When you’re a twenty-something with an empty pantry and limited budget, grocery shopping can be a challenge. It’s hard when you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet (because grabbing a loaf of bread and some peanut butter would be oh, so easy).
In a fun twist on grocery lists, here’s an alphabetical list of 26 ingredients to keep on hand for nutritious meals. Presenting, the ABCs of healthy eating.
Almonds: Packed with vitamin E, potassium, calcium and protein. About one serving (23 almonds) is great as a satisfying snack or can be sprinkled into salads, stir-fries or yogurt. Raw, unsalted almonds are best. If you’re looking for a sweet kick, try Emerald Cocoa Roast Almonds in Dark Chocolate.
Barley: A cereal grain with a nutty flavor, barley is inexpensive, packed with fiber, has no cholesterol and makes a great addition to dishes like soups, stews or risotto.
Cauliflower: This is one veggie that deserves some attention. It’s high in vitamins C, K, and choline, which is known to boost brain development. Bonus? It can be seasoned and mashed for a healthy version of “mashed potatoes.”
Dark chocolate: Unlike its milky counterpart, dark chocolate boasts a range of health benefits. A couple squares of dark (think about 70 percent cacao) chocolate a day can boost antioxidants and kick your sweet cravings to the curb. Melt and drizzle it over fruit for a healthy dessert.
Eggs: A good, inexpensive source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Eggs get a bad rep because of the cholesterol in the yolk, but there is actually room for eggs in a balanced diet. For healthy prep, cook with olive oil instead of butter, or hard-boil for a midday snack.
Flaxseeds: Has been associated with lower cholesterol, decreased risk of heart disease, and better immunity and digestive health. It’s also an easy way to consume B vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. The best part? They can be used in pretty much anything. Add flaxseeds to salad, oatmeal, smoothies or baked goods.
Grapefruit: Refreshing and low-calorie source of antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene. Half a grapefruit will give you over half your daily fix of vitamin C.
Hummus: Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, add a boost of protein, healthy carbs and fiber. Garlic and olive oil, two other additions, are key components of the infamously healthy Mediterranean diet. Dip pita chips or baby carrots in hummus for a flavorful snack. You can also make your own with a can of chickpeas, ¼ cup tahini, a couple cloves or garlic, 2 tbsp. olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Blend until smooth.
Ice cream: I could scour the Internet for a nutritious “I” food … or just acknowledge that every girl needs to indulge once in awhile. Like all foods, ice cream has its place in a healthy diet; the key is moderation. A half-cup serving of ice cream isn’t too high in calories and can be a satisfying dessert. Opt for the slow-churned variety, which is a bit healthier or make your own by freezing and mashing up a banana for a healthy twist on banana ice cream.
Jalapeno peppers: These tiny peppers get their spice from capsaicin, a natural plant compound that acts as an anti-inflammatory and boosts healthy blood flow. It has also been shown to aid in weight loss, especially in that frustrating belly area, because it slightly elevates energy levels after you eat it. If you like spice, toss some jalapenos on your sandwich or pair with rice and grilled chicken.
Kale: The trendy green is chock-full of nutrients like vitamins A, C and K in addition to minerals like potassium, iron and copper. It’s great for building strong hair, nails and bones. Toss it in a salad, smoothie or soup, add it to a sandwich, bake it or sautée in olive oil and garlic.
Lean meats: Meats that have a relatively low fat content (think skinless chicken, fish, turkey) are great sources of protein. Poultry, in particular, is a good source of vitamins B3 and B6, choline and selenium, which has antioxidant properties and boosts the immune system. Keep some frozen meats on hand for easy grilling; they’re a healthy and filling addition to soups, sandwiches, stir-fries or paired with rice and veggies.
Milk: Skim or low-fat milk is a great source of protein, potassium, calcium, zinc and vitamin C. Drink it plain, eat with cereal, or mix with a dash of chocolate syrup for a post-workout snack that contains a healthy recovery mix of carbs, fat and protein.
Nuts: Crunchy, satisfying and naturally grown, nuts have been shown to lower cholesterol and cancer risk while boosting heart health and weight control due to a powerful combination of unsaturated fats, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Almonds, pistachios and cashews have the fewest calories per serving; walnuts are especially heart-healthy.
Olive oil: The main type of fat in olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, which may improve heart health. It’s a healthy swap for butter or other cooking oils.
Pumpkin seeds: A chewy snack that provides a rich source of magnesium, zinc and healthy fats, in addition to boosting heart and liver health. They can be munched raw or roasted and sprinkled with salt.
Quinoa: Pronounced KEEN-wah, quinoa is a seed that’s prepared as a grain (be sure to rinse it well first). It’s gluten-free, a good source of protein and riboflavin, and can be used as a cereal at breakfast, salad at lunch or side at dinner.
Rice (wild): This gluten-free base has twice the amount of protein as brown rice and about 30 times more antioxidants than white. It contains vitamins A, C and E for overall health and because it’s a grass (no refined grains) it’s diabetic-friendly. It takes about an hour to cook but boasts a nice nutty flavor when it’s done.
Spinach: Another versatile veggie that can be mixed into anything. Spinach boasts a range of vitamins including A, C, K, E, B2 and B6, as well as fiber, protein, iron and magnesium. Mix it up with quinoa or brown rice in a stir-fry, or sautée it for a side dish.
Tomatoes: In addition to vitamins A, C, K, folate and potassium, tomatoes have beta-carotene and lycopene, which help shield your skin from sun damage. Lycopene has also been shown to promote strong bone health.
Ugli: The health perks are more appealing than its name of this citrus fruit, which is a sort of combination of grapefruit, orange and tangerine. It packs nutrients like calcium, fiber and vitamin C to promote immune system health.
Vanilla extract: Sure you can use it in baking, but the uses of vanilla extract go far beyond that. Slowly sipping a glass of water with a few drops of vanilla can reduce feelings of nausea, and sipping water or milk enhanced with vanilla can ease stress and anxiety.
Whole grain bread: Whole grains are the healthiest grains, with more fiber and nutrients like potassium, selenium and magnesium than refined or enriched grains. Look for the word “whole” before the grain, as in “whole wheat flour”. Many food manufacturers will use refined wheat flour, which contains far fewer nutrients, and color it brown then brand it as “100% wheat” bread.
(E)xtra veggies: It’s cheating, but I’d rather drive home the benefits of veggies than suggest an obscure food that starts with “X”. When veggies can be incorporated into every meal, there is no excuse to be consuming less than 2.5 cups per day, which is what the USDA recommends for women aged 19-30. It’s easy to work that amount into your daily caloric intake by mixing some broccoli and onions into an omelet, tossing beans into a green salad, juicing or roasting sweet potatoes for a side dish. In the off season, veggies are cheap to buy frozen so you can eat them fresh all year round.
Yogurt: The foundation for a delicious breakfast, snack or dessert, yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and healthy bacteria. Opt for a plain kind that’s low in sugar, which you can naturally sweeten to taste with a bit of honey, fruit and sprinkle of granola.
Zucchini: Mostly water, but still a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Its mild taste makes zucchini a great addition in salads, stir-fry dishes, soups, sandwiches or casseroles.