Your pantry should be stocked with healthy cooking ingredients that can be used on a regular basis to fix tasty, healthy meals for you and your entire family. All ingredients should be absolutely additive and preservative free, low-fat, low (or no) salt, and sugar-free.
Below are eight ingredients that I always have on hand
1. Olive Oil
Real “extra virgin” olive oil is 100% natural and very high in antioxidants. (avoid the other forms of olive oil that may be extracted with solvents or diluted with other cheaper oils). It is great for drizzling on salads and vegetables of for French bread dipping when sprinkled with a little pepper. Note: It is not good for baking because of the distinct flavor.
2. Canola oil
Contains very little saturated fat and is considered the most healthy oil by many authorities, including, the American Heart Association. It is higher in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other oil except flaxseed oil. It can be used in salads, for baking, and for pan cooking.
3. Non-Fat Greek Yogurt
This is a wonderful substitute for recipes that call for mayonnaise, or sour cream. They can be used to thicken a variety of sauces and also make a great snack or breakfast.
It is possible to include onions in a number of recipes like soups, salads or stir-fry. Onions have a very distinctive flavor which many people enjoy in their salads or on hamburgers. They help balance blood sugar for diabetics and pre-diabetics. They also contain anti-inflammatory benefits for those who struggle with allergies. Onions eaten in large amounts provide anti-bacterial properties for the body to fight harmful bacteria that may cause illnesses.
This is related to the onion family and is high in selenium. It helps reduce blood cholesterol and as a result reduces your risk for heart problems. A little-known fact is that you should allow garlic to rest after chopping before cooking to obtain the maximum health benefits. The “rest” increases iron absorption which is essential in the production of red blood cells. An additional plus is that it is believed to help fight obesity.
Whether fresh or canned, tomatoes are a “must have” ingredient. They can be eaten raw in a salad or made into various sauces for a variety of sumptuous meals.
Lycopene, which comes from the red pigment, promotes the production of collagen for gorgeous firm skin – and possibly helps prevent sunburn when eaten in abundance. Lycopene also aids in getting a good night’s sleep to heal the mind, body and soul.
Studies show that tomatoes help lower the risk of osteoporosis by strengthening the bones and contain antioxidants necessary in the fight against cancer.
When you serve tomatoes drizzled with real virgin olive oil, you receive a double-dose of nutritional benefits.
Finally, cherry and grape tomatoes, which are very low in calories, make a great snack because they can be eaten in abundance between meals. They are also delicious in salads as a side dish for dinner.
Most fresh herbs contain add rich, subtle flavors that make meals more enjoyable; and, they can be grown on your windowsill for easy accessibility.
• Rosemary – Can be included in soups, chicken dishes and in a cup of tea.
Health Benefits: Rosemary – It is a great source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory elements. Improves digestion, helps in cancer treatment, and is believed to help improve brain health – enhancing memory and concentration, neurological protection, prevents brain aging.
• Parsley – Adds color and a mild peppery taste to salads, soups, and stews. Italian parsley is the best choice for salads. Always use fresh parsley, dried parsley has very little flavor.
Health Benefits: Parsley is rich in Vitamin C, B 12, K and A and minerals. This means parsley keeps your immune system strong, tones your bones and heals the nervous system. Regular use of parsley can help control your blood pressure; plus, the folic acid in this herb is a tonic for your heart.
• Basil – This is the primary ingredient in pesto sauce, which can be used as a condiment or as a sauce for fish or pasta dishes. It is wonderful in soups and sauces and delicious as an infusion with your favorite olive oil – the possibilities are endless.
Health Benefits: Often called the world’s healthiest food and is valuable in reducing risk for cardiovascular disease. It is full of Vitamins A, C & K, magnesium, antioxidants, flavonoids (for protection at a cellular level), and volatile oils.
• Oregano – Oregano is typically used in Italian and Greek cooking, plus it has been adapted for many contemporary and new recipes. Oregano is a strong herb. Its tiny, but pungent leaves are great for soups, stews, and sauces.
Health Benefits: Antioxidant for immune system support, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties, fights cancer and upper respiratory infections.
• Thyme – A wonderful herb with culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. It is one of the most important herbs of the European kitchen – especially the French. One of the reasons it is so popular is because it mixes well with other herbs for a nice bouquet.
Health Benefits: Fights acne, high blood pressure, protection from food-borne bacterial infections, colon cancer, breast cancer and yeast infections.
These make meals more flavorful without adding fat and calories. Spices also have many health benefits.
• Chili Peppers – Perfect for all kinds of flavorful, spicy dishes – especially if you like your food “hot.”
Health Benefits: antioxidant, anti-irritant properties, cold remedy, weight loss, heart health, digestion, balances LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
• Turmeric – This spice has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor with a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger. it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry.
Health Benefits: An antioxidant loaded with nutrients: protein, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin C, E and K, sodium potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc. Helps with cancer prevention, arthritis reliever, diabetes control, heals wounds, Alzheimers prevention, improves digestion, natural liver detoxifier, weight management, reduces cholesterol, boosts immune system.
• Ginger – This is an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used for multiple purposes – from savory to sweet. Found in beverages, desserts, and salads.
Health Benefits: It is good for digestive health and has been used for eons to settle an upset stomach. It can be dried and used in a tea to relieve a cold because it is known to open the sinuses for easier breathing. Some people chew on it to relieve pain from a tooth ache. Benefits: Relieves muscle pain from exercise, chemotherapy nausea, ovarian cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, painful menstruation and migraines.
• Clove – Adds a rich, spicy flavor to dishes – especially good in drinks and desserts.
Health Benefits: Used for upset stomach and as an expectorant, which makes it easier to cough up phlegm. Clove oil is used for diarrhea, hernia, and bad breath. Clove and clove oil are used for intestinal gas, nausea, and vomiting.