I’d say this is the most crucial strategy for eating healthy in the ERSS household.
It works so well for us that without it I doubt that we’d be able to sustain healthy eating for any period of time.
Our secret is this:
Here’s the thing:
When I’m craving something sweet, I don’t even have the option to eat anything processed, because we don’t keep cartons of ice cream or boxes of Chips Ahoy in our house.
When it comes time to make dinner, we can’t use any white sugar or processed pasta because we left it at the store!
Instead of white sugar, we use real maple syrup, raw honey, or sucanat because that’s all we have in the house.
In fact my mother-in-law made the comment when she was babysitting that we didn’t have any snack food to munch on. That’s because we try to make all of our snacks from scratch which is sometimes a pain to make all the time! Plus when you eat super nutritious food you don’t feel the need to snack between meals.
Course that is all going to change probably as our kids get bigger!
If you’re just starting out with a real food diet, you probably don’t know how to cook with raw honey or amaranth flour or cocoa butter. You might not even know what arrowroot is. I didn’t know any of those ingredients until about 2 years ago.
It’s not helpful to just tell you “hey, use arrowroot instead of flour” because it won’t work – it’s more complicated than that.
So today, I’ve picked some of our favorite, go-to healthy ingredients that we always have on hand in our house. Here they are:
The 8 Healthy Ingredients We Couldn’t Live Without
What is it: It’s often considered a grain, but it’s gluten-free. It’s very dense and has a nutty, breadcrumby flavor (in other words, don’t just throw it in to replace flour in a cookie recipe). The flavor goes really well with dinner-type recipes, but not so much for desserts.
Uses: It can be used as a nutritious thickener for your gravy. We use it all the time for recipes that ask you to coat something in flour before frying (onion rings, chiles rellenos, sweet and sour chicken).
Find it: It’s common in health food stores like Whole Foods Market or any local health stores you have. We usually buy ours on Amazon.
What is it: It’s a starch that comes from the root of the arrowroot plant. It is used as an all-natural and gluten-free thickener.
Uses: It’s used in soups and gravies for thickening. Do not use in dairy-based sauces because it turns slimy. Trust me, it looks like boogers. I have seen it some dairy recipes but I wouldn’t try it by myself.
Find it: Arrowroot is pretty easy to find in the baking aisle or at health stores for sure. Oh yeah, and Amazon, like everything else in the universe.
What is it: Cocoa butter is fat that comes from the cocoa bean. It’s a very stable fat, meaning it has a shelf life of up to 5 years. Cocoa butter is also solid at room temperature and a little brittle so MAKE SURE YOU BUY THE WAFERS!
Uses: This is a little more of a specialty item because we don’t cook with it often. However, it’s great for things like homemade chapstick or cosmetics because it’s all-natural, hardens up well, and has been shown to heal damaged skin (great for lotion!). We use it in our chocolate recipe, and Erin’s working on an Oreo recipe with it to firm up the filling.
Find it: It’s easily available in health food stores, on Amazon, or the best price I’ve found is from Mountain Rose Herbs (just search for cocoa butter when you go there). Always try to buy cocoa butter with the Fair Trade label on it since child/slave labor among other things is an issue with the production of cocoa.
Organic, Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
What is it: It’s a type of vinegar made from apples (duh), and it adds more flavor than regular vinegar does. It’s proven to be incredibly healthy – including for soaking nuts, seeds, beans, and flour to eliminate anti-nutrients and break down gluten. It can also help with weight loss and to eliminate calcium deposits in joints to ease arthritis.
Uses: In addition to neutralizing anti-nutrients, we use it often in marinades. Simply substitute it for regular vinegar for a little extra tang. It’s in our sweet and sour chicken recipe, and we drink it with raw honey during juice cleanses for some extra nutrients.
Find it: We usually buy the Bragg’s brand, and it’s found in tons of stores nowadays. In fact our local Sprouts has started making a private label version that looks just as good to me! We buy this stuff by the gallon. Course you can find it on Amazon too. Are you seeing a trend here? Seriously Amazon is Ah-mazing (check out that link to find out how we save money every month)!
What is it: It’s the unrefined version of sugar cane (sugar cane natural). Normal white sugar usually comes from GMOified sugar beets that has been through LOTS of chemical processing. Sugar cane is still generally grown with pesticides, so grab the organic version.
Uses: It tastes a little closer to brown sugar than regular white sugar because it still has a little molasses left in, but the slightly different taste is worth the health benefits. It still works in most recipes in a 1:1 ratio.
Sucanat comes in bigger chunks than white sugar and can leave a gritty texture if you don’t take care of it. If your recipe requires cooking (like a cake), the sucanat should dissolve fine and not be an issue. If you’re not cooking the recipe, you have 2 choices: grind it up, or dissolve it over a stove with a liquid. We have a chocolate cream pie recipe where we grind up the sucanat into dust and it mixes in fine. I’ve also made hot chocolate powder where I ground up the sucanat so it dissolved faster when added to hot water.
Find it: Sucanat is one of the more common health foods to find nowadays – I’ve even seen it in some mainstream grocery stores like Winco! We buy it out of bins at a local health food store, but it’s also easy to nab at Amazon.
Raw, Local Honey
What is it: It’s the unprocessed version of what you’ve probably been buying your whole life. Honey naturally has beneficial enzymes and even contains traces of pollen that fortifies your immunity to local allergens. The unprocessed stuff isn’t any better than white sugar. Our holistic doctor recommends a spoonful of raw honey a day because it’s so beneficial.
Uses: Obviously, you can use it like normal honey, but also try it as the main sweetener in meals and desserts. We use it in our sweet and sour chicken, slow-cooker sweet pork, ice cream, and much more.
The more you learn to use things like real maple syrup and raw honey, the easier it will be to toss out your bag of white sugar. And light it on fire so no one else can use it.
Find it: Ideally, you’ll find this locally. A farm here in Utah sells their honey by the 5lb tub and delivers it all over the state. I’ve seen in it on Amazon too but it’s not always available there. :).If you try to buy some off your shelf at the local health store, it’ll probably be insanely expensive.
Do some research of local farms and CSAs and see if there’s raw honey available at a better price for you. Get in the habit of checking out what veggies, meat, milk, eggs, and honey you can buy locally and you’ll be supporting small farmers and sustainable agriculture (plus it’s often cheaper).
If all else fails, you can buy it off of Amazon but it is a bit pricey.
What is it: When a grain begins to sprout, the gluten, phytic acid, and unhealthy enzymes (basically the reasons we know carbs to be bad) break down. Since it isn’t processed, sprouted flour maintains nutrients not found in white flour.
Uses: Sprouted flour is much more dense and has a stronger flavor than most flour, so be careful when exchanging it in recipes. I use it all the time, but it’s always in a recipe I found online or one of our own recipes that we’d already put in the work to invent. You can find recipes online for cookies, bread, muffins, tortillas, cakes, and more.
Find it: We have a few local stores that sell it pretty cheap (around $1.50/lb) and you can also find it on Amazon. Our local health stores also sell sprouted loaves of bread, hamburger buns, tortillas and more, but they’re usually pretty expensive. It’s worth learning how to cook with it.
Unrefined, Virgin, Organic Coconut Oil
What is it: Pretty self-explanatory – it’s just the oil that can be pressed out of a coconut. It’s healthy because it doesn’t need to be processed to extract and contains loads of healthy fats. In fact, many people (including us) consider it to be one of the world’s healthiest foods, especially in healing your metabolism.
Uses: It’s got INSANE uses. Check out Hybrid Rasta Mama and her 333 uses for coconut oil! We’re focusing on the culinary uses here – it’s great for any kind of frying or deep frying. However, unless you get the refined version, it’s got a little coconut flavor to it. I normally don’t like coconut, but it’s light enough that I enjoy it and usually don’t really notice. I’ve used it for frying eggs, in pancake mixes, and in my granola. It’s versatile and tasty.
Find it: It’s very common nowadays. You can find it in most stores and online, but the cheapest we’ve found is at Costco. Costco is seriously becoming AWESOME for organic goodness products!
Using Them In Recipes
That’s not a complete list of the healthy ingredients we use, but it’s a start (I left out some of the obvious ones like organic brown sugar and organic cane sugar because they’re used exactly like their processed counterparts).
Here’s my challenge for you:
If you finish up your canola oil, grab a jar of coconut oil. If you finish your honey, grab a local and raw version!
Then, begin learning how to use these different versions in your cooking!
For us, it started by finding recipes. After a bit, we knew enough to start experimenting on our own and healthifying the meals we already loved and had eaten our whole lives (like pizza!).
You can check out healthy versions for 5 of our favorite foods here! (It’s free and comes in a printer-friendly PDF).
Start working on your healthy recipe index and start stocking up on healthy ingredients.
That two-part strategy has easily been our biggest secret to sustained healthy eating.
What’s helped you be a healthier eater? What’s the next healthy ingredient you’re going to add to your pantry?