As the days get shorter and the weather gets chillier, the healthy habits we’ve built up over summer can start to fall by the wayside. Salads are out and warming soups and stews are in.
We know that cooked vegetables are often less nutritious than raw ones. On top of that, the somewhat sorry looking fresh fruit and vegetables in stores at this time of year can seem unappealing.
With the additional demands winter puts on our bodies, it can be easy to feel run down and lethargic. But it doesn't need to be this way.
There are many nutritious dried foods that we can stock our pantry with for when we’re in need of a pick me up. Most of these are common food items that are easy to find and cheap. Great to snack on or add to your meals.
Seeds and seed butters
Seeds are some of the most nutrient dense foods that you can eat. They contain everything that a baby plant needs to grow to maturity, which means they are packed with goodness and a great addition to our diets.
Many seeds are rich in unsaturated fats, vitamins, fiber, nutrients and proteins. The most common seeds you will find in stores are sunflower, flax, pumpkin, sesame and hemp seeds. All have excellent health benefits, though some people can have allergic reactions to sesame seeds.
Seeds have a hard protective shell called a seed coat. In nature, this would protect the seed from injury and drying out. To get the most out of them, it may be beneficial to grind them or soak them before eating.
Alternatively, you can make seed butter which is easier to digest and ensures that you get maximum benefits from the seeds you eat. Seed butter is similar to peanut butter and is most often made from pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
You can buy seed butters in many supermarkets these days, but it is easy to make yourself — and cheaper, if you have a food processor.
Nuts and nut butters
Nuts, like seeds, are an incredibly nutrient dense food source. They are also really versatile. You can add them to desserts, oatmeal, stir-fried dishes, salads, smoothies and stuffing for roasts, as well as many other things although some people can have allergic reactions to nuts.
Nuts are high in calories and a little goes a long way, so portions should be limited. They are high in healthy unsaturated fats and are a rich source of protein, fiber, vitamin E and a host of minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and selenium.
Some of the most popular nuts for snacking and cooking are Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, pecans and macadamias. They can also be turned into delicious nut butters to be used in desserts, sandwiches or on pancakes.
Peanuts and peanut butter
We’re not just being pedantic. It’s not important if peanuts are a legume or a nut. The humble peanut is a miracle food that deserves its own category.
In many places, peanuts are cheap and plentiful. If eaten in moderation, they are incredibly healthy, not to mention delicious.
A handful of peanuts contains about 7g of protein, a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, niacin, copper, magnesium, vitamins E and B, healthy unsaturated fats and fiber. They also contain valuable antioxidants and have been shown to have long-term health benefits.
Recent studies have shown that eating peanuts daily can reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease as part of a balanced diet.
Did we mention they’re delicious?
Peanuts and peanut butter are a good food to turn to if you’re feeling indulgent. They are richly flavored, versatile and compliment a variety of dishes. Add them to oatmeal or desserts for a decadent but nutritious treat.
Peanuts can be a major cause of allergic reactions in some people.
In Asia, people have long since understood the value of seaweed, while here in the West, we are just starting to catch up. Not only are seaweeds high in vitamins, minerals and protein, they are also low in fat and calories, offering a uniquely guilt-free snack.
There are many varieties of seaweed and the majority are edible. Among the most nutritious of seaweeds is nori. It is usually found dried in crackers or sheets which can be used for sushi rolls. Nori can contain up to 50% protein, as well as significant levels of vitamins A and C, niacin, and folic acid.
Surprisingly, seaweed is low in sodium. The majority of salts it contains are potassium salts, which do not lead to high blood pressure. Nori seaweed is also high in naturally occurring glutamates and can be used to give vegetable dishes a rich umami flavor.
Seaweed farms are also being considered as a possible method for mitigating climate change. Seaweeds are algae and naturally draw carbon dioxide from our environment in a similar way trees do. The majority of edible seaweeds we find in stores are wild seaweeds harvested.
Beans, peas and legumes may seem like one of the least interesting foods on this list, but they are incredibly good for you. They generally contain significant levels of phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
They are also versatile, convenient and cheap, and can be a simple healthy addition to meals. A diet that regularly includes beans has been shown to aid weight loss and improve heart and gut health. Try trading a portion of a meal's meat or dairy protein for the same quantity of beans, for a well balanced and satisfying alternative.
Some of the most nutrient packed legumes are French beans, mung beans, lentils, soy beans, kidney beans and yellow beans. It is best to avoid canned salted beans or wash them before use if you are on a low sodium diet.
Oats are another of our very favorite store cupboard superfoods. Not only are they a healthy, balanced wholefood, they’re also super cheap.
Beyond the obvious oatmeal, this unassuming cereal could be the most versatile item on this list. They find their way into breakfasts, desserts, meat stuffings, crackers, granola bars and more.
Oats have long been a staple food for people around the world in times of famine or food shortage. They have a well-balanced nutrient composition, which includes vitamin B, manganese, phosphate, copper, zinc and iron, and are high in carbohydrates and fiber.
The many uses for oats aren’t limited to food items. The high fat content of oats make for great hydrating natural face cleansers and soaps. Also, for people and pets alike who suffer with itchy or dry skin, oats can be used to make a soothing natural shampoo.
Most items in this list are inexpensive and can be bought from the majority of supermarkets.
Staying healthy doesn’t need to be expensive and if you buy the unprocessed or dried products like beans, peanuts and seeds, you can often process them at home and save money.
The benefits of unprocessed dried wholefoods are that they are often free of preservatives and you get to control the amount of fat, salt and sugar you add to them. So get creative and live healthy, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.