Stay healthy and save money by stocking up on these anti-inflammatory pantry items.

Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D.
January 27, 2020
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Healthy eating doesn't necessarily mean maintaining a constant supply of organic produce, free-range chicken and expensive specialty items. In fact, I've found that what's stocked in your pantry can help you sustain healthy eating habits for the long haul.

Sure, shelf-stable basics aren't the most exciting or flashy, but that doesn't mean they don't boast some pretty good health benefits, particularly when it comes to reducing inflammation.

Recipe pictured above: Vegan Minestrone Soup

Check out these nine pantry staples to keep in your kitchen for a throw-together meal or snack with anti-inflammatory perks.

1. Ready-to-Heat Whole Grains

Whole grains boast extra fiber, protein and nutrients, but the flip side is that they can take up to an hour to cook. And while buying dry grains to cook is the most economical way to eat them regularly, I also recommend keeping a few pouches of precooked ones on hand.

These shelf-stable pouches of ready-to-heat whole-grains like quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, farro and grain blends offer a speedy, 90-second alternative for throwing together a grain bowl or other healthy meal. (These tasty microwaveable pouches from Seeds of Change are great because they're ready to eat in just 90 seconds!)

2. Canned Beans

Recipe pictured above: Bean & Barley Soup

From cannellini to black to garbanzo to kidney, you can never go wrong with keeping an assortment of canned beans on hand. Not only are they an easy way to boost fiber and protein in a skillet dinner or soup, but canned beans are also a good source of complex carbs that tend to have a much lower impact on blood glucose than refined carbs and even some whole grains!

This is important since constant glucose fluctuations are associated with an increased risk for inflammatory conditions like obesity and diabetes. To minimize sodium, purchase no-salt-added or drain and rinse canned beans before using.

3. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

One of the "good" fats, olive oil is predominantly made up of unsaturated fatty acids, even containing a small amount of omega-3s. However, what makes olive oil stand out compared to other healthy oils is a compound called oleocanthal.

Oleocanthal suppresses inflammatory compounds, which could be why olive oil is associated with reduced disease risk when it comes to brain, heart and joint health. All olive oils contain oleocanthal, but less-refined types like extra-virgin have higher levels, so make that your go-to for salad dressings and when cooking at lower heats.

4. Canned Tuna & Salmon

Recipe pictured above: Tuna, White Bean & Dill Salad

When it comes to reducing inflammation, some of the strongest research centers on the potential effects that adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids can have. Yet, this is a nutrient that is hard to get, and that most of us don't get adequate amounts of regularly.

Fish are one of the few good food sources, so adults should aim to get in two to three servings a week. One of the easiest ways to make this happen is by keeping a few cans or pouches of tuna, salmon or other fish in the pantry. Worried about mercury levels? Try the brand Safe Catch—it's wild-caught and has much lower mercury levels than other shelf-stable brands. You can buy it on Amazon.

5. Garlic

Did you know that garlic is considered a key component of an anti-inflammatory diet? This may seem a little counterintuitive since its pungent power might appear to have the potential to aggravate or increase inflammation. But, it turns out, the opposite is true! The aromatic compounds in garlic have anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce heart disease risk, ease joint pain and manage blood glucose.

6. Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C, folate and potassium, but it's a phytochemical known as lycopene that elevates them to superstar status in the anti-inflammatory food world. Lycopene reduces inflammation and is linked to reducing risk of cancer and heart disease.

We often assume that fresh food sources are best, but in the case of lycopene, the body is able to better utilize the compound after heat has been applied to it. This means that tomato sauces, pastes and canned tomatoes are some of the best sources—just make sure to watch the sodium.

7. Green Tea

A daily cup of green tea may potentially reduce or inhibit cancer cell formation, promote growth of good bacteria in the gut and slow the onset and development of Alzheimer's disease. Research suggests these perks stem from compounds in tea called catechins. Acting as powerful antioxidants, catechins prevent oxidative damage from free radicals, which lowers the potential for new inflammation to develop.

8. Aromatic Spices

Sure, turmeric is trendy, but the anti-inflammatory perks don't stop with that one spice. There are a handful of other fragrant spices and dried herbs like rosemary, cinnamon, cumin and ginger that are also associated with reducing inflammation in the body.

Aromatic spices have been used medically in other cultures for years, largely for their ability to suppress or reduce various forms of inflammation in the body, particularly when it comes to providing some relief from joint pain and swelling.

9. Legume-Based Pasta

Nontraditional dry pastas made with flour from chickpeas, fava beans and lentils are new but quickly growing, and they've become my pantry pasta of choice for a few reasons. (I love Banza pasta, because it's super tasty and comes in all your favorite shapes—from elbows to lasagna noodles! You can buy it on Amazon.)

Legume-based pastas have more protein, fiber and other nutrients than refined and whole-grain options. This helps with satiety and blood glucose management, but it also makes it easier to throw together a plant-based meal with ample protein. Bonus: Eating more plant-based meals has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic conditions caused by inflammation.

Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., RD, is author of the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for her ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.