By Dr. Nina Radcliff
As we continue to set aim to make healthy choices – our kitchens are central in helping to promote and support healthy eating. In fact, our refrigerator, freezer and pantry – if not properly stocked with staple – could be contributing to sabotaging our best efforts. I am encouraging everyone to clean out and have good food options available when we need it! After reviewing our freezers and refrigerator over the last couple of weeks, today we will finish this important series by spotlighting our pantry.
And while I have said it before, it bears repeating: making the right decisions of what we consume and what is available means having the right ingredients, the right staple foods, readily available in our kitchen. And, too, we need to avoid stocking them with junk food—items that are rich in calories, fat and salt but with little to no nutritional value. Usually out-of-sight means out-of-mind, or at least, out-of-reach!!
Preparation and planning are essential to eating nutritious foods –for ourselves, families, and guests. Great options readily available in our kitchens is a vital key to leading a healthier life.
Let’s take a look, and, yes, where needed, remove sabotaging foods to ensure you have healthy options.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About A Pantry That Promotes Healthy Eating
This funny word describes a class of veggies that includes lentils, beans, and peas. In fact, The Mayo Clinic has stated that they “are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available.” Legumes are low in fat, devoid of cholesterol, a good source of protein, and a powerhouse when it comes to important vitamins and minerals (folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium). Their protein content makes it suitable to supplement or substitute for meat.
This versatile item—whether it is chicken, beef, or veggie flavor—is great for soups, chilies, sauces, stews, seasoning, and to cook or sautee veggies and grains. In addition to having a long shelf life, it is low in calories and fat while having a good amount of protein. When selecting a brand, read the nutrition label to determine the amount of sodium and added sugar. And, too, read the list of ingredients. Make sure that they are mostly veggies and do not contain long, hard-to-pronounce chemicals or additives. Some broth manufacturers add caramel coloring which is popular in soda. However, there are reports that the coloring is a potential carcinogen—a cancer-causing agent.
These make scrum-diddy-licious salad dressings; can be used on the top of protein or veggie dishes to garnish them just the way you would squeeze lemon; and even serve as a dipping sauce. In addition to infusing a tremendous burst of flavor, there are potential health benefits. Several studies suggest that vinegar increases satiety, meaning you feel full and thereby consume fewer calories. Other studies show that it can help decrease blood glucose and insulin resistance following a meal—an important aspect for diabetics, pre-diabetics, and those with risk factors for diabetes.
If you’re looking for a flavor that you cannot find, or just want to be creative, make it yourself! Vinegar is an acid that can break down the infused additive in just a few weeks. There are a number of recipes available online.
Chocolate has been a treasured treat for centuries and there are a number of research studies to show that it is not just delightfully delectable but can be good for our health. Its benefits are attributed to its primary ingredient—cocoa—which is rich in an antioxidant called flavonol. Dark chocolate can be enjoyed on its own, or like chocolate nibs and cocoa powder can be added to a number of desserts, drinks, and even meals. For example, I add a spoonful of cocoa powder to my morning coffee to provide a sensation of sweetness without the sugar. Make sure to choose dark chocolate and remember that it is still high in calories, so enjoy it in moderation.
They include wheat, oats, quinoa, barley, popcorn, and rye. These “whole-some” foods contain little or no saturated or trans fats but do contain plenty of phytochemicals (disease preventive properties), antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamins B and E—all kinds of good stuff. In addition to tasting yummy, studies have shown that people who eat three daily servings of whole grains may be able to reduce their risk of heart disease by up to 28%, stroke by up to 36%, and type 2 diabetes by up to 30%.
One cup of quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. And it is a versatile grain with endless options—like tofu, it absorbs and takes on flavor delightfully. Consider mixing it with a meat or veggie dish or serve on the side after tossing with lemon juice, vinegar, almond milk, dried fruit, or olive oil, to name a few.
In addition to being delightfully yummy, it can serve as a home remedy for sore throats, insomnia, hangovers, and seasonal allergies. While honey has more calories compared to table sugar—22 calories versus 16 calories, respectively—it is sweeter and denser than table sugar. This means, you probably do not need as much to get that sweet taste you are seeking. So the next time a baking or other recipe calls for sugar, consider reaching for the jar of honey.
Be aware too, in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey–however, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen. Beyond pollen’s reported enzymes, antioxidants and other documented benefits, a growing population of natural food advocates don’t want their honey messed with – and there is a great variety among honeys. Watch that nothing has been added (like corn syrup, moisture or table sugar) nor pollen removed.
Extra virgin olive oil
Almost weekly, there is a new study or finding supporting the health benefits of olive oil—heart and brain health, cancer fighting properties, and diabetes reduction. Additionally, it is flavorful and versatile. Olive oil can be drizzled over salads, pasta, cooked veggies, or at the end of cooking. It can even be used in lieu of butter or margarine as a healthy dip or spread or used for baking. Experts recommend storing olive oil in a dark area (like the pantry!) and not near the stove or oven where heat can cause it to break down.
There are many ways we can undermine healthy food choices but having good stables in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer will certainly make it a lot easier for you to stay on track, focused to remain healthy long-term.
In addition to being healthy, these items are commonly available and can be combined well with other foods. They can serve as a good start that may require you to add your own favorites as well as modify according to your personal taste, allergies – and imagination.
And, too, location-location-location is vital when it comes to eating healthy. Studies support the notion that we reach for foods that are convenient and readily visible. And having a well-stocked pantry of healthy ingredients is a great way to ensure you have everything you need to prepare delicious and nourishing foods. Keep a discerning eye on your pantry, refrigerator and freezer – and ENJOY!!
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.