We all know that eating at home is healthier and cheaper than dining out, so we’ve compiled a short cheat sheet of guilt-free staples and better cooking hints. Everything here is crazy good for you, including the most antioxidant-packed spices, the best fruits and vegetables for fighting disease, even the healthiest bread crumbs, so start stocking up!
HERBS AND SPICES
Oregano: Contains up to 20 times the antioxidant levels of other herbs.
Paprika: Sprinkle on chicken before cooking for a zesty dose of vitamin C.
Red pepper flakes: Spice up a meal with metabolism-boosting capsaicin.
OILS AND VINEGARS
Balsamic vinegar: A sweeter, flavorful, low-calorie alternative to regular vinegar.
Olive oil: Use extra-virgin for salad dressings and bread dips and the regular variant for cooking.
Canola oil: Loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, its mild taste makes it good for both cooking and baking.
Brown rice: Contains about six times as much fiber as its white counterpart.
Panko bread crumbs: That’s the term for those Japanese crumbs, which can give a faux fried crunch to oven-baked chicken.
Couscous: A great alternative to rice or pasta as it has less carbohydrates and calories.
SAUCES, MARINADES, AND SPREADS
Applesauce (natural): Aside from being a healthy side dish, it’s also a great substitute for fat in baking: simply replace half the oil in a recipe with applesauce.
Hummus: A fantastic source of protein and fiber.
Salsa: It’s your vegetables in disguise!
Crab meat: Very low in calories. Mix itwith bread crumbs for a fast crab cake.
Salmon: An omega-3 powerhouse, ready to be eaten for salads or sandwiches.
Tuna (light, in water): Water-packed tuna has more omega-3 fatty acids than its oil-packed counterpart.
Bean and vegetable soups (canned or boxed): These are great for dinner on the fly. You can also try low-fat cream soups as a sauce for chicken and rice.
Beef, chicken, and vegetable broth/stock: Use this in place of water to add flavor to rice.
NUTS AND NUT BUTTERS
Almond butter: This is a tasty alternative to peanut butter.
Sunflower seeds: Vitamin E–rich; it adds crunch to salads, soups, and cereals.
Walnuts: Crush a few and throw them into salads, yogurt, and cereal.
Stock up on fresh and/or dried apples, mangoes, bananas, citrus fruits, grapes, and raisins. Toss into salads or plain yogurt, or snack on them straight up.
For preserves, get canned or jarred Mandarin oranges, peaches, and pineapples. Try to avoid fruits packed in syrup.
Get canned or jarred artichokes, corn, garlic (this will last longer than the fresh alternative), black or green olives, and whole or diced tomatoes.
Buy fresh beets, celery, onions, potatoes, shallots (sibuyas Tagalog), and sweet potatoes, as these keep well for long periods.
Canned black or white cannellini, pinto, and red beans; chickpeas (garbanzos); and lentils are excellent sources of protein and fiber. Rinse them off to reduce their sodium content, then wrap in whole-wheat tortillas or add to salads, soups, and pasta dishes.
(First published as " Inside a Healthy Pantry " in the "Eat Smart” section of Women's Health Philippines' January-February 2010 issue. Photo by Pete Reed via Flickr Creative Commons. Adapted for use in Female Network.)
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