Monday, May 31, 2010

10 shelf staples (Part II)

Here's the second half of the list of ten essential foods to always have on hand.

6. Walnuts OR Almonds
Nuts have recently found fame thanks to their high content of "healthy" fats, aka unsaturated fatty acids. They're a great snack because it only takes a handful to tide you over to the next meal. Because they're high in fat, though, they're also high in calories. So you really do need to limit it to a handful. But that one small handful a day has been linked to weight management and prevention of heart disease. While most nuts are considered healthful, there are a few stars that really stand out. Walnuts are championed for their high omega-3 and antioxidant content. So not only do you have the heart-boosting power of omega-3's, but the cancer-fighting properties of polyphenols and ellagic acid (the main antioxidant found in walnuts). The second nut celebrity is the almond. While almonds don't boast as high an omega-3 profile, they are chock-full of important nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium, as well as the antioxidant Vitamin E. If you're not a fan of walnuts and almonds, though, there are plenty of other nuts that make great snacks, such as cashews and pecans. Learn more about these and others here. Thanks to their high protein, fiber, and fat content, any nut you choose will keep your tummy from grumbling in the middle of a class or meeting. (Thanks to Global Healing Center for nut nutrient information.)

7. Fresh Vegetables: Onions, Asparagus, Sweet Potatoes, Avocados, Eggplant, or Cabbage 
Fresh is best! It's a great idea to have at least one or two fresh vegetables around for a healthy snack or addition to dinner. What's significant about the six listed above (well, an avocado is actually a fruit) is that they are among the fifteen non-organically grown produce products with the lowest amount of pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). In other words, you don't have to worry about buying organic; you can buy the regular stuff at the best price you can find. If you're a carrot or potato lover, though, you might want to consider paying the extra cost for the organic versions. Why? These vegetables, along with spinach, celery, and bell peppers, are cited by the EWG as part of "The Dirty Dozen" of produce, recording the highest levels of pesticides when they're eaten. If you just don't want to sacrifice your carrots but also aren't keen on the higher price of organic, try looking for generic organic brands and buy them when they're on sale. That should bring the price down much closer to that of the conventionally-grown brands. 

8. Fresh Fruit: Pineapple, Grapefruit, Cantaloupe, Mangos, Kiwi, or Watermelon
Fruits can be even more versatile than vegetables. They can be eaten as a grab-and-go snack, breakfast, and even dessert. They can be added to salsas, salads, smoothies, meat dishes, and even to pizza. They're great sweet-tooth satisfiers with built-in fiber, which slows down the sugar hitting your bloodstream. And as explained with the vegetables above, these six fruits listed above are the safest, boasting the lowest levels of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. Which made the Dirty Dozen list? Unfortunately, some of my favorites; apples, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and grapes are all loaded with pesticides. Try to buy these organic or opt for the Safe Six. Whatever the fruits of your choice may be, though, have fun with them! Think outside the pizza box and try something new. Here are a few fruit recipes I'm hoping to try this summer. If you try one yourself leave a comment and let me and everyone else know how you liked it!
Mango Salsa
Avocado Grapefruit Salad
Grilled Pineapple
Mango Chicken Bake

9. Canned Tomatoes (Organic)
I can't count the number of times I've felt like there was absolutely nothing to make for dinner until I found a can of diced tomatoes hidden in the back of the pantry. Then I was in business. Canned tomatoes can be used as an in-a-pinch pasta sauce, soup flavor-booster, homemade salsa base, taco topping, and so on. No washing or chopping required; just open the can and pour. It's important to use organic canned tomatoes, however, due to the high levels of pesticides in conventional tomatoes. Thankfully there isn't too much of an added cost to do so. At my grocery store the Full Circle brand can of organic diced tomatoes costs only 13 percent more than Hunt's. Not a big difference for something that usually costs less than $2 a pop. Not sure how to pick between whole, diced, crushed, or chopped? Use this nifty Canned Tomato Guide and you're good to go.

10. Whole Grains: Brown Rice OR Whole Wheat Pasta OR Couscous OR Quinoa OR Bulgur OR Wild Rice Whether you're content with classic spaghetti or like to venture into uncharted territory with grains like quinoa and bulgur, it's always smart to have some sort of whole grain around as a meal base. As long as you have a grain, a can of tomatoes, and some protein (meat, fish, or beans) in your kitchen you always have the makings of a great dinner. By now you've probably heard all about the importance of whole grains over refined grains, but I'll give a quick review. Whole grains have all the good stuff still attached, which means they've got fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and other good stuff that refined grains remove. Never heard of couscous, quinoa, or bulgur before? You can most likely find them in the bulk foods section of your grocery store. And while cooking with a new type of grain may seem intimidating at first, there are plenty of easy step-by-step instructions online to help you out. Plus many whole grains don't take much longer to cook then your standard spaghetti noodles. For example, it only takes 12-15 minutes to cook quinoa, 10 for couscous, and 10-12 for bulgur.  Use this guide from the Whole Grain Council to help you the first time you try a new grain.  The greatest part about whole grains is the endless variety of dishes you can make with them! Pictured above is tabbouleh, a popular Middle Eastern dish made of bulgur, tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, and a few herbs and spices. Below is a recipe for tabbouleh along with a few other of the thousands of ways to cook with whole grains. 
Quick Black Beans and Rice
Pasta Italiano
Easy Curry Couscous
Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Parsley Tabbouleh
Wild Rice and Chicken Salad Mexicali

If you're a baking fiend...
-Whole Wheat Flour
If you must have your daily dose of caffeine...
-Fair Trade Coffee OR
-Fair Trade Tea
(Find out why it's so important to buy fair trade here.)


  1. Lys. Your blog is amazing. You're on a rocket to the moon!

  2. Huh, canned tomatoes is one I wouldn't have thought of but now that you mention it, they DO get used in tons of things. This is a great list.

    I have to disagree with you on the fair trade certified coffee/tea, though...the certification process is a bit too wonky to justify the added cost for me.


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