Adopting a real food template has certainly changed the way my kitchen cupboards and inside of my fridge look, and experience working with different ingredients has taught me a lot about what is and isn’t worth buying. For example, some health foods and fancy ingredients can be expensive but aren’t particularly versatile. To further that, certain items that would have never crossed my mind before I can’t live without now – and I’ve decided to pay them homage in this post. You’ll be able to find these items in my kitchen at any given time as I eat the majority of them on a daily basis. And guaranteed as soon as they start running low, I’m making a b-line to the grocery store to stock back up!
1. Coconut Oil
I’m really not sure where to begin with this one because I love it SO. DAMN. MUCH. Sometimes I’ll enjoy a tablespoon stirred into my coffee in the morning, I cook my eggs in it for breakfast, I roast vegetables in it, I use it for all kinds of cooking and baking, you name it – the options are seriously endless. The flavour is subtle and lends itself beautifully in SO many applications. Try to choose organic, virgin and cold-pressed; I’ve been buying the big tub by Carrington Farms from the Dirty C (aka Costco) because it’s by far the best price out there – around $17 for 1.5kg! It’s also incredibly healthy. Because it is a saturated fat (not bad for you, remember?), is does not oxidize or form free radicals when heated to high temperature. The main source of fat in coconut – medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) – even has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. MCTs help your body better absorb calcium and magnesium, control blood sugar levels and provide a quick source of energy – in fact, MCTs are a preferred fuel source for your body and are unlikely to be stored, supporting healthy fat metabolism.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Each and every morning, as soon as I wake up, I down a big glass of cold, filtered water spiked with a tablespoon or two of raw apple cider vinegar. Sound strange? It may take some getting used to, but it’s an unbeatable way to wake up, encourage detoxification and prepare your digestive system for the day ahead! Raw apple cider vinegar is linked to more balanced blood sugar levels, clear skin and more. I love to use it in homemade salad dressing, too – my go-to dressing of choice is simply a bit of extra virgin olive oil, raw apple cider vinegar and cracked black pepper shaken up! A splash of apple cider vinegar is also great in homemade bone broth as the acid helps draw out some of the nutrients and gelatin. Look for the raw, unpasteurized kind with mother (the natural culture that has lots of beneficial nutrients, enzymes and probiotic properties) – Omega Nutrition and Bragg’s brands are both great.
3. Free Range Eggs
Just in case you’re not sick of reading about how awesome free range eggs are yet 🙂 Our house goes through several dozen eggs per week, minimum. They’re one of the most versatile, satisfying and cost-effective sources of high quality protein out here, and I enjoy them well beyond breakfast – they’re awesome in salads, for dinner, as snacks, you name it. It’s no surprise that I’ve named them among my gimmick-free superfoods, because they’re positively packed with nutrition to boot. And I ALWAYS eat them with the yolk – have I mentioned that cholesterol isn’t bad for you?
Nutrient-dense, fibre-rich,water-packed and the perfect base to any big ass salad! And I eat a LOT of salads, so spinach is a must-have in our household. I like chopping up the spinach beforehand so it’s easier to chew and digest, but trust me – nothing fills you up faster than a few cups of greens with a serving of protein and healthy fat! I also love a bit of wilted spinach as a side dish (quickly warm in a pan with some coconut oil or organic butter, garlic, salt and pepper). An easy, easily-digestible way to get more greens is to add a handful of the fresh stuff to your next smoothie – it might give your smoothie a funny colour, but trust me, you won’t even know it’s there!
Between breakfasts, lunches and dinners, I probably eat some form of fish at least 4 times per week. My favourite is salmon for the flavour, omega 3s and other range of nutrients, but we frequently switch it up with others like trout, tilapia or sole. For an easy, satisfying meal in less than an hour, simply broil and serve with a heaping side of veggies! If you find the fresh stuff too expensive on a limited budget, supplement it with the canned variety – for example, you can find wild, sustainably-caught canned salmon for as little as $2/can. Same with humble (but extremely nutrient-dense) sardines, which are an underrated superfood and have the added benefit of being low in mercury given they’re at the bottom of the food chain. Best way to prepare the canned stuff? Mash with a whole or half ripe avocado and season with chili powder, pepper, garlic, lime juice and some fresh cilantro. Enjoy as is, top with some over easy eggs, dip veggies in it or use as a topping for a big ass salad 🙂
6. Spices & Herbs
Another broad heading because I physically couldn’t choose just one! Learning to cook with a variety of spices and herbs – and keeping plenty on hand – is key to maximizing flavour and enjoyment in any real food diet. Spices and herbs are often also packed with various health-promoting properties, helping fight inflammation, balance blood sugar, boost immunity, support digestion and more. While I like to keep a variety on hand at all times, some of the most versatile varieties that I positively couldn’t live without include:
- garlic (fresh & powdered)
- ginger (fresh & powdered)
- black pepper (peppercorns freshly ground, of course!)
- chili powder
- fresh cilantro
Okay, I have to stop myself here because I could seriously keep going! Be sure to click the links for each to read more about their health benefits. Some say variety is the spice of life – I say spice is the variety of life 😉
7. Sea Salt
Sea salt has a way of enhancing the flavour of nearly every savoury meal and simply makes real food taste THAT much better. A real food diet is naturally low in sodium, so it doesn’t hurt to add some post-cooking if it means you’ll enjoy your food more – I know I do (think salt is bad for you? Think again). Choosing sea salt over table salt means you’ll enjoy some of the trace minerals to boot!
Do I really need to explain this one? Where some people might use a pre-workout blend (often filled with dyes, sugar or artificial sweeteners and any other number of fake ingredients), I like to stick to a few cups of real, good old fashioned coffee before any and all of my workouts. I tend to exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, and I find coffee gives me the perfect boost to help me wake up and get energized without weighing me down like a meal would. And for the record – coffee ISN’T bad for you. Quality counts, though, so try to make your picks organic and fair trade if possible.
Another no-brainer. Known in some circles as the butter pear (it is a fruit, after all!), avocado is hands-down one of my favourite foods. Creamy, delicious and packed with healthy fat, vitamins A and E, fibre, and on and on and on, I can hardly think of a meal it DOESN’T go with. Awesome with eggs and bacon at breakfast, in guac, in salads, in fresh salsa, as a topping on just about any protein (fish, chicken, etc) – or, simply enjoy straight up with a spoon and a sprinkle of sea salt as a snack (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done this). Your best value for buying avocado is usually going to be the Dirty C (aka Costco) – a bag of 5 big ones runs something like $5.99. I usually prefer to get mine from Pete’s, though, because they frequently have even better prices ($1 or less per avocado).
10. Cocoa Powder
Packed with antioxidants, a range of health benefits and versatile in baking and drinks, unsweetened organic cocoa powder has become a staple in my cupboard. It’s perfect to have on hand when I need to cure a chocolate craving or a sweet craving in general. I’ll often enjoy a spoonful stirred into my morning coffee along with coconut milk, but cocoa powder’s truly shining moment in my kitchen is in my recipe for guilt-free homemade dark chocolate. It’s also great if you’re trying to combat sweet tooth; simply boil some water and stir in some cocoa powder and stevia for a low carb dark hot chocolate (I learned this trick from Metabolic Effect – a great fat loss resource, by the way). Find it in the baking isle at any grocery store for somewhere in the vicinity of $5-7 depending on how big a container you buy and whether or not you choose organic.