This is where you will find all of my ‘must have’ foods & ingredients for a healthy pantry (and fridge/freezer too!).
These are the staples that I always have stocked in my pantry, fridge and freezer:
Natural Peanut Butter Lean Meat
Nuts* Natural/Greek Yoghurt*
Extra Virgin Olive Oil* Milk
Beans & Lentils* Cheese
Tinned Fish Berries*
*See below why I love them so much
Fish is packed full of healthy fats, in particular omega 3’s. Omega 3’s are essential fatty acids meaning the body cannot produce them and we must get them from our diet. EPA and DHA are types of omega 3’s that are found in oily fish. These fishy oils have great health benefits (especially for the heart) that are backed by years of scientific research. Fish oils have been shown to improve and lower heart rate, reduce the risk of blood clots, reduce plaque build up in arteries, reduce blood pressure, decrease unhealthy blood fats and increase healthy blood cholesterol (HDL cholesterol). Fish oils have anti inflammatory properties which help protect against rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, stroke & diabetes. They can also protect against Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression and help maintain healthy eye and brain tissue. Good sources of omega 3’s include salmon, mackerel, trevalla & sardines. It’s recommended to have 2-3 serves (150g) of oily fish each week. Fish is also full of protein and low in calories too. Healthy ways to cook fish include grilling, poaching, steaming and baking or else canned fish is a good alternative especially for lunches or a snack.
Berries contain some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit or vegetable. And I’m not talking about the hyped up expensive goji and acai berries but good old strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and especially blueberries. Antioxidants help to repair and protect against damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are formed through normal bodily processes but when they accumulate or there are not enough antioxidants to neutralise them cell damage can occur. Antioxidants can help protect against heart diseases, arthritis, some cancers, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and may even help prevent wrinkles! Berries contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and A, polyphenols and flavonoids pterostilbene and anthocyanins which give berries their vibrant colors. Not only do berries taste delicious they are very low in calories too. Berries can be quite expensive when not in season but frozen berries are just as good. Throw some on top of cereal, in pancake or muffin mix, in yoghurt, on toast with cottage cheese, in fruit salad or as a sweet healthy snack!
BEANS and LEGUMES
Beans and legumes include chickpeas, lentils, peas, baked beans and all varieties of beans. Beans and lentils are great for our health as they are full of fibre, protein, zinc, folate, potassium and contain iron and some calcium. They are also low in fat, low GI and contain phytochemicals which can protect against certain diseases. Legumes have been shown to help lower cholesterol and manage blood glucose levels and have been linked with the prevention of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Many studies have shown that a diet high in legumes can help control and manage weight. Canned legumes are a great easy alternative to dry legumes and are just as nutritious. Be sure to rinse them well in water to remove the salt or buy ‘no added salt’ versions. To increase legumes in your diet try beans on toast, chickpea curry, hummus dip, chilli con carne, mix lentils in with mince meat (you can hardly notice the difference), mix beans, chickpeas or lentils with salad or soup or try tofu as an alternative to meat.
Yoghurt is a great source of calcium, good quality protein and (can be) low in fat. What makes it a ‘superfood’ is because yoghurt contains good bacteria or probiotic cultures. Probiotics are live micro-organisms that help improve and stimulate the good bacteria that live in our guts. The human gut contains a couple of kilos of bacteria which helps to keep the digestive tract healthy. Probiotics also have other health benefits such as improving digestion, reducing bloating, relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, reducing diarrhoea, prevents overgrowth of bad bacteria and plays a role in immune function. The calcium in yoghurt is great for bone health and low fat yoghurts are low GI and contain protein which makes it a great snack to help us feel fuller for longer. But BEWARE of sugar laden high fat yoghurts!! Look out for low fat natural and Greek style yoghurts which usually are lower in sugar and calories. My favourite brands are Jalna fat free natural yoghurt and Chobani fat free Greek yoghurt. Yoghurt is great as a snack, on cereal, with fruit, as a salad dressing or as a substitute for cream in recipes.
Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica group of plants. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbage and radishes. They are full of fibre as well as vitamins A, B, C and K. What is really exciting about these vegetables are the anticancer properties such as antioxidants, phytochemicals, Indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates. Heaps of studies have been done on these vegetables and their links with cancer prevention and although the mechanisms behind their action are not fully understood there are promising results to show a positive relationship with these veggies and cancer protection. Many cancer councils wordwide recommend eating a wide variety of vegetables including cruciferous veggies. These veggies can be eaten raw or cooked, fresh or frozen and they are extremely low in calories so great if you are trying to lose or manage weight. Ideally when cooking try and lightly steam or stir fry to retain the most amount of nutrients. Try adding these veggies to stir fries, pastas, salads, casseroles or as a side dish.
NUTS and SEEDS
Go nuts for NUTS!! There are so many reasons why nuts and seeds are great for our health. They contain zinc, calcium, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E and the healthy poly and mono unsaturated fats. Not only that they also contain antioxidants and plant sterols which help to ward off chronic diseases. Regular nut consumption has been linked with reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. Evidence suggests that nuts can help lower bad blood cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure and inflammation and help control and lower blood sugar levels. Nuts are also high in protein & fibre and have a low GI which makes them a great filling snack and they may help to suppress hunger too. Studies have shown that people who include portion controlled servings of nuts in their diets are more successful with weight loss and weight maintenance. Nuts are high in good fats which also make them high in calories. Stick to 1 serve per day which is 30g (about 1/3 cup) or about 15-20 mixed nuts. It may not seem like much but you will still get great health benefits and you will be surprised by how filling they are. Go for the raw unsalted nuts and seeds and try sprinkling them on breakfast cereal or yoghurt, in stir fries, salads, curries or as a delicious healthy snack.
So simple but so good for us! Oats such as porridge or muesli are one of the greatest ways to start your day. Oats are packed full of fibre & protein, contain good fats and are low in GI which all contribute to satiety and feeling full. They are great to include in your diet if you are trying to lose weight. Oats also contain B vitamins which help to keep energy levels up and minerals including zinc and magnesium. Oats have been shown to reduce cholesterol, improve blood sugar levels, help maintain a healthy bowel and assist with weight loss. Oats have been linked with reduced risk of heart diseases, diabetes and some cancers. The beta glucan, antioxidants and phytochemicals contained in oats provide numerous health benefits to help prevent chronic disease and maintain good health. Look out for original oats rather than ‘quick oats’. The processing involved in making oats ‘quick’ removes some of the fibre and nutrition. However if you don’t have the extra time to cook original oats quick oats are better than no oats at all! Why not top a bowl of oats with yoghurt, nuts/seeds, frozen berries and you will have a whole bowl of superfoods!