Even when we make a conscious effort to buy healthy, whole foods, to choose organic when possible, and to spring for expensive “superfoods” like goji berries, there may be simple everyday ingredients we’re overlooking in our Super Healthy Kitchen. Check out these easy substitutes for common not-so-healthy items:
Table Salt >> Himalayan Pink Salt
Table salt is a highly processed and chemically refined version of naturally occurring sea salt. This bleached salt contains additives, namely iodine (which, funny enough, was removed in processing) and anti-clumping agents made of aluminum (not advisable to eat because it’s a neurotoxin and linked to the development of Alzheimer’s).
Unrefined salts, such as Himalayan pink salt (and Celtic grey salt and black lava salt) contain trace minerals essential for bodily function. Himalayan salt, which gets its pink color from trace amounts of iron, is considered to be the purest form of salt in the world because it’s mined from ancient salt deposits and has not been contaminated by the environmental pollutants that other sea salts have been exposed to.
Due to its mineral content, Himalayan pink salt is said to have a wide range of health benefits like eliminating toxins, improving circulation, balancing the body’s pH, electrolytes, and blood pressure, and supporting proper nutrient absorption. Unfortunately, many of these health benefits are unsubstantiated due to absence of study.
Although salt gets a bad rap in our culture, it’s beneficial to consume healthy amounts of unrefined salts. Sodium is essential for balancing fluids in the body, transmitting nerve impulses, and managing muscle contraction and relaxation.
Dietary guidelines recommend limiting sodium intake to under one teaspoon (2,300 mg) daily, which includes the sodium added to processed foods (unless you have or are at risk for high blood pressure or kidney disease, in which case you should limit intake to 3/4 teaspoon or 1,500 mg daily). However, reasonable amounts of sodium are typically easy to stick to within a healthy natural diet–it’s processed foods that tend to put people over the top.
Table salt can easily be replaced with Himalayan pink salt in cooking, baking, and adding to food to taste. You can even make Sole, a healthy and energizing drink with it!
Most large grocers carry a Himalayan pink salt grinder (Trader Joe’s version is only $2!). A few sources have recommended that HimalaSalt is the ideal brand for its superior production and sustainability standards.
Butter >> Ghee
Butter is not bad for you. (Like salt–well, like most things, really–it’s not healthy in excess, but in and of itself it’s perfectly fine.)
But ghee is probably better.
Although both are the fats of whole milk, ghee (clarified butter) has a different fat content, which actually lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and promotes heart health when consumed at moderate levels (less than 2 tablespoons per day).
Ghee is better on dairy allergies (lactose and casein are removed in the clarification process) and is rich in butyric acid, which is known to heal the gut, reduce inflammation, and improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Additionally, ghee keeps longer than butter without refrigeration (it has a lower moisture content), and it has a much higher smoke point (500 degrees!), which makes it a healthier option for cooking.
You can find ghee at natural foods stores, or easily make it yourself with this recipe.
Vegetable Oil >> Coconut Oil
For decades, vegetable oil has been promoted as a healthy alternative to saturated animal fats, like butter. However, new research shows that it’s actually considerably less healthy.
The basic “vegetable” oil you’ll find in the supermarket is processed from the seeds of corn, rapeseed (canola), soybean, cottonseed, or whatever mix of those is cheapest at the time. These seed oils are only a recent addition to the human diet–they’re extracted via chemical processing (a fairly new technology), as opposed to fats that have been consumed for eons, like olive oil and butter, which are extracted via pressing or natural separation.
Vegetable oils are high in trans fats, which are widely known to increase a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. The particular fat content of vegetable oils also upsets the balance of essential fatty acids in the body, contributing to systemic inflammation, which further contributes to disease.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, has a fat profile that is actually linked to reducing risk of cardiovascular disease: it’s high in saturated fat (not so bad, don’t worry) and medium chain fatty acids (more easily digested and converted into energy than the more common long chain fatty acids, which get stored as fat). It’s also high in antioxidants and lauric acid, which is great for the immune system (coconut oil is 40% lauric acid, the richest natural source available!). And its antifungal and antimicrobial properties can help reduce candida and yeast and fight infection and illness.
As a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high smoke point, so it’s healthier to use in cooking/baking than vegetable oils, which easily break down into disease-causing free radicals when heated. It does lend a mild coconut taste when used in large quantities…but either go for it or don’t use it in such large quantities!
Soy Sauce >> Tamari
Although soy sauce and tamari are both made from fermented soybeans, the process and product differ: soy sauce is brewed from almost equal parts soybeans and wheat, whereas tamari, a byproduct of miso paste, is made primarily of soy. Flavor and nutrient content varies between the two, based on variations in wheat versus soy fermentation.
Tamari is considered to be healthier than traditional soy sauce because it has less sodium and more protein and amino acids per serving. Also, tamari can be gluten-free, for those who are counting.
Since it’s made of soybeans, choose organic tamari if you’re interested in avoiding GMOs.
And what about Liquid Aminos as a soy sauce alternative? Liquid Aminos are produced through a chemical process rather than a natural one, like fermentation (how soy sauce and tamari are made). It’s typically best to avoid chemical processing, as it’s a sign that the product is not quite real food.
Sour Cream & Mayo >> Plain Yogurt
Sour cream, made from fermented cream, and mayonnaise, made from egg yolks and oil, are both high in fat. Plain yogurt, even if made from whole milk (also high in fat), contains beneficial probiotics for gut health. (Although sour cream is produced through fermentation, which produces probiotics, the bacteria die off during processing.)
Plain yogurt can replace sour cream or mayo in most recipes. Dollop plain yogurt on chili or other spicy foods, use in tuna and egg salad instead of mayo, in boxed macaroni and cheese instead of milk/butter, or even in this homemade yogurt ranch dressing.