Real Food Tips: 10 Items I Never Purchased Before Cutting Processed Food

I used to think we were fairly adventurous eaters and cooks. And even though I didn’t actually learn to cook until after college, once I did I quickly dabbled in everything from homemade egg rolls to pasta from scratch to my grandmother’s crepes. Nothing could have prepared me though for all the “new foods” that I had to learn about – and now can’t live without – once we made the switch to “real food.” I am constantly amazed at all the items on my regular shopping list that I had never purchased before we decided to cut out processed food…

  1. Whole-wheat flour
    Other real food newbies likely “flirted” with whole-wheat flour on occasion, but no no…not me. I promise you that I had never before purchased or cooked with whole-wheat flour (because I hated anything made with it!) until the start of all this 2 years ago.

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  2. Oats
    We used to eat boxed granola cereal, but it never occurred to me that you could actually make it yourself (and that it would be soooo much better)! The main ingredient in homemade granola is oats and the first time I made it I found myself saying… “Are plain ‘oats’ just oatmeal?” I’ve never been an oatmeal fan myself (and I’m still not, although I’ve since learned that my kids love it) therefore I never bought oats for any reason, but now I buy pounds of it every week and get worried if our supply is low!
  3. Honey
    Somebody must have bought at least one bottle of honey before our switch to real food because I remember a tiny bear shaped container of it in our pantry that was all crusted over and crystallized from lack of use (LOL). Now I buy this stuff in big jars and use it in everything from the granola we love so much to our sandwich bread. I’ll be the first to admit that “sugar is sugar” (even if it contains trace nutrients like honey) so we still aim to use it in moderation, but it’s quite a change from my white sugar days. And trust me I used to use A LOT of sugar…brown, white, and powdered. :)
  4. Kale / Collards
    I could not have picked Kale or Collards out of a line-up to save my life. And even a year into our real food journey I still couldn’t say that I had truly adopted these as part of our regular menu. But, today I finally feel like I am figuring out how to not only incorporate, but also enjoy these nutrient-rich leafy greens (and occasionally even get my kids to eat them, too)!
  5. “Raw” nuts and seeds
    To me nuts were greasy, salty and packaged in a blue “Planters” container. I admit I didn’t even know what it meant for them to be “raw” so I can completely relate when readers ask me where in the world to find such a product. (Answer: The bulk bins at health food stores!)
  6. Pinto Beans
    I wouldn’t have been caught dead buying – much less eating – pinto beans and now my homemade slow cooker refried bean recipe (made from dried pinto beans) is one of my most favorite lunches! This might just be the strangest transition of them all…because it’s so ingrained in my brain that I don’t “like” beans.
  7. Whole Milk
    Okay, I shouldn’t say that I NEVER bought whole milk because my kids actually drank it for a short period of time when they were babies, but it is most certainly a beverage I didn’t drink myself (probably since I was a baby). I was a skim milk girl all the way, and I admit that I was a little “scared” to make the switch, but I am so glad I did! Now I know what “real” milk tastes like, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. (Note to the raw milk advocates…it’s illegal here in N.C., although I am not sure I’d drink it anyway.)
  8. Coconut Oil and Ghee (a.k.a. Clarified Butter)
    These are both unrefined “cooking fats” that I didn’t even purchase until long after completing our 100-day pledge, and to be honest I had no idea what to do with either one! I am finding that ghee is nice to have around because you can use it like butter, but it has a much higher smoke point so it doesn’t burn as easily. Also, there’s apparently not much you CANNOT do with coconut oil…just check out the reader comments in my post about it!
  9. Lara Bars
    I still call these “granola bars” out of habit even though I know there’s no granola in there, but that’s because they replaced my very regular consumption of “Quaker Chewy Granola Bars” (in the old days of course). My favorite Quaker bars were the peanut butter chocolate chip, but sometimes I would go for the variety pack to switch it up. J Now I instead have a stash of Lara Bars (the cashew cookie only has 2 ingredients!!) as the “just in case” snacks in my purse.
  10. Kiwi
    This might be a little random, but the point here is that it is never too late to try and “like” new foods. I am not sure why, but I never ate kiwi before last year (that I can recall) and one day my 4-year-old asked if we could buy one. I certainly wanted to embrace her little adventurous food streak (and set a good example about trying new stuff) so I said “yes.” And I am so glad I did because now that I’ve figured out that soft = ripe…I absolutely love kiwis! Who knew?!?

Please share any new-found “real food” that you now love in the comments below!

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255 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 10 Items I Never Purchased Before Cutting Processed Food”

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  1. Thank goodness I live in Pennsylvania where raw organic milk is legal. I grew up on a farm and love raw organic foods.
    In my teens – 30’s I ate lots of processed foods and always felt awful, not knowing why. Since I have gone raw organic, my joint pain has been relieved, I feel refreshed and invigorated in the morning and lost my belly fat.
    I am 55 and feeling great!

  2. Try raw unpasteurized honey. No, for those who are worried, it’s not dangerous, and it does not need to be regrigerated. It’s actually got antibiotic properties. It has tons of nutrients and raw enzymes that are very good for you. Do a search, you can find lots of information. I buy it all the time now and our kids love it.

    1. Just don’t feed honey to those under 1 year, their immune systems can’t process things that older people can.

  3. I’ve made the switch back to whole milk recently due to my 20 month old switching to milk after turning a year old. Buying the 2% and whole was just a hassle, so we just made the switch. It tastes so much better, and with the added bonus of Vitamin D! I forgot that whole milk is fortified with D and it’s so good for us!

  4. My new found real food is yogurt. I have never liked any brand of yogurt. I have a real sweet tooth and I don’t care what they called it cheesecake, or boston cream whatever it was a texture thing. Then one day reading a favorite homesteading magazine I found out I can make it at home in my oven!!! Yipee! Its easy and fresh and with a small drizzle of honey its perfect. If I run through a cheese cloth I have the “best greek yogurt” Who knew it was processing problem all along.

  5. before starting with the process of eating real food, I already bought 7 of the above products. Good news that made ​​me happy

  6. I love all of your posts and thanks partly to you (and other sites you recommend) I have switched to almost all unprocessed food! I am still learning though, but am so much closer to eating all ‘clean’ than ever before! thank you for that! One thing I have a question about is nutritional yeast.. Anyone use this? How does it work? What does it compare to?

  7. I have not yet tried the coconut oil and ghee myself, though I’m eager to see how you use them! I’ll have to search your site for some ideas there. Thanks for sharing this list again!

  8. This might seem like a silly question, but I have been “flirting” with Whole Wheat Flour for a few months but haven’t made the jump because I was unsure of how to use it. Is it the same as white flour? Do you just use it in it’s place? I wasn’t sure if you had to add anything to make it rise or whatnot.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Mandy. No, it’s not a silly question :-). Whole wheat flour will be more dense than all-purpose, so, it’s not as easy as a 1:1 substitution. You should probably take a look online at the many suggestions that are out there, but, you will likely have to reduce the amount of whole wheat flour in your recipes that call for all purpose. You will probably also have to adjust the amount of liquids in your recipe. There are a lot of recipes on this blog that Lisa has already adapted if you have not had a chance to take a look… Good luck. Jill

  9. My fave new “real” food is sorghum flour, closely followed by quinoa flakes, chia seeds, and all sorts of dried beans. Oh, and buckwheat groats are a huge staple now, instead of barley (we follow a whole foods diet with 22 food allergies and celiac disease).

  10. Thanks for sharing that article with me about milk. I am surprised that even though we are buying organic milk from a local dairy it still isn’t good.
    So I am wondering even if I make the change for my family I am lactose intolerant and can not drink milk. I usually drink rice or almond milk. I don’t even know if these are considered whole foods or not. They are organic and original flavor. Is this my best option or is there a better option?

    I have one more question about it. Is it better to get the homogenized milk or the cream on top kind? We can get either option but I don’t know if it makes a difference.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Esther. Lisa and her family drink the non-homogenized. It’s one less thing that has to be done to the milk. In terms of non-dairy, I realize there are only so many options out there (my husband is dairy free). When selecting the almond and rice milks, just be sure to use the unsweetened, original flavors. We also use coconut milk for baking, etc. Native Forest makes a good unsweetened one that is a good substitute for things like yogurt and heavy creams. Here is a recipe for almond milk if you’d like to make your own… Best of luck. Jill

  11. It’s on my New Year “goals” list. (recently started a 30 day green smoothie challenge to help!)

    Kale is on my list too! As well as Almond Butter and Chia Seeds. Never thought I would have bough them before I started my smoothie challenge, but now I love them!!

  12. Another excellent post. You are helping lots of people and that’s a wonderful thing. I am concerned about the milk. I think pasteurization is big time processing and destroys the benefits of an otherwise healhty food. When I drank milk I drank raw goats milk and it was delicious and very very health promoting. Sometimes even drank it straight from the pale. Have you been to the website “notmilk”? It is worth checking out. IMHO–drinking pasteurized milk is JUNK FOOD, might as well eat at McDonalds.

  13. Hi
    Where do you find/buy the unsweetened coconut milk? I have only seen in in the ethnic food section in a can and it is quite expensive and sweet. (I live in the Northeast)

    1. Virginie,
      I get our unsweetened coconut milk at our local grocery stores. In one store (Shaw’s) it is in with the “health food/vegetarian food” section. In the other grocery store, it is near the coffee, alongside the almond milk and (if you can believe it) canned goat’s milk… and we live in NH. It comes in a hermetic carton (like shelf-stable cow’s milk.) Try Shaw’s. They are all over New England.

    2. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Virginie. I buy it at Whole Foods or Earthfare. Native Forest has a good one that is unsweetened. Jill

  14. Throw some raisins, oatmeal, vanilla extract, and salt in a food processor and viola you have a clump of lara bar “dough” to shape however you’d please!!

    1. I have all these things in my pantry but it never would have occurred to me to mix them together. Is it really good? Can I use quick oats or are the real ones better? Do you have to let them “sit” to absorb the moisture? I bet my kids would love these. Do they harden enough to hold cookie cutter shapes? Thanks! Think I could use just a little hand mixture? How long do you mix for? Thanks in advance!

    2. Following up on Julie’s comment, I would love to know more about this recipe. Do you mean raw oatmeal or cooked oatmeal? What proportions do you use? Thanks!!!

  15. We use Coconut Milk (Unsweetened shelf stable cartons) for almost everything that calls for milk. Cereal and all recipes. Our 5 year old has really never had any other “milk”. Our teen doesn’t like Coconut Milk on her cereal, so I buy unsweetened almond milk for her.

  16. We drink the Homestead Gold Cap too! The creamery is just a half hour south of our house. I used to take the kids when they were little and the loved seeing where their milk came from. Keep up the good work.

  17. Love this post! I’ve already begun to buy some of these things on my quest to eating all whole foods. Like you though I never would have imagined eating these things before! What kind of whole milk do you buy?
    Thanks so much for this lovely post!

      1. If you are a little further up the Eastern coat (I’m 45min West of DC). You can try Holy Cow Delivery for milk and other farm goods. They have a list on their website of places they deliver. They also deliver meats, cheeses, granola and a whole host of other fresh products. I love that we’ve made the switch to healthier milk and meats. And I love supporting local businesses!

  18. Thanks for sharing this, real food while sorting out some tummy troubles here for two of our kids is one of this New Years goals… I’m excited to try some of the recipes here- have been thinking about making granola all week but hadn’t searched out a recipe as yet! Also- are the Quaker brand of rice cakes not considered real food? I didn’t see them on your cheat sheet- which I printed out and take grocery shopping now. Cheers.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Tina. Good luck with the tummy issues. I would need to see the ingredients on the quaker rice cakes to comment…I’m not familiar enough with that product. Jill

  19. I promise, if you could get raw milk you wouldn’t go back. I used to despise milk. Would only drink it if it came out of those little cartons at school. However, now that we have raw milk, the other stuff just isn’t the same and I love milk. :)

    1. I agree with Amy! Raw milk is so much better and healthier for you. Stronger teeth, stronger immune system, and many, many more benefits. Check for resources. Where there is a will, there is a way! I hope that you have ditched that microwave! :)

  20. I ordered coconut oil from (organic, was the top seller in the category), does anybody know if there is a coconut oil that does not contain such a high degree of saturated fat?? I mean, good to cut out processed food, but whole milk? Coconut oil? Your cholesterol and LDLs must hate you. I don’t think many processed free diets take this into account. I’m returning the oil as I don’t think 1 TB that contains 16grams of saturated fat is all that healthy. That being said, I love oats, honey and will be trying the brown/white rice trick someone mentioned…hubby hates brown rice.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Rebeca. The saturated fat found in coconut oil is called lauric acid, a type of medium chain fatty acid. This is different than most other fats that are long chain fatty acids. These medium chain fatty acids are actually said to have health benefits such as promoting your heart health, promoting weight loss and supporting your immune system, to name a few. So, before you decide not to use the coconut oil, I might suggest doing a little more research as to how beneficial it is. Best of luck to you and thanks for reading. Jill

  21. I wanted to mention that dehydrated kiwi is AWESOME!!! its like candy!!! (we also dehydrate watermelon!!!)oh so good!!!

  22. Lisa I happened across your blog about nearly a year ago and have really enjoyed your posts. My husband and I have made great improvements in eating real foods. I would agree that alot of these things on your list you have as staples we didn’t eat much of either. Thanks for your site and encouragement and making eating “real” real easy!!

  23. Be careful with kiwi. It’s in the same family as mangoes, which is in the same family as poison ivy and poison oak. If you are highly allergic to poison ivy (i.e. break out with even the faintest access), then chances are that you will also break out if you touch the SKIN of mangoes and the SKIN of kiwi. I didn’t realize this until about my 4th breakout, when my doctor finally told me about the association.

  24. While I’m not 100% process free, I do my best at making a lot of homemade snacks. I have canned fruits and veggies picked farm fresh, made my own granola bars and do not use plastic to store food in. You would be surprised at how many of my friends/coworkers think that I have lost my mind when I say I’m trying to eliminate more processed foods. Oh and I never use the microwave. I love the ideas and information I find here.

  25. I love this list. Not because of the items on it necessarily but that it brings to light that you can tell a lot about your eating habits by doing an “inventory” every time you are at the checkout line at the grocery store. I consider myself a pretty healthy eater (or at least I know bad when I see it) and I always look at my cart when I’m done at the store to make sure it reflects how I want my family to eat. It is a great time to do an overview.
    In my house, we recently cut back on rice (because of arsenic) and I’ve found myself delving into different grains. I’m not quite sure what to do with farro or amaranth but I’m hoping they make my list of staples by the end of the year :)

  26. Homestead creamery is the best milk! My husband was so skeptical but one bottle and he won’t drink anything else. Just tastes good.

  27. On the whole milk. I remember when they started to pasteurize it. It is a combination of cream and milk. Raw milk is so much better tasting. You can separate the cream and make your own butter (or ghee), and things that call for cream. The milk part is soooo tasty!

  28. a word of caution about #5:
    Raw nuts, not properly treated, can be quite harmful… a “nut” requires soaking for 12 hours in saltwater, rinsing, then low-temperature drying in order for us to properly digest them. And why must we take this extra step? Raw nuts contain phytic acid, a.k.a “enzyme inhibitors.” Our body produces enzymes to help us break down our food. Enzyme inhibitors are molecules that bind to these enzymes, rendering them useless. By clogging the delicate balance of digestion, nuts can give us a belly ache, among other reactions. Do a google search for more info…

    1. I never use salt when I soak my almonds, cashews, etc I just soak and rinse them and use them – (a simple plain clear water soaking rids them of enzyme inhibitors )- I don’t dry them if I am using them to make nut milk (lactose intolerant) I love eating raw soaked almonds even without drying them (although they certainly keep better if dried in dehydrator rather than storing in fridge wet).. after I soak them I rinse and use – simple as that…or dry if storing them..I soak almonds usually over night and cashews usually just soak a few hours although I have soaked over night just cause it was easier to do….and it doesn’t bother my tummy…I did do a search though on soaking in salt – had never heard of doing that before…interesting info…..I found some sites said either way works.. Perhaps the salt helps for those with more sensitive tummys ? Will look more into it :)

  29. So our family uses all of these but the whole milk. I am curious why skim milk is bad? My husband grew up drinking whole milk and we did have it while my daughter was little but we now drink only skim milk from a local organic dairy. So why whole milk instead of skim?

  30. Kitty, then what are you doing here? You say this post is disingenuous maybe you know a lot about eating right, real, whole foods, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t consume not one item from this list. In my old days if eating crap I wouldn’t have purchase a single item from this list, now these are some of my staples, too.

    Lisa–thank you for this post, I never read it the first time around since I’m a fairly new follower but this post made me realized I am in the right path to real food because ALL if these items are now a must have at home an just like you, you never would’ve seen any in my house before!

    1. One thing I forgot to mention about larabars, I don’t eat them, I make my own, it’s so easy. Have you consider making your own fruit and nuts bars?

  31. These are all staples in my house except for Lara bars and Coconut Oil. I have a friend that swears by coconut oil for healthy hair. Also, I recently read a study on the benefits of Coconut Oil for Alzheimers and MS. That alone is reason to add it to my grocery list!

  32. These are all staples in our house. But one real food switch I just can over come is white to brown rice. So far I have only tried one brand and it tasted a little like dirt. I make it for my daughter though and she loves it. What brand do you use? Also in some of your other posts you talk about how drinking alcohol is ok but I don’t completely understand why that is ok in your book but sugar isn’t? I would give up beer way before I gave up sugar. Not processed Keebler cookies or anything like that of course but treats that I make for myself. I only weigh 115 so I feel like I can get away with it.

    1. Try some of the other non white rices like pink or “forbidden” black rice. I have discovered that I do not like brown rice just plain but there are dishes where I do not notice its flavor as much such as beef with rice soup or dirty rice.

    2. One thing I have found helped us was to mix white rice with brown and over time slowly reduce the white rice and increase the brown rice.. made it easier to learn to like the taste of the brown rice (and easier to trick my son into eating it lol) since he doesn’t normally like brown rice – now it eats without any complaints….

  33. Skip the Lara bars. They’re a General Mills product, the same General Mills that’s reported to have donated more than half a million dollars to defeat prop-37 in California last year.

  34. I saw this post on FB and thought… “hey! is that Homestead Creamery?” We live very close to the plant and I just recently started buying their milk. Not sure why I waited so long.

    Thank you so much for your blog… you have inspired me to cut out processed food and I’m happy to say we are several weeks into an effort to cut out absolutely as much of it as we can. Numbers 4,6,8 & 9 are the only things on this list that I don’t purchase on a regular basis. I’ve enjoyed so many of your recipes, I can’t even name them all but several that come to mind are your whole wheat tortillas and whole wheat biscuits. Thanks again!

  35. Love the list. #’s 1-6 and 10, I’ve done forever. I don’t just do pinto Beas, I do ALL beans and throw in any veggies on hand and use a pressure cooker!! Yummy!!

  36. I grew up on “real” foods…we hardly ever had processed food until I was a teenager (1970’s)except for cold cereal. I still think Lara bars are almost a meal, especially for someone w/diabetes they are too high in carbs for a snack.