As someone who at least tries to be somewhat health-conscious of what I eat, I'd always assumed that fresh food is healthier than stuff that is designed to last for months on end. But registered dietitian Crystal Cascio, RD, says there are without a doubt plenty of pantry foods that are full of nutrients—including fiber, something virtually everyone is striving to get more of (especially when your crisper is looking bare).
Here, Cascio shares her favorite high-fiber pantry foods, explaining the benefits of each. If you're looking for a list of healthy foods to stock up on during the pandemic, this is it!
7 high-fiber pantry foods
1. whole grains
"Whole grains immediately came to mind to me when I started thinking of high-fiber pantry foods," Cascio says. Whole grains are foods that contain the entire grain from their original origins, rather processing the grain to just include the starchy interior. Barley, oats, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, wheat and quinoa are all whole grains. Because there's such a wide range, chances are you can find at least one you'll love (and that works in whatever meal you're making). "Not only are whole grains high in fiber, they also have other nutrients, like iron, magnesium, and B vitamins," Cascio says.
Cascio says she likes having hot buckwheat or oatmeal in the morning for breakfast, and incorporating the other grains into her lunches and dinners.
You may find potatoes in the produce section, but they thrive in dark, room temperature places (like, hello, your pantry) and last roughly two months—a longer shelf life than what's in the fridge. "All potatoes, including white, red, and sweet potatoes are food sources of fiber," Cascio says. (A large white potato has six grams of the 25 grams recommended to get a day.) Besides fiber, potatoes also have potassium, vitamin C, and carbohydrates (which, yes, are important.)
3. legumes and beans
If you eat a primarily plant-based diet, chances are beans and legumes are already your go-tos for protein, but Cascio says eaters of all diet types can benefit from their protein and, yes, fiber content. "Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and even peanuts all fall into this bucket," she says. Besides protein and fiber, these foods are also good sources of magnesium and iron.
Beans and legumes can be used as a substitute for meat in basically any recipe; they're as versatile as they are nutrient-rich. Besides incorporating them into meals, you can also roast chickpeas or beans and snack on them, too.
Watch the video below to see more health benefits of chickpeas:
4. dried fruit
Cascio says this is one of her go-to snacks. "Dried fruit is great to enjoy on its own, or you can use it as a topping for oatmeal," she says. Some dried fruits, like cranberries, can also be incorporated into salads and grain dishes. Dried figs and plums actually contain even more antioxidants than their fresh counterparts. "Just make sure you're buying a dried fruit blend that doesn't include added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup," Cascio says.
"Popcorn is such an overlooked fiber source," Cascio says. As long as you're buying the kernels to air-pop and not the microwaveable kind, this is one snack that definitely wins her RD seal of approval. "Just three tablespoons of popcorn kernels [which makes about five cups of popped popcorn] has five grams of fiber," she says. "I love adding a little salt and butter to mine and enjoying it as a snack."
6. canned fruits and vegetables
If you can't buy fresh produce right now, Cascio says not to sweat it because canned produce is still nutritious and fiber-filled. "The most important tip to keep in mind when buying canned goods is to make sure it's low in sodium and doesn't contain any added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which is sometimes added to canned fruit," she says.
A few canned fruits and vegetables in particular to consider for their fiber content: spinach, prunes, corn, diced tomatoes, green beans, beets, artichoke hearts, and pumpkin. "People forget about canned pumpkin when it's not fall, but I buy it year round and incorporate it into my oatmeal because it has great vitamin A and vitamin C as well as fiber," Cascio says.
As long as you're buying pasta, you might as well go for one that's full of fiber, right? "Pasta made of whole grains, lentils, chickpeas, or brown rice are going to be higher in fiber than pasta made from white flour," Cascio says, name-checking her favorite alternative picks. "Even when it's just a two gram per serving difference, which is the case for whole grain or brown rice pasta, that little bit adds up, especially if you incorporate canned vegetables into your pasta," she says.
Clearly there is no shortage of healthy, high-fiber pantry foods to choose from. Heck, you can make weeks worths of meals just using the seven foods on this list. (Here are some ideas to get you started.) The pantry will always be a place to keep your snack stash. But it's pretty clear that its food options definitely don't end there.
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