While the Corona outbreak is threatening to become an over-engulfing pandemic, many people are panicking and stocking up on essentials in case of an impending quarantine. Social distancing and staying home as much as possible are thought to be the best ways to keep from contracting the virus. To help quell some of these worries, I came up with some tips for your pantry essentials to stay healthy at home.
WHAT TO EAT:
1. Healthy grains and seeds. A great staple in your cabinet at any time, but now it’s especially wise to invest in imperishable foods. Healthy grains include rice, oats, bulgur, barley and spelt. Not everyone can tolerate true grains due to certain dietary allergies, sensitivities or gut issues. White rice and oats are usually better tolerated than other whole wheat varieties. I personally love pseudograins such as bukwheat, quinoa, and amaranth, which are actually seeds not related to cereal. These are gluten-free, low-calorie, and rich in protein and minerals. So stock up and use them in savory or sweet dishes! Get creative, these can work as key ingredients from breakfast to salads to soups, to garnishes.
2. Legumes, seeds, and nuts. These are protein-filled powerhouses that can also be regulars in your pantry, especially when dried. This is a great option for vegans as a source of protein. **Note that if you prefer the canned varieties, look for BPA-free lined cans and mind the salt content (often labelled under “sodium”).**
There are so many varieties of, well, beans! They are full of vitamins and minerals, especially when cooked properly (soaking for at least 12 hours beforehand with some apple cider vinegar, and rinsing a few times gets rid of most antinutrients) with a pressure cooker (gets rid of leptins) or slow-cooked on the stove. They also help keep cholesterol levels in check, and help you feel fuller for longer. My favorites are lentils and mung beans as I find these easier on the stomach and digestive system. Chickpeas make a wonderful hummus, and peanuts ground up become peanut butter – yum! All types of beans, such as pinto, black-eyed, and black beans, can make wonderful soups, stews, and fun garnishes in tacos or wraps. Season with some onion, garlic and spicy curry for an extra kick.
Add seeds and nuts to your oatmeal or salad for an extra helping of vegan protein (plus a good source of fat and alpha-linolenic acid, a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids). You can also make your own dairy-free milks from nuts, seeds or oats. Popular options are cashew, almond, hemp, flax or oats. See easy recipe here for DIY nut milks.
3. Tofu, tempeh, edamame. Soybeans and products made from soy (organic and prepared traditionally) are really healthful vegan protein sources. They are “complete” proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids. They are also rich sources of iron, folate, vitamin K and fiber. Steam or boil edamame for a snack or add them to soup, salads or garnishes. Tofu is a version of soybean curd cheese, while tempeh is the product of cooked and slightly fermented whole soybeans. Both can be cooked or stir-fried to a preferable texture and flavored with spices and oils, if desired. Tempeh has a rich nutty flavor and contains beneficial microorganisms (pro- and prebiotics) for our flora as a result of the fermentation process.
4. Sustainably farmed dairy and animal products. For those of us that are *mostly* plant-based but still consume some animal goods, sourcing these sustainably and supporting local farms is very important. Since farmers’ markets are not yet in season (and may not be this year at all!), you can turn to local CSA (Crop Share Alliances), or choose from delivery services such as Imperfect Foods and Rustic Roots (local to NYC). Fermented dairy products such as kefir, and *contraband* items such as raw milk and cheese have immune health benefits, for those that tolerate dairy (tip: sheep’s and goat’s milk products are usually easier to digest). Finally, pasture-raised hens and eggs, as well as grass-fed beef can be sourced from these companies, and delivered to your door.
5. Wild caught seafood. Companies such as Wild Planet Foods and Vital Choice conveniently deliver wild seafood, so you can rest assured that you can still get quality ingredients from the comfort of your home. They proudly boast organic and sustainable seafood such as fish, oysters, scallops, and many more, including some kosher options. They also have stock soups and other products suitable for paleo eaters.
6. Produce! Most importantly, definitely don’t forget to load up on your fruits and vegetables, extra heavy on leafy greens and berries (organic, whenever possible). These are your friends and packed with vitamins, nutrients and minerals to arm your immune system and enhance vitality. Aim for 2+ servings at every meal, and mix them up – the variety of colors and textures can be a fun culinary and dining experience, plus ensures you’re getting the full spectrum of the “rainbow” of beneficial phytochemicals.
Eat your vitamin-C in the form of bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, strawberries, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and citrus fruit.
*Many stores offer delivery services at this time, so you can inquire at your local grocer, or check chains such as Key Food or Netcost (popular in Brooklyn). Otherwise, you can use Imperfect Foods and Rustic Roots or similar services.
*NOTE ON STORAGE: Because produce is the quickest food type to perish, these items do need to be stored properly for optimal freshness. Store your potatoes and onions in a cool dark dry place, since these have a higher shelf life and can save you room in the fridge. Bananas should not be refrigerated since they will blacken and soften, and will last on the countertop for up to a week (pro tip: take bananas out of any packaging and separate the bunch into individual to prolong shelf life.) Apples, citrus fruit, celery, cauliflower, and avocados can be kept in the fridge for up to a month. Cabbage and carrots will last even longer, up to 2-3 months, while frozen produce takes the cake at 12 months (in the freezer)! You can look up more storage tips and times here.
As tempting as it may be, do NOT stock up on processed, packaged goods. If you’re anything like me, if you have them accessible at your fingertips, you WILL eat them. So best to just skip junk items like chips, crackers, cookies, muffins, and anything else that looks tantalizing in stores. If you must snack, stick to sprouted all-grain crackers such as Mary’s Gone Crackers (if you tolerate grains). If you’re gluten-free, reach for some nuts or nut butters, along with fresh or dried fruit.
WHAT TO DRINK:
Don’t forget to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of water and warm herbal teas. In the morning, I recommend drinking warm water with fresh lemon juice or a splash of apple cider vinegar. For an extra immune-boosting kick, add the warming spice ginger along with lemon to all your drinks! My favorite anti-viral and nervous system supporting herbal teas are lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), rosehips (Rosa canina), and reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum). At the first sign of a cold or flu, switch to elderberry (Sambucus nigra) or echinacea (Echinacea spp.). Add some local honey or licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) for extra immune boosting properties. Broths and soups are amazingly nourishing, hydrating and healing, as well as easy to digest (just watch the sodium content) – so drink those up too! For more herbal tips, see my blog post.
AVOID sugary drinks like soda or processed juices. The extra sugar causes inflammation and does not do any wonders for immunity. Even healthy drinks like kombucha and green juices can result in spiking your blood sugar, so limit these to one cup per day.
I wish you all a safe and happy stay at home during these uncertain times. And I hope you take this time to catch up on sleep and taking care of yourself through some good old-fashioned cooking. After all, good health starts in the gut, and that means what you eat makes a huge difference for your overall health and vitality!
Originally published with Jejune Magazine.