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Take a Peek: 11 Staples in a Dietitian’s Pantry   
Kristin Kirkpatrick
The foods you stock in your kitchen pantry can either help or harm your efforts to eat healthier. The fact is, when you’re exposed to foods that support a nutritious diet, eating well becomes much less of a struggle. But if your house is filled with processed, sugary snacks you’ll have a much harder time. Don’t allow these addictive, processed foods to taunt you from the pantry. Just shut them out at the grocery store.

When stocking my pantry, I try to load up on basic, nutritious staples — brown rice, 100 percent whole-wheat pasta, quinoa and canned beans — while adding color and flavor with less traditional items. Here, a few of my favorite pantry items (they might surprise you!):

1. Prunes
Why: Full of fiber and antioxidants, prunes provide more than just relief from constipation. Research shows that eating prunes may assist in weight loss and weight management. Studies also show that prunes are beneficial for bone health; a study by Florida State University found that prunes significantly increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
Buying tips: The nice thing about prunes is that they rarely contain added sugar, which is common among other dried fruits. Be sure you aren’t buying stewed prunes, which are loaded with sugar. There’s also no need to go organic here. And feel free to purchase in bulk, because these dried fruits will last.
Cooking ideas: Prunes are great on their own or added to trail mix. You can also fold them into 100 percent whole-grain pancake batter for a higher-fiber breakfast, or mix them into a smoothie for an added nutrient boost. Try sautéing them with shallots and garlic, and adding to brown rice.

2. Vegetable Broth
Why:
Vegetable broth is the perfect cooking agent; it adds flavor without excessive calories and fat.
Buying tips: You can purchase a healthy vegetable broth, or try making your own. When buying a broth, choose low-sodium varieties. The ideal vegetable broth will have only a few ingredients and contain less than 250 milligrams of sodium.
Cooking ideas: Vegetable broth is a versatile pantry item and a great addition to many different dishes. Not only can you use vegetable broth for soups and stews, but you can also use it as a cooking agent. Instead of using oil or butter, for example, you can sauté your vegetables in vegetable broth (reducing both fat and calories). You can also cook rice or quinoa in vegetable broth to enhance the flavor. Finally, vegetable broth is a great base for sauces or vegetable purees.

3. Seaweed
Why:
Seaweed is a nutrient-rich food high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium and potassium, and low in calories. It can also be a rich source of vitamin B-12, which is an important micronutrient, especially for vegetarians who may not get enough from plant-based foods. Research indicates that seaweed consumption can lower blood pressure and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Buying tips: It’s easy to find seaweed in its dehydrated form at any grocery store. Even big-box warehouse stores are stocking the shelves with this plant from the sea. Some varieties of seaweed can be high in sodium, so be sure to read the label before you purchase it.
Cooking ideas: There are so many ways to incorporate seaweed into your diet. Making your own sushi is one way to use seaweed at home. You can also add it to your stir-fry (“fried” in vegetable broth if you choose), or add it to a homemade soup. If you aren’t used to the taste, blend it in a fruit smoothie, add seaweed strips to a salad for a fun twist or mix it into brown rice. Once you like it mixed into other foods, then eat it as a snack all by itself. Some grocery stores sell bagged seaweed chips, but you can make your own preservative-free chips in the oven.

4. Popcorn
Why:
Aside from broccoli, there are few snacks that compare to the high-fiber, low-calorie composition of popcorn. One study also found popcorn was higher in antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables. Plus, popcorn is a whole grain, which has been associated with a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome.
Buying tips: It’s time to move beyond movie theatre popcorn and start getting all the healthy benefits. You can buy it already popped in bags (look for options that have three or fewer ingredients without added sugar), or buy the whole kernels to air pop or cook in healthy oil on the stove.
Cooking ideas: Popcorn is the perfect snack if you struggle with late night munchies. Eat it as a healthy snack all by itself, or jazz it up by adding some nuts, seeds or cocoa nibs. For a savory treat, add spices such as garlic powder, cayenne pepper or curry powder. You can also try chopped, fresh rosemary or thyme, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of olive oil.

5. Pea Protein Powder
Why:
Pea protein powder, derived from yellow peas, is the perfect alternative to animal-derived protein. In addition to being an excellent post-workout option for vegan athletes, pea protein may also increase feelings of fullness among dieters. Researchers found that loading up on 20 grams of pea or casein protein led to a lower food intake 30 minutes later, compared to whey protein, egg albumin and maltodextrin.
Buying tips: Look for a high-quality brand that has good consumer ratings. Sometimes when high-quality foods are processed into powders or supplements, there’s a risk of contamination with chemicals or unnecessary added ingredients. Talk with a representative at your health food store to find a quality brand.
Cooking ideas: Blend pea protein powder with fresh or frozen berries, half a cup of water and half a cup of almond butter. Enjoy this pea protein smoothie for breakfast or after your daily workout.

6. Good-Quality Olive Oil
Why:
Not only does olive oil taste great, but it also boasts a multitude of health benefits. The monounsaturated fatty acids in this oil have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and, when combined with green vegetables, may help prevent hypertension. Olive oil may also help support your weight loss efforts. A 2013 study found that natural, full fats like olive oil increase satiety after consumption compared to reduced-fat products.
Buying tips: Look for oils that have a dark tint to the glass, because exposure to light is not great for oil. Extra-virgin olive oil provides the most benefit and best taste. At home, keep your oil in a cool, dark place and use within a few months once you open it (air is another enemy of oil).
Cooking ideas: I use olive oil most often to dress salads and to grill or roast vegetables. I also use this oil to make garlic bread. Just rub extra-virgin olive oil and fresh garlic on grilled or toasted 100 percent whole grain breads — yum! It’s great in homemade hummus, guacamole and bean dip as well.

7. Chocolate
Why:
Dark chocolate has amazing health benefits due to its high flavonoid content. The biggest perks involve improved heart health, and it may also assist contribute to lower levels of stress.
Buying tips: When purchasing dark chocolate, be sure that the cocoa content is 70 percent or greater in order to get the biggest benefit. One ounce a day is all you need. Eating more than that may result in weight gain.
Cooking ideas: Many people enjoy dark chocolate on its own or dipped in peanut butter. For those still adjusting to the taste of dark chocolate, try incorporating them into your baking first.

8. Almond Butter
Why:
A recent study found that consuming a handful of nuts daily may decrease risk of total and cause-specific mortality. Nut eaters in the study were also thinner compared to those who did not consume nuts. Another study found that almonds may be associated with the prevention of heart disease.
Buying tips: The most important factor when purchasing nuts is to avoid versions that have added sugar or partially-hydrogenated oils listed in the ingredients. A high quality almond butter will contain one or two ingredients: almonds and possibly salt.
Cooking ideas: Try drizzling almond butter over popcorn for a flavor-infused snack. Enjoy apple slices topped with almond butter and cinnamon.

9. Canned Pumpkin
Why:
Eating canned pumpkin is a great way to give any dish a serious nutritional boost. Pumpkins are loaded with important nutrients such as vitamin A and carotenoids.
Buying tips: Be sure that the only ingredient listed is pumpkin. Avoid canned pumpkin with added sugar or unnecessary preservatives.
Cooking ideas: Canned pumpkin can be added to many dishes. Try adding canned pumpkin to muffin or pancake mix for a sweet flavor boost. Other options include oatmeal, soup, pasta sauce, mashed potatoes, hummus, or even fall cocktails.

10. Legumes
Why:
Legumes are king when it comes to reduction of heart disease and diabetes. They're also low on the glycemic index, which makes them a perfect food if you’re watching your blood sugar. Plus, legumes are loaded with fiber, so they help with constipation.
Buying tips: Your best bet for choosing beans and legumes is to go dry and soak overnight. If that’s too labor intensive, however, you can buy low-sodium canned legumes and rinse in a colander to further reduce the sodium content.
Cooking ideas: Throw legumes into anything and everything. They make a great substitution for rice (think garlic spinach over lentils) or mashed into a delicious bean burger for a meatless cookout alternative. Use legumes as a topping in tacos, thrown into stew for extra fiber or mashed into baked beans as a delicious condiment.

11. Shichimi Togarashi
Why:
Shichimi togarashi is a blend of seven different spices and often includes chili powder, orange or tangerine peel, black and white sesame seeds and seaweed. Here’s what it doesn’t have: salt! And because it’s antioxidant-rich it may help you reduce your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Buying tips: Look for schichimi togarashi in any Asian market. Check the ingredients to be sure there aren't many unnecessary ingredients in the mix.
Cooking ideas: This up-and-comer offers great taste (on fish, chicken, noodles, etc.) without the salt. Try cooking fish and chicken with olive oil and shichimi togarashi for a super flavorful dish, or spice up your brown rice or whole-wheat noodles.

Use this list on your next trip to the grocery store so you can add some pantry staples that pack big health benefits. All of these items are affordable and taste great.

Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, Nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute and Abigail Silvester contributed to this article.
 

ADDED TO  Food- Smart Choices, Food- Healthy Snacks  1700 days 16 hours 22 min ago
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Dr. Phil D Mayers commented on Wednesday, August 05, 2015 9:30 AM
Great info!
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