There are a number of items that I always keep stocked in my pantry. Plenty of dried nuts, grains and seeds, for example, have a long shelf life and can be bought cheaper in bulk. Part 2 of my A-Z of essential pantry items list kicks off at the letter N and features nutritious and healthy foods that can easily be incorporated into plant-based meals.
Read part 1 of the A-Z essential pantry items list or keep reading on for part 2.
These dried sheets of edible seaweed are most commonly found in sushi rolls, although there are many other ways to enjoy it. Toast it and sprinkle on salads, fill it with tofu or quinoa, or eat as a crispy snack. Nori can help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels and, due to the high iodine content, can also keep your thyroid in check. The list of nutrients present in nori is pretty extensive so if you need a top-up of calcium, copper, iron, potassium, zinc (etc., etc.) make sure you add it to your next shopping list.
Oats are filling and nutritious. They provide good quantities of fibre and can even help you lose weight. Eating oats regularly can help regulate your blood sugar and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. I add a spoon of oatmeal to smoothies to add body or use them as a base for nutritious breakfast porridge, cookies or homemade plant-based burgers. For a better helping of protein, B vitamins and iron consider replacing oatmeal with oat bran.
Sprinkle on top of salad or soup, mix into porridge, or simply eat as a healthy snack. Pumpkin seeds provide your body with a high dose of healthy fats, iron and zinc. They are one of the best natural sources of magnesium which helps control blood pressure and reduces your risk of heart disease.
Let’s not argue about how to pronounce the damn word, instead, let’s focus on the healthy benefits of incorporating this grain into your diet. Quinoa contains a high amount of flavonoids which are antioxidants that help our bodies fight off disease. It’s much higher in dietary fibre than many other grains, and it’s also a good source of protein. It’s easy to cook (just boil it in water) and can be used as a gluten-free alternative to couscous. You can mix it in with any number of vegetables and add whichever flavours and spices you fancy.
It’s never a bad idea to have a bag of rice lurking in the back of your cupboard for those rainy day emergencies. Rice is a source of fibre and a staple food around the world. As it comes in many different varieties and colours, you can create so many unique and tasty savoury and sweet dishes with it. Whole grain brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but it also contains more vitamins and minerals so the extra cooking time is worth it for a healthier choice.
Just like nutritional yeast, I’d never heard of spiru-whatnow? before I changed to a vegan diet and started to read more about nutrition. If you still have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain. Spirulina is celebrated for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is usually consumed in powder form or as a supplement. It is a type of blue-green algae that is an excellent plant-based source of iron, along with a host of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and selenium. I like to sprinkle it into porridge or add a spoonful to smoothies for a quick nutrient boost. It has a neutral taste (more neutral than you’d expect with it being algae) which combines well with both sweet and citrus flavours. I don’t recommend smelling the powder before adding it to your food though.
Hail to the soya bean gods! If it weren’t for this magic bean, our vegan lives would surely be ruined. Tofu, which is made from curdled soya beans, is one of the most versatile plant-based protein sources out there. You can buy it in soft and firm versions, and it comes plain or in any number of flavours. You can add it to all kinds of international dishes and enjoy it both savoury and sweet. When compared to animal-derived protein sources, tofu has comparable amounts of protein but with fewer calories, making it a great low-fat, cholesterol free alternative to meat or cheese. It’s also a good source of calcium and iron.
Unrefined sugar and salt
The typical British or American diet is way too dependent on processed foods containing unnecessarily high quantities of sugar and salt. When you follow a whole food diet you avoid processed products that provide little or no nutritional value. Instead, you opt for ingredients that are as close as possible to the crops that are grown in the fields. In the case of sugar and salt, it’s best to moderate your intake in general. However, if you do want to add flavour, unrefined or raw is much better than the processed stuff.
Nowadays, I don’t even keep table salt or white sugar in my house at all. My go-to salt is Himalayan pink salt and, on the casual occasion that I do add sugar to food, I almost exclusively use unrefined and organic muscovado sugar.
Note: refined sugar is not always vegan due to the process used to turn the sugar a pure white colour. Some brands filter their sugar through bone char (powdered animal bone) which is enough to put you off your tea time treats. The good news is that if you buy organic sugar it’s guaranteed to be vegan because certified organic brands are not allowed to use this filtering process.
B12 is absolutely essential for good health, however, it is also hard to come by if you don’t eat animal products (read more about B12 in this article). Vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious matter and even meat-eaters can suffer from low levels if they follow a poor diet. If you do not keep your B12 levels topped up regularly through consuming supplements or fortified products, it may lead to serious illness down the line. The good news is that there are many vegan products such as plant-based milk and nutritional yeast which are B12-fortified (just check the labels). I personally don’t like leaving things to chance, so I buy B12 drops and add it daily to my morning smoothie or a glass of water.
We all need a good helping of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids to keep healthy. Eating walnuts regularly promotes good heart and brain function, reduces inflammation and may cut the risk of certain cancers. Although they are high in fat, they are a healthy snack that could also help with weight loss. I get my daily dose of walnuts with a handful sprinkled on porridge or cereal.
Ok, this one is cheating a bit as it’s not an English word…but I can’t for the life of me find any other items in my pantry that begin with the letter X. However, I do have one bar of Mexican-style chocolate, or Xocolatl. This word for chocolate comes from Nahuatl, a language that was spoken in Mesoamerica by ancient civilizations. The use of chocolate as a drink in that region goes way back to 450 BC. It wasn’t until the 16th century that sugar was added, with the arrival of the Europeans on the American continent. Pure cacao powder and raw cacao beans have excellent health promoting properties and are rich in dietary fiber and magnesium. So, next time you need a chocolate fix, the higher the cacao content (70% or more) the healthier your indulgence will be!
I’m bending the rules again slightly by squeezing in ‘Nutritional Yeast’ at the end of the alphabet, but hey, this is my blog and I’m making the rules around here. This mysterious flaky substance is deactivated yeast that is used as a condiment and to add a cheesy, nutty flavour to food. It was completely new to me when I turned vegan. Now, it’s a staple ingredient that I add to so many dishes to bring out the flavours. It’s great sprinkled on top of pasta or salads, mixed in with tofu or added to soups and stews. Due to it’s cheesy, nutty taste, it can be used in combination with cashews to make plant-based cheese. Not only is it tasty, it is also a significant source of B-complex vitamins. I buy the type that is fortified with B12.
Z is for…
I give up on this one! I definitely don’t have any pantry items starting with Z. Leave me a comment if you have any suggestions 🙂
Congratulations, you made it to the end of the alphabet!
I hope you enjoyed reading and that the A-Z inspires you to add some or all of these healthy and nutritious foods to your pantry and to your whole food plant-based diet.
There are more ingredients that didn’t make the cut for this 2-part alphabetised list and even more that I am discovering as I experiment with new vegan cooking techniques. Let me know which items are essential in your vegan pantry in the comments below.