With a cup of this and splash of that, you can transform a healthy dish into one that is anything but. Making your own meals is a well-intentioned effort that many people don’t get enough credit for doing. Whether you have a crazy-busy schedule or would rather just squeeze in a workout than stand over a stove in the kitchen, cooking isn’t always the most exciting part of your day. So if you want to cut corners in the kitchen, make sure you aren’t doing it with the wrong ingredients.
1. Vegetable Oils.
Soybean, corn, and cottonseed oil are highly processed and contain high amounts of essential omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. If eaten in moderation, omega-6 fatty acids can be good for your heart, but consuming too much of it can cause a negative imbalance with omega-3 fatty acids. Many Americans consume too many omega-6 and not enough omega-3s. To ensure you get both, swap in avocado or extra virgin olive oil. These oils also infuse a delicate, subtle flavor into your dishes.
2. Fake Butter.
“Some margarine tubs contain artery-clogging saturated fats and are made with processed oils that may be pro-inflammatory,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. Inflammation can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. For a healthier alternative, switch to grass-fed butter or pick up a product like Earth Balance, which contains a mix of less processed oils.
3. Food Coloring.
“Artificial food dyes, which many people use to color baked goods, are cause for concern and may have serious side effects—especially in children,” says Jay Cardiello, diet expert and personal trainer to the stars. “Red 40, for example, may contain cancer-causing contaminants, despite the fact that it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The dye may also be a potential trigger for hyperactivity in children. Instead, color your dishes with natural sources of color like beet juice, red cabbage, or paprika.”
4. Bleached All-Purpose Flour.
Cardiello advises against using bleached all-purpose flour. “Although it may give your food a nicer color and help you to create baked goods that are more soft and tender, the bleach chemicals may be harmful to your health.” Who wants to eat homemade bread or baked goods laced with creepy chemicals?
5. Processed Peanut Butter.
Many processed peanut butters have hydrogenated and processed vegetable oils that can raise cholesterol levels. “Whether you’re making peanut butter cookies or a Thai peanut sauce, use natural peanut butter that contains nothing more than peanuts and salt,” Smith says.
6. Fat-Free Dressing.
Low- or non-fat salad dressings overcompensate the lack of fat with a bucket of sugar, salt, and food additives.