A Well Stocked Pantry: Healthy Pantry Staples
As we made the transition to healthier eating and began experimenting with different recipes, we kept encountering new ingredients, and we found certain items kept appearing. Over the years, we’ve discovered that our healthy pantry staples include a variety of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, natural sweeteners, oils, spices, nut butters, and other healthy pantry essentials. With so much information about ingredients and so many brands and reviews, choosing a product can be time consuming and frustrating, which certainly isn’t the goal with healthy eating (or anything really!).
With this healthy pantry resource page, we hope to alleviate some of the frustration that can surround stocking a healthy pantry. Below, you’ll find brief information about each item (perhaps someday we’ll do in-depth posts on each ingredient with sources, etc., but for now, we’re giving you a snapshot of why we like each pantry essential), links to our recommended brand(s), as well as a recipe or two using each pantry good. We’ll update this list regularly (at least a couple items a week!), so bookmark this page now to ensure you can easily find it when you need it!
You can find all these healthy pantry essentials on Amazon, and we personally adore our Amazon Prime account (free 2-day shipping on prime eligible items-including many of our favorite pantry goods below, awesome prime exclusive television, music streaming, etc.). If you don’t have an account already, sign up for an Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trialto test it out! Grab some of your pantry goods, and have them delivered to your doorstop in days!
*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of our links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Our Sweetly Spiced Life!
Healthy Pantry Staples—Nuts & Seeds:
These nutrient dense superfoods are a great source of healthy omega-3 fats, protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals like manganese and magnesium. Used in baking and cooking the world over, these rockstar seeds can absorb a tremendous amount of liquid, expanding into a gel, which makes them perfect for healthier puddings, popular in overnight oats, and useful as an egg-replacement or binding agent in baking. Sprinkle them on your smoothie or salad for a health boost, or use them to make these Strawberry Cherry Apple Chia Bars.
Another tiny seed packed with power, these little guys come loaded with fiber and good fats, specifically omega-3s. While you can generally find both golden flax and brown flax, we personally prefer golden, as we feel it has a lighter flavor that blends easily and well with just about anything, and we prefer the lighter color more often than not when combining ground flax with other ingredients in snacks, such as these Blueberry Lemon Lavender Healthy Energy Bites. Since ground flax is more bioavailable but can also go rancid fairly quickly, we recommend buying whole flax seeds and grinding smaller batches at time for use in recipes. The whole seeds will last longer, and then you have even more flexibility in how you use these golden superseeds! If organic isn’t as high a priority for you, and you go through lots of flax, you can buy in even larger quantities from brands like Premium Gold.
Hemp seeds, known also as hemp hearts, make a fabulous addition to practically any diet. Packed with large quantities of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and a host of vitamins and minerals, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more nutrient-dense seed! Since it contains a much higher percentage of protein than most other seeds and nuts (almost 25% of the calories in hemp seeds come from protein), hemp is a frontrunner for plant-based protein, coming closer to the ideal ratios of all essential amino acids than almost anything else in the plant world! Sprinkle on salads or oatmeal, blend into smoothies (check out the Banana Bread Smoothie in or free eBook (LINK)), or snack straight out of the bag. Refrigerate your hemp seeds to help them last much longer before becoming rancid. Whether you choose Organic or non-organic, Manitoba Harvest has been our favorite brand for hemp seeds for years.
Like many nuts, almonds provide an excellent source good fats, protein, and fiber while remaining rather low in digestible carbs. Almonds contain high concentrations of antioxidants like Vitamin E as well as a significant amount of magnesium, an integral mineral linked to blood sugar and blood pressure control. To improve their bioavailability/digestibility, consider soaking and dehydrating your nuts, but in the end, we recommend buying almonds and preparing them yourself in whatever way you’ll most enjoy incorporating them more regularly into your diet, perhaps as these roasted BBQ Almonds or as part of this bright and cheerful Citrus Berry Spring Salad with Blood Orange Raspberry Vinaigrette.
As with almonds and other nuts, walnuts are rich in good fats, protein, and fiber while containing relatively small amounts of carbs. Additionally, walnuts contain a host of useful minerals like iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and calcium, and their consumption has been linked to heart health, bone health, and the lowering of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Soaking walnuts, like all nuts, can improve their bioavailability/digestibility (and in my opinion their flavor on their own); then, simply dehydrate them to return the walnuts to their crisp and crunchy state before use in recipes like these No Bake Chocolate Cherry Brownie Bites! Raw, roasted, or soaked, walnuts pack a nutritional punch; start including them in your routine today!
Of all the tree nut friends, pecans contain the highest percentages of good fats —monounsaturated fats and especially the fatty acid oleic acid, which has ties to improved cardiovascular and immune health—and antioxidants, making them rockstars of the nut world. They too make a great source of plant-based protein and fiber with very few carbs, making them an excellent healthy choice for many dietary preferences, from vegan, raw, or vegetarian to paleo, keto, clean. Regardless of your dietary path towards improving your health, pecans can help! Try them in this filling Roasted Beets with Candied Pecans, Goat Cheese, and Mint as a side dish or a light lunch.
Healthy Pantry Staples—Dried Fruits:
Though many types of dates exist, we favor medjool dates in our recipes due to their rich, sweet, caramel-like flavor. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, they make a fantastic, healthy sugar replacement for sweetening desserts or smoothies, like our Mayan Mocha (link) Smoothie. Not surprisingly, their high content of natural sugars makes them perfect pick me ups after a workout or in the afternoon when you need a quick energy boost; eat them alone, process them with nuts or other fruits in an energy bite No Bake Chocolate Cherry Brownie Bites, or use them to sweeten this Apple Pie Smoothie.
While sugar and oil-laden dried blueberries seem relatively easy to locate at the local grocery or health food store, we certainly had some difficulty finding delicious, sweet, perfect dried blueberries without anything extra. These little gems from Brownwood Acres really hit the mark! Naturally sweet, perfectly dried, and fantastic for snacking straight out of the bag or using in a recipe, like these Blueberry Lemon Lavender Healthy Energy Bites.
Much like with dried blueberries, we’ve had serious difficulty locating tasty dried cherries that have neither oil nor sugar added. Finally we discovered these cherries, from the same farm as the blueberries above, and they are perfect! Nothing added: just dried cherries. They are a tad bit tarter than your average dried cherries due to the lack of sweetener, but they are seriously delicious! Eat them straight out of the bag, toss them in oatmeal, or use them in these chocolate cherry brownie bites; the slight tartness of the cherries balances the rich chocolate perfectly!
Since we generally want total control of our recipes, including how much (if any) and what kind of sweetener we add to our food, we use unsweetened coconut in our recipes. The light, thin shreds of coconut here mix well into oatmeals and blend more easily in smoothies. The Strawberry Piña Colada Smoothie in our free Smoothie eBook (link!) makes fantastic use of this tropical delight!
As with the shredded coconut, we always use unsweetened coconut flakes. Flaked coconut, larger than its shredded counterpart, combines well with nuts, seeds, or dried fruits for an easy on-the-go treat, like this Easy Sweet & Salty Trail Mix. Oftentimes, you’ll see the terms coconut chips and coconut flakes used interchangeably, though we generally think of flakes as the smaller of the two; just makes sure you purchase the appropriate size for your recipe!
Larger and thicker still than flaked coconut, unsweetened coconut chips provide a more substantial snack, easily enjoyed straight out of the package. Because these have no additional oils or sugars, they can easily become savory or sweet treats, as seen in our Coconut Chips 5 Ways recipe. For many recipes, you can use coconut flakes and coconut chips (sometimes called strips) interchangeably; the primary difference is the size and thickness of the coconut pieces.
While we almost always prefer completely unsweetened dried fruits, we do sometimes reach for these apple juice sweetened cranberries due to the tart nature of cranberries themselves. We find that the apple juice versions still seem far less sweet than the more easily found sugar sweetened choices, and we occasionally prefer the softer texture as well, especially in contrast to other crunchy ingredients in recipes like our Easy Sweet & Salty Trail Mix.
Packed with vitamins, minerals, and even a surprising amount of protein (including all eight essential amino acids!) for a fruit, these little red jewels have long been touted as a superfood. Best of all, these healthy berries taste like fruity candy on their own and add a bright sweetness and exotic flair to recipes like this Tropical Orange Creamsicle Smoothie (LINK).
Healthy Pantry Staples—Chocolates & Cacao Products
While this may look like a misspelling of more common cocoa powder, I assure you the difference between the two is significant. While both cocoa and cacao powders begin with cacao beans—a tremendous superfood loaded with insanely high amounts of antioxidants (40 times that of blueberries!) and flavonols, more calcium than dairy milk, and some of the largest amounts of iron and magnesium per ounce in all the plant world—the processing makes all the difference. The high heat and processing methods of cocoa powder destroy much of the nutritional benefit of the original cacao bean, so stick to raw cacao powder for your guilt-free, healthy chocolate fix. From smoothies to desserts, you’ll find countless ways to incorporate this amazing ingredient into your diet! We’ve had great success with both the Navitas Naturals and Healthworks brands!
Unlike traditional chocolate chips, which come loaded with dairy, sugars, fillers, and highly processed cocoa/chocolate, raw cacao nibs provide all the health benefits of the cacao bean (see cacao powder above) without the all the additives that come with typical chocolate chips. Cacao nibs provide a fantastic crunch and make perfect toppers for overnight oats, easy trail mix additions, and excellent granola ingredients. They also jazz up smoothies (LINK to book) with a little specks of chocolatey bliss! If you really need a chocolate chip in a recipe instead of cacao nibs, though, check out some healthier options below. Like with the powder, we like both the Healthworks and Navitas brands for cacao nibs.
Allergen free, healthier, and delicious chocolate chips can seem elusive in the local grocery stores, so we often purchase ours from a nearby health food store or online at Amazon. For dairy, gluten, soy, and other allergen-free chocolate chips, check out the Enjoy Life brand, which has dark and semi-sweet options in various size chips/chunks.
If you’re interested in a lower-carb option, we adore Lily’s stevia-sweetened baking chips; these chips are vegan and gluten-free, and the company also makes amazing stevia-sweetened chocolate bars, though the bars, while gluten-free, do contain dairy. We love Lily’s chips in these healthy No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies.
Healthy Pantry Staples—Natural Sweeteners
If you’re shifting away from refined sugars and like light, sweet tastes, you might just love raw honey! As opposed to the purely empty calories of white sugar, honey offers several health benefits, from its antioxidant content to its potential uses as a cough suppressant and natural allergy reliever when sourced locally. Different plants and flowers lend the honey of each area its unique flavor profile, so try several to find your favorite, especially if you have access to several local honey options.
Remember, honey is not suitable for a vegan diet, and beware commercially processed honey, heated and pasteurized to the point of basically voiding its healthful potential; stick to raw honey and local if possible! You can find raw honey in both liquid and solid forms, so buy accordingly for your intended purpose; we like both! Use your liquid gold in your nightly bedtime tea, or use either liquid or solid in blended recipes like this delightful and summery Chilled Peach Blender Soup or this non-dairy Lychee Cherry Blender Ice Cream.
Like honey, maple syrup offers some health benefits in addition to its sweetness, making it another great replacement for nutritionally-void refined sugars. Unlike white sugar, maple syrup contains trace minerals as well as a rather surprising array of antioxidants! It also falls a little lower than sugar on the glycemic scale and is less caloric than honey! Maple syrups used to be labeled Grade A or Grade B, but changes a few years back in USDA labeling means that all syrups are now categorized as Grade A, with divisions from lightest to darkest. The darker the syrup, the more intense and robust the maple flavor; whatever you choose, just make sure to avoid pancake syrups masquerading as pure maple syrup. You can generally find the lighter versions most easily, and you can use it to make these Healthy No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies or something savory like these BBQ Almonds!
If you’re searching for a no-calorie sweetener without the detrimental health concerns of many common artificial sweeteners, stevia just might be your new friend! Keep in mind, not all stevia products are created equal, and be wary of any brands with long lists of ingredients or fillers of any kinds, including erythritol. I personally stick to the liquid Now Brand Organic Better Stevia due to the quality of the liquid stevia and a long history of using and being satisfied with an array of their products. (They do also offer a non-organic version that I’ve used and been pleased with in the past.) A little goes a LONG way, as it’s so very much sweeter than sugar, and the bottle lasts quite a while (usually 8+ months for me)! I use it daily in my coffee, and while I think it just tastes sweet, some people find the taste similar to that of star anise (think black licorice). If you don’t love that flavor, start with stevia in small doses. We both love using liquid stevia in these Skinny Strawberry Mojitos, where even Cory can’t taste the stevia in it! This sweetener is also often used by those on low carb or keto diets.
Healthy Pantry Staples—Liquids & Beverages
This slightly sweet and super nourishing liquid found inside coconuts (usually harvested from young coconuts and not to be confused with coconut milk) is loaded up with vitamins, minerals (way more potassium than a couple bananas!), and antioxidants as well as containing some fiber and amino acids. Because coconut water contains such a high concentration of electrolytes, it’s often considered nature’s sports drink and thus a great replacement for the standard sugary and artificial-ingredient laden beverages consumed after exercise. When purchasing coconut water, avoid any that have filler or sugars added; the beverage should just be coconut water from young coconuts. Our favorite brand, far and away, is Harmless Harvest; we’ve never found another brand with such incredible delicious, fresh, and flavorful coconut water. Additionally, the values of the company are inspiring, and their processing seems unique and more minimal than others in the coconut water world. You’ll notice the occasional pink coloring in Harmless Harvest coconut water due to the light interacting the the varying naturally occurring antioxidants in the drink sometimes.
However, we also have regularly used C2O coconut water over the years, and you may find the price point here more appealing. Drink coconut water straight, use it as a liquid base for a Festive Cranberry Mango Smoothie or Pineapple Berry Smoothie, or have a bottle or two before bed after enjoying a few drinks—we always find the mornings far more pleasant when we do! Oh, and check your local grocery or health food store, as we often find that coconut water prices, unlike many bulk dry goods prices, are much better in store than online.
Healthy Pantry Staples—Nut Butters
When searching for quality, healthy peanut butter, look for a product with no added sugars or oils. Our favorites involve only roasted peanuts or roasted peanuts and salt. If you have a Costco membership, we like the Kirkland peanut butter (pictured below), which has only dry roasted peanuts and salt. If you shop on Amazon, you can get quality peanut butter with literally nothing added, like the Spread the Love brand pictured to the left. (You can also buy the Kirkland brand on Amazon, but it’s way cheaper in store if you have a Costco membership.)
You can, of course, make your own at home with a Vitamix, but sometimes, having a jar in the fridge just makes life a little easier, and we all need that sometimes, right?! Most natural peanut butters separate, leaving a layer of oil at the top. Mix the peanut butter together to fully incorporate (kitchen hack—leave the jar somewhere slightly warm, like on top of the dishwasher during the dry cycle, for a while to make mixing even easier!), then store the jar in the fridge to keep the butter smooth and avoid future separation. For a super quick and tasty kid (and adult!) friendly snack, whip up these Apples & The Perfect Honey Peanut Butter Dip or these awesome No Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies for desserts, afternoon snacks, or even quick but healthy breakfasts on the go!