Your kitchen pantry has the power to make or break your diet. If you fill it with whole grains and good-for-you foods, that’s what you’ll reach for when you’re preparing meals or searching for a snack. But if your staples consist of refined grains and fatty, sodium-riddled items, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself regularly noshing on unhealthy foods instead. Your pantry shouldn’t be your waistline’s worst nightmare, and if it is, it may be time to give it a nutritious makeover. To help you decide what should stay, what should go, and what you need to get, here are six of the healthiest pantry staples you should always stock.
1. Low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Broth adds flavor to your dishes without adding unwanted calories or fat. In addition to using broth for soup, Bon Appétit recommends using your stocks to reheat grains, braise meat, and prepare sauces. Livestrong explains one cup of vegetable broth will provide you with 10% of the daily value for vitamin A, while one cup of chicken broth contains 27% of the daily value for vitamin C. However, Livestrong also warns that the biggest drawback to store-bought broths is that they’re high in sodium. One cup contains 940 milligrams, or 39% of the daily value for sodium, which is why it’s so important to opt for low-sodium broths instead.
Low-sodium vegetable broths typically contain no more than 5% of the daily value for sodium, about 140 milligrams per serving. Using stocks that have minimal salt is a great way to add depth and flavor to food without increasing your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, which can occur as a result of a high-sodium diet.
2. Whole grains and whole-grain products
When you’re loading up on healthy pantry items, make sure you stock up on whole grains. This includes breakfast cereals, pasta, and other good-for-you grains, including quinoa, buckwheat, oats, and bulgur. The best cereal options will have whole grains listed as the first ingredient, contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, and no more than 8 grams of sugar, WebMD explains. Grape-Nuts, Kashi Go Lean, and Shredded Wheat are all healthy options that you can feel good about eating.
Whole-grain pasta is another must have. It is much more nutritious than traditional pasta, which loses its bran and germ during processing. Cooking Light says bran, the outer skin of a whole grain, and germ, the grain’s embryo, contain healthy fats, protein, antioxidants, vitamin B, minerals, and fiber. “The beauty of fiber is that it fills us up so we don’t eat as much,” Dee Sandquist, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told Cooking Light. “And you feel full much more quickly than when you eat refined foods.”
It’s also useful to keep a few other whole grains on-hand. For example, you can use quinoa as a healthy rice alternative, and buckwheat can be bought in noodle form. In the morning, oats and bulgur can easily be prepared, ensuring you have a warm and hearty breakfast bowl.
3. Nuts and Seeds
A well-stocked pantry isn’t complete without snacks. But rather than filling your shelves with processed, store-bought goods, you should snack on nuts and seeds instead. Almonds, for example, are packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. Medical News Today notes almonds are a great source of vitamin E, copper, and magnesium. Regularly noshing on this nutritious nut can help lower your cholesterol, in addition to reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease.
Walnuts are another wonderful nut to keep in the kitchen. Best Health writes that they can reduce your risk of breast cancer and diabetes, and are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. If you are looking for noteworthy seeds to keep in your pantry, Best Health has several recommendations, which include chia, hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. These superb snacks are all packed with protein, fiber, iron, vitamins, and fatty acids.
4. Dried beans
Dry beans are low in fat, high in fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals, according to The Bean Institute. A ½-cup portion contains about 115 calories and has 8 grams of protein. They’re also filled with phytochemicals and lignans, which help play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. FitDay notes that dried beans are a much healthier option than canned beans, and should be your first choice whenever possible. Dried beans contain no sodium, while canned beans are typically loaded with salt and have added preservatives.
The only downside to dry beans is that they take longer to prepare than already-cooked canned beans. When preparing dry beans, FitDay suggests soaking the beans overnight, and then cooking them for an hour or more until they become firm enough to cook with and eat. Don’t be dissuaded by their lengthy prep time, though — beans’ nutritional benefits make them well worth the work.
5. Whole-wheat flour
If you only have white flour in your pantry, you’re missing out on an extraordinarily healthy staple. SFGate states whole-wheat flour is made from grains that haven’t undergone heavy processing, making it far healthier than white flour. Just ½ cup of whole-wheat flour contains 6.4 grams of fiber — a non-digestible complex carbohydrate that prevents constipation, lowers blood cholesterol, and might help you lose weight — while an equal serving of white flour only contains 1.3 grams of fiber.
In addition, SFGate notes that whole-wheat flour is packed with folate, riboflavin, and vitamin B. You can easily use the nutrient-rich grain in place of white flour when you are baking; you just have to make a few adjustments. Better Homes and Gardens writes whole-wheat flour will make your baked products a bit denser and heavier than all-purpose flour.
To ensure total baking success, plan on using ¾ cup of whole-wheat flour to replace 1 cup of all-purpose flour. If you’re making cookies with whole-wheat flour, reduce the butter or shortening by 20%. When making cakes with the healthy grain, add another tablespoon or two of liquid. As you can see, it doesn’t take much effort to replace processed grains with their more nutritional counterpart.
6. Canned tuna
Inexpensive, easy to make, and bursting with nutrients, canned tuna is a great item to keep on hand. Real Simple explains that it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and is high in protein and vitamin D. Livestrong adds it’s high in healthy unsaturated fats, which can help improve blood vessel function, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
To avoid extra calories and fat, WebMD recommends eating water-packed tuna. It tastes great when it’s added to salads, casseroles, omelets, enchiladas, and vegetable dip. Something to keep in mind: Web MD warns that because white tuna is higher in mercury, pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t eat more than 6 ounces a week.