Real-food or really unhealthy?
Store-bought toppings and condiments tend to get a bad rap for obvious reasons—many are filled with rancid and hydrogenated oils and fats, loads of sugar, synthetic preservatives, flavor enhancers and artificial dyes. On the flip side, store-bought versions really come in handy when you’re too busy to make homemade versions.
In today’s roundup, we’re going to dive into the topic of Toppings and Condiments and talk about how to find real-food versions in the grocery store. We’ll also share some simple, healthy swaps you can make in place of unhealthy, high-fat or sugary items.
How to shop for real-food toppings and condiments
If you frequent the FULLforLife website or our social media channels, you’ve probably heard us say more than once that when purchasing something in a box, bottle, package or can, reading the ingredients list is the only way to make an informed choice about your purchase. Why? Because it’s the only way to know what’s actually used to make that food (and whether it’s truly food or a nutrient-less substance).
A few pointers
For starters, check out the ingredients label and choose toppings and condiments with a short list of ingredients that you’re familiar with (aim for less than seven).
Next, look at the ingredients listed. If you wouldn’t find an ingredient listed on the label in your pantry or fridge (like natural flavoring or artificial coloring) then it’s probably a good idea to ditch it and move on to another brand.
Additionally, think about whether or not you could make the item at home without an ingredient listed (like oil or sugar). This is one reason why learning to cook is important. When you know how to make certain foods, you know that many of the extra fillers (like hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup) are not necessary. If you don’t know your way around the kitchen, no need to stress, we have all the articles and resources you need to learn.
Lastly, be aware of the fat, sugar and salt content. Because people tend to use more than an average 1 tablespoon per serving, make sure they don’t contain more than 3-5 grams of sugar per serving, that the sodium is kept to a minimum, and that the fats used are quality fats, such as avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, sesame seed oil or walnut oil.
Avoid items made with these ingredients
It’s important to know how to weed through the ultra-processed “food” and find real-food options. Along with ingredients that are clearly unrecognizable, here are some ingredients to avoid, or at least minimize, when shopping for toppings and condiments. You’ll find that many of these ingredients are standard in ultra-processed “food.
- Artificial sweeteners and refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Vegetable oils: palm, soy, corn, safflower, canola or cottonseed
- Hydrogenated oils or trans fats
- Artificial ingredients, coloring and dyes
- Unfamiliar ingredients
- Moderate to high amounts of sugar
Focus on swapping out one item at a time
Making the switch to a real-food lifestyle can feel overwhelming. Remember that a lifestyle is created by taking one small step at a time, not transitioning your entire kitchen at once. When you notice something is getting low, make a note on your grocery list and restock it with an FfL-friendly, real-food version. That way you can build your real-food kitchen, one ingredient at a time, without stress or shock to your budget and taste buds.
A few brands we love and enjoy
Today we have to balance eating real food and living in the modern world. Thankfully, more companies are stepping up to meet the demand for real-food convenience. Below are a few of our favorites:
Hands down our absolute favorite and go-to for condiments, sauces and dressings
- BBQ Sauce — BUY IT NOW
- Buffalo Sauce — BUY IT NOW
- Ketchup — BUY IT HERE
- Mayonnaise — BUY IT HERE
- Steak Sauce — BUY IT NOW
- Ketchup — BUY IT HERE
- Spicy Ketchup — BUY IT HERE
Some delicious real-food swaps
Be aware! You can drastically increase your fat, sugar and calorie intake if you don’t choose toppings and condiments wisely and watch your portions. A few simple swaps you’ll find whenever hanging out in our kitchen are:
- Plain Greek yogurt rather than mayonnaise or sour cream
- Across the board, we substitute Greek yogurt in any recipe that calls for mayo or sour cream. We use a 1:1 ratio when substituting.
- Consider salsa, hot sauce, avocados or veggies to top a baked potato rather than using cheese, sour cream or butter.
- Consider topping your salads and sandwiches with items like avocado, tapenade, hummus and roasted red peppers for a boost in flavor rather than using heavy dressings or mayonnaise.
- Rather than using a sugary dressing, we almost always add a small amount of fruit to our side salads (diced apples or berries are our favorite). Extra virgin olive oil and pure balsamic vinegar pair wonderfully with fruit as a dressing.
- Boiled down berries, such as our Blueberry Compote recipe, can be made with little-to-no effort and is a great substitute for sugary jellies and jams.
Deliciously Simple Real-food Condiments, Toppings and Dip Recipes
We believe a good condiment can turn any meal from boring to delicious, but recommend that you’re choosy when it comes to selecting ones that are best for your health. If you can’t find real-food versions at the store, try making your own. If they’re freezer-friendly, make a double batch to freeze and enjoy later.
Savory Toppings and Dips
Sweet Toppings and Dips
Take action today
- Check all the condiments in your kitchen and eliminate any condiments with “no-no” ingredients. Replace them with acceptable items.
- Try making your own condiment, topping or dip.
To learn more about real-food basics, check out the rest of our Healthy Staples!