As much as the blogosphere makes me aspire to be a true frontierswoman—grinding, fermenting and canning my food into homemade pantry creations—the truth is I simply don’t have that kind of time. Recreating Juice Press’ almond-tamari kelp noodles is my idea of a fun DIY project, not making said almond butter from scratch.
Though I tip my chef’s hat to all the DIY gods and goddesses out there, if I’m being honest with you and myself, I get a lot of help from packaged food brands. I’m not talking quick fix microwave pizzas. Rather, the things I stock are gateway cooking products (a jar of tomato sauce, perhaps an occasional gluten-free crust). Gateway cooking products aren’t a meal in and of themselves. But they often shave off precious weeknight time in the kitchen. And because I try to buy consciously, I rely on brands that share a similar ethos in their kitchens as I do in mine.
Last month I finally read Megan Kimble’s fabulous book Unprocessed, and got a chance to interview her (more on that soon, hopefully!). She got me thinking about where I draw the line when sourcing products for my home. The Wellness Project lead me down the rabbit hole of detoxing most of my house—unprocessing my big beauty skincare and makeup in favor of chemical-free mom and pop brands. But at the grocery store I often rely on the ethos of Whole Foods to do the screening for me.
I read ingredient labels, and am conscious of weird chemical stabilizers and added sugar—which, in and of itself, adds a layer of processing to whatever it touches. But I seemed to be overdue for a deep dive into the sourcing of some of my favorite products.
Unfortunately, we can no longer casually rely on the stories told to us on the front of our cans, jars and boxes. Food terms like “organic” are slowly becoming more watered down. And thanks to the marketing machine, their predecessors “healthy” and “natural” have little to no meaning at all. So how do you know which brands to trust?
After I attended ExpoWest, one of the country’s largest natural product tradeshows, and was surprised to see some very big (not-so natural) players there, I started doing more digging. If I was putting my hard earned dollars in the hands of premium (read: expensive) products, I wanted to make sure that the quality really matched the price tag.
Since it’s #SpringPantryPurge month, I thought it would be the perfect time to spotlight some of the brands I actually trust, and use regularly to make my cooking life that much easier (and healthier). Most are certified organic and non-GMO. Others I included because I haven’t found a better alternative. This is by no means a comprehensive list. For instance, I did not include the local kraut I’m obsessed with. Instead, I focused on my pantry stalwarts that you too are likely to be able to find, even if they’re family-owned.
I’m very curious to hear from you in the comments section if you have any go-to brands that are equal parts healthy, delicious and responsible. Chatter away!
From one healthy, product-junkie hedonist, to another,
p.s. None of this post is sponsored, though I have gotten sent products from a few of these brands over the years. Sometimes that was how I discovered them!
Deli meat gets a bad rap on the health front, even from those who are not pushers of veganism. That’s because most products are highly processed and include all sorts of flavor additives and other junk. Not to mention that the meat is usually factory farmed and filled with hormones before it’s even preserved. Luckily for us turkey sandwich and Sunday bacon lovers, Applegate Farms has great quality organic meats without nitrates and other baddies added to the mix.
By far my favorite brand of gluten-free pasta, Bionaturae is still a family-oriented, privately owned company with a commitment to organics. Their olive oil, vinegars and tomato paste are also great options. I should note that the pasta has some soy in it, which isn’t great for us Hashimotos sufferers. But it’s non-GMO and I turn a blind eye because the gluten-free spaghetti texture is so damn good sometimes I worry that I’ve picked up the wrong package.
Though not all of their milled grain products are non-GMO and organic, the vast majority are. There’s no better resource for obscure gluten-free fours, and I owe many of my pantry’s hoarded jars to BRM’s product offerings. Hazelnut flour, anyone?
My mom was an early adopter of their canola mayo, and I became completely hooked on the flavor, which is a bit tangier and lemon-forward that what you get in the Hellmann’s bottle. They also make amazing organic oils that come in glass packaging.
Though it’s slightly pricier than FAGE, Charlie and I have become Siggi’s devotes. The texture of this Icelandic-style skyr is dense and creamy—the yogurt equivalent of what Italian gelato is to American ice cream. Its not certified organic or non-GMO verified, but the company uses only grass-fed milk and does not support the use of growth hormone in dairy cows. They also have a commitment to producing low-sugar products. Plus, if you live on the East Coast, you can sleep better knowing that it’s local. All cows are from small family farms in upstate New York. Here’s another interesting article on how different yogurt brands stack up.
As mentioned above, I love me some mayo. So it says something that I am equally devoted to the Follow Your Heart Vegenaise as I am to the real stuff. Their new Sriracha Vegenaise is completely soy-free and has a great fiery flavor. And more importantly, even the products that do contain some soy protein are verified by the non-GMO project.
I met the founder, Bob Goldberg, a month or two ago in New York City, and he definitely reflected the company’s mission of heart-centered food. Meeting makers like this, who are still so full of passion and intention, even as their companies expand and scale, always gets me on board with the food they’re selling.
There are so many brands now offering up artisan grains. (I also like Lotus Foods). But Lundberg has been around since the beginning. They are still a family-owned company and have a great array of rice and rice-based products. I always have their organic long grain brown rice on my shelf.
8. NOW Foods
I’m a relatively new fan of this company, after being introduced through my friend Amie Valpone. Any brands she trusts, I trust. And I was excited to find a great source for nuts and seeds, since I hoard so many of them.
One of the biggest arguments for avoiding canned foods is the BPA plastic in can liners, which can leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals into your food. Because of it’s commitment to cleaner packaging, Eden Organics is the brand I seek out for my canned beans. They are also one of the oldest independent organic food producers in the U.S. and have a proven commitment to not using GMO ingredients, which is especially impressive given how many soy products they offer. (While doing some digging for this post, I came across an unsettling article about the company’s gender politics. I’ve never had to boycott a kitchen brand because of any politics other than food, so will have to think more about this one.)
Trader Joe’s is another great source for BPA-free canned products, but their sketchy sourcing practices has drawn controversy over the years. Same goes for Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, which is not completely BPA-free just yet, but working on it. Some have raised an eyebrow about how organic their products can be if produced on a large scale in China.
10. Canyon Bakehouse
My kitchen is never without a loaf of gluten-free sandwich bread in the freezer, for all those emergency avocado toast cravings. I love the texture of Canyon Bakehouse’s 7-grain blend. It still has a few types of sugar in it, but slightly less gram-wise than Udi’s (though I still buy their breads as well.) For people really looking for healthier carbo-loading Ezekiel is the health food store favorite. But sometimes I just want toast that tastes like my old unhealthy sandwich bread.
For more upscale olive oils than the value jugs at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, Lucini has some delicious offerings. They also make a handful of other organic Italian artisinal products like tomato sauces and vinegars.
I try to make my own hummus. But I often shovel it down with some of these whole grain super seedy crackers. The ingredient list is simple, and always organic, non-GMO and gluten-free! I’m partial to the original flavor.
13. Numi Tea
You wouldn’t necessarily think that tea would be somewhere to watch out for GMO’s and pesticides, but after chatting with Miriam Novalle (otherwise known as the Tea Lady) last year, I’ve tried to source my teas from brands like Numi, who value organics and non-GMO practices. I’m addicted to the turmeric tea bags. And I still also love Traditional Medicinals for my Throat Coat and Breathe Easy teas.
14. Kerrygold Irish Butter
Though its not 100 percent non-GMO, this butter brand (long touted by Dave Asprey), is made from 90 percent grassfed cows. I don’t use it like a super food, as the Bulletproofers do, but I like buying rich European butter to add a little extra indulgence to certain foods like lentils.
Unlike normal soy sauce, San-J Tamari is naturally brewed with 100% soybeans and no wheat. Their Tamari is certified gluten free, kosher, vegan, and Non-GMO Project verified. As I mentioned above, I don’t eat a ton of soy anymore, but I make an exception for gluten-free tamari since I love Japanese food.