A balanced diet is the secret to looking and feeling your best. Having a well-stocked pantry is key to making the healthy choice an easy choice, saving you time and money. There are plenty of “health-foods” out there, but you don’t need to invest in the latest fad or trend to keep on top of things. Pump up your immune system, boost your gut health and feel your energy levels soar by including these simple yet nutritious foods in your shopping trolley.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of satisfying protein and fibre as well as vitamins and minerals like zinc for a strong immune system and magnesium for brain function. It's best to eat different types of nuts and seeds, as they each contain a different range of nutrients. For example, brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, a mineral and powerful antioxidant that helps protect your body against cancer and inflammation. The unsaturated or ‘good’ fats in nuts and seeds help to protect you from heart disease. However, this also means they can go rancid quickly, so buy these in small quantities to keep them fresh.
Nuts and seeds are great to have on hand for snacking, or added to give smoothies, salads or stir-frys a boost. Nut butters without added sugar and salt are another way to reap the benefits of these foods. A serving size is a small handful of whole nuts/seeds or a couple of tablespoons of nut butter.
Oats are a source of whole grains, which means they are packed full of fibre and B vitamins for long-lasting energy. Many of us eat less than half the recommended 25-30g of fibre each day. Oats contain both types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. The soluble fibre in oats is called beta-glucan, and acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid to soften and allow your stools to move more easily. Beta-glucan has been proven to lower cholesterol and reduces the risk of having a heart attack. The fibre in oats also works as a prebiotic, meaning it provides food and promotes the growth of the healthy bacteria in our gut. Aside from porridge, oats can also be added to smoothies, baked goods and even used in place of rice in risottos.
Brown rice is a whole grain that is rich in insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre acts as a ‘bulking agent’ and helps to keep our bowels healthy and regular. Brown rice also contains protein and when paired with legumes such as beans or chickpeas, provides you with all the essential amino acids you need, particularly helpful when following a meat-free diet.
Brown rice can take some time to cook, so if you are in a hurry, keep some microwave packets or tubs ready to complete a speedy lunch or dinner (e.g. Sun Rice or Uncle Ben’s). Alternatively, you can cook extra rice when you do make it the traditional way, and freeze leftovers in individual bags or containers to be easily thawed when needed.
Tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and is a great way to get some calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin E. It also contains phosphorus which is involved in the formation of bones and teeth. Tahini can be used in place of peanut butter on sandwiches and toast or used as a base to give a nutty taste to salad dressings and marinades. Tahini is also used as a key ingredient in hummus.
‘Extra virgin’ or ‘cold-pressed’ oils are those which have undergone very little processing, so contain higher levels of antioxidants and nutrients. Extra virgin olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fats which are protective against heart disease as they decrease the levels of ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil shouldn’t be used for really high heat cooking (like deep frying) as it becomes damaged and unstable. It is perfect drizzled over salads and used in dressings, as well as for cooking meats and vegetables over medium heat.
Eggs contain all the essential amino acids needed for a healthy body and therefore are an excellent source of protein to keep you full for longer. The egg yolk in eggs also contains omega-3 fats which are anti-inflammatory. Eggs are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals that are involved in protecting the immune system and bone health. Eggs also contain antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are protective of our eyes.
Eggs make an easy meal option poached on toast with avocado and tomato or made into mini-frittatas for an easy lunch. Boiled on their own, they also make a great snack.
Whilst it's no surprise that vegetables are good for us, sometimes it can be tricky to afford a good variety of these or know what to do with them in the kitchen. Non-starchy vegetables such as tomato, beans, capsicum and cauliflower are filled with fibre keeping you full for longer. Frozen vegetables are just as good nutritionally, if not better than fresh ones if they are cooked the right way. Frozen vegetables are affordable and a convenient way to always have a supply of vegetables on hand. Simply add to stir-fries, tuna and rice dishes, or on the side of your favourite roast meat. To keep as many of the nutrients as possible, steam or lightly fry your vegetables with a little olive oil.
Yoghurt is an important source of protein and calcium for strong bones and teeth. Yoghurt is made from milk that is fermented by adding live bacteria to it. Some yoghurts are considered probiotic as they contain enough healthy bacteria to encourage a healthy gut. When choosing yoghurt, plain unsweetened varieties are best as they have no added sugar. You can add sliced fruit or berries to naturally sweeten this if you prefer. Yoghurt can also be used as a healthier alternative to sour cream or cream, or as a base for healthy salad dressings (in place of mayonnaise) reducing your intake of saturated fat.
Legumes are one of the most under-rated, healthy, and affordable foods around. Legumes are dried peas and beans also known as pulses, and come in a variety of shapes and colours. They are highly nutritious containing slow-release carbohydrate, fibre, protein, folate and iron. Legumes are considered a prebiotic, and like oats, promote a healthy gut. They are also considered protective for our heart health. A wide variety of pre-cooked options are conveniently available in cans. Legumes are really inexpensive and can be used instead of meat in lasagnes, stir-fries or casseroles, and can also be mixed into dishes such as nachos or bolognese so less meat is needed. Choose canned varieties in spring water rather than brine, to cut down on the salt content.
Berries are not only delicious but highly nutritious due to their deep colours. They contain potent antioxidants called polyphenols that protect our cells and support a healthy brain. They also defend us against UV light and attack from pathogens meaning they may help us achieve youthful looking skin and keep us healthy as we age. Having a mixture of berries allows you to get all the different benefits they provide including vitamin C, phytochemicals and fibre to keep our hearts healthy and our energy levels stable.
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