Ever wonder which mainstay ingredients you should keep in your pantry? To get the lowdown on the healthiest and most versatile must-have foods, we went to two top nutritionists: Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, coordinator of nutrition services at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, and Kathie Swift, RD, nutritionist for the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Here, they recommend ten staples no kitchen should be without.
Avocados. A tasty source of folic acid, vitamin E, potassium, and monounsaturated fats, according to Swift. Spread ripe avocados on sandwiches, or chop and serve atop a bowl of chili.
Barley. This grain has a low glycemic index and high amounts of beta-glucan, known to enhance the immune system and lower blood cholesterol levels. Barley also has a “delightful texture that kids love,” says Swift. Add to your favorite soup or bread recipe.
Cinnamon. Boutin points to recent research suggesting half a teaspoon per day of cinnamon may help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Add this versatile spice to your morning bowl of oatmeal, marinades, or hot cider.
Flaxseeds. They’re “rich in alpha-linolenic acid (the plant world’s omega-3 fatty acid), and also fiber, lignans, and other vitamins and minerals,” says Swift. Ground flaxseeds can top oatmeal or pancakes and taste great in muffins or breads.
Fruit. Apples and pears contain pectin, which helps reduce cholesterol, says Boutin. Berries contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, which may help prevent illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Toss fresh or frozen fruit into smoothies or a cup of yogurt.
Garlic. Garlic contains rich organosulfur compounds that aid in liver detoxification, and it is known to boost the immune system. This herb adds flavor to Italian fare, stir-fries, and just about any savory dish.
Legumes. These are packed with folate, iron, magnesium, protein, and soluble fiber. Add legumes to salads, soups, or rice dishes.
Quinoa. This gluten-free grain is quick-cooking, tasty, and contains calcium, protein, and B vitamins, according to Swift. Try it in tabbouleh for a change, or use in grain salads.
Turmeric. A natural anti-inflammatory and powerful antioxidant, turmeric adds gingery-pepper flavor and bright yellow color to soups, stews, and stir-fries.
Walnuts. “People get a bit paranoid because nuts are high in fat, but studies have shown that eating a handful of raw walnuts at a time will not increase weight,” says Boutin. Rich in essential fatty acids, walnuts add crunch to salads and are a healthy snack on their own.