Making dinner tonight?
Most home cooks know what staples to have on hand to give their food that extra oomph, but what if you're just as concerned about your health as you are about your culinary reputation? We put together our favorite pantry standbys -- foods that not only nourish, they elevate your dishes. Read on and tell us in the comments: What do you keep on hand to up the healthfulness of your food?
Thanks to high protein, soluble fiber, iron and protein, beans are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. And cannellini beans, in particular, are a superstar culinary ingredient thanks to their extremely mild taste and versatile form. Some people like to hide them in baked goods and pasta dishes, but they can be delicious when spotlighted, as in this dip from Food Network's Ellie Krieger.
These seeds, which are actually in the mint family, are full of nutrients like dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. And thanks to their fibrous husks, they can actually create a jelly-like consistency. Try them as a thickening agent to up the nutrition profiles of jams, puddings and smoothies.
Have some grains and veggies, but craving a protein and omega-3 fatty acid boost? Tuna's a good option, but can be high in mercury, which all people (though especially children and women of childbearing age) need to monitor. Anchovies and sardines, by contrast, have all the benefits of other fatty fish, but have shorter lifespans and are lower on the food chain, two factors that make them less likely to contain a heavy build-up of industrial pollution. On the other hand, they can have a strong, fishy taste. Kippers combine the best of both worlds: they're mild tasting and also lower in mercury.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
We all know that olive oil is good for us, thanks to monounsaturated fats that help regulate insulin levels and even lower cholesterol. But olive oil also has a protective effect against cancer and inflammation because of its richness in polyphenols.
It's important to make sure the olive oil you buy lives up to its label. According to journalist Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, many olive oils are fraudulently cut with cheaper oils. How to tell the difference? Employ a simple taste test.
"You know what cheap olive oil tastes like? Oil. You know what good olive oil tastes like? Olives, flowers, sunshine," wrote Rebecca Orchant recently on HuffPost Taste.
Coffee has been linked to improving cardiovascular health, reducing cancer risk and even fighting off Alzheimer's disease (OK, in mice). And keeping coffee beans on hand can have a culinary benefit beyond making a morning cup. Ground coffee provides a nice boost to baked goods, sauces and even burgers.
Quinoa is wonderful, but Teff is quicker. The small seed -- from a species of grass called Lovegrass! -- has more calcium than any other whole grain (or seed). In fact, it has about the same amount of calcium as half a cup of cooked spinach, according to the Whole Grains Council.
Stir it into soups to thicken and up the fiber profile, grind it into a flour that can be used as a gluten-free substitute for baked goods or serve it in place of rice, quinoa or any other grain. If you're feeling ambitious, you could try to make a traditional Ethiopian flatbread called Injera.
Truthfully, any nut is a good bet, though almonds have the distinction of lasting the longest on a shelf without going rancid. They have more calcium and fiber than other nuts, according to Health.com and their sweet, distinctive taste pairs nicely with both savory and sweet dishes.
As Greatist recently reported, seaweed may be the healthiest food you aren't eating. Kelp, a type of brown seaweed, is particularly popular among health food enthusiasts for its briny taste and high levels of calcium, vitamins A and C and iodine.
Also on HuffPost:
"Emerging research in the fields of neuroscience and nutrition show that people who eat a diet of modern processed foods have increased levels of depression, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity, and a wide variety of other mental and emotional problems," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-ramsey-md/food-mental-health_b_1703007.html" target="_blank">wrote HuffPost blogger and psychiatrist</a> Dr. Drew Ramsey. One way to combat the ill effects of a processed diet is simply to start with a whole, unprocessed one. Cooking one's own meals out of natural ingredients is a good way to take care of the body and the brain.
Salmon and other fatty fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA could play a role in overall mood and well-being. Research shows that these fats have a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16741213" target="_blank">protective effect against depression</a> and in one study helped reduce the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21784145" target="_blank">anxiety experienced by medical students</a>. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s include walnuts and flaxseed, which are both high in ALA, which the body may partially convert to DHA and EPA, <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3/" target="_blank">according to a Harvard report</a>. <blockquote><strong>Clarification:</strong> An earlier version of this article stated that walnuts and flaxseeds are direct sources of DHA and EPA.</blockquote>
Almonds are high in a <a href="http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/tyrosine-000329.htm" target="_blank">compound called tyrosine</a>, which is one of the building blocks for the production of dopamine and other mood-associated neurotransmitters. That means eating a handful of these healthful nuts will not only improve cardiovascular health, thanks to their richness in fiber and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids -- it could also help your mood. Other tyrosine rich foods include: chicken, turkey and cheese.
Apples are rich in quercetin, a compound that <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/08/cookinglight.food.boost.mind/index.html" target="_blank">defends your brain cells</a> from free-radicals that can damage the lining of neurons, CNN reported.
Everyone knows that chocolate is delicious and full of antioxidants. But it can also<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3397353/?tool=pubmed" target="_blank"> help to reduce anxiety</a>. In those who suffer from anxiety, milk chocolate was found to help reduce symptoms. For those with no history of anxiety, dark chocolate was most helpful, the study reported.
These seeds are another source of tyrosine, and are also rich in heart-protective vitamin E and selenium.
Soy is another rich source of tyrosine, but also provides a heart-healthy dose of protein and can help benefit <a href="http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/6-health-benefits-of-soy-milk.html#b" target="_blank">everything from bone health to reducing symptoms of menopause</a>.