6 Selections to Stock the Clean Eater’s Pantry

vegetables, oil and grainsThe simplest way to avoid carrying out fast food, settling for junk food, or developing really bad snacking habits, is to make it easier to choose fast, healthy, yummy food.

Clean food – the kind of items that are natural, simple, and minimally processed if at all–is the right choice to stock your pantry for easier, smart eating. Start with these six!

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This ingredient has significant research behind it to confirm that yes, it is really good for you—heart, bones, skin, brain and more, can benefit from eating olive oil. You can use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as a dressing or sauce, for dipping or spreading, and as a fat for cooking. Note, EVOO is not always considered the best for very high-heat cooking, such as in deep frying. Although most experts agree that sweating your onions and mushrooms in it, cooking your eggs in it, or even baking with it, works splendidly.

There has been controversy in recent years about the validity of the Extra Virgin label on some olive oils, even those from large producers of famous brands. While price is no guarantee, typically, EVOO does cost more. And it delivers more color and flavor than other levels of olive oil, and more health benefits, too.

What makes an olive oil Extra Virgin is that it comes from the first press of ripe olives—it’s literally fresh-squeezed, unrefined olive juice with no added chemicals or heat processing that could degrade the oil. Pure olive oil, by contrast, comes from whatever is left over after virgin and extra virgin batches are pulled, and it is more processed. Though it is not “bad” for you, really. Often, regular olive oil is used with good results for higher-heat cooking or baking, since it has a higher smoke point and milder flavor.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar

Few things go better with oil than vinegar, right? Number two on our list is apple cider vinegar, which is a low-cost, high-flavor ingredient you can use to make salad dressings, marinades, sauces and more. You can even use a bit of cider vinegar to add to milk to make a tasty substitute for buttermilk.

When shopping for apple cider vinegar, look for an unpasteurized version. You want to get the full dose of benefits from it, which include aiding digestion, helping to regulate blood glucose levels, and providing important minerals like potassium.

3. Tomatoes & Tomato Puree

One of the most beneficial properties of tomatoes is the lycopene they provide, which is an antioxidant that has been shown fight risk of certain types of cancer, and protect the heart, among other healthful affects. While lycopene is present in fresh or frozen tomatoes, having them in a jar or box offers a surprising boost: cooked tomatoes increase the absorbability of lycopene in our bodies.

A dash of organic tomato paste offers a nice zip to many of the meals you can make from your pantry, and diced tomatoes can create a salsa or soup in a jiffy. But there has been some concern about leeching of BPA, which can be toxic, into canned tomato products through the linings inside the cans. Look for BPA-free packaging, such as boxes of tomato puree and chopped tomatoes from Italy, on the shelves near other canned tomato products.

4. Garlic

Garlic is an ancient physician’s remedy and has been recommended to prevent and treat diseases for thousands of years. Even the National Institutes of Health reports that science supports the use of garlic as a food ingredient that can help prevent major health risks like cancer and hardening of the arteries. It has also been shown to help ward off tick bites! (Could that have given way to the vampire myth?)

Buy whole, fresh garlic bulbs, and keep them in the pantry, not the fridge, allowing cool dry air to circulate so they last longer and taste great for weeks at a time. Garlic is a perfect condiment for your clean eating style because it makes an excellent marinade or rub for meats, and a delicious enhancement to your roasted and grilled veggies. If you’re using olive oil for bread dipping, mince some garlic in it for a medicinal flavor kick. Finally, it will do wonders for your quinoa or other whole grains.

5. Quinoa

For some time, there was what could be considered a “quinoa craze” among dieters, chefs and nutritionists. Now quinoa is pretty much a pantry staple, especially for those who avoid wheat or limit grains. There are several reasons for its rise to popularity, not the least of which is all the nutrients quinoa (it’s pronounced “keen-wah” in case you don’t know) provides.

As an ancient grain, which is actually a seed, quinoa offers an alternative to the traditional starchy sides of rice or pasta. A real highlight is the protein it offers—rarely can you get all the amino acids from a plant food, but with quinoa, you can. It comes in a variety of colors, and is fast and easy to cook, making it a versatile pantry ingredient useful for anything from savory stews to beautiful salads. You can eat it on its own with nearly any flavor profile, so try adding garlic and herbs for Mediterranean or chilies and cumin for Middle Eastern or Mexican.

6. Organic Stock or Broth

There are so many ways to use stock for healthy, clean cooking, but it makes our list of essentials for your pantry because happily, you don’t have to boil bones or vegetable scraps for hours on end to make your own. Grocery store shelves offer plenty of varieties for all your meal preferences, and there are organic choices too, for only a few cents more. If you don’t purchase organic brands, peek at the ingredients to make sure there is nothing artificial in your stock, and no MSG.

Vegetable, chicken or beef stock can form the basis of unlimited soups, stews and sauces. You can throw together a simple dinner by cooking diced or spiralized veggies in a pot of broth and seasonings. Add a scoop of quinoa to your bowl, too, and don’t forget to grill extra meat or veggies to reuse in a stock pot. Boxed stock is typically lean food, plus it offers some protein and vitamins. This adds even more nutrition to other dishes when you use it in place of plain water for a cooking liquid. And it’s a flavorful way to make a pan gravy without butter!

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