Learn about the five plant-based pantry foods, which are shelf-stable and packed with important nutrients for a healthy lifestyle, that I always have on hand.
Eating a wholesome, plant-powered diet can be easy and delicious, if you have the right foods on hand. But if you’re always running out to the store, your plans for eating a whole foods diet can fly out the window! The beauty of a plant-powered diet is that so many foods are shelf stable and affordable. So, today I’m sharing with you my five favorite plant-powered pantry foods you will ALWAYS find in my pantry! I include these foods in my diet almost every single day.
5 Plant-Powered Pantry Foods I Can’t Live Without
1. Walnuts. Walnuts are a wonderful and delicious way to add extra nutrition, crunch, and flavor to any meal, and they also provide heart healthy fats and antioxidant properties. Walnuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, thiamin, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and iron. One ounce (seven shelled walnuts) provides 7 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids and 2.5 grams of the plant omega-3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA). There has been significant research on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of walnuts, showing that daily consumption helps protect your heart and brains, as well as helps protect against type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. In terms of cardiovascular benefits, consuming walnuts has shown to decrease LDL cholesterol and increase omega 3 fatty acids in the blood, improve endothelial cell function, decrease platelet activation, and decrease C reactive protein (a biomarker of inflammation).
Go wild with walnuts! I love to sprinkle them on salads, chopped fruit, and oatmeal; sauté them in vegetable, grain or legume dishes; and stir them into baked goods.
2. Dried Blueberries. Blueberries are as powerful for your health as they are for your tastebuds. And when they are not in season, I stock dried blueberries in my pantry for use all year long. These little gems pack a big nutritional punch; rich in vitamin C, fiber, and powerful phytochemicals called anthocyanins. No wonder they have been linked to many health benefits, such as heart health, brain health, and fighting diabetes. Berries hold a special place in health—Native Americans revered these sweet little fruits, and they were part of their traditional diet. In fact, in countries across the world people have been harvesting berries and preserving them for use all year long. Even bears and birds appreciate the health properties of berries, as bears gorge on them before they hibernate and birds feast on them before migration. Maybe they know something we don’t know about berries? That’s why I have this pantry food on hand–I include them in my diet every single day.
My favorite ways to enjoy dried blueberries is to sprinkle them over my morning cereal, soy yogurt, and salad. They are also delicious stirred into muffins, pancakes, and other breads. Or simply munch on a handful for a healthy snack!
3. Hemp Seeds. Hemp is no longer a blast from the past; it’s becoming more widely recognized as a low-input, sustainable industrial crop with a potential for making everything from textiles and paper to biofuel. It’s also become a popular functional food ingredient. Agricultural hemp has a rich, centuries-old history of use as traditional medicine by many cultures across the world. Although hemp is grown in Canada and Europe, it has not been allowed to be grown in the U.S. since 1958. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 put a stop to its cultivation. Industrial hemp is often confused with marijuana, but it is a different breed of cannabis sativa and possesses very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chief intoxicant in marijuana. While the U.S. currently prevents cultivation of hemp, they permit trade in nonviable hemp seed, oil and fiber.
Hemp is a cost-effective, eco-friendly agricultural crop compared with other popular fiber crops. According to a 2008 Reason Foundation study, hemp requires less energy to manufacture, and is less toxic to process, easier to recycle and more biodegradable than most competing crops.
Shelled hemp seeds (“hemp nuts”) and cold-pressed hemp oil are used in many foods like salad dressings, nutrition bars, breads, cookies, granola, meatless burgers, chips and beverages. With its soft, sesame-seed like appearance and nutty flavor, you can sprinkle hemp seeds into cereals, salads, breads, pasta dishes, casseroles and desserts. Hemp seeds are rich in high-quality protein, vitamins, phytosterols and trace minerals. But the healthy fat profile of hemp gets the most attention—hemp is rich in omega-3s, as well as the more rare polyunsaturated fatty acids, gammalinolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA), which have shown health benefits in recent research.
4. Lentils. I love lentils! Lentils, part of the legume family, were one of the first crops to be domesticated in the Near East over 10,000 years ago. Today, lentils are popular throughout the Mediterranean regions, as well as East and South Asia, but they are also used in other countries around the world. There are many different types of lentils—pink, red, green, yellow, black—all of which take between about 15-20 minutes to cook (without soaking!). These tiny legumes are rich in a number of essential nutrients, such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. They also are a great source of protein, providing up to 36% of the Daily Value in one cup cooked lentils—with a bonus of 16 grams of fiber. Health benefits for including legumes in your diet include diabetes control, digestion improvement, heart health, prevention of atherosclerosis, cancer defense, weight management, and maintaining a healthy nervous system. A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that adding 1 cup of lentils to the diet of people with diabetes improved their blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels and slightly lowered blood pressure.
So, go ahead, include lentils in your diet at least a few times a week! Stir them into soups, stews, curries, side-dishes, salads, and even baked goods!
5. Oats. Oats are one of my favorite pantry staples! This humble food is so versatile—and goes so far beyond a simple breakfast food. Considered a whole grain, it’s a good idea to include more of these wholesome foods in your diet. I recommend that most of your servings should be whole grain (that’s about 6 servings a day for most people), because they are linked to a plethora of benefits, such as lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and healthy weight. And oats are a delicious, great (and even gluten-free) way to feast on whole grains. Oats are high in dietary fiber—including a very special type of fiber called beta-glucan, which is linked to heart health. In addition oats are rich in manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, thiamin, and zinc. They even provide a healthy dose of protein!
Try oatmeal in many ways. Sure, you can feast on them for breakfast (my favorite is steel cut oats), but try them in casseroles, loaves, veggie-burgers, and baked goods, too.
For more tips on packing your pantry with healthy plant-based foods, check out the following:
13 Nutritionist Tips for Organizing Your Pantry
6 Dietitian Tips for Eating Out of Your Pantry
Top 10 Plant-Based Pantry Recipes
How to Organize Your Pantry
Plant-Based Pantry Ingredient Swaps