There was a time I used to keep all my pretty, healthy, little nuts in pretty, little glass containers out in the open on the kitchen shelf. I admit, I still LOVE how cute this looks, but unfortunately, that's not where they belong. Now when I see those naked, little nuts on countertops exposed to all that light and heat, I cringe. Poor nuts. Poor YOU!
Nuts and seeds and other natural, healthy foods have delicate oils (mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids) in them that tend to go rancid faster than saturated fats when exposed to light, air and heat. Rancid oils form free radicals, and by now we all know that free radical damage is not good; it can lead to inflammation, can cause us to age faster, and is also linked to cancer. So, we avoid free radical damage as much as we can, right?
I'm going to share a quick checklist of foods that you might be surprised to learn belong in your fridge. In a nutshell (see how I did that) these foods include anything that contains oil.
All Nuts and Seeds: (including flax and chia).
When you buy your raw, unroasted/unsalted nuts and seeds, get them into some glass containers with tight-fitting lids and get them into your fridge. They will last about a few months in there. If you think you'll take longer to get through them, stick them in the freezer for 6 months up to a year.
Obviously, I suggest buying natural nut butters with no added ingredients over commercially and processed peanut butter, which is full of added sugar and often has nasty hydrogenated oils. But I digress. You need to store your nut butters in the fridge for the same reasons you need to store your nuts and seeds in the fridge. I know that some of the nut butters will separate, but if you stir them up vigorously before you put it in the fridge, they should stay pretty well mixed and easily spreadable for a while. If your nut butter has hardened in the fridge, it won't hurt to take a small amount out and let it soften before spreading or adding to a homemade salad dressing. Nut butters should last up to six months in the fridge.
Oils (especially polyunsaturated oils like flax, walnut, sesame, etc.)
Flax, sesame, walnut and other polyunsaturated oils should be kept tightly sealed in the fridge. Also, you should know that polyunsaturated oils should never be used for cooking because they are highly reactive to heat. Instead, these kinds of oils are best used as salad dressings or in smoothies or uncooked dips like hummus.
(A note on olive oil: Olive oil is healthy monounsaturated oil, but it is still very prone to going rancid. However, it can be kept out of the fridge in a dark, cool cupboard because it's monounsaturated vs. polyunsaturated and is therefore more stable. But, you should look for olive oils that come packaged in dark bottles and always make sure to put the cap back on tightly after you are finished pouring it. Even olive oil should only be used for low heat cooking. I use coconut oil for most of my cooking needs.)
Because they are not milled, whole grains retain all their natural oily goodness. This is fantastic for your health, but also means that you can't store them in your cupboard indefinitely. The general rule of thumb is that most whole grains will last for about six months in a tightly sealed container/package in a cool dry place. But, if they're sticking around longer than that, they should go in the freezer for up to a year.
Whole Grain Flours: (like barley, quinoa, brown rice, oat, etc.)
If you've read the above, it should now be obvious that any flours made from nuts need to be refrigerated. It's even more important to store flours properly since they spoil more quickly than whole grains that are intact. This is because their protective bran layer has been broken up which allows oxygen to reach all parts of the grain and oxidize it more quickly. For this reason, whole grain flours will only last about 1-3 months in a cold dark, pantry shelf and 2-6 months in the freezer.
Nut Flours (e.g., almond meal, coconut flour)
It's perhaps even more important to store nut meal/flours in the fridge right away since (as mentioned above) the protective outside layer of the nut has been broken up and therefore there is more surface area of the nut left vulnerable to oxidation. Many reputable stores will even sell their nut flours from the refrigerated section. Either way, you should definitely store in the fridge as soon as you get them home for up to six months.
What are you currently storing out in the open? Or what are your favourite things to keep in the fridge? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!