10 Must-Swap Grocery Store Items: A Guide to Educated Consumerism, Part 3

Posted by Smita Kishore on

 This is the third post in a series of posts on consumer education. Click to read the first and second posts if you missed them!

As promised in our last post on consumer education, I’ve put together a list of 10 must-swap grocery store items for the betterment of your health, the world, and the environment. You’ll notice I've listed “Honorable Mentions” for some items. These are brands that are better than the majority, however, still have room for improvement in terms of ingredients. All of the honorable mentions are brands we're currently using in our home—either due to a lack of better options or because we believe in their mission to do better and support the world. In the words of my wise husband, the key takeaway here—as with all of our consumer education-related posts—is to “Do what you have to do, but just know what you are doing." 

Love + Light,

~Smita :)


10 Grocery Store Swaps You Need to Make Today!


1. Waffles

    • What You’re Getting: Most frozen waffles are filled with GMOs (soy lecithin, soybean oil), enriched wheat flours that convert to fat in our bodies, and palm oil, one of the leading causes of deforestation in the world, as well as increased global warming emissions.
    • Honorable Mention: Nature’s Path. Available at Target and Whole Foods.
    • Why It’s Better: The reasons why I love these waffles and this company go on and on.
      • Not only are these waffles organic and NON-GMO Project Verified, they are also vegan with some gluten-free options, and they taste better than any other frozen waffle we’ve ever eaten.
      • They are a family-owned company that’s rooted in sustainabilitythey are zero-waste—and giving back to communities in need.
      • They donate over 2 million dollars of food a year to the hungry and they've raised over $3 million to help endangered species.
      • However, (I know, there had to be something right?!) they do contain “organic flavor,” which is why I’ve given them an honorable mention because what exactly are organic flavors anyway?!

2. Cotton Balls/Cotton Rounds

    • What You’re Getting: Most cotton rounds are not only bleached and laden with pesticides, but they are often mixed with synthetic fibers that can cause irritation for people with sensitive skin. 
    • Our Go-To Swap: Organyc Cotton Rounds. Available at a variety of stores including Costco, Target, Walgreens, CVS, etc.
    • Why It’s Better: Other than being super soft and non-irritating to my sensitive skin, these cotton rounds are 100% certified organic, which means they are free of bleach, pesticides, and other chemicals. Their packaging is also made with renewable raw materials and is completely compostable. Better for you and the Earth!

3. Protein Powder

    • What You’re Getting: Protein powders are highly processed and filled with preservatives, GMOs, and artificial flavors. And even worse, they’re not regulated by the FDA. Consumer report studies have even found many protein powders to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals
    • Honorable Mention: Garden of Life.
    • Why It’s Better: 
      • The protein is derived from 13 different organic grains, seeds and legumes.
      • They are also organic, vegan, gluten-free, NON-GMO Project Verified, and free of added sugars.
      • They only reason they are an honorable mention is they contain organic vanilla flavor, which again, what does that mean?
      • We drink this regularly after our workouts and just love it. It also contains probiotics, which is a plus!
    • UPDATE (5/4/18): Unfortunately, I just learned of Garden of Life's sale to Nestle in December of 2017. While the ingredients in the product remain the same as of now, consciously, I can't buy or recommend a product that supports a company as unethical as Nestle. Therefore, our search continues. We will provide better swaps as soon as we find them—stay tuned! 
    • UPDATE (5/6/20): Our new go-to swap for protein powders is OWYN. Learn more about them here!
  • chocolate-bar-dark-fair-trade

    4. Chocolate

      • What You’re Getting: Aside from added sugars, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors, it's also most likely made from child labor. Chocolate is one item we always buy fair-trade, no matter what. Studies have shown that over 1.8 million children work in hazardous conditions in cocoa farms throughout the Ivory Coast and Ghana. While companies like Nestle and Hershey have pledged to reduce child labor in their cocoa-producing communities, it’s still continuing, and their workers who are of age continue to be underpaid. Not only is fair-trade chocolate better for the workers, but it’s also better for you as it’s typically higher in cocoa. How much cocoa do you think is actually present in a Hershey bar? A whopping 11%! 
      • Our Go-To Swap: Endangered Species Chocolate 
      • Why It’s Better: It’s Fair-Trade certified and 10% of net profits are donated to help protect endangered species. Be sure to read the labels though because some flavors contain "natural flavors." In other words: never trust any brand blindly!
      • Update (5/6/20): Alter-Eco is a new favorite! 


    5. Hand Soap

      • What You’re Getting: Hand Soaps are filled with tons of toxic chemicals that are probably worse for you than the germs on your hands! Just take a look at the ingredients in the popular Softsoap brand found at most stores.
      • Popular Clean Brands That Aren’t So Clean: MethodMrs. Meyers
      • Our Go-To Swap: AlaffiaAvailable at Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme. 
      • Why It’s Better: 
        • Free of the toxins found in most hand soaps, Alaffia's soaps are made with less than 10 ingredients including ethically traded shea butter, neem leaf, coconut oil, and essential oils.
        • They are a mission-driven company, with clean, fair-trade products, most of which are rated a 1/10 in terms of toxicity concerns by the EWG.
        • To date, they’ve funded over 4,000 births in Africa, donated 8,000+ bikes, planted almost 60,000 trees to help mitigate the deforestation problem in West Africa, donated over 20,000 eyeglasses to people in Togo Africa, and the list goes on.


      6. Granola/Protein Bars  

        • What You’re Getting: Most bars on the market are highly processed and loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients that make them more like junk food than healthy food. Not to mention, they contain way more ingredients than necessary. A general rule of thumb: If you don’t recognize an ingredient, don’t eat it. And, the less ingredients a product has the better.
        • Popular Brands That Aren’t So Clean:
          • Fiber One: Not only do they have way more ingredients than necessary in a bar, a number of them also contain artificial colors, which are linked to hyperactivity in children.
          • Nature Valley: While they may seem healthy, many of their bars contain highly fatty artificial sweeteners (corn syrup, fructose), palm oil (which as you now know is terrible for the environment), GMOs (soy lecithin, tocopherols, natural flavors), and rice flour (often linked to arsenic contamination when non-organic).  
          • Special K: Also contain artificial sugars (corn syrup, fructose, invert cane syrup, sugar), soy lecithin, and palm oil. Also, why do we need more than 3 kinds of sweeteners in one product?!
          • Clif Bars: Clif bars are made to be eaten when burning a lot of energy (long hikes, marathons, etc.). They are high in sugar (over 20g) and terrible if you’re just looking for a quick breakfast or “healthy” snack. To see how eating Clif bars affects your body if you’re not utilizing them properly, click here.
        • Our Go-To Swap: GoMacro Bars. Available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Fresh Thyme, and most health food stores.  
        • Why It’s Better: 
          • Free of artificial flavors and GMOs and made with consciously sourced ingredients. 
          • Family-owned company that’s committed to sustainability and giving back
          • NOTE: There’s still a decent amount of sugar in these (up to 14g) so best when eaten after a workout or breakfast on the go so you have time to burn that sugar off!


      7. Peanut Butter

        • What You’re Getting: Popular brands like Jif and Skippy contain added sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils since these oils don’t go rancid as quickly as organic oils. Hydrogenated oils are high in saturated fats, which raise our cholesterol levels and not the good kind!
        • Our Go-To Swap: Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Peanut Butter. To be honest, I’ve tried all of the fancy organic brands and even making my own, but there’s something I love about this one. The texture is just dreamy.
        • Why It’s Better: It contains one ingredient, which is all you really need in peanut butter: organic peanuts ;)
        • UPDATE (5/6/20): Our current favorite is Santa Cruz Organics. It's delicious, organic, NON-GMO Project Verified, comes in glass jars that we reuse to organize our pantry, and sustainably made. 


      8. Tea

        • What You’re Getting: Unfortunately many popular tea brands are not only tainted with cancer-causing pesticides, they are also filled with preservatives and artificial flavors (aka: GMOs). Not to mention, many tea bags are bleached or treated with epichlorophydrin, which becomes cancerous when placed in hot water, while others are made out of plastics that leach chemicals into our tea

        • Our Go-To Swap: When I’m not making my own loose-leaf teas, our go-to brand is Choice Organic Teas. For high-quality loose-leaf teas, I also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.
        • Why It’s Better:
          • Not only are they certified organic, fair-trade, and NON-GMO Project Verified, they’re also more affordable than Numi, and the other pricey organic brands.   
          • They purchase renewable energy certificates to offset 100% of emissions from their electricity usage and to support clean energy development. They also offer employees alternative transportation incentives to promote greener lifestyles.
          • They use unbleached, natural fiber, staple-free tea bags, and 100% recycled paperboard printed with plant-based ink, and much of their packaging is biodegradable.
          • While the price may seem expensive at first glance, especially when you’re comparing to commercial brands such as Lipton, it still comes out to about 30 cents a tea bag, which is really not much if you think about the work that goes into cultivating truly organic and fair-trade teas. While Lipton may be cheaper, is it really worth the savings when you know the potential risks to your health, the environment, and the lack of assurance of ethical labor practices? Just something to steep on.
          • Tip: Read the ingredients of your teas to make sure they are certified organic and free of natural flavors.


      9. Pads/Tampons

        • What You’re Getting: You might be surprised to know that most feminine hygiene products are not made out of cotton, but contain mostly rayon and other synthetic materials—most also contain bleaching agents that can’t be good for our delicate skin down there. Remember if it touches our skin—let alone a highly delicate female crevice!—it’s most likely getting absorbed into our bloodstream; so this is one area where it’s definitely worth doling out the extra cash for a clean product if you're able to afford the expense.
        • My Go-To Swap: Organyc. Available at a variety of stores including Costco, Target, Walgreens, CVS, etc.
        • Why It’s Better:
          • 100% certified organic cotton. Aka: no chemicals, no chlorine-containing bleach, no fragrances! Not to mention that organic farming is better for the soil, our health (no pesticides), and aims to work in harmony with nature.
          • All of their feminine care products are biodegradable, including the applicators, which means no more plastic applicators floating in our oceans!
          • The packaging is made with renewable raw materials that are compostable so the whole product is eco-friendly :)


      10. Cleaning Supplies

        • What You’re Getting: A bunch of toxic chemicals! Most cleaning products contain a number of ingredients on my ingredient watch list, including known carcinogens TEA, DEA, 1-4 dioxane, harmful fragrances, ammonia, and chlorine bleach. 
        • Popular Clean Brands That Aren’t So Clean: Method, Babyganics
        • Better Alternatives: Other than Dr. Bronner, I’m still on the search to finding green cleaning products that I really love or that are completely chemical free. The Environmental Working Group has a healthy cleaning guide that's been helpful in my search.
        • UPDATE 2021: We currently use Better Life products and are loving them!

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