Welcome to our very first series on Root + Revel: Savvy Swaps! In this regular series, we'll be looking at popular store-bought products and offering up healthier alternatives that taste just as delicious, without any of the negative additives.
To preface this series, know this: It's impossible to be 100 percent toxin-free in today's modern world. While these comparisons are meant to shed light on the ingredients in the products we use every day (many of which are harmful to our bodies and/or our planet), it's not about being perfect. It's about balance and simply paying attention to what we're putting in and on our bodies. Our mission: to help people make healthier, more informed decisions, without sacrifice.
OK, enough talk. Let's get to it! In today's swaps, we're looking at healthier packaged food: crackers, chips, breads, cream cheese and packaged meals.
Walk through most grocery stores today and you'll find most of these items are filled with loads of salt, refined sugars, highly processed flours and unhealthy oils, not to mention synthetic chemicals and artificial flavors and colors. Take a look at some of the leading brands' ingredients labels to get an idea of how some of these toxic snacks compare to their healthier counterparts:
You may be wondering why some of these ingredients are even bad for you in the first place. To give you an idea, here are a few of the worst offenders from above:
- GMOs: These are living things that have been artificially manipulated in a lab, resulting in unstable combinations that do not exist in nature. They're banned in more than 60 countries, but not in the U.S. They've increased the use of herbicides and toxic poisons used in agriculture and have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. The effects on humans have not been studied, but it doesn't look good.
- Unhealthy oils: Trans fats, partially-hydrogenated oils and other unhealthy oils, like canola, soybean, vegetable and sunflower oil, have undergone an industrial process to lengthen shelf life, but they also cause significant lowering of HDL (good) cholesterol and increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, clog our arteries, cause insulin resistance and/or contribute to type 2 diabetes, among other health problems. Top nutritionists at Harvard have concluded that trans fat could be responsible for as many as 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year.
- Antibiotics and hormones: Animals given unnecessary antibiotics result in products that are a direct source of foodborne illness. This kind of antibiotic misuse also makes us resistant to antibiotic medical treatment, meaning the good antibiotics we used to take to treat human diseases are becoming ineffective. Likewise, animals given residual synthetic hormones may increase the risk of cancer in humans and cause higher rates of infection in animals. The hormones also disrupt our natural hormone production, causing a host of hormone-related issues.
- Artificial colors: The cheap, artificial dyes used to color many foods today pose a risk for hyperactivity in children, cancer, and allergic reactions.
OK, enough about the bad. Let's focus on the good!
These are some of my favorite swaps for healthier packaged foods:
- Good Health Natural Foods Chips: If there's one food that I can't live without, it's potatoes. I know they're pretty nutrient poor and there are so many better choices out there…but… french fries. Come on, what's better than fries? Maybe potato chips. Yes, potatoes in all forms are my kryptonite. Now I know no nutritionist or doctor is ever going to recommend that I eat potato chips, but when I just can't help myself, I lessen the damage by choosing brands that don't use unhealthy trans fats or hydrogenated oils. Baked is better than fried, too.
- Mary's Gone Crackers: I'm a sucker for a good cheese plate, and none is complete without a crispy cracker. In an attempt to eat less gluten, I found Mary's Gone Crackers and I'm hooked! They're super crunchy and full of flavor, but they're organic, non-GMO and made with only whole grains. It's definitely an ingredient label you smile when you read…how often does that happen? (Cue to me standing in the juice aisle screaming about “natural flavors” and wondering what is so wrong with just using fruit juice….anyone else?)
- Food for Life Organic Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Bread: It's no secret that white bread is basically just calories with zero nutrition, and that's before you even consider all of the terrible additives in most store-bought brands. When I'm trying to eat the least amount of processed foods (that means avoiding all flour, as even whole grain flour is refined), I reach for Ezekiel sprouted bread. It's much denser than white bread, but it's got a great nutty flavor that tastes great when toasted.
- Kite Hill Plain Cream Cheese-Style Spread: There are plenty of farms out there producing full-fat cream cheese made from grass-fed cows raised without hormones and antibiotics (which is always a better choice than fat-free or low-fat factory farmed cream cheese), but for those times when I'm trying to reduce my dairy intake, I love Kite Hill's vegan cheese products. I served this cream cheese with smoked salmon on Mary's Gone Crackers at a party and nobody could tell it wasn't really cream cheese. That's my kind of healthy swap!
- Hungryroot Meals: Nothing makes my ears burn quite like hearing people talk about how they're super healthy because they have a Lean Cuisine for lunch every day. As you can see in the above graphic, what makes up most of those frozen meals barely constitutes food. Fortunately, there's a healthier alternative when you need a meal in a hurry: Hungryroot. I've tried a handful of these prepared meals and highly recommend their carrot pad thai. Admittedly, I don't normally love spiralized veggies in place of noodles, but in this flavorful dish, I didn't even miss the flour. A first, to be sure. They also have noodles made from celery root, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets and daikon. It's so refreshing to read an ingredient label where you can recognize and pronounce every ingredient on the list. The almond chickpea cookie dough was also awesome.
While it's amazing what a difference you can find between brands, it's important to note that the safe snack swaps aren't necessarily healthy or good for you. Rather they're simply healthier options. Not the best snack option (that's a piece of fruit or handful of raw nuts), but they are better. And that's a step in the right direction!
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust.