These fridge and pantry staples can help you whip up an impressive meal when you're in a bind.
Jeff Wilser and Melissa Matthews 1 / 25
We spoke with three top chefs and asked them how, if they were in your kitchen, they’d use your ingredients—and only your ingredients—to make something that kicks all kinds of ass. These are the three dishes that immediately leapt to their minds.
So, if you want to be able to whip up an impressive meal at the drop of a hat, stock up on these foods.
While many have become anti-milk in recent years, most nutritionists seem to agree it has plenty of health benefits—especially for those who want to build muscle. Milk is high in protein, inexpensive, and filled with plenty of nutrients. Just opt for whole milk; a study published in the journal Circulation found consuming full-fat dairy products can reduce your risk of diabetes.
If you've been using spreads or vegetable oil in place of full-fat better, you might want to rethink that. A study in the BMJ showed vegetable oil may actually be worse than butter. Researchers studied the cholesterol levels of more than 9,500 seniors and found that those who used oils high in linoleic acid—like corn, soybean, and sunflower oil—died younger than those who stuck with butter. The study also showed that switching from butter to veggie oil did nothing to reduce heart disease or overall mortality.
Salt and pepper might be the most commonly used seasonings, but it's still important to watch out for sodium even if you aren't at risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500mg of sodium per day; however, there's no limit to pepper—as long as you can handle the heat!
Bags of frozen vegetables (broccoli, spinach, and those gross-looking sacks of "mixed vegetables")
Research has shown produce can lose up to 45% of its essential nutrients during the time it takes to travel from the farm to your home. And fresh may taste best, too; but frozen vegetables have their benefits. They're cheaper, have a longer shelf life, and can make meal prep a breeze. Plus, most frozen fruits and vegetables are lightly cooked within hours of being picked before they're frozen. This helps retain their nutritional value.
Ketchup is high in sugar and sodium, but it does offer up a nice dose of lycopene, an important antioxidant. When picking this classic condiment, choose one sweetened without high-fructose corn syrup. You'll be amazed at how many recipes can incorporate ketchup as an ingredient, not just a condiment.
Mayonnaise is far from a health food, but if you insist on smearing the popular condiment on your sandwiches, you can easily make your own Paleo version using olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and egg yolks.
It might be bad for your breath, but garlic is good for your health. The vegetable contains powerful plant chemicals that can protect against heart disease and inflammation. Plus, the National Cancer Institute thinks it could lower your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers.
Pasta is not the enemy, according to an Italian study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes. Researchers discovered people who eat pasta typically have a lower body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumference, and waist-to-hip ratios. Stock up on whole wheat pasta, though. Whole grains pack more protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains—and fewer calories. Still don't believe us? Read: Pasta Is Great for You—and These 3 Dishes Prove It.
A little goes a long way with this pungent cheese, which is why it's great to have on-hand. Grated or kept in a wedge, it lasts longer than softer, wetter cheeses. Plus, it's rich in linoleic acid and, though the study was done by Pecorino Romano, researchers say it may be linked to lower BMIs and risks of diabetes and disease-causing inflammation. Just take that with a grain of salt... or, cheese.
If you want a low-cal way to spicen up your chicken or eggs, add hot sauce. What's more, a study published in the British Medical Journal found people who ate spicy food six to seven days a week lived longer than those who ate it less than once a week.
Feel free to kick back with the guys over a beer every now and again. There are some health benefits, especially after a tough workout. Among them are fiber, silicon, which is thought to strengthen bones.
If you logged an hour or more, or just worked out really intensely, then water might not be enough. Carb-rich sports drinks help you absorb the liquid and energy, quickly, and makes you want to continue drinking, so you stay hydrated. You may not use it in a recipe, but sports drinks can come in handy if you're slaving over a stove—or dehydrated from a different labor of love...