calories. All it has is peppers, salt, and vinegar, and because it's all in such small quantities, it rounds down to a clean zero." says Lydia Ramsey Pflanzer in this article.
SWAP: Soy Sauce for Coconut Aminos
We LOVE coconut aminos. While the flavor is a tinyyy bit sweeter than regular soy sauce, you barely notice the difference. We use ours in stir fries, sushi, any vegetable/rice dish, etc.
Christine Byrne says the following about the benefits of using coconut aminos rather than soy sauce in this article:
“…traditional soy sauce is very high in sodium. Just one tablespoon contains 879 milligrams (about 38 percent of the recommended daily allowance), and chances are you use more than one tablespoon at a time.
Plus, traditional soy sauce also contains both soy and wheat, two of the eight most common food allergens, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
For anyone on a low-sodium diet, which the American Heart Association recommends for people with high blood pressure or other heart disease risk factors, coconut aminos are certainly a better choice. Even if you don’t keep a close eye on your sodium intake, opting for coconut aminos can make it much easier to stay below the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
Coconut aminos are also a great choice for anyone on a gluten- or soy-free diet, says Gavin.”
We love this brand or the one at Trader Joe's!
SWAP: Tomato Sauce for Dairy-Free Pesto &/or Tahini
Instead of tomato sauce (Mike tries to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet), we like to use different types of sauces or marinades in our pastas/rice to add a little pizzazz to our meals. Pesto is a staple in our kitchen. We mix it with rice, pastas and veggies. We do the same thing with tahini — both are healthy and taste amazing.
Pesto is typically made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, salt, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. We like to use dairy-free pesto and find that it tastes just as good as the traditional parmesan pesto.
Basil, the key ingredient in pesto, has many health benefits, including:
Contains Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Combats Stress and Depression
Supports Liver Function
According to Shuang Shuang over at Shuangy Kitchen Sink blog in this post.
We really like this pesto.
I’ve definitely already raved about turmeric on my blog, but in case you missed it, turmeric (the key ingredient in our favorite tahini) has loads of health benefits, according to this article, including:
Fights free radicals
Lowers risk of heart disease
Helps fight depression
Helps fight cancer
We love this Turmeric Tahini.
If you're looking for a quick, healthy meal, definitely try these ^^. They taste amazing and couldn’t be easier to squeeze into any dish, literally. If you’re feeling adventurous, both sauces are easy to whip up in a food processor. Go you.
SWAP: Wheat & White Bread for Sourdough &/or Whole Grain Bread
One of my favorite items in the kitchen. If I could eat sourdough every day, multiple times a day, I would. I know this is a debatable topic (sorry, Mike), but I'm choosing to ignore that negative talk for now.
According to the authors of A Bread Affair blog, in this post, sourdough boasts the following:
Easy to digest
Lower glycemic index
Better for gluten-sensitivity
More “good acid”
Provides healthy bacteria
It’s nutritious; Sourdough contains a variety of vitamins and nutrients, making it super beneficial to your day-to-day health. Sourdough bread has small to moderate amounts of: iron, manganese, calcium, B1-B6, B12, folate, zinc, potassium, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, selenium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E. What a great selection! Compared to other breads, sourdough maintains many of the original nutrients that are processed out of other kinds of bread.
Ideally, you want to buy your sourdough fresh from a bakery OR better yet, make it yourself. I'm still working on this. In the meantime, if you need a good brand, this is my favorite.
** Two great whole grain breads to give a shot:
Swap: Flour Tortillas for Almond Flour Tortillas
Tortillas was a tough switch for me for some reason (maybe because I'm Mexican lols) but after I started using different types of tortillas/wraps, I wondered why I had such a mental block to begin with. These wraps were just as good, if not better. So, why almond flour?
According to Joan Chamageri, Registered Medical Clinician and author of this article, some health benefits of almond flour include:
Rich in antioxidants
Promotes cognitive health
Low in calories
Easy on digestive system
Rich in protein
Can fight inflammation
Can lower stress levels
Can help fight cancer
So, maybe the better question is, why not?
I buy the almond flour tortillas from Trader Joe's but we also really like these ones!
Some other honorable mentions if you're looking to swap out your flour wraps/tortillas:
We love both of these brands and definitely recommend.
I want to wrap it up by acknowledging that eating healthy is a privilege. If I had stumbled upon this article in college, I probably would have kept scrolling because it just wouldn't have been feasible with my waitressing salary. This is a sad fact of the world that we need to work around. I tried to include some cost-effective options in this post but realize some of them aren't realistic for a lot of people. I would recommend doing your research and finding what works best for your wallet (sry for using that saying). Trader Joe's and Amazon are great places to start as I have found them to be a lotttt cheaper than other super markets. Also, some of these items may be cheaper to make yourself! It is also likely that there is a farm near you where you can get some of these ingredients for cheaper & bonus, they'd be a lot fresher. Get curious and don't settle. Lastly, remember to start slow - one item at a time :)
I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure to message me if you have any go-to staples in your cabinets that I missed and need to try!