Clearing out the pantry and restocking with wholesome ingredients is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. Last week I had a look at snacks, additives to avoid and included some snack ideas to try. This week I'm including some more of the basics that I have in my pantry. Sometimes a simple swap of ingredients can make big difference to a meal and to your health.
SEEDS AND GRAINS
These mini nutrient power-houses are an essential ingredient to have in your pantry. Great for snacks and to include in lots of different dishes. Here are some that I always stock.
Linseed or Flax Seed (Linum usitatissimum) - These little reddish coloured seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA) which is beneficial to the bowel and said to reduce cancer risk 1. Recent studies have also shown that just 30g a day freshly ground, can assist in the reduction of blood pressure 2. They are easy to add to breakfast as a sprinkle, in a cracker mix, or as a substitute for eggs in a biscuit or cake as they have a gelatinous texture when mixed with water. Grinding them fresh is always preferable to reduce the chance of oxidisation. A coffee grinder is perfect for this!
Chia Seed (Salvia hispanica) - The Chia seed is a real superfood. They come as white or black in colour, however there is no different in their nutrient profile, it's just the seed coat. I use the white seeds as they are an easier to hide in the kid's food. The chia seed is high in omega-3 fatty acids 20%, dietary fibre 37% and 20% protein. Also containing all 8 essential amino acids making them perfect for growing bodies 3. I add chia seeds to so many recipes for example, soak them overnight for a quick breakfast pudding, or mixed into natural yoghurt for a filling snack. They are fabulous for improving digestive health and gut motility. You'll notice when they are soaked they actually swell up to seven times their size and are all jelly-like. Be sure to drink lots of water when including these in the diet to prevent constipation.
Sesame Seeds (Sesamum indicum) - These yummy, nutty, oily little seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, selenium4. I love having them in a cracker mix or sprinkled over stirfry. One of my favourite spreads is tahini. Tahini is either the hulled or unhulled sesame seeds ground into a paste. Fantastic as a spread instead of butter if you are going dairy free, and an essential ingredient in hommus.
Sunflower seeds (Helianthus annus) - Being high in Vitamin E, thiamin, folate, Vit B6, calcium, magnesium and copper makes is little seed beneficial for many functions in the body especially bone building and muscle repair 5. Try adding sunflower seeds as a salad topping, sprinkled over breakfasts and even using it in place of ground nuts when a recipe requires. I add ground sunflower seeds to muffins and use them in an almond vanilla cookie mix (recipe coming!) to make them more nutritious.
Pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita pepo)– The first thing I think of with these pretty green seeds is zinc, magnesium and men’s prostate health! Adding these seeds to the diet is great boost to the immune system too. They also have a high level of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which when converted into omega-3 in the body can assist with reducing systemic inflammation and good for heart health 6. A mix of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and a couple of chopped dates is a perfect snack, even suitable for school lunches.
Hemp seed (Cannabis sativa) - Not the wacky weed! This seed is eaten all over the world, except in Australia, apparently it is not suitable for internal consumption. It's produced organically in Australia and exported around the world. So if you are elsewhere in the world, feel free to add to your diet! It is a fantastic source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA's), protein, calcium, phytosterols (for heart health) and vitamin E 7. Hemp seeds can be sprinkled over salads, added to a cracker mix and even made into hemp seed milk.
For Simple Hemp Seed Milk add 3Tbs of seeds to 1 litre of water, 1 date and 1/4 tsp vanilla powder. Then blend on high in a high-powered blender for 2 minutes and store in a clean bottle. Consume in 3-4 days. Another substitute for dairy and nut milks!
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) - Buckwheat groats (this is the name for unprocessed buckwheat) are the gluten free cute little triangular shaped fruit seeds, that can be consumed in many different ways. Buckwheat isn’t actually related to wheat at all, it is part of the rhubarb and sorrel family. Toasted buckwheat is called kasha and it has a dark reddish-brown colour with a strong nutty, toasted smell. Raw buckwheat groats are light brown or green and don't have much of an aroma. They contain calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, rutin and Vit B3 and B2, all very beneficial for heart health and muscle repair 9. Buckwheat groats can be ground into flour, toasted for muesli, or soaked in nut milk overnight in a jar for a quick breakfast on the run. Other great buckwheat recipes can be found here.
Oats (Avena sativa) - Oats are used in herbal medicine as a nervine, which means they are a tonic for the nervous system. They are also beneficial for reducing cholesterol and even a soothing face mask!12 Oats can be tolerated by those with gluten sensitivities even though they are not completely gluten free. They contain Avenin which is oat gluten, different to wheat and rye gluten. However with cross contamination from processing with wheat, it can be difficult to say if these are ok for coeliac's or highly gluten sensitive people. I like to soak my oats over night in almond milk for then heated up with cinnamon and vanilla for a warming breakfast.
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)– I often use quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) instead of rice. It has a pleasant nutty flavour. It needs to be rinsed thoroughly or soaked before cooking to remove the bitter saponins from the outer shell, otherwise cook just like rice. One of the reasons quinoa has become so popular is that it is a complete protein, perfect for vegetarians and vegans. It's a source of iron, Vit B2, lysine and high in fibre, making it filling and nutrient dense 11. One of my favourite uses for quinoa is in salads. I use a mix of the black, white and red seeds to create colour and texture. Rolled quinoa is another way to include quinoa in your menu. Use it as a breakfast porridge in place of oats, or in an Anzac cookie mix to up the protein of the dish. It can also be used to thicken soup - a couple of tablespoons in a chicken and vegetable soup is a family favourite.
Do you only cook with wheat flour? I did until few years ago when I decided to branch out, and I haven't looked back. These are the ones usually in my pantry.
Spelt (Triticum spelta) – I keep both wholemeal and white plain spelt flour instead of wheat flour. It is a not gluten free grain but as it has not been hybridised, unlike wheat and doesn’t have the same reaction in the body. It contains the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus 10. The white spelt works better for making tortilla’s, pizza bases and similar dishes, while the wholemeal is great for muffins, some biscuits and bread.
Coconut (Cocos nucifera)- Coconut flour is a gluten free, grain free flour. Ideal for those on a Paleo diet, or other grain free diets. As with other coconut products it is high in lauric acid, which is good for the immune system, and medium-chain triglycerides, essential for brain health and energy production. The fat also fills you up, so you eat less. The flour comes from the meat of the coconut dried and ground into a powder. It has a mild coconut flavour, so be aware of this if you aren't keen on the coconut taste. It doesn't act the same as wheat or spelt flours and needs a lot more liquid and eggs to make a recipe. Basically a 1/3 or 1/4 cup to 1 cup of grain based flour, and 6 eggs to 1 cup of coconut flour 8.
Quinoa flour and Buckwheat flour as also in my pantry. These can boost up the protein and nutrient content of a dish. Both have a distinct flavour so start with mixing them in with other more mild flours. I mix mine in with spelt and there isn’t an issue with taste.
I hope this has given you some ideas. A great recipe to try is the Easy Seed Crackers from Natural New Age Mum. My family is a little obsessed with these at the moment, so easy to make and they store really well. I eat mine topped with avocado and sliced tomato, my daughter loves hers plain or with some cheese. The combinations are up to you, mix it up and make it fun!
If you have any questions, or would like me to personally help you change over your pantry, drop me a line.
- Rodriguez-Leyva D, Weighell W, Edel AL et al. Hypertension 2013; 62(6):1081-1089
- Spelt Uncooked USDA http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6474?fg=&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=&qlookup=spelt
- Skidmore-Roth L. Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs & Natural Supplements 3rd edn. 2006; Elsevier Mosby.