I consider eating good food one of the top 3 things we can do for our health, along with being active and having good loving relationships in our lives.
As an integrative and functional medicine physician, food is also the primary “tool” I use in my practice.
By helping my patients to change their diets, they transform their health – losing weight, eliminating aches, pains, and chronic diseases – and this allows them to transform their whole experience of life.
Cooking for my family and friends is one of my great life pleasures. I also love preparing food with them. Not only is the social part of it deeply nourishing, but the snoopy, curious part of me loves seeing what other people keep in their fridge and pantries, and how they roll out their cooking style in the kitchen.
Not long ago I was hanging out with my friend Dr. Mark Hyman over at his house. We were preparing dinner together – one of my fave things we share is cooking together – when he said, “I just want you to know you always have refrigerator rights here.”
Refrigerator Rights refers to friends and family with whom we are so comfortable that we’re cool with them coming into our house and helping themselves to what’s is in the fridge. Refrigerator rights = you’re family. It also refers to the importance of sharing food as friends, family, and community.
In this blog, I’m giving you refrigerator rights – well, at least a virtual glimpse into my fridge and cupboards! Because you might be curious and snoopy about fridges and pantries like I am – or you just may have no idea where to start in stocking a healthy kitchen.
My Top 12 Kitchen List
These are the top 12 foods that I always have on hand in my kitchen. They are my go to’s in preparing meals. They are my quick snacks. They are what I’ve got on hand when I’ve got to throw down a meal when guests arrive. They are the core of how I nourish myself and the people close to me who share refrigerator rights in my house. They are also the top superfoods I eat every day – the powerhouse foods that are packed full of nutrient goodness without any junk – the ones that help you get healthy and feel great now, and stay healthy, always.
1. Almonds, Almond Butter, and other Nuts and Seeds: Rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, and good quality fats, almonds and walnuts are especially effective at lowering cholesterol (as part of the Portfolio Diet), and keeping our energy steady. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are rich in healthy oils, protein, zinc, and numerous other minerals as well. I eat them raw, dry roasted, as s small handful for a snack, chopped into green leafy and kale salads, on cooked grains, as crusts for breading fish and chicken, and here’s even a Paleo Almond-Chocolate Scone created by my daughter, The Flexible Foodie. A typical serving size when eating them as a munch is about 1 handful.
2. Dark Leafy Greens: I eat dark leafy greens more than 12 times each week, 1-2 cups per serving of kale, collards, and salad greens, and slightly less volume per serving of broccoli and Brussels sprouts just because they are more hearty. Juicing is fine once in awhile (apple-carrot-ginger-kale is my preference), but frankly, I prefer eating leafy greens as a vegetable where I get their full benefits of fiber that I chew and that keeps my digestion and elimination completely regular, and also their taste and texture which I find gets lost in juicing them.
I steam and sautée kale, use it in soups, and make a killer kale salad. Collard greens are usually done sautéed though I’ve made a hearty winter version of “Stuffed cabbage” using parboiled whole collard leaves that’s super satisfying. And I love steaming, sautéeing, and baking broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I also use spinach, arugula, romaine, mixed field greens, and butter crunch lettuce amongst the lettuces in my daily green salads.
3. Fermented Foods (Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso): While we can debate about the best probiotic strains and brands to use, for daily health nothing beats lacto-fermented vegetables for fostering healthy gut flora. I eat about ¼ cup of ‘kraut or kimchi several times per week, just as a side or condiment to lunch or dinner – or sometimes even if I am having a “dinner for breakfast” kind of meal as I sometimes like to do. I use miso (organic, non-GMO soy or you can get garbanzo and other misos if you don't use soy) in salad dressings, soups, and a delicious sauce with tahini (sesame seed butter) and lemon – so delicious. You can make your own fermented vegetables or purchase them from any of the fantastic small, often local, companies out there supplying the market.
4. Fresh or Frozen Berries: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and others are packed with antioxidants. Oxidation is like rust to your body. Antioxidants keep your cells healthy by scavenging around for damaging free radicals. And frozen berries are just as good for you as fresh so you can get them all winter long! In the summer I eat ½ cup of fresh berries most days, and in the colder months I add frozen berries to shakes and smoothies.
5. Good Quality Oil: Olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter. Good quality fat does not make you fat. Quite the contrary in fact – it gives your body the healthy fuel you need to produce energy. And it takes energy to burn fat and calories! Olive oil keeps your cholesterol and blood pressure healthy, preventing heart disease while being oh so delicious on just about everything (try this Olive Oil Cacao granola for a surprising treat!) while coconut oil provides important medium chain triglycerides and butter gives you vitamin D which so many of us are lacking enough of in our diets. I also keep avocados on hand both because they are so versatile and delicious added to salads, alone, on top of eggs, in a shake or dressing to thicken it, and they are rich in healthy fat. I recommend about 2 TBS or more of healthy oil per day.
6. Good Quality Protein: Organic, free range, antibiotic-free eggs, chicken, red meat, fresh fish (all of these get purchased a couple of times/week) and cans of sardines. Protein is the mainstay of my diet, along with vegetables. I make sure to have some protein at every meal. While I was strictly vegetarian for 15 years (vegan for many of those), I have found that as I’ve gotten older, my body needs some animal protein to feel optimal. So now I consider myself a flexitarian. I eat what I need to as long as it is healthy and ecologically sustainable. Each of us has different nutritional needs.
I still have a primarily plant-based diet, using animal protein in small amounts usually at least once daily, to keep my energy steady, my moods balanced, and my thinking sharp and clear, without having to eat the volume of food I felt I needed to really get satisfied as a vegetarian. Animal products are where I invest in quality in order to avoid hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful chemicals associated with conventional animal farming. A serving size is 1-2 eggs, or about 4 oz. red meat, and up to 6 oz. fish or chicken – about the size of the palm of your hand.
7. Beans and Legumes: Garbanzos, lentils, and black beans especially. I don’t eat beans in large amounts because they are very high in carbohydrates (starch) compared to other forms of protein, but they are incredibly heart healthy. In fact, cultures with the greatest longevity often include legumes and beans as a regular part of the diet. I often add garbanzo beans to my salad, I eat hummus and vegetable sticks as a snack, and sometimes make Mexican-style eggs for breakfast, brunch, or even a quick dinner, with black beans and avocado. A typical serving is about 1/3-1/2 cup cooked beans, or a cup or bowl of lentil soup or salad.
8. Onions, Ginger, and Garlic: While it’s said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, quercetin found in onions does the same thing! In fact, all of these seasoning foods are not only incredible taste enhancers, but add nutritional value to your food by making it more digestible while boosting your immunity, too! I also keep a wide variety of other seasoning spices in my pantry to create a variety of flavors at different meals, and for their health and digestion promoting qualities. These include cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, oregano, thyme, cardamom, and powdered garlic in addition to fresh.
9. Root Vegetables and Squashes: From carrots, beets, and parsnips to sweet potatoes and winter squashes, these hearty vegetables are a bit higher in their sugar content so should be eaten with moderation by those with blood sugar problems, but for most of us, they are a vitamin A rich, healthful and yummy addition to our diets that promote healthy immunity, eyesight, and elimination.
10. Whole Grains: Generally a variety of brown rices, millet and quinoa. There is tremendous controversy over the health of grains in our diets. Here’s the thing – grains have been part of the human diet for tens of thousands of years. Cultures in which there are many nonagenarians and centenarians also include grains in their diets. Grains provide us with fiber for healthy elimination and nutrients, such as B-vitamins that helps us to keep our moods calm.
Some people, however, do not tolerate grain well because of food sensitivities (i.e., gluten cross reactivity), or sensitivities to specific grains. Others who are struggling with blood sugar and weight issues find that avoiding grains is more healthful for them. But for most of us, a small amount of whole grain once or twice daily is absolutely healthy and appropriate. It’s when we start to fill our diets with processed grains and flour products that we run into trouble with our health and weight. A typical serving of cooked whole grain is about 1/3-1/2 cup. I don’t eat grain at every meal, but do eat whole grains usually once each day. I also rarely eat grain at breakfast because grains don’t provide the same kind of sustained fuel as protein – instead it is typically a small part of my evening meal.
11. Lemons: I have lemon water to start my day each morning — plain and simple. I also use fresh lemon juice in my salad dressings (I always use homemade) and on my greens. Lemons are great in that kale-ginger-apple-carrot juice, too!
12. Dark chocolate: It's true — I pretty much always have a bar of 72% or more, fair trade, nice quality dark chocolate in my pantry. One or two squares are a healthy go-to when I want something a little sweet, or when I have unexpected company and want to put out something a little special. Studies show that a small amount of dark chocolate on a daily basis actually helps women keep the unwanted weight off, and our moods happier! Who'd a thunk? And grated dark chocolate sprinkled over fresh berries? Now that's the good life!
What are the staples in your kitchen? Are you vegetarian? Vegan? Paleo? Flexitarian?
To your good health,