- Beans/Lentils– Are a great sources of plant protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates (the ones that don’t cause your blood sugar to spike), essential fatty acids, potassium, iron, calcium, and folic acid. Beans and lentils promote digestive health: they are a great food for the good bacteria that live in our intestines. Lastly they are very cheap and filling! TIP: Use cooked lentils in place of ground hamburg in sloppy joes, tacos,and hamburger soup.
To Use Them: Beans of all forms and shapes have been used in many world cuisines for thousands of years! A lot of delicious recipes from Mexican, Indian, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines include beans and lentils. You can use both dried and canned beans from the store, or purchase certified non-GMO beans in bulk on line. If using dried beans, soak them for at least 4 hours or overnight in water, then drain them, and boil until soft, 30-60 min depending on the variety, adding salt (or not) at the end. If buying canned beans, look for the low-sodium varieties; drain and rinse them in cold water and use according to a recipe you’re using them for.
- Flax Seed- This plant-strong pantry essential is a great addition to any diet: flax seed is full of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants. A tablespoon of ground flax has 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. Flax has a very high amount of lignans that have plant antioxidant and estrogen qualities – between 75 and 800 times more than any other plant food!
To Use It: Add ground flax to dough and batters when baking; sprinkle over breakfast cereal or add to smoothies; make ‘flax egg’ – an all-natural vegan egg substitute in pancake/waffle/baking recipes – by combining 1 tbsp ground flax and 3 tbsp warm water (recipes usually have guidelines for that).
- Whole Grains- A great source of carbohydrates to provide us with lots of energy, a number of B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate), and fiber. Historically, many great civilizations used some types of grains as their staple foods: barley in Middle East, corn in Central and South America, millet and sorghum in Africa, and rice in Asia. Consuming whole, minimally processed and even sprouted grains is more beneficial to our health than eating their processed versions because more nutrients and fiber are available in whole grains. However, billions of people in Asia have been consuming mostly rice for centuries, and have had no problems with obesity or diabetes until recently. Western-type food became more available to them. The conclusion: aim to consume whole grains, but don’t shun rice completely.
To Use Them: To reap the most health benefits of grains and to fuel your body (especially if you are athletic), aim to add a variety of whole grains, such as barley, oats, brown rice, whole wheat, kamut, etc. to your diet. If you are gluten-intolerant, choose gluten-free grains such as rice, corn, sorghum, and millet. Experiment with sprouting: it’s very easy, but can increase the amount of available nutrients in sprouts up to 10 times compared to the same non-sprouted grains. Sprouting technically converts grains into vegetables.
- Nutritional Yeast– Contains 18 essential amino acids, thus being a complete protein; has 15 minerals; is rich in B vitamins; maintains good intestinal environment; improves liver health and function; aids in balancing cholesterol levels; and promotes healthy skin.
To Use It: Thanks to its natural cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast is a great ingredient in vegan cheesy sauces (vegan mac’n’cheese recipes are a good example). It can be also sprinkled over just about any entrée or soup for an extra kick of flavor. Some open-minded people even mix it with blackstrap molasses and eat it by the spoonful!
- Sea vegetables-Common in Asia group of these vegetables : kombu, wakame, nori, hijiki, arame, and kelp. You might be a little more familiar with them if you like sushi. Sea vegetables have one of the broadest varieties of minerals available among any foods. They are an excellent source of iodine and vitamin K, a good source of magnesium, calcium, riboflavin and folate. Sea vegetables contain the type of iron that is more bioavailable to us than the types found in other vegetables. They contain a different source of antioxidants than other vegetables, and are rich in phytonutrients.
To Use Them: The above named sea vegetables are widely used in Asian (especially Japanese) cuisines. At home, we can use nori sheets to make sushi rolls, or sprinkle powdered kelp on entrees for a boost of nutrients. Kombu strips are great for cooking beans: a 1-2 inch strip added to a pot of beans (or a soup) reduces their cooking time, enhances flavors, thickens the broth, and even makes beans more digestible to prevent gas!
- Canned Tomatoes– Tomatoes are considered one of the healthiest fruits and vegetables known to us! You’ve probably heard that they are technically a fruit, not a vegetable. Using canned tomatoes is easier when they are not in season. Benefits: tomatoes are a great source of lycopene – a powerful antioxidant that does wonders to our health, from fighting free radicals to promoting strong bones. Tomatoes also have a number of vitamins (C, A, and K) and minerals (potassium, folate, magnesium, copper). Their consumption has shown a decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels in our bodies.
To Use Them: A lot of dishes from all over the world call for tomatoes. Always stock with diced tomatoes, tomato paste and sauce. It’s also good to have crushed and fire-roasted canned tomatoes on hand. Aim for no-salt-added varieties at the store. Of course, when tomatoes are in season, it always makes sense to use them instead of their canned versions! By the way, the levels of lycopene in cooked tomatoes are higher than in fresh ones.
- Variety of Spices– Using spices in cooking is a great low-calorie way to add lots of flavor to any dish! Spices allow you to explore cuisines from all over the world without leaving your house! A lot of spices have numerous health benefits, especially when it comes to delivering antioxidants! Cinnamon, for example, is known for its ability to prevent blood sugar spikes if you consume it with sugar and carbohydrate-rich food. Capsaicin in hot chilies and cayenne pepper promotes heart health, pain relief, and may aid in cancer prevention. Indian cuisine is hard to imagine without turmeric: it helps with digestion of fiber-rich foods (especially with beans in them), and also aids in reducing inflammation, especially in arthritis patients.
To Use Them: It’s hard to imagine a pantry without cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, chili powder, paprika, thyme and oregano. A few pots of fresh herbs basil, sage, rosemary, and dill. Italian and Indian dishes are especially big on using certain spices. Get a good variety of spices in a bulk section of your local health food store, and include both ground and whole-seed versions (the latter is for cumin, celery, and fennel seeds). Avoid pre-mixed spice bottles that contain salt and other additives, and always stay away from mixes that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG)!
- Tofu– It is a versatile ingredient with an excellent source of protein, contains all eight essential amino acids, iron, calcium, and is low in saturated fat with no cholesterol. It is made by curding fresh soy milk, pressing it into a solid block, and then cooling it. It has the ability to absorb new flavors through spices and marinades. There are 2 main kinds of tofu silken and regular.
To Use Them: Add cubes of tofu to salads or soups. Use it instead of dairy in creamy dips, dressings, and sauces. Marinate tofu “steaks” for the grill. Add tofu cubes to marinara sauce near the end of cooking or crumble it into dishes such as chili.
- Whole Grain Pasta-variety of pastas can add some oomph to your diet and lets you explore different world cuisines, from Italian to Thai and Japanese.
To Use Them: Shop for whole wheat, quinoa, amaranth, rice, and soba (buckwheat) pastas and noodles, or try sprouted pasta. Experiment with sauces and add vegetables and beans or tofu to create delicious vegan meals inspired by various cuisines of the world!
- Nuts and Seeds-Contain good amounts of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, plant protein, and fiber. Nuts and seeds also nourish us with a number of minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and phosphorus. Raw pumpkin seeds are high in iron. Due to a relatively high amount of fats found in nuts, they should be consumed in moderation (a small handful, or about 1 oz. a day). Aim to include a variety of nuts and seeds in your diet to provide your body with different nutrients, and pick raw/minimally processed ones with no added salt.
To Use Them: Chop them up and add to your morning cereal; add a handful to batters and dough when baking; enjoy as a snack – but watch the serving size! Experiment with making your own nut butters: homemade nut butters tend to be much healthier than store-bought ones because you know exactly what ingredients you used. Raw, unprocessed nuts and seeds can be sprouted just like grains – this technically turns them into vegetables!