Whether you’re back in lockdown or undertaking your annual winter hibernation, now is the perfect time to remake your health – starting with your pantry. Our experts show you what to stock – and how to stock it – to create the most nutrition-friendly kitchen and set you up for wellbeing success.
Toss what doesn’t serve you
Ditch the high-sugar snacks such as biscuits, chocolate and lollies. It may sound obvious, but apart from being high-calorie and easy to consume, Accredited Nutritionist and Remedy Ambassador Jacqueline Alwill warns the sweet stuff can also be incredibly harmful to your gut microbiome.
‘Even savoury packaged items such as sauces can contain high amounts of sugar,’ she adds, so be sure to scope the labels.
While you shouldn’t feel guilty for eating the odd Dorito, try purchasing the packet when you get a craving or when there’s a social event coming up. Nine times out of 10, if you have to head for the shops to pick up a snack, you probably won’t bother. Plus, it will save you the temptation of devouring the whole pack on a whim.
Examine your food labels
Steer clear of packaged food with long ingredient lists – any food product with 10 lines or more, you should consider ditching, says Alwill. Fewer ingredients usually indicates that the product is less processed and likely better for you, explains Sports Dietitian Harriet Walker.
Look out for too many preservatives and food acids, which can be identified by numbers next to them. For example, Citric Acid (330), says Alwill. And don’t forget the disguised sugars…
‘If multiple forms of sugars are listed, don’t add the item to your cart. There are more than 40 different names for added sugars – some you’ll recognise such as caster sugar, golden syrup, icing sugar and sucrose. While others aren’t so obvious – including dextrose, corn syrup, maltose, invert sugar, glucose, fruit juice concentrate, fructose and beet sugar,’ she adds.
‘If the label states ‘sugar free’, this might mean it contains artificial sweeteners instead, such as aspartame (951), acesulfame potassium (950), cyclamate (952), saccharin (954), sucralose (955) and neotame (961).’
Take a look at use by dates while you’re at it – it may be time to chuck out the 2012 packet of flour.
Start stocking healthier food items
As a rule of thumb, ‘a healthy snack option in your pantry should contain around three grams of fibre, at least five grams of protein and less than 120 milligrams of sodium. It will have a shorter ingredients list and will generally resemble food,’ says Walker.
Stock up on nuts and seeds, including almonds, brazil, cashew, walnut, pumpkin, chia and sunflower, which contain plant-based amino acids.
‘Our bodies need amino acids to synthesise proteins for growth, development and repair – particularly important during winter for boosting immunity. These ingredients are preferable in protein bars and protein balls, as opposed to additives and sweeteners found in some protein powders,’ says Alwill.
And don’t forget your grains.
‘Opt for wholegrains and pseudo grains such as rolled oats (not quick oats), and wholegrain, brown or basmati rice,’ adds Alwill.
‘Quinoa and buckwheat are my preferred ingredients in crackers, breads and cereals over commercial wheat (white bread tends to be depleted of quality nutrients). Wholegrain fibre supports the health of the gut microbiome and the immune system. It also has cholesterol-lowering properties and enriches your diet with B vitamins.’
Alwill’s pantry must-haves
For Alwill, legumes, cashews, extra virgin olive oil, oats and spices should all be staples in your kitchen cupboards. Here’s why:
Grains and pseudo-grains:
Grains are a wonderful source of B vitamins, fibre, and carbohydrates for sustained energy and optimal brain function. Winter is the perfect season to bake up a storm on cold, wet days – experiment with different flours and grains to add more nutrients into your diet.
Hint: Buy grains in bulk to save money.
Legumes and beans:
Legumes and beans will satisfy your appetite and fuel your body with plant-based proteins. They’re high in gut-friendly fibre and provide essential amino acids.
Hint: While legumes and beans are known to make you gassy, try slowly increasing your intake over time and soak them in water. This will make them easier to digest.
Nuts and seeds:
Nuts and seeds are incredibly diverse and can be used for both sweet and savoury snacks. Whether you sprinkle them over your brekkie porridge or your lunchtime salad, or keep a handy handful as a snack, they’re the perfect substitute for processed foods such as muesli bars.
Oils, vinegar, condiments and spreads:
If there’s one thing all good pantries need, it’s a range of healthy condiments. Extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil can be a great source of quality fats. Extra virgin oil, in particular, has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps to boost your immune system. And it’s also perfect to use on your Sunday roast. Other tasty must-haves are nut butters (Alwill’s fave is cashew butter), apple cider vinegar and tamari.
The experts’ storage saviours
Consider storing your ingredients neatly in airtight glass containers that are clearly visible. It will inspire you to cook fresh meals, says Alwill.
Walker likes to organise her pantry so that it’s easier to throw home-cooked meals together. Here’s a few of her hacks:
- Place healthier options at your eye level. You want them to be the first items you see when you’re on the hunt for a snack! Hide the less healthy options at the back – out of sight (and arm’s reach).
- Store similar items together. This will make it easier for you to find ingredients and to track what you might be running out of.
- Keep nuts and seeds in airtight containers. If you live in a more humid climate, store them in the fridge to avoid moisture build-up.
- Decant cereals, flour and oats into airtight jars so they don’t go stale or get invaded by weevils.