My friend Betsy is the first person I go to for nutrition advice, since she's unbelievably knowledgable (as an L.A.-based Certified Nutrition Consultant and holistic health expert, she works with an impressive roster of clientele), and has a way of explaining health science that's easily digestible, pun intended. 😉When Jonah and I began social distancing two weeks ago, and limiting our grocery store runs as much as possible, I messaged Betsy for some guidance. She immediately responded to my text asking about nutrient-dense shelf-stable ingredients with a list that ran nearly the entire length of my phone, including canned salmon, lentils, jerky, and "OLIVES." As I asked her for further clarification on each of the foods (I had no idea olives were so healthy, let alone worthy of an all-caps recommendation!), I realized that you may find the advice she offered useful as well. Below are the items Betsy recommends stocking up on during your next grocery store run, as well as a few health tips, in her own words:
1. Canned Wild Salmon: It's generally a good idea to keep protein at the top of your grocery list, since it's not only good for your immune system, but also helps balance your blood sugar to keep moods stable and calm—which is as important now as ever. The only problem is that there aren't ample fresh protein options in stores right now, at least in L.A. While you can go to one of the big online distributors (like U.S. Wellness Meats, where you can order high-quality, locally-sourced meat in bulk), you can also find protein in canned meats like salmon.
Canned wild salmon is a great source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which help reduce inflammation. It's also one of the best dietary sources of Vitamin D, a nutrient that is crucial for immune function. If canned salmon isn't available, I encourage you to try out canned wild mackerel, which actually has more Omega-3s than tuna without the high mercury content. I like to use either salmon or mackerel in place of traditional tuna for sandwiches, wraps, and salads. I just add a dollop of mayonnaise (any mayonnaise works, but Primal Kitchen's uses avocado oil and doesn't have any added sugar), squeeze a bit of lemon on top, and wrap the fish salad in a Siete Grain-Free Tortilla for a delicious, no-fuss lunch.
If you're more adventurous, sardines are incredible, and canned oysters and clams are amazing sources of zinc, which is one of the most important minerals for your immune system. I eat them straight out of the can, but you could also use them in a seafood stew and freeze batches of it.
Recipe recommendation: 5-Minute Salmon Salad
2. Beans (especially lentils): Beans are amazing because they're higher in protein than many grains but also good sources of soluble and prebiotic fiber, which feed beneficial bacteria in your gut that in turn supports your immune system as well (70% of our immune system lives in the gut!). Plus, they're super versatile. Lentils are especially healthy and have a lot of protein in them, as well as B vitamins, iron, and nutrients that support your body overall. The soluble fiber in beans helps with healthy elimination through the bowels, which is an important part of detoxification. I love adding them to soups with fresh veggies, and then freezing them!
3. Nuts and seeds: These are great because you can enjoy them as a healthy snack that won't spike your blood sugar, and they've got lots of minerals, nutrients, and healthy fats. Plus, they're super filling.
Nut butters are good to have on hand for snacking, but also for adding to smoothies. A great smoothie hack is if you're already using a nut butter, you can simply use water instead of nut milk—it will create the same creaminess as a non-dairy milk. Skipping nut milk is an easy way to save some money, though it's good to have on hand for coffee or anything that needs some added creaminess since it's relatively shelf-stable. If you're making smoothies, consider adding frozen blueberries, which are rich in antioxidants, bananas (you can break them into halves and stick them into the freezer), chia seeds for fiber, and nut butter with water as your base.
For breakfast... in addition to smoothies, you can make chia pudding or a healthy granola (I like one called Lark Ellen Farm, which uses sprouted nuts), but eggs also stay good for a long time! Cook them up in some grass-fed butter or coconut oil. Birch Benders also makes a really good grain-free pancake mix. I like their paleo one.
If you are buying nut milk, you want to look for one that has as few ingredients and as little added sugar as possible. The brand Elmhurst is one of my favorites since the ingredients only include the nut itself and water.
Recipe recommendation: All of Kelly LeVeque's 'Fab 4' smoothie recipes are great!
4. Fats for cooking: I've stocked up on avocado oil, ghee, and grass-fed butter since they remain stable at higher temperatures than other oils. But olive oil is good to have on hand for dressings and drizzling over already cooked vegetables.
5. Olives: Olives are full of healthy monounsaturated fats, which help to support cardiovascular health and manage cholesterol levels. They also contain loads of antioxidants, meaning that they protect your cells from oxidative damage and fight inflammation*. Bonus: one of the antioxidants in olives—Vitamin E—is incredible for your skin.
6. Clean beef or turkey jerky: This comes back to the idea of loading up on shelf-stable proteins in case you don't have access to fresh protein. Jerky is a good snack to have on hand, and by "clean," I mean that it doesn't have vegetable oils or sugar. Epic Bars are among my favorite brands for these!
7. Collagen or protein powder: If you don't have eggs in the morning, you can always make a smoothie with protein powder (my favorite is called Designed for Health Pure Paleo). And collagen peptides are good for your hair, skin, nails, and gut health. Everyone's collagen production starts to decline in their 30s, and powder is an easy way to add it into any meal, like puréed vegetable soups, chia pudding, or smoothies.
8. Bone broth: Bone broth is really good for the gut lining, which, again, is important for immune function. It's a great idea to go ahead and make soups ahead to freeze, and to swap bone broth for vegetable broth if you eat meat since it will elevate your meal a lot nutritionally with the added boost of protein. I like the brand Osso Good, which also has pre-made blended vegetable soups—as well as OWL Venice, which is a local brand and good enough to sip plain. Goop has a ton of easy soup recipes, as does Unique Hammond, that are perfect for freezing.
9. Frozen fruits and vegetables: If you can't find fresh vegetables, consider frozen and canned alternatives, like antioxidant-rich frozen berries and frozen vegetables to throw into stir-fries and soups. That said, get as many fresh veggies as you can, particularly cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. These are especially wonderful, as they help produce glutathione, which is your body’s master antioxidant and crucial to your body’s defense system. Stock up on sweet potatoes and winter squash, which last a long time, are good sources of Vitamin A, and great sources of soluble fiber, which is also wonderful for your gut and helps cultivate a good ecosystem to feed the "good guys."
Onions and garlic are relatively shelf-stable, and are soooo good for the immune system, as well as being antiviral. For an easy and healthy side dish, I often sauté garlic and onions then add them to frozen peas with some dried dill.
Consider buying marinara sauce (I love the brand Rao's) and some ground meat for an easy weeknight ragu. Warm avocado oil, brown the meat with Italian seasonings, simmer it in the marinara, and then freeze it so that you always have have a vegetable and protein-packed meal ready to go. You could eat it over rice, or with pasta. I prefer lentil pasta which is more nutrient-dense—my favorite brand is Tolerant.
Thrive Marketplace: Shipping times are delayed 7-10 days right now, but Thrive is kind of like Costco for organic brands and healthy goods.
US Wellness Meats: This is where I get most of my meat. They source from local farms and you can order in bulk. They deliver everything frozen and have great cuts like flank steak and ground turkey that you can defrost as needed. I also like their selection of "clean" sausages (a lot of sausages have added ingredients like sugar and nitrates). They have a fantastic chicken apple sausage as well as sugar-free pork sausage.
Farm Fresh To You: Leslie recently signed up for this farm box, which delivers organic fruits and vegetables in L.A. weekly.
*A note on inflammation... This is a word that's thrown around a lot in nutrition, but I like to think of it as a fire in your body that's not always bad. We need some amount of inflammation—working out is an inflammatory process, and inflammation occurs when your body is fighting off something—but it needs to be at a controlled burn. Inflammation becomes a problem when there's too much or its chronic.
Betsy Schell is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and holistic health expert. She is the Clinic and Nutrition Director at Bios Functional Medicine in Santa Monica, CA. Her functional nutrition approach combines the healing power of food, lifestyle shifts and one-on-one coaching to customize individual wellness strategies for her clients. Thank you for your time Betsy!
P.S., See what we have in our pantries to bake practically anything this week! Everything in balance...