Keeping your pantry stocked with some essential ingredients ensures that you will always have something nutritious to whip up in a pinch. As a Holistic Nutritionist, my wellness plans are not just about what you eat, but include the pillars of health. Stress can play a big role in many aspects of your life, including digestion, so my number one tip for reducing stress is to meal plan. If you keep some essentials on hand, you lower your risk of becoming hangry, having low blood sugar, and reduce cravings. Use these pantry basics to boost up Bliss Balls, Chia Pudding, smoothies, salads and snacks with some staples that have a lengthy shelf life and pack a nutrient-dense punch. Keep these 15 ingredients well stocked for their blood sugar regulating, protein packing, healthy fats, energy-boosting and high fibre properties.
- Nutritional Yeast: aka, “nooch”, is a new fave in the plant-based world. If you are lucky, you can find a brand that is fortified with vitamin B12, which does not normally exist naturally in plant-based foods. These dry flakes give a cheesy, nutty flavour that is naturally low in sodium but still packs alot of flavour. Nutritional yeast can be turned into a dairy-free cheese sauce, a vegan “parmesan”, and crisps up nicely on roasted chick peas.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar: Keep this on hand to use in salad dressings and as a way to start your day. Take 1 Tblsp each morning before you eat or drink anything else, to set your metabolism and get your digestive juices flowing for the day. I also love ACV as a skin toner for oily areas on the face and as a hair rinse. Be sure to buy ACV with the “mother”, for it’s nutritional benefits.
3. Canned Coconut Milk: Full fat coconut milk makes a decadent chia seed pudding, thickens up smoothies, makes a rich whipped cream, and is a great base to cook rice in. This healthy fat is easily metabolized by your body for energy, and benefits your brain, hair, nails and skin. It is also a nice alternative to dairy and nut milks.
4. Sea Salt: A great source of iodine that is usually not processed, and is needed for a healthy thyroid, to regulate your body’s fluid balance and to prevent dehydration. Limit your sodium intake to 2300mg/day or less. Natural sea salt, that is not processed, should be light grey, sometimes pink in colour. Just a pinch will do you.
5. Olive Oil: A healthy monounsaturated fat with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil benefits the brain, hair, skin, and the heart. Keep Extra Virgin Olive Oil on hand to use as salad dressing or for baking. Avoid frying with olive oil or cooking with it at high heat as it can damage the nutrient properties.
6. Oats: Rolled oat flakes are a soothing, plant-based protein that help to regulate blood sugar, are easy to digest, nutrient-dense, and a great source of B vitamins for energy. Use them in overnight oats, make a dairy-free milk alternative, use in baking or use raw in smoothies.
7. Chia Seeds: High in fibre, chia seeds help to regulate blood glucose levels, they keep you satiated, and are a great source of plant-based protein. Use them as your base in chia seed pudding and bliss balls, or try a Chia Fresca with coconut water in the summer.
8. Turmeric: This nutrient-dense root is most known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The root can be grated and used fresh, or you can get the powdered version, which is more bioavailable in the body. Phytonutrients in curcumin, the compound in turmeric, help to reduce swelling, ease digestion and IBS, boost immunity, inhibit cancer cell growth and, topically, can help improve the suppleness of skin. Add 1 Tblsp of turmeric to 1 cup of coconut milk, along with cloves, black pepper, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg for a soothing, nutrient-dense drink.
9. Coconut Oil: I keep coconut oil on hand for frying, to use in place of butter or oils in baking, and to use topically as a skin moisturizer. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but from a plant, and it is considered one of the healthiest fats to eat. This medium chain fatty acid, or MCFA, is easily digested by the body and used immediately for fuel, unlike some fats that are stored in the body. Coconut oil is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal, so it makes for a safe, chemical-free moisturizer on the skin and is useful for oral health.
10. Dates: I use dates as a natural sweetener in baking, bliss balls, homemade oat and nut milks, bitter smoothies and blended coffee. Medjool dates are the sweeter variety, and can be eaten fresh or dried. Aside from having a high natural sugar content, they do contain fibre, which helps to slow the glucose release, keeps your digestive tract healthy, and gives a natural energy boost.
11. Dried Herbs: Herbs and spices pack alot of nutrient punch and flavour that is useful to replace salt in foods. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Parsley, all dry and freeze well, so you can grow them and keep them for cooking. If freezing, fill ice cube trays with water or olive oil, and place in finely chopped herbs. Simply pop out a cube for cooking.
12. Cacao Powder: Raw cacao powder comes from the edible pods of the Theobroma cacao plant and is considered a superfood, high in antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Cocoa, or raw chocolate is made from the powder, and it is a great way to boost up baking and treats without all the added sugar. Simply mix raw cacao powder with coconut oil, maple syrup or dates, and use it as a base for Almond Butter Cups, Avocado Pudding, or Chocolate Bark.
13. Quinoa: Considered a superfood, this seed that is eaten like a grain and has more nutritional value and protein than other plants. It makes a great alternative to rice, when boiled, and can also be popped like popcorn when dry. The seeds can also be soaked and sprouted for easier digestion. Once a week, make a big pot of cooked quinoa and add it to salads, stuff it into peppers or portobello mushrooms for dinners, use it in wraps and homemade granola, to sneak in extra protein throughout your days.
14. Nuts: Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, are high in plant-based protein and high in fibre. Ground nuts make a wonderful pie crust, dairy-free milk, topping on salads or yogurt. It is really simple to add nuts in to your meals as they can be eaten raw. Also try nut butters and nut oils on salads. Aim for the raw or dry roasted, unsalted, varieties. Nuts should be stored in your freezer as they can go rancid easily.
15. Ground Flax Seeds: Most beneficial when ground, flax seeds contain the most omega 3, which is anti-inflammatory, skin, brain and heart healthy. It is a source of phytoestrogen and lignans for women’s health, and antioxidants for boosting the immune system. Flax naturally gels when mixed with water, so it is often used as an egg replacement in vegan baking. Add ground flax to granola, bliss balls, cereals, in baked goods, on yogurt and in smoothies. Also try flax oil in salad dressing or on its own for it’s blood sugar-regulating properties.
Jen Casey is a Holistic Nutritionist with Next Bite Nutrition Coaching in Vancouver, BC. She focuses her practice on whole body wellness and building a solid foundation for the pillars of health. Learn more about Jen and her healthy recipes on Instagram.