Being healthy starts with good intentions. You want to be your healthiest, and I bet that you have the intention of eating to nourish and fuel your body in the best possible way. Whether you have been focusing on healthy eating for years, or you are looking to start fresh with a diet of nutritious whole foods, the one place that you need to start with is your pantry food.
How many times have you had the intention of cooking a healthy meal or grabbing a wholesome snack, only to find that when you opened the cupboards you were left with few good options? It happens to the best of us. We might go too long between trips to the grocery store, or maybe do a little indulgent impulse shopping on items that weren’t your health conscious grocery list. The next thing you know, you are left with processed, fat-laden unhealthy choices, or worse yet, no options at all. Without a doubt, the first step to eating healthy is keeping your refrigerator and pantry stocked with options that support your good intentions, rather than sabotage them.
Before cleaning out your pantry and preparing to restock, let’s take a minute to touch on just how important healthy pantry products really are. If you asked five different people why healthy eating was important to them, chances are you would get five different answers. We eat healthy to lose weight, to prevent or stall the progression of chronic diseases, to feel more energetic, and to increase our quality of life, just to name a few. Your reasons might be different from mine, but they are each equally important. Look around and you will see that as a society we are suffering greatly from a typical diet that is high in saturated fats, sugar and salt. This is evident in our increasing obesity rates, which incidentally contributes to an average of one in five American deaths. That statistic alone is quite scary. Add to that that healthy eating can give you increased energy, improve your mood, prevent inflammation and chronic disease and show outwardly in your appearance and you have all the motivation that you need to clean out your pantry and start anew.
Additionally, what you fuel your body with shows on the outside. When your diet is unhealthy, your chances of dealing with skin issues increase. An unhealthy diet can contribute to acne, skin rashes, and hormonal imbalances which affect your skin. Poor nutrition can also make your skin dry, patchy and almost grayish looking. Looks aren’t everything, but the state of your skin tells an amazing tale of what is going on with your health, and your health actually is everything. So, let’s start making it a little easier on ourselves to maintain a healthy diet, one that you can see and feel the benefits of, by building a healthy pantry. Following is a list of the best foods to keep in your pantry for health, vitality and glowing, clear skin.
Water: Admittedly, this isn’t necessarily a pantry staple, but it should be because it is the single most important thing that you put into your body. The effects of inadequate hydration are quick to be felt and seen. It might start off with a headache and lack of focus, but lack of water can quickly take a negative toll on your health. Water is essential to physiological processes, it flushes out toxins and helps keep your skin looking its absolute best. Water should be in your pantry if you live in an area where your water sources are questionable. It is also a good idea to keep a few gallons of purified drinking water on hand in the pantry in case of an emergency where you might not have access to your usual water source. Aim for at least eight 8oz glasses of water per day and you will be less likely to mindlessly reach for sodas or other sweetened drinks instead.
- Olive Oil: This versatile oil should top your list of pantry staples. A good quality olive oil can be used for cooking, for salad dressing and dipping, and it is not unusual to hear a beautiful older woman, with skin that looks decades younger than her chronological age, admit to dabbing a little bit around her eyes. Those who consume olive oil regularly show fewer signs of aging than those who rarely use it. This is because olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants which promote health and fight free radicals. When choosing an olive oil, go with the best quality that you can afford. Some brands that you might find on your grocer’s shelves have actually been mixed with lesser quality or different oils so that they can be offered at a more affordable price point. Keep quality and reputation in mind when choosing the olive oil for your pantry.
- Coconut Oil: In years past, coconut oil got a bit of a negative reputation because it is very high in saturated fats. More recently, coconut oil has been looked at again and is being touted as a miracle cure-all in some circles. While, we will not go so far as to say that coconut oil is a miracle, we will say that it actually is a great oil to have in your pantry as a staple and is much healthier than you might think. First, we can look at cultures that use coconut fat on a regular basis and see that they suffer very little from cardiovascular issues. Secondly, the high saturated fat levels of coconut oil make it less likely to oxidize at the very high temperatures, making it an excellent choice for sautéing and frying. Coconut oil improves blood lipid profiles, has antibacterial properties and is being looked at for its contributing role in weight loss. All of this, plus it can be used as a standalone salve for a variety of skin conditions. Keep a jar of this good stuff in your pantry at all times.
- Canned Fish: Tuna, Sardines and Mackerel offer a powerful protein punch and are good for your skin. Mackerel is one of the highest sources of vitamin B12 that is naturally available in food. A deficiency is this vitamin can cause skin discolorations, including hyper pigmentation. Sardines and tuna are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight the inflammation that is present in moderate to severe acne. All of these canned fishes help support cellular function and provide your skin with a natural barrier that helps keep dryness and blemishes at bay.
- Canned Oysters: Six oysters provide approximately 500% of your daily value of zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral that many people suffer at least some degree of deficiency in. A lack of zinc can cause you to feel fatigued, give you headaches, cause skin rashes, acne, hair loss and weak nails. Help build and support cellular growth and rejuvenation by keeping a can of oysters in your pantry for a quick, elegant snack.
- Whole Grain Pasta: This is probably one of the quintessential pantry staples. Even with gluten free and low carbohydrate diets gaining popularity, good pasta still tops the list of pantry must haves for most people. The key here is to choose the right pasta by making sure that it is whole grain so that it is rich in fiber and contains ample amounts of CoQ10, a powerful anti-aging antioxidant.
- Oatmeal: Here we are talking about the good stuff; the pure, non sweetened variety. Whether you prefer steel cut, old fashioned or quick oats is up to you, although steel cut is the healthiest option. By choosing natural oats and cooking them with your favorite, healthy add ins, you are choosing to start your day off with healthy complex carbohydrates that are low in added sugar. For you this means more sustained energy throughout your day and a morning dose of oatmeal will help keep your hormones in check, thus helping your skin remain clear and healthy looking.
- Variety of Whole Grains: Selenium is a mineral that helps to protect your skin, along with all of the other cells in your body, from damaging free radicals. A healthy and tasty way to get more selenium into your diet is by keeping your pantry, and your dinner plate, full of healthy whole grains. If you think that whole grain means only brown rice and you worry that you will find yourself bored, think again. There are a variety of interesting, healthy whole grains available at almost any grocery store these days, including quinoa, bulgur, couscous and farro.
- Walnuts: Nuts, in general, make for a good quick snack that provides protein, fiber, healthy fats and selenium. You would be wise to keep a variety of nuts in your pantry so that you can grab a small handful or add them to some of your favorite healthy dishes. However, if you were going to chose just one, think about walnuts. Walnuts are the king of nuts when it comes to nutrition, as they contain the highest amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Raw, unsalted nuts help to protect your cardiovascular health and keep your skin soft and naturally moisturized.
- Chickpeas: These protein rich, high fiber nuggets (also known as garbanzo beans) are low on the glycemic index and help to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels in check. The nutritional content of chickpeas makes them an especially great staple for vegetarians. The protein helps build, repair and protect skin cells, while their low glycemic value keeps your hormones in balance, preventing troubling skin issues such as excessive oiliness and acne.
- Canned Tomatoes and Tomato Paste: There are few things that taste better than a sun warmed, ripe tomato fresh picked from the garden. If only that aroma and taste could last year round. Alas it doesn’t, but tomatoes still remain one of the most versatile and healthy staples you can keep in your pantry. Whether you can them yourself or buy them off the store shelf, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is especially important for men and prostate health. Lycopene also helps to prevent and repair skin damage and even increases your skin’s natural SPF. What makes canned tomatoes even better? The fact that they are cooked actually makes the nutritional goodness even more available to you.
- Almond Milk: Shelf stable almond milk can be found in most grocery stores and is well worth keeping on hand to enjoy in a variety of ways. Cow’s milk is shown to be inflammatory, especially in people with a sensitivity to dairy products. This inflammatory reaction can make you feel achy, tired and sore. Additionally, you may experience skin distress in the form of redness and acne. Unsweetened almond milk on the other hand has anti-inflammatory properties and can be substituted for milk in many recipes. It has a flavor that is mellow and slightly sweet, perfect over your morning cereal or to liven up a cup of coffee.
- Coffee: You do not need to give up your morning cup of coffee, or your weekend coffee date with your best friend. In fact you should celebrate these occasions because it has been discovered that women who drink coffee, moderately, on a daily basis have an overall lower chance of developing skin cancer as compared to other women in the same risk group. Keep in mind that coffee, when over consumed, can cause some health issues. So, keep it moderate at one to two cups per day and do so guilt free.
- Green Tea: You can enjoy it iced, or steaming with the mild aroma tickling your nose. Either way, green tea offers powerful antioxidant protection. This is good for your body, both inside and out. Green tea helps fight inflammation and free radical damage. It also helps fight the negative effects of sun damage on the skin.
- Dark Chocolate: If there is one heavenly food that is both indulgent and healthy, it is dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is good for cardiovascular health, reduces inflammation and is high in flavinols which are responsible for increasing circulation and blood flow to the skin and improving the quality of your skin’s texture. Keep it pure and moderate. Your chocolate should be at least 70% pure cocoa. Chocolate of this level is usually very rich, so all you need is about an ounce to benefit from this culinary luxury.
Building and maintaining a healthy pantry really is all about making conscious choices. Read the labels before you buy and choose foods where you recognize all of the ingredients. Choose foods that are low in unhealthy fats, salt and sugar. If you need to, commit to building your healthy pantry in weekly increments. Also, when you stock your pantry, imagine what it is that you can use each item for; even make meal plans if it helps. When your pantry is stocked with only healthy choices, there is no chance that you will sabotage your body and skin health by reaching for the wrong food. Soon enough you’ll have easy healthy snacks on the go and at home. These few items and simple steps will help you help build not only your pantry, but also your body into the strongest and healthiest that it can possibly be.