We asked Dale Bellisfield, R.N., A.H.G., a holistic health consultant and herbalist in private practice at Saint Barnabas Ambulatory Care Center’s Siegler Center for Integrative Medicine in Livingston, N.J., to share what she considers the best foods to keep in your pantry at all times.
No. 1 » Dried beans
Beans are good for more than your heart: Eating just a half cup a day increases your fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, protein and zinc intake, helping to regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol. Stock up on a few bean varieties that you like, such as black, cannellini, kidney and navy beans. Dried beans must be soaked overnight before cooking, but have less sodium than canned. However, canned beans may, of course, be used in a pinch; look for lower-sodium varieties.
Storage tip: Transfer dried beans from original packaging into airtight glass containers labeled with the date you bought them. They’ll keep for one to two years.
No. 2 » Whole grains
Grains such as couscous, millet, quinoa, brown rice or steel-cut oatmeal will fill you up; whole grains are metabolized more slowly than refined ones, so they provide steady energy instead of a quick burst of blood sugar. Boost the nutritional benefit by combining whole grains with beans. “When you combine them, you get a whole protein; all the amino acids your body needs,” says Bellisfield.
Storage tip: Once you open a box of grains, transfer whatever you don’t use to an airtight glass container and keep for up to two years.
No. 3 » Sweet potatoes
In one delicious 143-calorie package (for a 4-ounce sweet potato) you get more than enough of the daily vitamin A recommendation, which supports your eyes, skin and lungs, says Bellisfield. “They’re also loaded with fiber, so they don’t spike your blood sugar like white potatoes do.” Cook them with olive oil or a little butter; a small amount of fat helps your body metabolize the vitamin A.
Storage tip: Sweet potatoes are more perishable than white potatoes; keep in a cool, dark place with minimal moisture and use within one to two weeks of purchasing.
No. 4 » Whole-grain pasta
Whole-grain pastas such as buckwheat soba noodles, flax, kamut, spelt and whole wheat are nutritional stars because they contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than white pasta, cook quickly (in about 10 minutes) and offer versatile meal options. Their robust flavor stands up with spicy sauces like puttanesca or Asian broths.
Storage tip: Transfer pasta into an airtight glass container and keep for up to two years.
No. 5 » Coconut milk
The high fat content in this rich-tasting milk might surprise you, but it’s nothing to worry about. “Coconut milk is loaded with good fat that helps your body maintain healthy levels of saturated fat and cholesterol,” says Bellisfield.
Storage tip: Transfer remaining milk to an airtight glass container and refrigerate; use within a week.