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Health on the Shelf: 14 Superfood Staples

Raid your pantry for nutrient-rich treats

 | Sometimes you just can’t get to the farmers market. Eat healthfully with what’s on hand. These nutrient-dense superfoods that are shelf-stable put the power of prevention right in your pantry.

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Superfoods That Give You a Health Boost

1. Oatmeal

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It’s a cholesterol buster, thanks to lots of soluble fiber. But keep in mind that all oats aren’t equal. Quick-cooking oats have lost some fiber during processing. Instant flavored versions have added sugar. Old-fashioned rolled oats are a fantastic fiber fix. But steel-cut oats, which take longer to digest — making them low glycemic, or less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar — are the true breakfast of champions.

2. Canned salmon, tuna and sardines

Fatty fish such as these are the best way to get your omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats. All these delish fish options are anti-inflammatory. Plus, they're packed with protein. White tuna is a better choice for omega-3s.

3. Dried blueberries

Ready to make your pancake dreams come true, these sweet balls of goodness contain compounds that may delay the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Besides being an indulgent source of fiber and vitamin C, they’ve got the immune-boosting, inflammation-busting power of antioxidants.

4. Quinoa 

A great grain to star in your favorite veggie-bowl recipes, the South American superfood is high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

5. Canned beets

These are an ideal topping for that quinoa-veggie bowl. The red root vegetable packs vitamins, minerals and antioxidants galore. Beets may help ward off cancer and lower blood pressure, too.

6. Dark chocolate

The higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar content. This means you’ll get a healthy dose of blood-pressure-lowering flavanols without the taste trigger that can lead us sugar addicts to overindulge. Make sure your bar is 70 percent cacao or higher.

7. Tea 

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There’s growing evidence that having a cuppa a few times a day can help stave off cancer, heart disease and dementia. Herbal “tea” doesn’t count, but varieties made from the tea plant (green, white, oolong or black) all do.

8. Nuts

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Nuts are high in healthy fats, which protect heart health and send signals to your brain that you’re full.
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This super snack — be it peanuts (which are actually a legume), pecans, pistachios, almonds or walnuts — aren’t low in calories. But they’re high in healthy fats (which lower dangerous LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol — the kind that protects your ticker). Fat signals your brain that you’re full, meaning that nuts are a natural appetite suppressant. Plus, you need fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. You’ll also get fiber, vitamins and minerals. Just watch the sodium by choosing unsalted varieties. And measure out your portion; the USDA says 1 ounce is considered a serving.

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9. Canned or dry beans 

Like oats, beans (such as black, white, navy, kidney and garbanzo) have a low glycemic index. They help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. What's more, they’re packed with plant-powered phytonutrients, fiber and protein.

10. Canned spinach, kale and collard greens

These dark leafy greens are especially great for vegetarians who can’t get their omega-3s from fish. And they’re full of phytonutrients and fiber while being stingy on calories. Frozen veggies are a good option, too, since canned foods tend to have added salt.

11. Extra-virgin olive oil

Good ol’ EVOO is a heart-health hero. It’s rich in monounsaturated fat, which helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. There is also evidence that it can help protect against dangerous blood clots. As a key part of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil helps stabilize blood sugar. Do spring for the extra-virgin variety: It’s minimally processed, meaning there’s more antioxidant goodness — and more flavor — in every drizzle.

12. Canned tomatoes and jarred salsa

The MVPs of pasta or taco night, tomatoes fight inflammation and contain the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene.

13. Whole wheat pasta 

Speaking of pasta night, know that whole wheat spaghetti, macaroni and bow ties have nearly three times as much fiber as those made from bleached flour.

14. Whole wheat flour

Likewise, this flour’s whole-grain goodness adds up to fewer calories, lower carbs, and more protein, fiber and calcium than the bleached kind.

This article was original published on February 23, 2018 and updated with the AARP Top Tips video on February 25, 2020.

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