Dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite for Health, shares her list of pantry staples that can help support all your weight-loss efforts.
A well-stocked pantry is one of the best ways to ensure that you can enjoy healthy and delicious meals at a moment's notice. What's more, research shows that having a kitchen that's stocked with plenty of good-for-you options can even help peel off pounds. That's because several studies show that home-cooked meals equal smaller portions and fewer calories; less saturated fat and added sugars; and more fruits and veggies, compared to meals prepared away from home. In fact, one study reported a 2 ½ to 4 times increased risk in being overweight or obese from having dinners purchased away from home.
Keep these nutritious options on hand, so you can always whip up a balanced meal in minutes.
I always have at least three different oils in my pantry. The first is extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) that is rich in beneficial antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. I use it for dipping, drizzling, and dressings. When I don't want the oil to overpower the food, I'll use a "light" olive oil. For Asian dishes, I generally use sesame oil, which is also lower in saturated fats and rich in beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Vinegar helps control blood sugar and insulin levels and adds great flavor to a variety of dishes, like salad dressings, marinades, or sauces. My go-tos are cider, red wine, champagne, balsamic, sherry, and rice (for Asian dishes).
Because canned foods are picked and processed at the peak of ripeness, they have as much — or sometimes even more — nutrients than fresh produce. For example, canned tomatoes provide a nutritional bonus because crushing and cooking releases more lycopene, the carotenoid that makes tomatoes red and provides anticancer and heart-healthy properties. I always have a variety of whole, crushed, diced, and pureed tomato sauces in my pantry.
A recent review of the literature shows that meals that include legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans) increase the satiety of the meal by over 30 percent. To up the fullness factor of your meals, turn canned beans into a three-bean salad or add them to soups, casseroles, or veggie dishes.
Dried Herbs and Spices
Ounce per ounce, dried herbs and spices pack in more antioxidants than most other foods. A study of more than 3,000 common foods found that dried herbs like cloves, allspice, oregano, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, basil, sage, and rosemary were some of the most concentrated antioxidant powerhouses among all foods. A teaspoon of ground cinnamon packs in as much antioxidants as a cup of pomegranate juice or ½ cup of blueberries.
Whole Grains (Brown Rice, Whole-Wheat Pasta, Oats, Quinoa)
Due to their high antioxidant and fiber counts, diets rich in whole grains help reduce risk for heart disease and certain cancers and help you maintain a healthy weight over time. Make sure you have plenty of them in your pantry when you want some healthy and satisfying carbohydrates.
Honey, Maple Syrup, and Molasses
Many simple recipes call for a bit of sweetener, and the added sugars I use are those that have beneficial antioxidants and other bioactive compounds that may improve health. Although all sweeteners pack in 16-20 calories per teaspoon and should be limited, my pantry always has pure honey, maple syrup, and molasses to use in moderation.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nut eaters are consistently leaner than those who don't enjoy nuts, plus unsaturated fats and antioxidants from nuts help fend off heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. When choosing nut butters, opt to grind your own, or buy the natural or organic options that have only two ingredients — nuts and salt.
Mustards are much more than a sandwich spread. Mustards come from the cruciferous mustard greens plant, which helps temper inflammation and has both anticancer and heart-health benefits. I always have yellow, stone-ground, and Dijon mustards to add kick to meats as well as to make homemade salad dressings.
One way to add flavor while keeping fat, sugar, and calories in check is with condiment sauces like soy, hot, hoisin, tahini, ketchup, and BBQ. Look for lower-sodium options to keep sodium counts down.