Healthier Condiments from Real Food Ingredients? Count Me In!

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I noticed something interesting when I started to replace processed foods in my diet with real foods, which is that my taste buds became eerily sensitive. For the most part, it was wonderful because the natural flavors in foods became so much richer. Tomatoes, bell peppers, even cucumbers had a nice pop of flavor.

The downside was that whenever I did eat something processed, I could literally taste the chemical additives or whatever cruddy ingredients were in it. If I kept eating the food anyway, my taste buds would eventually accommodate… but then my brain would rebel and punish me with a headache.

I never got headaches from eating processed foods before my healthy transition, so it was pretty strange. I mean, obviously that was my body telling me to cut it out and stick to the healthier stuff, so it wasn’t such a bad thing. But there were foods I definitely missed and condiments were high on that list. Soy sauce, thousand island dressing, ketchup, and even table salt started to gross me out. My french fries were so lonely!

Then something magical happened… I found the good stuff!

While traditional supermarket condiments are full of refined sugar, processed fats, and synthetic additives, their healthier counterparts are full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The best part is that the good stuff actually tastes amazing!

Salt

Most restaurants use regular white table salt and, thankfully, I can’t taste the chemicals when it’s already buried in food. But if I shake some into my palm and then lick it? Agh! It’s so metallic… which makes sense, now that I know how it’s manufactured.

First, the makers of white salt will chemically process what used to be natural salt, stripping it of its valuable minerals. Then they bleach it (no, I’m not kidding) because… well, I guess folks find it more appealing to see bright white salt on store shelves? I don’t know. Have you ever seen someone who’s gone too far with the teeth whitener and it looks so fake that their smile actually becomes unattractive? That’s how I feel about the white of table salt now that I eat the unrefined stuff.

Anyway, this isn’t the end of the story. The white salt makers don’t want the salt to clump up in the shaker, so they also mix it with harmful ingredients, such as aluminum and talc. Gross, right?

By contrast, unrefined salts are full of healthy trace minerals. They are not chemically processed and they contain no harmful additives. It’s just salt in its raw, natural form. The flavor is intense and absolutely delish.

Healthier unrefined salts:

  • Himalayan salt is pink, thanks to its naturally rich iron content. It also possesses all 84 essential trace elements that are required by our bodies.
  • Grey sea salt is mined from the sea. Well, kinda. It actually comes from clay-lined, mineral-rich seawater ponds on the coast. Like Himalayan salt, grey sea salt is naturally infused with dozens of healthy trace minerals.
  • And if you wanna get fancy… black and red salts both come from Hawaii. Red salt comes from volcanic clay (‘alaea’) and is exceptionally high in iron and other trace minerals. Black salt comes from volcanic lava and gets its color from the activated charcoal, which is helpful with digestion and detoxification.


Ketchup

French fries rejoice! Most ketchup recipes are made from tomatoes, vinegar, salt, pepper, and some amount of sugar. Unfortunately, most supermarket brands also add a bunch of sugar (way too much!) and to make it worse, the sugar is often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. They also tend to overload it with salt and punch it up with artificial flavors and preservatives.

A couple things to note here. First, the sugar and corn syrup are likely genetically modified, which, as of this writing, doesn’t have to be communicated on their label. Second, if you’re one of the zillions of folks out there who is sensitive to MSG, be aware that MSG is often hidden inside the deceptive ingredient, called ‘artificial flavors’.

Healthier brands make their ketchup from real food ingredients, skipping the synthetic junk and deceptive labeling. For the healthiest version – and, in my opinion, the tastiest version – choose ketchup that is certified organic and free from GMOs.

Mustard

Mustard is typically made from mustard seeds, white vinegar, water, salt, turmeric, and other spices such as paprika, clove, or garlic powder. Most recipes are free from sugar, so you can use it more liberally than other condiments without worry. And since mustard seeds are naturally packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants, it’s a great choice overall.

That said, skip the supermarket brands that boost the flavor of their (already flavorful) mustard recipes with a somewhat deceptive ingredient called ‘natural flavors’. (Like artificial flavors, these so-called natural flavors are also manufactured in a lab.) Healthier mustards use organic ingredients and replace the refined salt with sea salt. Yum!

Steak Sauce / BBQ Sauce / Teriyaki / Worcestershire

Most commercial steak sauces – along with their BBQ, teriyaki, and Worcestershire cousins – suffer from pretty much the same ingredient issues as ketchup does. They’re loaded with refined salts and sugars (usually high fructose corn syrup), and artificial flavorings.

Look for alternatives that flavor their sauces with real veggies and spices, ideally organic. Also look for those sweetened with cane sugar, maple syrup, or other healthier alternatives.

Side note: Vegetarians should know that most non-vegan Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies. I’ve been veg for over a decade, yet I only learned this recently, so I thought I should pass it along.

Mayonnaise

Most supermarket mayo is filled with unhealthy fats, such as genetically engineered soybean oil. It’s also high in sugar as well as synthetic preservatives.

While many healthier brands use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or cold-pressed seed or nut oils, they often still use eggs and non-GMO soy in their recipe. So if you are vegan, or if you’re sensitive to eggs or soy (both are high allergens), be sure to read the label carefully, even for these more thoughtful brands.

The good news for mayo lovers is that it is really easy to make your own. Most mayo recipes include only a few basic ingredients: olive oil, egg yolks**, lemon juice, mustard, and (unrefined) salt.

** Even if the recipe calls for eggs, you can just swap them out with flax seed eggs or chia seed eggs.

Flax or Chia Seed Eggs

Grind 1 tablespoon of flax seeds or chia seeds in a coffee grinder, or buy them already ground. Mix the seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and stir well. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then use it in a recipe as you would an egg. (You wouldn’t make a scramble with these eggs – these are just for baking.)

Salad dressing

It’s easy to make your own salad dressing. My go-to is a mix of lemon, olive oil, and sea salt. Sometimes I’ll also add a bit of stone ground mustard or some tahini and minced garlic. As a second fave, I also love throwing together some miso paste with rice vinegar, sesame oil, tamari or liquid aminos, and minced ginger.

I wish I could tell you the proportions, but I’m too lazy to measure. I just throw it all together!

If you’d rather buy a pre-mixed dressing, look for those made with olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, or other healthier oils.

Soy sauce

Traditional soy sauce is full of sodium, wheat, and MSG. Healthier options are actually not labeled as soy sauce but taste nearly the same. Tamari is made from soybean miso (miso is fermented), while liquid amino acids come from non-fermented soybeans or from coconut nectar.

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