Your diet can only be as healthful as the foods you have on hand—and keeping a pantry stocked with wholesome, shelf-stable ingredients can make preparing healthy meals in a pinch second nature. Chrissy Wellington-Garner, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., C.P.T., a nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., offers up some of her favorite simple swaps you can make when filling your cupboards that will deliver big benefits.
Instead of: Breadcrumbs
Try: Whole-Wheat Panko
Breadcrumbs are usually prepared with bread made from white flour and are loaded with heart-unhealthy sodium. Instead, look for whole-wheat panko. This variety of Japanese-style breadcrumbs has more fiber to help you feel full and usually less salt added. What’s more, they’re ground more coarsely than traditional breadcrumbs, which means you can create crisp coatings for chicken cutlets and fish filets in the oven, instead of frying them in oil.
Instead of: Vegetable Oil
Try: Organic Canola Oil
If you’re looking for an oil to cook with, canola is one of the best choices. It’s a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Bottles that simply say “vegetable oil” usually contain corn oil, peanut oil and soybean oil (either alone or in combination), which are far richer in less-beneficial omega-6 fatty acids. Canola oil is also heat stable, so its nutrients can withstand the extreme temperatures used in cooking, and it has a neutral flavor, so it works well in almost any recipe. Choosing organic means you know the rapeseed plants used to make it weren’t genetically modified. Opt for expeller- or cold-pressed versions to get the most nutrients.
Instead of: Canned Broth
Try: Organic, Low-Sodium Boxed Broth
“Most broths are chock full of sodium to increase shelf life,” Wellington-Garner says. “You can jazz up low-sodium broth with other flavors, herbs, spices and even wine.” By choosing broth in a box, you eliminate your risk of exposure to bisphenol A, also known as BPA, an endocrine system-disrupting chemical that’s used to coat food and beverage cans. Plus, the process used to box foods keeps them fresher—and often better tasting—than the process of canning.
Instead of: Canned Tomatoes
Try: Organic Canned Tomatoes
Processed tomatoes, like those in cans and foods like ketchup, are super sources of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene; your body can actually use the nutrient more readily when tomatoes are prepared this way rather than fresh. However, because tomatoes have thin skins, they can contain a relatively high level of pesticides. Trade in your regular picks for organic ones.
Instead of: Canned Tuna
Try: Pouched Salmon
Tuna can contain high levels of mercury and may not always be caught sustainably. Health-wise, it’s a fine choice in moderation—just be sure to buy chunk light packed in water to reduce your mercury exposure. An even better option is salmon packaged in a pouch. It’s generally sourced from wild Pacific salmon, which is a more environmentally friendly choice (canned salmon is, too, but if you pick the pouch you know it’s BPA-free). “Compared to tuna, salmon have less risk of contamination and a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids,” Wellington-Garner says.
From the Canyon Ranch Kitchen: Salmon Citrus Salad
Instead of: Brown Rice
Don’t throw out your brown rice—it’s a nutritious, fiber-rich grain. But if you want to amp up your nutrition, swap it for quinoa every now and then. Quinoa is also loaded with filling fiber, plus—unlike brown rice—it’s a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein that your body needs to get from food).
From the Canyon Ranch Kitchen: Herbed Quinoa
Instead of: Salad Dressing
Try: Flavored Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There are some healthier salad dressings on the market, but all too often they are packed with sugar, sodium and mysterious-sounding binders and preservatives. Instead, keep expeller- or cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and flavored vinegars like cherry balsamic or orange champagne at the ready to whisk together into a fresh topping (try a one-to-one ratio of oil and vinegar to start, and adjust to taste).
From the Canyon Ranch Kitchen: Southwest Roasted Pepper & Avocado Salad with Pineapple Vinaigrette
Instead of: Protein Bars
Try: Dried Fruit and Nut Bars
Many of the protein bars on the market contain unrecognizable ingredients that sound more like they were made in a chemistry lab than a kitchen. Instead of reaching for them, look for all-natural bars that are made from dried fruits and nuts. They’ll provide your body with valuable vitamins and minerals and the power combo of protein, carbs and fiber, which fills you up and gives your body a burst of energy. For a smart snack, look for one with 200 calories or fewer.
From the Canyon Ranch Kitchen: Fruit & Nut Bar