There are hundreds of ingredients in my kitchen that I deem important and responsible for helping to keep me on a (mostly) healthy path. What I've come to realize is that being prepared IS the number one way to manage your own healthy eating. Without having good choices available it's just too easy to reach for / grab / pickup ready-made, unhealthy processed food.
Narrowing my self-proclaimed 100 favorite healthy staples down to the top six is no easy task, however. So think of this list as a starting point; heck, you probably have a number of these in your cupboards already. Just add in the rest and make a point of using each item at least once per week and then work up to more.
Because I had to narrow the list down, these are my top pantry staples only and do not include perishable items like produce, freezer items or kitchen tools. Look for that info coming soon!
Doing this Letterman style: let's start with #6:
#6 Raw Cacao Powder
Yes, chocolate made my top 6 for sure! I'm never without it and you shouldn't be either. The key here is raw cacao, not cocoa, powder. Raw cacao is cold pressed, it keeps the enzymes alive and removes the fat (cocoa butter). It delivers a pack of minerals, protects the nervous system and boosts your mood among other benefits. Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is processed using high heat which destroys most of the healthy properties. Also keep an eye on ingredients in cocoa powder as you might find something besides just cacao. Use cacao powder in smoothies, healthy desserts and drinks, and for depth in soups and stews.
If I had to guess I would say this one might surprise you. You've probably heard about the others and even have most of them in your pantry. There is no better time to stock up on this potent mineral and calcium-delivering, blood purifying ingredient. Explore the various varieties and ways to use it. Add kombu to soups, broth and when cooking legumes to improve their digestibility. Wrap sushi in nori sheets, crumble dulse flakes on salads and vegetables or add kelp to a hot, detoxifying bath. Ease into slowly as you adjust to the flavor but don't pass up these amazing benefits.
Tea can help ease digestive struggles, anxiety and headaches, strengthen your immune system or provide energy. Look for herbal teas like peppermint and chamomile; try green tea if you tolerate caffeine. Brew up a batch of tea and keep it in your fridge for use in smoothies. Add a touch of flavor to soups. Freeze in ice cube trays to keep summer drinks from being watered down. Place soaked black tea bags on eyes to help reduce inflammation. Replace coffee with earthy and bitter dandelion tea to help detoxify the liver. Steep it and enjoy it.
#3 Nuts & Seeds
Often getting a bad rap for their high levels of fat, nuts and seeds satisfy hunger, stabilize blood sugar, deliver nutrients, helps to maintain brain function and fights inflammation thanks to the omega 3 fatty acid (the good fat!) Think walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds. Nuts and seeds are fantastic for snacking but they are worth so much more. Make your own nut flours for baking, blend up easy nut milk or butters, make tahini, dressings and sauces, bake homemade crackers and breads or just add a little crunch to salads. For a boost of good fat, protein and fiber, grab a handful and go.
#2 Dried Herbs and Spices
Many people associate 'healthy' food with tasteless. Not in my kitchen. Seriously, there isn't any reason not to spice up food and make it interesting. That doesn't mean it needs to be spicy hot - think flavorful. But would it surprise you to find out herbs and spices like cinnamon, cumin and coriander often have the highest levels of antioxidant activity? Cumin, turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, dry mustard, smoked paprika... the more the better. Load up for your tastebuds and your health.
#1 Healthy oils: Coconut oil, Olive Oil and Ghee
Let's be honest, most of us are going to use oil in our cooking (not everyone has bought into water sauteing yet) so it might as well be a healthy variety. Healthy oils lubricate the body and provide energy to the brain. Coconut oil (one of the richest sources of saturated fats) holds up to high heat cooking and does wonders outside of the kitchen (try it as a moisturizer, conditioner, and even in place of goo off.) Ghee has long been a staple in Ayurvedic methodology and also has a high smoke point. It's essentially clarified butter; most people who have dairy intolerances can tolerate ghee since the milk solids and impurities have been removed. Ghee and coconut oil are solid at room temperature, liquid when warmed. Extra virgin olive oil is great for inflammation but should be saved for dressings and final drizzles. The best part about these oils is that they double as lotion- just rub it in instead of wiping it off.
What's in your pantry that helps keep you on the healthy track?