One of the questions I have been constantly asked since starting Iron-ic Wellbeing is “What’s in your pantry?”. Well, aside from a bit of a mess at the moment (I’m a Virgo and I dream of neat little rows of Mason Jars neatly organised by alphabetical order, however the reality is far different), there are actually a number of staples I would never be without. If you’ve been following Iron-ic Wellbeing for a while now, you will know that these ingredients also appear and re-appear in my recipes – for a number for reasons. Firstly, I find it really annoying when a recipe calls for only a small amount of a hard to find ingredient and you are left wondering what to do with the leftovers, and secondly, with these ingredients I’m never caught short when I’m late home from work or, better yet, when inspiration bites on a lazy Sunday morning.
So here are my “Bakers Dozen” of essential pantry ingredients for healthy eating.
1. Coconut Oil
I simply cannot live without coconut oil, and I use it almost daily for baking and cooking (the nutty and sweet aroma of homemade sweet potato chips sprayed with coconut oil and baked until crisp is divine!). Whilst high in fat, coconut oil contains medium-chain saturated fatty acids, which are considered the healthy form of saturated fat as they are absorbed straight into our cells and immediately used as energy. Coconut oil is also incredibly satiating, so a little goes a long way – try it in your smoothies, bliss balls or stirred into porridge for extra creaminess.
Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which is known to strengthen the immune system and protect against bacterial and fungal infections (including being a safe and relatively quick remedy for fungal nail infections).
As a multi tasking powerhouse, coconut oil can also be used to gently remove makeup, as a body moisturiser and hair treatment.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, which is made from the juice of fermented apples, is such a handy ingredient to have in your pantry. As a vinegar it adds a lovely zestiness to any salad, however it is also very alkalinising and therefore beneficial for digestive issues. Apple cider vinegar is also rich in potassium, amino acids, antioxidants and probiotics, which means it can assist with increasing the absorption of nutrients from foods, has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, boosts our immune system and keeps us regular. I also find it a very refreshing drink on a summer’s day (mix 2 tablespoons of vinegar with one glass of cold water).
It is also a multi tasking “must have” for a range of household chores, including cleaning windows and benchtops (mix one part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle) and preventing soap build up in your washing machine and dishwasher (add a splash straight into your wash).
All apple cider vinegars are not alike, however, and it is important to purchase the organic and unfiltered variety (which includes the “mother plant”) for maximum benefits.
I love any food that adds texture to a meal, and seeds would almost have to be top of my list in this regard. My favourite seeds are chia and pepita, which are both incredibly versatile.
Chia seeds pack an almighty nutritional punch given their tiny size. Rich in calcium, manganese and phosphorous, chia seeds are beneficial for our bones and teeth. They are also very high in protein (and as such will keep you full for hours), dietary fibre and chock full of omega-3 fats essential for cardiovascular, brain, hair and skin health. Chia seeds can be added to smoothies, sprinkled over breakfast cereals, added to salads or easily made into a breakfast pudding on the run (simply stir chia seeds into a cup of almond or coconut milk and add natural vanilla, maple syrup and a few blueberries and leave overnight).
I have been known to sprinkle pepita, or pumpkin seeds, on pretty much anything! One of my favourite desserts is simply natural yoghurt blueberries and pepita seeds, however these crunchy little zinc boosts are also fantastic sprinkled over salads and curries or toasted with a little paprika for a healthy savoury snack.
Again, whilst high in fat, nuts should not be avoided as they contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats and are incredibly good for us, in moderation. Nuts can add a protein punch to smoothies, salads and breakfast bowls and are very good in helping with weight management (essentially they make you feel full for longer, which is a good thing). Nuts also contain plant stanols, which may help lower cholesterol, and antioxidants including vitamin E.
Walnuts are my absolute favourite nut – full of omega 3 fatty acids, they are a true “brain food”. Walnuts are also rich in anti-oxidants, which help to support the immune system and are said to have anti-cancerous properties. Walnuts also contain phytates, which inhibit the amount of iron getting into your blood stream and as such are beneficial for those of us with haemochromatosis.
Almonds are another favourite nut and are high in protein, fibre and calcium (which again is great for those of us with haemochromatosis), whilst also being nutrient dense and as such very filling. Almonds are also a beauty food, being very high in vitamin E.
Nuts are perfect for snacks on the run, toasted and sprinkled on salads, made into a pesto or added to breakfast cereals. More recently nuts have also gained favour as flour substitutes and nut butters.
One of the best ways to lower the absorption of iron in the body is to eat foods which inhibit the amount of iron getting into your blood stream in the first place. Foods containing phytates, such as oats, do just this. We have all heard that oats are a superfood and rich in iron, but because of the high phytate content, almost none of this iron is absorbed into the bloodstream. For this reason, it is often dubbed the “anti –nutrient” and many paleo advocates do not recommend grains and legumes for this reason. It is also why paleo devotees will often advocate sprouting, fermenting or soaking the phytakes out of nuts. For haemochromatosis sufferers, however, phytates are king.
There are so many other health benefits of oats too – they supply slow release energy, help reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and are a great source of fibre. Personally, I use organic unstabilised rolled outs, meaning the natural oat kernel has been rolled immediately after hulling to retain the highest level of vitamin content and nutritional value. My mum’s Anzac Biscuits are a great way to incorporate more oats into your diet.
6. Medjool Dates
Whilst these little sweet and satisfying packages might not look very attractive, medjool dates are an absolute delight if you are trying to reduce the amount of processed sugar in your diet. Whilst dates are quite high in natural sugar, they do not cause your blood sugar to spike like refined sugar and as such do not have adverse inflammatory effects on the body. Furthermore, dates are high in fibre, zinc, calcium and magnesium, making them perfect snacks after exercise to repair your muscles and prevent cramping. Dates are wonderful diced and stirred into porridge, baked into muffins, used as a base for raw desserts, filled with peanut butter or eaten straight out of the freezer for a toffee-like treat (thanks Maggie!).
Spices not only excite our taste buds and generate internal warmth, but also provide a broad range of medicinal benefits. Where would we be without them! Spices provide substantial health benefits for people with haemochromatosis, including reducing the symptoms of arthritis and joint pain, infections and abdominal pain and swelling. Further, many spices contain tannins, oxalates, phenolic compounds and phytates, which bind iron and help to reduce its absorption from non heme foods. At Iron-ic Wellbeing we use a host of spices in our recipes, such as in our Spicy Chicken Tagine.
8. Raw Cocao Powder
Raw cacao powder is one of the most decadent and versatile ingredients you can keep in your pantry – not to mention also being one of the highest antioxidant foods available! If that’s not excuse enough to enjoy a chocolaty treat every now and again, raw cocao is also known to be a natural mood booster – happy times! Cocao powder can be added to smoothies, hot drinks, healthy brownies and bliss balls. Be warned, however, as raw cocao is much stronger and bitter than the cocoa powder you buy in the supermarket, so you don’t need a lot of it to get a chocolate fix.
9. Coconut Water
Coconut water, being the clear, sweet liquid from a young green coconut, is readily available these days and is packed full of electrolytes such as zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium and B group vitamins. Coconut water is low in carbohydrates, cholesterol free and 99% fat free! It is the ultimate post workout replenishment drink, or for replacing lost minerals after illnesses such as gastroenteritis. Pure coconut water contains only natural sugar, however watch out for cheaper varieties which add in sugar and artificial flavours.
10. Sugar Substitutes
Whilst I do use processed sugar occasionally (I cannot lie), my pantry is also full of a variety of natural sweeteners, including maple syrup, honey and rice malt syrup.
Pure maple syrup is a 100% natural sweetener which is also a great source of manganese, providing an antioxidant and immunity boost.
I love honey on hot multi grain toast, stirred into a chai tea or drizzled on baked baby carrots. Recently I have discovered Backyard Honey, a Melbourne based bee keeper who harvests honey from suburban hives within 3km of my own backyard (bees may have even foraged in my very own garden and stolen pollen for the jar of honey that now adorns my pantry shelf!).
Made from 100% organic brown rice, Rice Malt Syrup is fructose free (which is great news for your liver) and, as it takes longer to digest than processed sugar, provides a steady supply of energy. Rice Malt Syrup is a good substitute for processed sugar in many recipes, especially when baking.
Substituting some of the processed sugar you use daily with any of the above is a great start towards reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity.
Regular readers would know I love eggs! Whilst rich in iron (and therefore in theory a no-no for anyone with haemochromatosis), eggs actually work to impair iron absorption due to the presence of a protein called phosvitin. In fact, research has shown that one boiled egg can actually decrease iron absorption by as much as 28%.
Eggs are also a great source of zinc, which is vital for the health of our immune system, and of Vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption, and promotes the healthy development of bones and teeth. Eggs also contain Tryptophan, an essential amino acid which produces serotonin and assists with mental health and fatigue. In other words, eggs are a feel good food and help us stay calm and happy. Check out my Spicy Spanish Eggs recipe.
I am a tea addict! There is no other way to explain the multiple packages of tea in my pantry, nor my inability to walk past a tea house without loading up on new varieties!
Thankfully, drinking tea with, or soon after, meals can help slow the uptake or iron absorbed from food. Amen to that! Drinking tannin rich tea (black, green, white and some herbal teas) with meals can result in a significant reduction in iron absorption (for those stat nerds out there – its around 60 -70%). I even incorporate tea into my cooking where possible, such as my Chai and Coconut Roasted Pumpkin Soup.
So, there you have it – my “Bakers Dozen” of pantry essentials. Keep your pantry stocked with these items and you’ll be well equipped to whip up nutritious, haemochromatosis friendly meals in no time. For this week’s recipe I’ve decided to combine a number of the ingredients above into a Healthy Homemade Granola. Enjoy this Granola with natural yoghurt and blueberries, or even as a mid morning snack. Enjoy!
Do you have a favourite pantry staple? If so, please let us know by sharing in the Comments below.
- 2 cups almonds, whole
- ½ cup flaked almonds
- 2 cups flaked or shredded coconut
- 1 cup pepitas
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- ½ cup linseeds (flaxseeds)
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp natural vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celsius.
- Line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine well.
- Pour all ingredients out onto the baking tray and spread out evenly.
- Bake for 20 mins, until golden, and then turn all ingredients to bake the other side for a further 20 mins.
- Once the granola is dark and crispy, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
You can also add 2 cups of rolled oats to the mix.
Grated ginger can add extra bite and really take this recipe to a different level.
Feel free to add in other ingredients to your liking, such as cranberries, dates, cocao nibs and a variety of additional nuts and seeds.