Most of us (myself included) tend to have a limited number of staples in our kitchens, and to lean towards cooking foods that include these ingredients.
Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to “punch up” five staples most of us already have around to gain a higher nutrient content (my next post contains five more staples that you might not have heard of but can easily add to your shelves), boosting your family’s health meal by meal.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
1. OLIVE OIL
One of the tastiest, healthiest and most versatile ingredients, olive oil is a kitchen classic, and every cook should be aware of the many ways of using it.
The first thing to remember is that it truly makes a difference having a premium olive oil. You can taste it – and part of what you’re tasting is the higher count of antioxidants like Vitamin E, carotenoids and phenols. There are many different varieties of olive oil, from all over the world. Have fun, experiment, find out which one you like best.
Olive oil is not a high-heat oil (for high-heat cooking like sauteeing, see coconut oil below), but it has dozens of everyday uses including salad dressings and marinades. You can add more olive oil to your diet by dribbling some into your smoothies (though be sure to watch the calorie count), and you can also use it as a skin moisturizer.
Another lesser-known use that’s helped many of my clients who are dealing with digestive issues is to drink a mixture of 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice at bedtime: this can be a miracle cure for constipation, and it helps to cleanse the liver.
Pro tip: The darker the bottle the better, as it keeps the oil fresher.
You and your family can enjoy a nutrient boost if you replace your regular table salt with sea salt. Sea salt actually comes from evaporated ocean water, while regular table salt comes from underground deposits that are highly processed and refined, resulting in a diminished mineral content. There are many different kinds of sea salt, but Celtic or a pink Himalayan are the purest, and have multiple health benefits.
Sea salt is a good source of sodium, chloride and potassium, and also contains sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and trace amounts of essential elements like phosphorous, boron, zinc, iron and copper, which work together with other minerals in the body to optimize metabolism. A high-quality sea salt helps your body absorb nutrients during the digestive process, and a little goes along way.
If you do switch to sea salt, be sure to either choose an iodized version or check that you have enough other sources of iodine in your diet (like fish, seaweed or dairy products) to meet your daily RDA.
A must for any kitchen, there are so many benefits to cooking with garlic that it’s hard to list them all.
Garlic is an immune booster that helps fight infection and inflammation; it’s been linked in population studies to a reduced risk of certain cancers including breast, pancreas, esophagus, stomach and colon; and it’s been proven to reduce blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
And, added to almost any dish, from vegetables to hamburgers, mashed potatoes, salads and soups, it adds delicious flavor. Get creative, because it can truly be added to almost anything. Eat as much garlic as you can, but take your time – for instance, you can work garlic into your smoothies starting with one raw clove and, if you tolerate that well, add another the next week.
Pro tip: Try not to cook garlic at high heat, because it will lose some of its nutrient density.
Lemons are loaded with Vitamin C, and also contain high levels of other antioxidants and nutrients like folate, potassium and Vitamin B6 that help with overall health. In addition, some studies have shown that lemon juice can help with the removal of calcium deposits, kidney stones and gallstones.
Lemons also have a reputation for supporting liver function and helping to flush toxins from the body: while the medical science is still out on this, many of my clients with liver issues swear by it.
Finally, even though lemons are acidic, when digested they help to build a healthier, alkaline overall body environment.
Lemons can provide a dash of zest when added to almost any dish, especially marinades and salad dressings, or when squeezed on top of cooked vegetables or fish. I also recommend adding lemon to green smoothies (while lemons taste tart on their own, they can actually help counteract the sharp, tart taste of some green leafy veggies). And lemon water is an easy, healthy way to kick-start your day: squeeze half a fresh lemon into 8 to 12 ounces of fresh water as a sugar-free alternative to processed orange juice.
This kitchen staple has often gotten a bad rap as a simple garnish to be placed on top of foods for decoration – but when added in as a regular part of your diet, it offers tremendous health benefits (and it’s relatively cheap to boot!).
Parsley is loaded with Vitamins C, K, A, folate and iron; it’s rich in chlorophyll, which has been shown to counteract certain carcinogens; and some of its unique flavonoids like myricetin are currently being studied for their cancer-preventing effects. Both the Vitamin C and other flavonoids in parsley also have anti-inflammatory properties, and are high-powered immune boosters.
You can chop parsley and add it to any dish as a final garnish (be sure to urge your kids to eat it, not just scrape it aside!); chop it and add it to sauces and side dishes; or mix chopped parsley into burgers before cooking. You can also sautee it along with garlic as a starter for many stir-fries and soups. Add parsley to your smoothies, or make a simple parsley pesto (just sub it in for the basil in a basic pesto recipe). And as a final benefit, chew a few uncooked parsley leaves before heading out the door as a natural breath freshener!