Cooking at home and eating healthy shouldn’t feel like a chore and I bet that’s something we can all agree on. Personally, I think nowadays is pretty easy to eat healthy because there’s so much information available. Whether that’s nutritional information or countless recipes. All you gotta do is educate yourself a little and be willing to try something new. Which I fully encourage you to do! Today’s post will be educational and longish, so I suggest you grab a cup of tea or coffee and make yourself cosy as I take you through 10 pantry staples that will help you eat healthier.
10 Pantry Staples You Should Always Have on Hand
NUTS & SEEDS.
First two pantry staples you should always have on hand are nuts & seeds. I know you heard it a bunch of times but there’s a good reason for it. Even though they’re small and tiny, they’re in fact pretty mighty. Nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, fibres, protein, vitamins and minerals. In addition, they are antioxidant powerhouses. This means they can combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals (molecules that may cause cell damage and increase disease risk). Due to their unique nutritional profile, nuts and seeds can provide several health benefits. Such as:
- helping with weight regulation
- having anti-inflammatory properties
- may help lower bad LDL cholesterol and boost good HDL cholesterol
- may reduce the risk of heart disease
- may reduce the risk of diabetes
Some of the most commonly consumed seeds are: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. You can enjoy them in salads, smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal. On the other hand, some of the most commonly consumed nuts include: walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and peanuts (even though they’re technically legumes). They’re versatile, convenient, delicious and can be enjoyed whole or as nut butters.
APPLES & BANANAS.
Moving on and I was going to say “seasonal fruit” instead of apples and bananas. However, I changed my mind and here’s why. Seasonal fruit is, of course, always the best option. It’s fresh, healthy and probably hasn’t traveled a dozen countries to get to you. So whenever you have the chance to eat seasonal fruit do it.
However, it’s called seasonal for a reason, meaning it’s not available year round. Another thing, all such fruits (watermelons, peaches, strawberries, cherries, blueberries,…) are gone too fast and only last 2-3 days before they go bad. *enter apples and bananas* Both of these fruits are available year round and they can last pretty long when stored properly. Plus, you get the perfect combo variation.
Bananas are sweet, soft and so many recipes can be made with them. For example, banana bread, smoothies, oatmeal, healthy breakfast pancakes, French toast and so on. On the other hand, apples are a little less sweet and crunchy which makes them a perfect snacking option. Spread some nut butter on them, sprinkle with cinnamon and you got yourself a delicious, healthy snack. Furthermore, apples can be mixed into oatmeal as well.
FROZEN FRUIT & VEGGIES.
Adding on to the previous pantry staples, frozen fruit & veggies are something you should definitely have in your household. Whether it’s fruit and veggies that you froze yourself or store-bought. There are so many options and varieties so you can always choose your favourite.
Personally, I love to stock up on mixed berries. They’re incredibly delicious, loaded with antioxidants, rich in vitamin C, and have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Enjoy them in smoothies, breakfast pancakes, oatmeal, fruit salads or yogurt.
When it comes to frozen veggies I opt for a mix of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots. These are very low in calories yet high in vitamins and minerals. Such as vitamin C, K, A, folate, potassium and manganese. Furthermore, these veggies are high in fiber meaning they’ll leave you feeling full for longer. More importantly, fiber feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut that promotes digestive health and helps reduce inflammation.
Due to their high antioxidant content these veggies can be very beneficial for your skin and hair. Moreover, they help improve immune system, promote healthy heart, aid blood sugar control and weight loss. Bottom line, they’re incredibly nutritious, easy to prepare and definitely deserve to be on this ‘pantry staples’ list.
Bread has always been a dietary staple in my household, however, I have to admit that Croatians might be eating a little too much bread. Years ago when I made the decision to change my life through fitness and nutrition is when I switched from regular bread to wholegrain. And I haven’t looked back since.
Your regular bread is mostly made with flour from refined grains. Refined grains are simple carbohydrates that are quickly absorbed by the body. Therefore, they cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling hungry and depleted of energy shortly after you’ve had your meal.
On the other hand, whole grains are complex carbohydrates and they are absorbed more slowly. You probably figured it out now. Because they are absorbed more slowly they are better at providing a sustained sense of satisfaction and lasting energy after a meal. This is because whole grains have all three components of the seed (the bran, germ, endosperm). In contrast, refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ, losing almost all of their nutritional value.
Having wholegrain bread on hand makes eating healthy and preparing healthy meals so much easier. You can always cut a slice or two, spread some hummus and top it with boiled eggs (or tuna), salt and pepper. Have some veggies on the side and you have a whole, healthy, nutritious meal to fuel you for hours.
No pantry staples list can be made without oats. They are incredibly nutritious, gluten-free whole grain packed with protein, low on fat and full of fiber. Their high fiber content can leave you feeling full for longer period of time making oats a prefect breakfast option. Although, you can really enjoy them any time of the day.
They are also a great source of vitamins such as thiamin, pantothenic acid and niacin (in small amounts). Aside from vitamins, oats are packed with minerals (manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc) and antioxidants. Due to this incredible nutritional value, oats are designed to boost your energy levels and help you make healthier food choices.
Moreover, eating oats can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, prevent constipation, promote healthy gut, support weight loss and reduce the risk of cancer.
Eggs are another incredibly nutritious food that can be prepared in multiple ways. Delicious, quick to make and most importantly – healthy. One whole egg contains a little bit of almost every nutrient your body needs. Eggs are packed with a decent amount of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Such as vitamin A, vitamin B2, B12, B5, folate, phosphorus and selenium.
Another great thing about eggs is that they contain all nine essential amino acids (ones we cannot synthesise in our bodies). And believe it or not, eggs contain two powerful antioxidants that are very important for eye health (lutein and zeaxanthin). Even though eggs are high in cholesterol, eating them doesn’t negatively affect cholesterol in the blood for majority of people. In addition, consuming eggs is a good way to raise HDL (the good) cholesterol.
WHOLE-GRAINS & LEGUMES.
If you’re stuck in rut of repetitive eating, whole-grains and legumes will soon become your best friends in the kitchen. Plus, they’ll definitely help you upgrade your healthy cooking game! Legumes are a perfect source of plant-based protein, fiber, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Such as B vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium and manganese. Legumes are a healthier protein alternative to red meats because they contain no cholesterol and are free of saturated fat. The various types of legumes include:
- beans (black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, fava beans, soy beans, butter beans, black eyed peas, etc.)
- peas (sweet peas, snow peas, standard garden peas)
Now, I placed whole-grains and legumes together because from a nutrient point of view the two are pretty similar. Whole-grains are also rich in complex carbs, fiber, B vitamins and minerals (potassium, iron). Eating whole-grains can help control cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Moreover, due to providing long-term satiety and energy they can aid weight loss as well.
A list of whole-grains includes:
- whole wheat products (made with whole wheat flour)
- brown rice and wild rice
NOTE: Always opt for whole-grains instead of refined grains. (Remember what I talked about when mentioning whole-grain bread?)
SPICES & HERBS.
For a long time I used to season my food with salt and pepper and that was IT! No other spices, no herbs, nothing. And I know you must think ‘WTF?’ and I couldn’t agree more. However, once I introduced new spices and herbs to my taste buds it changed cooking for me, in so many ways. All those regular meals I had became so much yummier and healthier. (Yes, each spice and herb comes with it’s own variety of nutritional benefits!).
Therefore, spices and herbs are definitely something you should always have in your pantry. If you don’t know where to start, begin with something simple like paprika, curry, garlic, parsley, oregano and cinnamon. Once you get comfortable with those begin to include more intense flavours. Such as basil, turmeric, chilly, ginger, rosemary, cumin, etc. Do a little research and see which flavours go best together or try mixing them on your own and see what suits you.
We’ve established that herbs and spices make meals tastier whilst boosting and promoting health. So I’ll quickly go over the benefits of certain spices and herbs.
- CINNAMON – antioxidant powerhouse that helps protect against inflammation, heart disease and Alzheimer’s; polyphenols (micronutrients) in cinnamon increase insulin activity and aid diabetes control
- TURMERIC – a component of curry; relieves headaches; decongestant; natural liver detoxifier; has neuroprotective and anti-aging effects on the brain
- GARLIC – has strong anti-inflammatory properties; boosts metabolism and immune system; promotes heart health; helps reduce high cholesterol levels
- OREGANO – antioxidant powerhouse loaded with phenols; helps fight inflammation associated with certain autoimmune diseases; supports oral health; aids in digestion; protects against viral, fungal and bacterial infections
- GINGER – reduces inflammation; helps lower blood sugar levels; improves cholesterol levels; improves blood flow; strengthens the immune system; helps with morning sickness during pregnancy
HONEY AND/OR MAPLE SYRUP.
Did you really think this pantry staples list would be without something sweet? Fear not, ’cause I saved the best for last! Moving away from refined sugar will probably be the best nutritional decision you’ll ever make. To help you with that are two of the most popular alternatives – honey and maple syrup.
Even though these sweeteners contain sugar they also contain vitamins and minerals (which plain white sugar doesn’t). Both of these are rich in antioxidants. For example, the antioxidants in maple syrup are anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. On the other hand, the antioxidants in honey have been linked to increasing blood flow and preventing blood clots.
When comparing the two, honey contains more vitamins, such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B5, niacin and folate. Maple syrup contains vitamin B5 as well, however it has twenty times more riboflavin (vitamin B2). 1/4 cup of maple syrup contains 95% of manganese (RDV) compared to 4% in honey. Furthermore, maple syrup contains significantly more calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc than honey. All minerals that help maintain healthy red blood cells and immune support.
Each of these has their own benefits so you won’t make a mistake by including them into your healthy diet. Anyway, it’s up to you whether you’ll try both options or just opt for one. Personally, I use both because I don’t like the taste of honey (except in tea). Therefore, I use maple syrup more often. For example, in most recipes (e.g. homemade granola) I use maple syrup instead of honey. On the other hand, honey in my tea is a must.
NOTE: Make sure you buy real, organic maple syrup/honey from trusted sources because a lot of them tend to be fake. Made with all kinds of artificial sweeteners and added colourings.
UNSWEETENED CACAO POWDER & DARK CHOCOLATE.
Like with whole-grains and refined grains I mentioned above, you also have to be careful when choosing between cocoa and cacao powder. Both come from the same cacao bean. The difference is that cocoa powder is acquired by roasting the beans at much higher temperature. Heat destroys many compounds so cocoa powder is less nutritious than cacao powder.
Cacao is super high in antioxidants (40 times more than blueberries), vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Full of iron, magnesium and calcium no wonder why it’s called super-food. Cacao powder helps aid weight loss, regulates blood sugar levels, keeps your heart and brain healthy and acts as a mood enhancer/anti-depressant.
Mix cacao powder in your smoothies and oatmeal or make this delicious healthy hot chocolate (favourite of mine)! Also, when choosing dark chocolate go for one that contains 70% or more cacao.
That’s a sweet end to this blog post so tell me, what do you guys think? Did I leave out something important or something that is usually a pantry staple for you? Tell me in the comments below because I would like to know! Chat soon,