Over the course of my transition to a plant-strong diet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought the wrong ingredients or had “bad” foods around my kitchen that I’ve ended up throwing out. Every time I read an article or blog post in the past about various ingredients just got me more and more confused — “get this!” “throw this out!” “only buy this version of this thing!” Combine that with the general concept of just thinking about food much differently than I was used to, I felt like my brain was going to explode. I don’t want your brains to explode. Not only would it be a tragedy, but it would leave a horrible mess and would probably ruin your computer. So, over the next few months, I’m going to highlight some of the most basic and essential products worth purchasing and having in your kitchen. Up first, the pantry, one of the best places to store long-lasting staples. Here are my top 10 pantry items to have on-hand at all times:
1) Vinegars – Apple Cider, Balsamic, Brown Rice, flavored vinegars
The best way to flavor your foods without unnecessary sodium or calories, there’s literally hundreds to choose from. My favorite? Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, which doubles as a health tonic in addition to a dressing. Put 1 teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in 8 oz of water for a revitalizing, alkalizing drink. Some say it even helps cure heartburn!
2) Beans (no-salt added), canned and dried
What’s not to like about beans? (Aside from the occasional gas, which will go away the more often you eat them) Full of soluble fiber, protein, and resistant starch, beans should be a staple in everyone’s diet, not just vegetarians. They’re also incredibly economical, especially if you buy the dried ones. If you’re looking for some really high-quality dried beans, try out Rancho Gordo beans – they’re amazing.
3) Tomato Products (no-salt added and preferably not in a can)
Tomato Products form the base of so many quick and delicious recipes, from pasta sauces to soups and chilis, so it’s important to always have some on hand. My favorite? Pomi Chopped Tomatoes have no salt added and come in a box instead of a can to reduce bpa risk.
4) Whole Grains (brown rice, whole and steel cut oats, quinoa, popcorn kernels etc.)
The backbone of many a long-lived and healthy society, whole grains are great to have on hand. This list literally spans every possible meal for every time of day, from morning oatmeal, to lunches and dinners with brown rice, quinoa, or barley, to snacks like popcorn.
5) Nutritional Yeast
Ahh, hippie dust. This stuff is magical. All vegans know about nutritional yeast because it’s pretty much the only food-based source of B12 they can eat, but it’s not just for hardcore vegans. It’s also rich in folic acid and free of candida albicans (if you’re concerned with that stuff) “Nooch” will thicken up soups and add a cheesy, nutty flavor to salads, sauces, and my favorite, the aforementioned air-popped popcorn. Trust me, it’s not just for hippies. Once you try this stuff, you’ll want to put it on EVERYTHING (well, except ice cream and cereal).
Sea vegetables of all kinds are important to include in your diet. High in essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals (including iodine), they’re also great as a salt substitute. Use Dulse to flavor salads, Wakame to punch up miso soups, and Kombu helps to flavor soups and beans when they’re cooking (and apparently also reduces gas and bloating when consuming them).
7) Salt-free Seasonings and Spices
You don’t need to load up your meals with unnecessary salt to make them taste good. There are plenty of salt-free seasonings and spices to use, and it’s important to have a well-rounded spice rack to make any type of healthy cuisine. My favorite all-purpose seasonings are Mrs. Dash, and I particularly like their “table blend” and “southwest chipotle” flavors.
8) Silken Tofu
If you ever want to make a creamy dressing without the cream and with less fat then nuts, silken tofu is where it’s at.
9) Nuts and Seeds
Okay, technically you should store these in your fridge to make them last longer, but some nuts and seeds are okay to keep out in the pantry. My favorite? Chia seeds, which not only are packed with essential fatty acids but help slow down glucose absorption in the body, keeping you full for longer periods of time and preventing the dreaded insulin spike. Add to salads, smoothies, and your morning oatmeal.
10) Dried Fruit and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Use raisins to flavor your oatmeal or cereal, dates in place of sugar in sweet recipes, and sun-dried tomatoes to punch up salads and soups. Dried fruit is also great for a quick energy-boosting snack right before a hard workout. If you’re trying to lose weight though, stay away from the dried fruit snacking, however, and stick to the dates and raisins.
Get these items in your kitchen and you’ll have the makings of an efficient, healthy, and delicious culinary creation lab. To get you going, here’s a printable shopping list to bring with you to the market!