If you’ve been told to follow a heart-healthy diet, heading to your pantry for healthy pantry staples is probably not a place you would start to build a heart-healthy meal. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, less fat and sodium and more fish are likely some of the first things to come to mind.
But did you know that keeping your pantry well-stocked is one of the best things you can do for your heart?
Keeping a variety of shelf-stable, healthy pantry staples that you can pull out at a moment’s notice will make eating for heart health a breeze! Read on to find out why, and which 10 items I recommend you always keep in your pantry.
Why is it Important to Keep a Variety of Heart- Healthy Pantry Staples on Hand?
First, I think we all learned over the last few years how important it is to keep some staples in your pantry for meal prep and in case of emergencies. Also, having your pantry stocked with “go-to” ingredients means you can whip up a quick meal instead of calling for take-out. With careful planning, you can take it one step further and your pantry can also hold the building blocks for heart-healthy meals.
The benefit of having a stocked pantry is two-fold. One, you have a variety of ingredients to choose from to make a meal, and second, you don’t have to worry that most foods in your pantry will go bad quickly or that you will waste a lot of food.
Can Pantry Staples be Heart-Healthy?
Absolutely! Many people think foods that are stored in the pantry are full of fat and sodium and low in nutritional value. Fresh is best, right? Let’s dispel that myth right now. Your pantry can be a hidden gem for finding nutrient-dense foods that are also heart-healthy.
Here are a few of the items I always have on hand.
Brown rice, whole grain pasta, oats, and quinoa are a must. They are full of fiber and B vitamins like thiamine and folate as well as antioxidants which help with keeping your blood flowing, give your heart energy, and help reduce inflammation. (1)
Canned or Dried Beans:
Canned or dried beans are a great source of fiber and brain and heart-healthy nutrients like potassium and magnesium that can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. Look for the low salt or low sodium variety and add them to salads, soups or use them in a dip.
Pineapple and mandarin oranges in their own juice, canned pears, and peaches in either low sugar syrup or juice make a sweet addition to salads and make an easy dessert. The canning process locks in flavor, as well as vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants.
Tuna, salmon, or sardines are good sources of lean protein and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Most of us don’t eat enough fish. Canned or pouched tuna and salmon are a great way to add a little extra to your weekly routine. Full disclosure – I used to work for StarKist so I’ve created a ton of recipes using tuna and shelf-stable salmon for them! You can use both in place of beef or chicken in many of your favorite recipes and they are an easy addition to salads, sandwiches, or even pasta.
I love canned tomatoes and always have a variety of crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, and diced tomatoes in my pantry. They are picked as soon as they are ripe and retain their fresh flavor after canning. Honestly, they are often better than fresh. Many don’t have added salt, or you can find a low sodium version as well. Plus canning, or applying heat treatment increases the antioxidant lycopene which has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. (2)
Having a variety of oils to choose from is, I think, essential for a well-stocked pantry. Each oil has its own purpose. Olive oil is the base for the Mediterranean diet and is rich in the types of fat that help reduce those nasty bad cholesterol levels. Grapeseed oil and canola oil are similar in their nutrient profile but both hold up to heat better than olive oil does so if I’m sauteing something, I might choose one of those. They are also fairly bland so don’t add any extra flavor to your meals
Dried Fruit and Nuts:
You may have noticed that I use nuts and dried fruits in a lot of my recipes. Both add a lot of flavor and texture to my dishes not to mention the nutritional benefits including fiber, potassium, and healthy fats. They add a savory flavor to salads and side dishes. I love adding toasted nuts to roasted vegetables and dried fruits to desserts – or even better, just put a few together for an easy “trail mix” for an afternoon snack. Anyway you use them, they can add flavor and variety to your meals and are a “must-have” in my panty!
Reduced Salt or Low Sodium Broth:
While you can always make your own stock or broth, and I do that a lot, it is also nice to have some in your pantry that you can pull out quickly to use in sauces or when making rice or quinoa.
I have many more things I keep in my pantry and you can download my free list here. These are the 10 basic things you can start building your heart healthy pantry with:
10 Things to Keep in Your Pantry for Heart-Healthy Meals
- Whole grain pasta, quinoa and brown or wild rice, dry oats
- Nut butter
- Canned meat (chicken, tuna, and salmon)
- Whole-grain crackers and tortillas
- Canned beans (low-salt)
- Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce (low salt or no salt added)
- Oils – olive, grapeseed, and canola
- Dried fruit
- Low salt broth (chicken, beef, and vegetable)
- Canned fruits and vegetables (no salt added and packed in water or juice are best)
Putting it all Together – Some Heart Healthy Meals Using Pantry Staples
While it may seem daunting at first, once you’ve got your pantry stocked you can get a heart-healthy dinner on the table quickly! Here are a few quick ideas to get started!
- A minestrone soup using canned beans, broth, and pasta. Add some chopped onions, carrots, and any other vegetable you have on hand.
- Salmon cakes with pineapple salsa
- Barley risotto mixed with pumpkin puree and goat cheese
- Pasta with tomato sauce and beans
- Tuna noodle casserole
- Tacos or fahitas using tuna or canned chicken
- Quinoa and rice bowls with mandarin oranges, salmon, and vegetables
HOT OFF the PRESS! Need some ideas to get you started on stocking your pantry? Grab your free pantry staples list here!
If you want to work on reducing waste in your kitchen and more great tips for how to stock and organize your pantry, check out my colleague, Rosanne Rust’s new book – Zero Waste Cooking for Dummies. It is an excellent resource and perfect for anyone wanting to reduce the amount of food they waste.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click on a link and purchase a product I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.
- Lee, Yoon-Mi, Han, Sang-Ik, Song, Byeng Chun, Yeum, Kyung-Jin. “Bioactives in Commonly Consumed Cereal Grains: Implications for Oxidative Stress and Inflammation.” J Med Food. 18 no.11 (November 2015):1179-86. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.3394.
- Hwang ES, Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, Bowen PE. Effects of heat treatment on the carotenoid and tocopherol composition of tomato. J Food Sci. 2012;77(10): C1109-C1114. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02909.x