Christa Sgobba wrote in Silver Sneakers by Tivity Health that maintaining a well-stocked pantry is vital if you want to eat healthy. Think about it: When hunger hits, whatever’s in reach is what goes on your plate.
“If you don’t have healthy items on hand, you’re more likely to pick a convenience food, order takeout, or run out for fast food or to a restaurant,” says Nathan Myers, R.D., a clinical dietitian at James J. Peters VA Medical Center and an adjunct professor of clinical nutrition at New York University. “Most restaurant food and convenience foods like frozen meals and the stuff you pop in the microwave generally have a worse nutritional profile than something you might put together yourself, even if it’s something simple.”
Keeping certain staples on hand means you’ll always have a healthy meal at your fingertips. And if you stock smartly, you could be doing your body some big favors. The shelf-stable options below will help you replenish after your favorite gym workout or SilverSneakers class. And they’ll deliver some surprising health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, healthier blood sugar, and natural pain relief.
Open up your pantry. If these foods aren’t there for the taking, it’s time to go grocery shopping.
1. Low-Sodium Canned Beans
The type—garbanzo, black, or pinto, for instance—is up to your taste buds. They can all add heft to any soup or salad, says Kristin Willard, R.D.N., a dietitian who specializes in senior nutrition in Chico, California.
Canned beans are not only affordable and versatile, but they’re also nutritional powerhouses with disease-fighting antioxidants and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Best of all, a ½-cup serving of cooked black beans has 7 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber.
Why that’s good: The combo of fiber and protein helps the glucose (sugar) from the starch of the beans to be slowly released into the bloodstream. While simple carbs—including processed foods like cookies, cereal, and refined grains—release sugar into the bloodstream very quickly, beans keep you full for a long time and help control blood sugar levels.
Choose a can that has “low sodium” on the label, and rinse them before you serve, Willard says. A study in the Journal of Culinary Science and Technology found that draining and rinsing canned beans can cut their sodium content by 41 percent.