Since I started this whole mission to eat healthy, whole foods, I’ve added a few strange things to my fridge and pantry. Here are a few of my must-haves!
- Ground flax seed
Ground flax seeds are a great source of healthy plant-based omega-3’s, lignans (antioxidant qualities that help reduce inflammation), and fiber. WebMD states that these tiny little seeds may help fight everything from heart disease to diabetes to breast cancer. They’re one of what I call the “ancient” foods – cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. That’s a long time ago.
Flax seeds need to be ground in order to be useful to us humans. Otherwise, the whole seeds are likely to pass without being digested. I buy my flax seeds whole and grind them in a coffee grinder, then store them in the fridge. They can also be kept in the freezer – but you’ll definitely want to do one or the other, because once they’re ground up, they’ll spoil quickly if left out. They keep for about 3 months in the fridge once they’re ground. Whole, they’ll keep much longer (and can be kept on a shelf if unopened).
Ground flax seed tastes a bit nutty, and I always add a couple tablespoons to my oatmeal. It’s also a great addition to baked goods – I’ve even put flax seed in my pizza crusts. I used to eat ground flax seed on yogurt, and still add it to smoothies every once in a while. It’s easy to hide in moist dishes like chilis and casseroles, and works well in veggie burgers (or meatballs/meatloaf for you omnivorous types). I pretty much throw flax seed into whatever I think can get away with it! Vegetarians and vegans may also have heard of “flax eggs” – where you whisk together 1 Tbsp ground flax with 3 Tbsp water, then use the mixture as a substitution for 1 egg in baking. It works!
- Chia seeds
Chia seeds are an edible seed that comes from a plant in the mint family. The reasons to eat chia seeds are similar to the reasons to eat ground flax seed; they’re awesome in omega-3’s (even more so than flax seeds, actually) and fiber. In addition, chia seeds can be stored and eaten whole, so they can be stored for a longer period of time without becoming rancid. (Still, I keep mine in the fridge).
They also have an interesting property; they turn into a gel when mixed with water. I’ve seen recipes for homemade athletic energy gels based on chia seeds (such as the energy gel recipe at No Meat Athlete), and they work great in smoothies.
I like to mix chia seeds into my big bowl of greens every day.
- Nutritional Yeast
AKA, “nooch.” Yes, it’s like catnip for vegetarians/vegans. Nutritional yeast is one of the more popular ingredients in replacing cheese for us non-dairy types. It’s a non-active yeast – a fungus, actually, like edible mushrooms. It’s a plant-based source of B-complex vitamins (often fortified with B12 – the key to why veg people like it, since there are very few food-based ways to get B12 that don’t involve meat). It is also a complete protein.
The taste of nutritional yeast is a cross between cheesy and nutty. I used to mix it into my oatmeal, but it just wasn’t the right fit. I know quite a few popcorn eaters that like to sprinkle it straight onto popcorn. I like to use it in sauces. It goes well with anything rich, creamy, or cheesy. Almost all of the vegan cheese sauce recipes on Food.com list it as an ingredient. That’s how I use my nooch!