12 Healthy, Versatile Foods to Always Have Handy

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I currently have several wonderful and inspiring friends who are trying to make healthier choices in their diet. It can be frustrating finding healthy staples to buy that you actually want to eat. There are WAY too many food products at the grocery store that promote a "heart healthy", "organic", "green" image, or whatever... Tasty as these food are, many of them more often than not contain unnecessary ingredients that harm your body (sugar, added sodium, artificial flavors and colors, MSG, various toxic preservatives, etc.). It ends up being counterproductive. Just to lend a helping hand, instead of posting a recipe, I decided to compile a list of staple foods that I always have in my fridge and pantry to help me whip up a tasty, guilt-free dish quickly.

  • Gluten-free oats. These things are just so necessary. If you're craving sweet, bread-y foods, just bake some oat cookies. Cereal? A scoop of oats, stevia, cinnamon, some berries with almond milk poured over makes a delicious substitute. Granola bars? No problem. Muffins? Easy enough. Oats are super, super cheap and are friendly to all dietary restrictions. They're low in calories, have plenty of fiber and protein (for a grain), and are low in fat. They contain lignans which protect against cancer and heart disease. They remove bad cholesterol, and stabilize blood sugar which reduces the risk of diabetes. And they're yummy. So buy them.
  • Plain, 0% fat Greek Yogurt. Don't buy the sweetened, flavored kind. Not only does it always contain sugars and flavors that add carbs and calories, but it's so easy to sweeten with a splash of vanilla and some stevia extract (stevia is zero calorie and is a perfectly lovely sweetener). You can freeze it with some fruit to make fro-yo, you can add oats and berries for parfait, go half-and-half with some pureed pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and blueberries for a delicious, low-cal treat, plop a dollop in your smoothie or milkshake for a more filling, protein-filled drink. Or totally nix the sweetener and use it on a taco salad instead of the more fattening sour cream. Greek yogurt has a tangier flavor than normal yogurt. Learn to love it. Embrace it. You'll get used to it and the sweetener definitely helps. Greek yogurt is a great source of protein (attention fellow vegetarians!), calcium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12. If you want to lose weight, THIS IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. It will help you feel fuller longer.
  • Quinoa. I've talked about the benefits of quinoa in previous posts (here), so check out the link if you want to know why you should be eating this grain. This is a wonderful substitute for rice. Asian food lovers, buy this by the case. It cooks very quickly and doesn't require much thought or effort. Combine this with some veggies and you have an easy meal. If you're craving rice or pasta, this is what you should be eating instead. You can also make this into a breakfast food by adding sweetener,  cinnamon, fruit, and nuts. It's good stuff.
  • Stevia. I know I talk about this a lot. It's because I love it more than anything in this world. Not really. (But yes...) This sweetener can either come in a liquid extract form or a powdery white form (more common and can be found at most supermarkets). It's zero calorie and carb (YAAAYYY!!!), tastes plenty sweet and cooks well. There were a few studies in the 1980's that indicated that there may be a few health risks related to stevia, but these were disproved in further studies in 2008. Make sure you don't buy a blend, but a type that is 100% stevia. I think the liquid extract (though more expensive) is healthier. The stevia plant has sweet leaves that can be broken right off and consumed, which is where we get the healthy extract. It's practically a spice. Stevia is an antioxidant and helps your body fight off aging free-radicals. It has also been proven to improve insulin productions (good news for diabetics!). It's good stuff.
  • Frozen Fruit and Frozen Vegetables. Buy bags of both. Make sure you buy the kind that doesn't have ANY preservatives (excess sodium is a preservative), sauces, spices, or sweetener. Fruit is great for smoothies (put it in a food processor with handfuls of spinach and stevia, and you have yourself a detoxifying meal replacement). Frozen veggies are great steamed (I prefer not to stir-fry things, but that's an option, too). It's great to have these things on hand since they make for quick, healthy meals and energizing breakfasts. Frozen fruit is great for my fellow sweets-lovers.
  • Greens. Buy spinach. Buy arugula. Buy them deep green and luscious. Put them in smoothies and make them into salad. I don't need to tell you why. Make a goal to eat a giant salad for dinner each night. Put berries or pears and nuts with your greens and pour some low-fat raspberry vinaigrette over it and just eat it. Cut up some avocadoes, some portobello mushrooms, some tomatoes, toss them with some greens, and pour a low-fat Italian dressing over it. Stay away from creamy dressings and stick to oil-based vinaigrettes. Go easy on the dressing and actually use only the recommended serving size and no more (normally two tablespoons). Iceberg lettuce is not going to give you the nutrients you need, so buy the deep, leafy greens. The more you eat them, the more you will like them. So don't give up just because you don't think they taste fantastic at first.
  • Almond milk. Buy the unsweetened, 30 cals/cup kind. It has more calcium than cow's milk and is free from the hormones and chemicals that can aggravate acne and make menstrual cycles more difficult. Dairy is tricky that way. Pour a bowl with oats, stevia, cinnamon, and sliced bananas for breakfast. Blend with frozen fruit for a milkshake. Freeze with stevia and berries for popsicles. 
  • Egg whites. Buy the cartons of 100% egg whites for an easy, light source of protein. Cook in a pan with garlic powder and cayenne powder, add some sliced avocados and bell peppers for a great, filling breakfast. Pour in muffin tins with spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms for a portable pick-me-up. Blend with a dollop of Greek yogurt, stevia, cinnamon, cook in a thin layer in a pan, smear with sweetened Greek yogurt and drizzle with a sugar-free berry sauce for crepes. Egg whites are super great because they are super versatile. 
  • Legumes. Black. Northern. Garbanzo. Black-eyed peas. Lentils. Buy bags of dried legumes, soak overnight, and let cook in a crock pot or large pot over the stove all day, then come home to a great, filling source of protein. Don't buy canned beans. They have a ton of unnecessary sodium that makes you retain water weight and are considerably more expensive than the dried variety. Dried beans can last for years, as well, so they're great for food storage. Plus, they taste waaaay better. Cook them with garlic powder, a dash of salt, pepper, and cayenne. Dried basil and thyme is good with Northern beans. You can make your own hummus with chickpeas. Lentils are wonderful in winter soups. Legumes are fantastic.
  • Bananas. Freeze these in a Tupperware container for a quick, sweet snack. Bananas go great with oats, both as cookies and as breakfast cereal. I normally buy a couple bunches at a time.
  • Fresh Fruits and Veggies. For on-the-go snacking, buy oranges, apples, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, avocados, pears... anything your heart desires. If you bring your own healthy snacks, you'll be less tempted to accept unhealthy foods when you're hungry. It's harder to make good decisions when you're hungry.
  • Nuts. You need your healthy fats and protein, so buy nuts to snack on. Almonds, brazilians, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans... buy them unsalted and unsweetened. Don't buy the sugary trail mixes the supermarket sells. Dry your own fruit and make your own.
I hope this is helpful to anyone who needs some ideas for healthy groceries to always have on hand!

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