Most grains that we consume are refined. The bran and germ layers have been removed leaving a simple starch with little nutritive value. There is a world of tasty, hearty grains out there that give us fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Be aware of how your body responds to certain grains, especially ones containing gluten, such as wheat, barley and farro. Also be aware of whether or not you are overexposing yourself to any one particular grain and seek more variety.
Once you have made the leap to whole grains, you may want to consider getting into the habit of soaking them for any length of time before cooking, but for at least an hour. Most grains contain phytic acid which can bind with certain minerals, such as zinc, calcium and magnesium, and prevent them from being absorbed by the body. Soaking the grain in water helps to neutralize this effect and results in a more digestible food. An added bonus is a slight reduction in cooking time once they’ve been soaked.
- Millet (not necessary to soak)
- Oats (look for specially packaged GF varieties, both steel cut and rolled)
- Rice (I actually have all of these in my pantry. I love rice!)
- Arborio for risotto (a special treat)
- Brown basmati
- Brown and white jasmine
- Long-grain brown
- Short-grain brown
- Sushi rice
- Sweet brown
- Wild (technically a grass and not a rice)
- Wheat Berries
Pasta is a processed food and one we eat occasionally. Because I try to limit our gluten intake, I have experimented successfully with a few good gluten-free pastas. My two favorites are a brown rice pasta by Tinkyada and a rice-potato-soy pasta by Bionaturae. Otherwise I keep whole wheat and durum wheat pastas handy, as well.
For noodle soups and salads, I use soba noodles either 100% buckwheat by Eden or the wheat-buckwheat blend.
I could write a small book about all the different varieties of flours out there and how to use them. For the purposes of this website, I am including my favorites and the ones I use regularly. Keep in mind that flours cannot always be used interchangeably, especially when one contains gluten and the other doesn’t. I will very often give suggestions in a recipe on how to make it gluten-free.
Whole grain flours contain essential fatty acids which can go rancid quickly. Your best bet is to store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container. I have an inexpensive second refrigerator in the garage for storing flours and other foods that can spoil.
- Whole Spelt Flour
- Whole Wheat flour
- White Whole Wheat Flour
- Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
- Brown Rice Flour
- Buckwheat Flour
- Coconut Flour
- Cornmeal (not flour)
- Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour
- Oat Flour (Bob’s Red Mill makes a gluten-free oat flour)
Legumes are rich in protein, iron, fiber and are low in fat. Like whole grains, legumes contain phytic acid and should be soaked before cooking. This step will not only help make the legumes more digestible, but reduce the cooking time, as well. To help tenderize beans and reduce gas, add a piece of kombu (a sea vegetable) to the pot. Seek out beans from a source which has a high turnover. Old beans take much longer to cook and are generally more challenging to work with.
Even though I prefer beans and legumes from scratch, it is helpful to have canned beans in the pantry for last-minute cooking. I love the Eden brand because they use kombu in the cooking process and restrict the use of BPA in their cans.
- Split peas
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Cannellini or Great Northern Beans
- Pinto Beans
FATS AND OILS
It is ultra-important to learn how to select, store and use good quality fats and oils. This is one area where many people are confused and for good reason. There is so much contradictory information out there!
The first thing to keep in mind is that we need good quality fats as part of a healthful diet. I will not be advocating non-fat this or low-fat that. I take my cues from traditional cultures and practices that have been around for thousands of years, not some new fad or manufactured ingredient that we heard about yesterday.
Second, I follow the same rule of thumb with fats as I do with other foods – the closer they are to the way nature brought them to us, the more our bodies will welcome them. That means unrefined and organic whenever possible.
Refined oils almost always rely on heat or nasty chemical solvents to strip them of flavor, color and fatty-acids that are fragile enough to keep the smoke point low. The result is a neutral-tasting oil that can withstand higher heat, but it is damaged, stripped of its nutrients in place of a whole lot of free radicals. Saturated fats, such as ghee and coconut oil, can handle higher heat. But mono- and polyunsaturated fats cannot. The key with using a monounsaturated fat like olive oil is to try to keep the temperature to 350 degrees or lower as much as possible.
Buy oils in glass bottles, preferably dark glass. Store away from light and heat to prevent oxidation.
The unrefined fats/oils I use for cooking and baking are:
- Organic, Cultured Unsalted Butter
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Sesame Oil
The unrefined fats/oils I use only raw are:
- Flax seed oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Walnut oil
The oil I have been waiting for: Unrefined, Organic Peanut Oil: I do stir-fry occasionally with an unrefined peanut oil, but since peanuts are heavily sprayed and many contain a toxic mold called Aflatoxin, I use this oil sparingly. I would love to find an organic version that is also unrefined.
I prefer to use sweeteners that have been minimally processed and are less destructive our body’s delicate mineral balance.
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Unsulphured Molasses
- Natural Cane Sugar, aka Sucanat or Rapadura
- Raw Honey (for babies over 1 year)
- 100% Pure Maple Syrup
- Maple sugar
- Coconut Palm Sugar
- Dried Dates
- Aluminum-free baking soda
- Aluminum-free baking powder
- 100% pure vanilla extract (check to make sure there’s no added sugar or corn syrup)
- Organic, dark chocolate 70% cacao or higher
Raw Nuts and Seeds (refrigerate the ones you don’t use frequently)
- Truly raw organic almonds by Organic Pastures
- Pine Nuts
- Brazil Nuts
- Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Sesame Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Flax seeds
- Gomasio (sesame seed and sea salt condiment; love the variety with seaweed by Eden)
- Apple cider vinegar, unpasteurized
- Best quality balsamic
- Unseasoned rice
- Ume plum
- Red wine
Sea salt (I love Celtic grey sea salt which contains trace minerals)
Herbamare organic herbal seasoning
Boxed or Glass-Jarred Tomatoes (either by Pomi or Bionaturae)
Tomato paste in a glass jar (Bionaturae)
Canned tuna and salmon, both by Vital Choice
Unsulphured, unsweetened dried fruit
Unsweetened shredded coconut
White wine (I keep a 4-pack of mini glass bottles for risottos and sauces.)