Real Food Substitutions: Part 1, The Pantry

Real Food Substitutions for the Pantry

I remember when my cousin first alerted me to high fructose corn syrup. She told me two important facts: it makes you fat, and it’s in everything. I starting checking labels–she was right. Ketchup. Whole wheat bread. Jelly.

It was stupid. Why in the world did all these foods “need” corn syrup? It made me take a closer look at my normal, apparently healthy diet.

In the past few years, my research has led me to blacklist a few other unsavory ingredients as well. Learning to navigate food labels is one of the first and most important steps towards a real foods diet. When I did, I found that many familiar processed foods no longer sounded appetizing any more.

If you’re interested in switching to a real/whole foods diet, processed foods should be the first things to go. You’ll also want to inventory your pantry staples and make some healthy substitutions. Here are a few items to take a closer look at.

1. Canned foods

The problem: Many can linings contain BPA, an endocrine disruptor linked to cancer, ADD, and infertility. Canned soups often contain MSG, a flavour enhancer that causes brain damage. High levels of sodium are often found in canned vegetables and soups.

The solution: Use canned foods sparingly. Eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned, make soup from scratch, and use dried beans. Making your own soup and using dried beans will also save you money. Eric and I only stock a few canned foods now: coconut milk, tomatoes, wild salmon, and sardines. We’re able to find all of these items, except for coconut milk, for great prices at our local Aldi.

2. Sweeteners

The problem: White sugar can be addictive and emotionally disruptive, but many sugar substitutes such as agave nectar and artificial sweeteners are worse, playing leading roles in the obesity epidemic and even contributing to Alzheimer’s disease.

The solution: Use white sugar in moderation, and stock your pantry with mineral-rich, healthy alternatives such as raw honey, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, molasses, and sorghum.

3. Salt

The problem: Regular table salt is highly refined and processed. Naturally occurring trace minerals are lost during the processing, and replaced by chemicals and additives to prevent caking and give salt a uniform taste and color. This kind of commercially-produced salt is found in many pre-made pantry foods such as breakfast cereal, crackers, and soup, and has some serious health hazards like high blood pressure and heart failure.

The solution: Make granola, crackers, and cream soups from scratch! There is a recipe out there for anything under the sun. In your cooking, baking, and table seasoning, use a genuine sea salt or find Real Salt online or at your grocery store.

4. Baking powder 

The problem: Most baking powder contains aluminum, which you might want to stay away from if the links to Alzheimer’s prove to be true.

The solution: Your grocery store probably sells aluminum-free baking powder, such as Rumford brand. Alternatively, you can make your own.

5. White flour

The problem: When you eat nutritionally-stripped white flour products your body turns the simple carbs into glucose sugar, which provide you with a brief burst of energy–followed by a crash.

The solution: Limit your consumption of white flour (and buy unbleached), and stock your pantry with whole wheat flour. I like to buy white whole wheat flour (made from white wheat berries) since it has a milder, lighter taste than conventional whole wheat flour (which is made from red wheat berries).

6. Vegetable oil and shortening

The problem: Oils such as corn, canola, and soy are easily damaged when exposed to heat, leading to multiple health risks when consumed. Some types of vegetable shortening contain trans fats, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

The solution: Use virgin coconut oil for sauteing, frying, and baking. Use in its solid state (76 degrees or cooler) instead of shortening. You can buy virgin coconut oil for a good price at Costco, or online. Use extra virgin olive oil raw, or for very low-heat sauteing. Butter and bacon grease are also great substitutes for vegetable oil, depending on what you’re making.

I realize that some of this information can be intimidating. Just remember you don’t have to change your diet overnight–your chances of dying aren’t going to increase simply because you know more. Do your own research and make gradual changes as you feel necessary.

If you enjoyed this post, check back later this week for part two: real food substitutions in the fridge


  1. This is a great list and very informative. We’ve also eliminated almost all the canned goods (other than home-canned, of course). Palm shortening is a great alternative to vegetable shortening; we love to use it for frying and some baking. Thanks for linking up to Healthy 2Day Wednesday!

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