A well-stocked pantry is one thing, but a well-stocked pantry that promotes healthy eating is another.
Keeping frozen lasagna in your fridge and ramen in your pantry is one way to make dinners easy, but it certainly isn’t healthy. A hearty plate of meat-lovers lasagna or remnants of your go-to dorm room dinner is okay every once in a while, but a well-stocked kitchen with some essentials can help you maintain a balanced diet.
Healthy Pantry Staples
Sticking to a healthy diet is easier when you surround yourself with healthy options. Replace foods high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar with some of these healthier options:
1. Grains and Legumes
Grains and legumes are low in fat and high in protein, fiber, and micronutrients essential for heart health. A recent study examined the relationship between legume consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), hypertension, and obesity.
The American Heart Association recommends eating six to eight servings of grains per day and five servings of legumes per week. Stick to a grain- and legume-filled diet by keeping these pantry staples on-hand:
- Brown rice
- Whole-grain pasta
- Black beans
- Old-fashioned oats
Nearly every recipe incorporates oil. Oils high in saturated fats, such as coconut and palm oil, increase the risk of hypertension and atherosclerosis. Unlike saturated fat, monounsaturated fat can improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Keep these heart-healthy oils stocked:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Sesame oil
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients. According to the Mayo Clinic, nuts lower bad cholesterol, improve the structural health of your arteries and lower inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants found in nuts reduce oxidative stress, which is known for contributing to several conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer. Keep these items in your pantry for a healthy snack:
- Peanut butter
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
AHA recommends five servings of nuts and seeds per week.
4. Spices and Seasonings
Spices enhance the flavor of your recipes as well as improve your health. Be sure your pantry contains these common spices:
- Garlic powder: Sulfur compounds in garlic inhibit some of the body’s inflammatory and arthritic responses and are associated with reduced risk of heart disease and other age-related chronic diseases.
- Paprika: Paprika contains nearly 20% of your daily Vitamin A requirement. Vitamin A promotes healthy vision, boosts immunity, and keeps your heart, lungs, and kidneys working properly.
- Black pepper: The world’s most commonly used spice, pepper, provides a punch of health benefits. Piperine, the active ingredient found in black pepper, is known for its anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, anticarcinogenic, and antioxidant properties.
- Turmeric: While it’s not used extensively in the typical western diet, turmeric gained popularity over the past few years for its anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties. When combined with black pepper, turmeric enhances the health benefits of piperine by 2000%. Not sure what to do with turmeric? Create curry or sprinkle it over some roasted veggies.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon is excellent for anyone worried about their sugar intake. Not only does it provide a sweet flavor without adding sugar, but the spice’s primary compound – cinnamaldehyde – helps maintain insulin sensitivity.
- Cayenne: Cayenne’s main ingredient, capsaicin, helps reduce pain signals sent to your brain.
Essential Freezer Foods
Freezing is an easy way to keep food from spoiling. As a general rule, food shouldn’t be stored for more than three months in the freezer. Ice crystals are a good indicator that it’s time to throw your food away. For easy cooking, keep these pantry staples in your fridge year-round.
1. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the healthiest way to get all their essential vitamins and nutrients. However, frozen fruits and veggies are a great alternative when fresh produce isn’t available. Contrary to popular belief, freezing produce doesn’t significantly reduce vitamin content. While the freezing process may lower nutrient content by tiny amounts, most healthy compounds are lost during cooking.
These freezer staples are easy finds at your local grocery store:
- Green beans
2. Frozen Protein
High sodium content is one of the largest contributors to hypertension. Beware of frozen meat that has already been seasoned or flavored, as these items may contain high amounts of salt. Items high in fats, such as sausage and bacon, don’t keep well in the freezer. Reduce spoilage by keeping these fresh proteins in your fridge:
- Chicken breasts
- Ground turkey or beef
Final Thoughts from USHEALTH Group
A well-stocked freezer and pantry is key to maintaining a balanced diet. The list above isn’t exhaustive. Consider your favorite flavor profiles, shelf-life, and how often you use an ingredient when determining your kitchen staples.
Subscribe to our blog for more healthy living tips.