Going to a health food store or a farmer’s market is a dangerous trip for me. I tend to leave much poorer than when I arrived, my money replaced with a mountain of superfoods, bags full of herbal teas and tinctures, must-have supplements, and pretty much any product imaginable that they can make out of coconut. It’s inevitable. When you’re passionate about health and wellness, these things are exciting. A visit to these shops is like a trip to Disneyland for me. And there could be worse things to invest in than your health, right?
But what are my must-haves? My favourites? If I were stranded on a desert island (with a kitchen, and hopefully a gym), which eight health-related things would I take with me?
This is my pick of the superfoods. Not only is it super-high in antioxidants, this Peruvian plant is a potent adaptogen. Known as “ginseng of the Andes”, it boosts energy levels, improves male fertility without altering hormone levels, and is a valuable addition to your diet if you’re doing a lot of training and exercise. It used to be a prized food, given to warriors. With it’s malty taste, it combines well with another yummy superfood, cacao. Mix them up in to a hot chocolate-style drink, or add it to smoothies and protein shakes.
Coconut oil has become very trendy amongst those interested in health in recent years, and for good reason. It is made up mostly of saturated fats, which can’t become oxidised and act as free radicals in the body.
Lauric acid, a main component of coconut oil, increases blood cholesterol levels. This at first may seem like a bad thing, but it is important to note that most of the increase is in HDL (“good cholesterol”). Because of this change in lipid ratios, it has been suggested that coconut oil may actually be beneficial in terms of improving blood lipids and cardiovascular health. We have this tendency though, to give foods either a “good” or “bad” label, with not much in between. Whilst coconut oil definitely falls under “good” heading, it is important to realise that it is still a very dense energy source, and there is still such a thing as overconsumption.
Externally, I can’t get enough coconut oil. It is a great skin moisturiser, and lauric acid has been shown to be antimicrobial, so I often use it to make herbal skin treatments. Mix in a little calendula oil and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil and you’ve got a great moisturising, antiseptic, and healing skin preparation!
All fermented foods are wonderful for your health. Sauerkraut just happens to be my favourite. The beneficial bacteria in it help regulate proper digestion, and stimulate proper immune function.
Commercially-produced products may not have any live cultures in them, so give them a miss in favour of one that is clearly labelled to contain beneficial probiotics. Peace, Love & Vegetables make the Byron Bay Superkraut, which is my favourite. I buy a jar for the week, but it rarely lasts more than a day or two because it’s so delicious.
Another buzz-word amongst the foodie and health blogger community, kale is the green-leafy-of-the-moment. This dark green veggie is rich in a multitude of vitamins and minerals, with one cup giving us 178% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. It’s also full of a compound called indole-3-carbinol which helps detoxify the body.
Blend it up in to smoothies, steam it as a side-dish, or add some coconut oil, sea salt, and your favourite spices (I use the anti-inflammatory turmeric) and bake them in to kale crisps! Again, moderation is key here, because excessive raw kale can be bad for thyroid health.
St Mary’s Thistle
This stuff should be put in the drinking water. St Mary’s Thistle, or Milk Thistle, is a herbal medicine and it’s probably my number-one herb for liver function. We call it a trophorestorative, meaning that it improves the overall health and function of the liver.
And with the amount of toxins we are all now exposed to in daily life, who doesn’t need a bit of liver love?
Magnesium is another supplement that would benefit most people. High stress, caffeine-fuelled lifestyles make us chew through our magnesium, which is essential for sleep, muscle relaxation, and blood-sugar regulation. My favourite is Orthoplex MagOpti Cell, because it has a beautiful combination of B-vitamins with it for energy production.
My Ottolenghi cookbooks
Big flavours and fresh produce is the name of the game with these cookbooks, written by London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi. There are lots of beautiful marinated meat dishes, and so many incredible veggie sides that even the most devout carnivore would be happy with the plant-based offerings. These are my go-to cookbooks. Other great places for culinary inspiration are Lola Berry’s Inspiring Ingredients, and her Youtube channel shows off some of her more recent creations. The Whole Pantry App is another great resource, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
My planter boxes
I know that the foodie community is all about contraptions like Vitamix and spiralisers. They’re all awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t go past my planter boxes. Growing your own herbs and vegetables is incredibly rewarding, and it’s so much fun when you get the chance to show-off to your loved ones, making them chamomile tea from your own plant, or a “garden salad” from your actual garden.
Lack of space doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. Anything can be turned in to a planter box – just have a look around my garden for proof of that. Recycled timber boxes, milk crates, old terracotta pots, felt bags, multi-coloured wellington boots – they can all be filled with soil and used to grow something. Books like The Edible Balcony by Indira Naidoo, or the books by the guys at The Little Veggie Patch Co. are great resources to start your own garden.
About Reece Carter
Reece Carter is a qualified Naturopath and holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy). As a renowned herbalist, Reece has earned himself the nickname "herb-nerd" in the wellness community, and his writing has been featured in the Australian Women's Weekly, Women's Fitness Magazine, and Sporteluxe, as well as on countless blogs.
25-year-old nurse Coreena Cruceanu’s life turned on its axis when she contracted a Lyme-like illness. The extensive lifestyle and dietary changes she made to facilitate her recovery sparked a fascination with natural health and she is now studying to become a nutritionist.