Healthy Kitchen Essentials
Foods to always have stocked in the kitchen for healthy eating and cooking.
If I had a dollar for every time one of my patients said to me, "If it tastes good it must be bad for you," I'd be rich. This statement is very frustrating because it is clearly untrue – there are many healthy foods and meals that taste wonderful. Once people become educated on healthy eating they often say, "This isn't as bad as I thought, I like a lot of these foods, and I'm surprised how good some things taste."
Here are a few of my favorite foods to always have stocked in the kitchen for healthy eating and cooking.
- Avocados. Avocados are one of the best-tasting natural foods and a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and monounsaturated fat — the fat that is good for heart health. Avocados are great in a salad, served on chicken tacos, or spread on a sandwich. Just watch your portion size, as they are also naturally high in calories.
- Almonds. Almonds are another source of good fat, and they may aid in reducing our cholesterol levels. A handful of raw or roasted almonds can be a quick snack. Or, toast slivered almonds and add them to salads, stir-fry dishes, or mix them into a homemade, creamy chicken salad.
- Plain Yogurt. Before you cringe at the thought, let me explain. Plain, low-fat or fat-free yogurt can be eaten for breakfast or as a snack, but most people need to jazz it up. You can add fresh fruit and a sugar substitute or a spoonful of low-sugar strawberry or raspberry jam for a delightful treat. Plain yogurt can also be used to decrease saturated fat in dishes like chicken or tuna salad: Use equal parts light mayonnaise and yogurt and you won't even taste much difference, but will get the benefit of less saturated fat and a bit of extra calcium.
- Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are very nutritious, as you probably know. They are packed full of beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium. They are easy to prepare by cooking in the microwave or roasting in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes. The roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the potato and makes for a great side dish without any additions. Sweet potatoes contain 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate (or 1 Carb Choice) per half-cup, so make sure to count it towards your carbohydrate allowance.
- Tuna. Canned (or packaged) tuna packed in water is a great lean-protein source and provides a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart. Make a creamy tuna salad, using light mayonnaise and plain yogurt as described above. This can be eaten as a meal with whole-grain bread or pita, or used for a snack with whole-grain crackers. Tuna is also great served right out of the can on a green salad for a quick lunch.
- Fresh Fruit. Seasonal fresh fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, apples, and pears should be an essential ingredient in everyone's kitchen. Fresh fruit is full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and can be used for a snack or incorporated into a healthy dessert, such as baked apples or poached pears. Fruit, of course, contains carbohydrates, so it should be counted toward your daily allowance.
- Frozen Vegetables. This isn't to say that fresh vegetables aren't important — they're essential, and almost always a first choice — but frozen vegetables are healthy, convenient, and easy to prepare. They can be cooked in minutes for a quick side dish or incorporated into a main dish. I'm a big fan of chopped frozen spinach, green beans, and mixed vegetables.
- Sugar-Free Pudding Mix. Although not a natural food, sugar-free pudding mix can be used in a variety of desserts — the food category that is perhaps the biggest challenge for people with diabetes. Prepare pudding mixes with skim or 1-percent milk to keep it low in saturated fat. It is a good source of calcium and can be used for a dessert by itself or incorporated into pies, such as banana cream or chocolate mousse.
Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...