I often hear people say that eating healthy is far too expensive and honestly, my purse can vouch for the ridiculous prices of health food shop’s specialty ingredients. Somehow the moment something is labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘super food’, the prices shoot through the roof. Understandably, we tend to gravitate towards cheaper, ready made meals or frozen alternatives which ultimately, aren’t great for us. However, after becoming vegan I made it my personal mission to make healthy eating as easy and inexpensive as possible. I discovered that maintaining a healthy diet really depends on stocking up your cupboards with the right, nutrient-rich whole foods. This way you’ll always be prepared to whip up a healthy, nutritious and inexpensive meal in no time! It’s not about fancy specialty ‘super foods’, a healthy diet depends on a stock of staple ingredients, such as oats, rice, beans and fresh produce, which are often very inexpensive.
I’ve compiled a list of ingredients which are a staple in my own pantry and feature frequently in my recipes. Feel free to use this list as a guideline and stock up your cupboards with the real ‘super foods’!
Fruit and vegetables
The most obvious of foods on this list and definitely the most important. Fruit and vegetables are extremely low in fat and often in calories. Their high water and fibre content work wonders on digestive systems. Each and every one of the hundred of varieties of fruit and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses often containing a whole variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants each. Try to keep your kitchen well stocked with a variety of fresh produce at all times, organic too if possible. Many people claim fruit has too much sugar but do not be deceived, the complex carbohydrates contained in fruit are friends, not enemies! Keep in mind, when comes to fruit and veg, the more colourful, the more nutritious.
A power house of minerals such as selenium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc, oats really pack a nutritional punch. They’re also low in fat, high in a dietary fibre known as beta-glucan, and also found to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, making them super heart-healthy. I use oats in a whole bunch of recipes from porridge, to pancakes, to cookies, they’re incredibly versatile. I often use oat flour (just oats blended into a fine flour in a blender) when baking as oats are naturally gluten free.
Chickpeas, lentils, black eyes peas, black beans, broad beans, soy beans; the list is endless! A brilliant, low fat source of protein, pulses play a starring role in many of my recipes. They are incredibly versatile and are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as iron, zinc, B vitamins and magnesium, so take note and stock up folks!
People often dismiss rice as simply a source of carbohydrates and all those ‘carb haters’ out there think it’s wise to avoid this nutritious grain like the plague! However, rice is not only a lean source of complex carbs, but also vitamins C and A, along with minerals calcium, iron and thiamine among others. Containing plenty of fibre, these grains of goodness will do you a world of good. Hundreds of varieties to choose from means there are endless numbers of dishes.
Nowadays there are so many milk alternatives to choose from; almond milk, hazelnut milk, coconut milk, soy milk, oat milk, rice milk; the list is endless. As opposed to cow’s milk, plant milks are low in fat and free from lactose, making it the perfect choice for those who are lactose intolerant. I use almond, soy, coconut milks most often in my recipes but feel free to experiment and find which ones you prefer.
Spices and Fresh Herbs
Spices and fresh herbs are the easiest and healthiest way to add plenty of flavour to your food, while adding to the nutritional value of your meals. Aside from adding bags of flavour to dishes, many spices and herbs have plenty of health benefits and medicinal properties. Many of the spices I frequently use such as cinnamon, cumin and turmeric have benefits such as anti-inflammatory properties, aid digestion and metabolism reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
The perfect source of low fat protein, tofu is also low in calories and fat which makes it a lean meat replacement. It is also naturally gluten and cholesterol free and high in calcium and iron. Tofu doesn’t have much flavour but is brilliant at absorbing any flavours you add to it.
Medjool dates are not only brilliant for your health but also taste amazing! Super sweet with a caramel-like flavour which makes them a really useful substitute for processed sugar. I use dates in many of my recipes both savoury and sweet. They also contain lots of vitamins and minerals including: potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and vitamins A and K. These will help maintain a healthy nervous system and bones and the soluble fibre aids digestion.
Nuts, seeds and nut butters
Nuts and seeds are extremely versatile and contain many heart-healthy fats, protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Nut butters such as almond, peanut, coconut and cashew butters are made from the whole nuts which are ground up until they reach a thick, smooth consistency. It’s incredibly easy to make your own but if you do choose buy them instead, make sure you check the ingredients as some manufactures add lots of sugar and palm oil. Look for those nut butters which only contain the whole roasted nuts and maybe a pinch of sea salt for the best nutritional benefits.
Aside from my staple pantry ingredients, I also make sure I stock up on a number of ingredients which are usually found in specialty sections of supermarkets or at health shops. These tend to be more expensive and slightly harder to find but will last you a good while and are extremely versatile. It may be useful to slowly add these ingredients to your cupboards:
- nutritional yeast (has a wonderful cheesy taste and high in vitamin B12)
- raw cacao powder (the unprocessed form of cocoa, an intense chocolatey flavour with lots of minerals)
- tahini (paste made from ground toasted sesame seeds, rich in vitamins and minerals)
- coconut oil (rich in minerals and vitamins that maintain healthy skin, nails, hair, bones, etc)
- coconut sugar (delicious caramel-like taste, contains minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium)
- chia seeds (contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well as omega-3 fatty acids)
- quinoa (rich in protein, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous)
- ground flaxseed (good nutritional benefits and acts as an egg replacer in baking when combined with a couple of tbsp of water)
- agave nectar/maple syrup (useful when replacing processed sugar in recipes)