There’s something really satisfying about a well-stocked pantry, isn’t there? Not only does all your loot make you feel more confident in your domestic abilities, but it ensures you’ll be able to pull together waistline-friendly dishes (instead of turning to diet-derailing takeout).
But while you may already know which foods boast the most impressive health and weight-loss benefits, do you know which brands offer the most nutritional bang for your buck? Sure, coconut oil can help you create healthier dishes, but the brand, type of processing, and even packaging make some containers better than others—and some may even hinder your slim-down efforts.
So, to help you take your pantry prowess to the next level, Eat This, Not That! scoured through academic journals and grocery store aisles to find the foods—and brands—that offer the best benefits. Add our approved pantry staples to your grocery list next time you head to the store, and also be sure to avoid these 23 Scams and Sneaky Tricks at the Grocery Store while you’re at it!
Vinegar & Cooking Oils
Apple Cider Vinegar
Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, Unpasteurized, With The “Mother”
Per 1 tbsp: 0 calories, 0 fat, 11 mg potassium, 0 carbs
Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar
Per 1 tbsp: 0 calories, 0 fat, 0 carbs
Apple cider vinegar is a pantry staple for more than one reason. It can not only be used to whip up healthy, fat-fighting marinades and salad dressings, but it’s also an invaluable tool in your weight loss arsenal: ACV is full of enzymes to aid in digestion as well as acetic acid, a compound which delays gastric emptying to keep you fuller longer. We’re fans of Bragg’s organic, raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, and it turns out, to reap the benefits of ACV, you’ll want to be imbibing a similar kind. “Not all apple cider vinegar can provide health benefits and aid in digestion. Just the unfiltered type,” says Lisa Hayim, RD. Filtering—which is done to Heinz’s product—removes the “Mother of Vinegar,” a substance that occurs naturally in fermented products and is full of iron, B vitamins, phenolic compounds, digestion-assisting enzymes, and prebiotics, such as pectin, a type of carb which promotes healthy digestion by encouraging the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
Spectrum Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Unrefined Medium Heat, Expeller Pressed
Per 1 tbsp: 120 calories, 14 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Golden Barrel Refined Coconut Oil
Per 1 tbsp: 130 calories, 14 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
This is one food that’s trendy for a great reason: One of the benefits of coconut oil is that its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are burned as energy, not stored as fat. In fact, a study published in the journal Pharmacology found that of thirty men, those who consumed 2 tablespoons of coconut oil a day shrank their waists by an average of 1.1 inches in one month. When you’re picking out a high-quality product, make sure to look for these keywords: virgin (or “extra virgin”—they’re the same), unrefined, organic, expeller-pressed or cold-pressed.
While a 2008 study published in The International Journal of Pure and Applied Analytical Chemistry, Talanta, found there to be no pesticide residues in crude coconut oil—whether it was organic or conventional—we’d still recommend going with organic for one reason: hexane. When coconut meat is processed, hexane is used as a solvent to extract the oil, a chemical that has been found to be a neurotoxin and hazardous air pollutant, and hence why the “Organic” certification prohibits its use in their products. Unrefined oils maintain higher levels of active antioxidants and phenol compounds.
California Olive Ranch Fresh California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Per 1 tbsp: 120 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated fat)
Bertolli Classico Olive Oil
Per 1 tbsp: 120 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated fat)
A good extra virgin olive oil should be the backbone of your pantry. Besides tasting amazing, using the fat has been shown to increase levels of adiponectin—a hormone that breaks down belly fat, according to a study published in the journal Obesity. Experts attribute the power of the oil to its levels of antioxidant compounds known as phenols. Be sure your label says “Extra Virgin,” as these oils have higher amounts of the phenols than plain old olive oils. You’ll also want your oil to come in an opaque, rather than clear, bottle as exposure to sunlight can break down the beneficial polyphenols. And finally, cold-pressed oils are the best, as heat can also damage the active compounds.
Dairy & Eggs
Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt
Per 7 oz: 150 calories, 4 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 65 mg sodium, 8 g carbs (0 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 20 g protein, 20% DV calcium
The Greek Gods Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Per 6 oz: 100 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 135 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (2 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 9 g protein
A carton of Greek yogurt is brimming with muscle-building protein and its calcium helps turn off the belly-flab-producing hormone cortisol. Look out for added sugar in your morning yogurt: “[The Greek Gods] Greek-style yogurt not only has less protein than some other brands, but also less protein than sugar,” explains Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN. That’s a deal breaker in the dairy aisle. You want your yogurt to contain a little bit of fat, live active cultures, and nothing else—exactly what Fage does for its products.
Organic Valley Organic Grass-Fed 2% Milk
130 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 120 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (0 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 8 g protein, 30% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D
Conventionally produced 0% nonfat milk, brands vary by region, 8 fl oz
90 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 130 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (0 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 8 g protein
When grabbing a gallon, go for grass-fed or organic milks. Organic Valley’s herds are 100% grass-fed and thus have higher levels of omega-3s and CLA in their milk. Organic milks won’t be as high in these fat-fighting nutrients, but they will still be free of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics—which are rampant in conventional dairy. And always remember to choose milk with at least 1% fat. While skim milk may be lowest in calories, many vitamins are fat-soluble, which means you won’t get all the benefits of the alphabetical nutrients listed on your cereal box unless you opt for at least 1%.
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Original Unsweetened, 8 fl oz
30 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 1 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 1 g protein, 45% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D
Pacific Organic Unsweetened Original Almond Beverage, 8 fl oz
35 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 1 g protein, 2% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D
Nut milks are great to keep in your pantry because they can be left unrefrigerated, and can easily be opened to enjoy with granola, or in your smoothies, coffee, or even a curry. Leave nut milks that contain carrageenan—like Pacific Organic—on the shelf. (Almond Breeze quietly ditched the carrageenan in October of 2015.) Carrageenan is an additive derived from seaweed that has been linked to ulcers, inflammation, and other gastrointestinal problems. If almond milk isn’t your thing, check out our exclusive report The Best And Worst Milks & Milk Alternatives to see what our top choices are for soy, hemp, cashew, and more!
Kerrygold Aged Cheddar
Per 1 oz: 110 calories, 9 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 7 g protein
Kraft Shredded Fat Free Cheddar Cheese
Per ¼ cup: 45 calories, 0 g fat, 280 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 9 g protein
Cheese is a great way to add calcium and protein to any dish. Keep a block in your fridge and grate as necessary. When cheese is pre-grated, manufacturers add powdered cellulose—aka wood pulp—to prevent caking. Choose a cheddar that hasn’t been dyed with artificial colors, like Kraft’s option is.
Eggland’s Best Organic Eggs
Per large egg: 60 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 65 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 6 g protein, 30% DV Vitamin D, 25% DV Vitamin E, 20% DV Vitamin B12
Conventional Caged, Grain-Fed Eggs, brands vary by region
Per large egg: 72 calories, 4.8 g fat (1.6 g saturated fat), 71 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 6 g protein
Rich in both muscle-building protein and healthy fats, eggs efficiently boost satiety—studies show that people who eat eggs in the morning consume less for the rest of the day—and their amino acids contribute to the building and preservation of lean muscle mass, which burns fat and boosts your metabolism. Eggs are also full of B-vitamins and choline, micronutrients which are important for brain development, muscle health, and energy levels. Make sure your eggs are organic, which means the hens are fed a blend of feed that is free of added hormones, antibiotics, steroids, animal by-products, or processed foods. Conventional eggs are usually from hens raised in a crowded cage, are injected with antibiotics, and are fed grains (mostly genetically modified) that may be contaminated with pesticides.
Grains and Nuts
Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter, Creamy
Per 2 Tbsp: 200 calories, 16 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 90 mg sodium, 6 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 8 g protein
Jif Reduced Fat Peanut Butter, Creamy
Per 2 Tbsp: 190 calories, 12 g fat (2 g saturated), 200 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 7 g protein
Dastony Almond Butter
Per 2 Tbsp: 177 calories, 17 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 6 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 7 g protein
Jif Almond Butter, Creamy
Per 2 Tbsp: 190 calories, 16 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 110 mg sodium, 8 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein
A prime source of healthy fats, nut butters are also packed with protein that builds lean muscle, which burns fat. Whether it’s almond butter or peanut butter, make sure your tub is free of inflammatory oils like palm, soybean, or hydrogenated oils, sugars, and hidden trans fats (mono and diglycerides)—look for an ingredient list that’s nuts and maybe a little sea salt. Oh and stay away from “Reduced Fat.” When manufacturers take something out, they put something back in. In Jif’s case, that’s two kinds of sugar and a ton of unpronounceable additives. You don’t have to be limited by our picks, check out our exclusive ranking of the 36 Most Popular Peanut Butters.
Kashi 7 Whole Grain Flakes
Per 1 cup: 170 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 41 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 6 g protein
Kellogg’s Smart Start Original Antioxidants
Per 1 cup: 190 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 43 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 4 g protein
Ideally, we recommend picking up a cereal that has fewer than 5 grams of added sugar, but in Kashi’s case, we could easily make an exception. Why? Because those 6 grams of sugar are countered by an equivalent 6 grams of fiber, a nutrient which buffers digestion of glucose, helping to maintain stable energy levels. Kellogg’s may sound healthy because they boast “antioxidants,” but their box contains an inexcusable 14 grams of sugar per serving, as well as artificial flavors, colors, and potentially carcinogen-containing BHT. According to Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, BHT “is still highly controversial and limited research exists on whether it is harmful to the body or carcinogenic,” but she added, “it is still recommended to avoid consuming large quantities.”
Dave’s Killer Bread, Organic Powerseed
Per 1 slice: 100 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein
Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Bread
Per 1 slice: 80 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 75 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 4 g protein
Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Oatmeal
Per 1 slice: 120 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 22 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 4 g protein
When shopping for bread, look for loaves that contain at least 5 grams of fiber per slice. Dave’s Killer Bread contains that 5 and raises you an equal amount of protein for only 1 gram of sugar per slice. Another healthy option is Ezekiel 4:9, a loaf made with sprouted grains, seeds, and fiber- and folate-filled lentils. Sprouted grain bread goes through a process where enzymes are released from the seeds that break down the protein, carbohydrates, and gluten, which makes it easier for the body to digest and absorb nutrients. Things you should look out for? Health haloes like “oatmeal” or “whole wheat” breads like Pepperidge Farm that sound healthy but are packed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives like calcium propionate, partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated soybean oil, and trans fats in disguise: monoglycerides.
McCann’s Steel Cut Non-GMO Irish Oatmeal
Per ¼ cup: 150 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 27 g carbs, 4 g fiber, <1 g sugar, 4 g protein
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar
Per 1 packet: 160 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 260 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (3 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 4 g protein
Days of pancakes and waffles are over; oats should be your breakfast go-to. Teeming with fiber and protein, this grain helps ward off hunger and feed your muscles. Plus, oats possess a magic fat-burning ingredient—insoluble fiber—which feeds healthy gut bacteria and triggers the release of butyrate. This fatty acid soothes fat-building inflammation and controls the hormone ghrelin, which controls hunger. Your best choice to reap the fiber benefits is one of the least processed forms, steel cut. While instant oats may feel like a time-saving solution, what they make up for in time saved, they lack in nutrients. Instant oats are pre-cooked, which decreases their fiber content and soars their glycemic index up to 83, meaning they digest quickly in your body. And even worse, if you’re grabbing a packet of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar, they’re also packed with loads of added sugar.
Kind Madagascar Vanilla Almond
Per bar: 210 calories, 16 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 15 mg sodium, 14 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 7 g protein
Clif Bar Carrot Cake
Per bar: 240 calories, 4 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 45 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 25 g sugar, 9 g protein
While many nutrition bars are essentially candy bars in disguise, there are healthy options that can help push you closer to your goals—that’s why we found the best nutrition bar for every goal. When it comes to an everyday option, go with Kind’s Madagascar Vanilla Almond. You should be looking for something that’s under 10 grams of sugar per bar, mid-range in terms of calories, and full of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Clif Bars are great if you’re recovering from a hard cardio workout, but if you’re grabbing one on the go and munching on them without breaking a sweat, you’re setting yourself up for weight gain. Clif is teeming with half your day’s worth of added sugars—which are still bad news even if they are “organic.”
[slidetitle Num="14"]Dark Chocolate
Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cacao Bar
Per 1 oz (about ¼ bar): 178 calories, 14 g fat (8.5 g saturated fat), 10.5 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 5.5 g sugar, 3 g protein
Cadbury Royal Dark
Per 1 oz (5 blocks or ¼ bar): 145 calories, 9 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 16.5 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 14.5 g sugar, 1.5 g protein
Besides satisfying cravings, thanks to dark chocolate’s slow-digesting fats, this candy is also great for whittling your waistline when eaten in moderation. Keep a bar in your kitchen to nosh on alone, shave on top of overnight oats, or pair with fruit; The chocolate-fruit combo speeds up your gut’s fermentation process of prebiotic-rich chocolate, leading to an even greater reduction in inflammation and weight. Like our Eat This pick, make sure your bar is at least 70% cacao, contains less than 10 grams of sugar per ounce, and is free of artificial flavors, milk fat, or extra oils. Cadbury’s bar breaks each of these rules.
Dry Pantry Items
Wild Planet Wild Skipjack Light Tuna, No Liquids Added, Sustainably Caught
Per 2 oz: 60 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 80 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 14 g protein
Bumble Bee Solid White Albacore Tuna, In Water
Per 2 oz, drained: 60 calories, 0 g fat, 140 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 13 g protein
Keep a couple cans of tuna in your pantry for a quick, cheap source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also a prime source of the omega-3, DHA, which a study in the Journal of Lipid Research showed to possess the profound ability to turn off abdominal fat genes when used as a supplement to your diet. As for the mercury? Just make sure it’s the smaller sized light, or skipjack, tuna; canned albacore tuna may have triple the levels of omega-3s, but it can also have almost triple the levels of mercury. Wild Planet’s Light Tuna has 3 grams more protein than the industry average for light tunas and has 100 mg less sodium. The company also ensures the sustainably-caught fish is packaged in BPA-free cans and is cooked to retain the abundant source of omega-3, so we’re happy to see that 0.5 grams of fat apparent in the nutrition label. Bumble Bee, as well as StarKist and Chicken of the Sea, are not BPA-free.
Cucina Antica Tomato Basil
Per 1/2 cup, 113 g: 35 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 6 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein
Ragu Chunky Tomato, Garlic & Onion
Per 1/2 cup, 128 g: 90 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 460 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 2 g protein
Besides serving up one of the best sources of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that fends off DNA-damaging, inflammatory free radicals, marinara sauce also contributes delicious flavor to dishes that range from pasta and pizza to chicken entrees. We recommend looking for brands like Cucina Antica that use tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and little else—especially not sugar. Ragu, on the other hand, is full of more sugar than a bowl of Froot Loops cereal and adds fats entirely from inflammatory, and likely pesticide-laden soybean oil.
Newman’s Own All Natural Chunky Salsa, Mild
Per 2 tbsp: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 65 mg sodium, 3 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 0 g protein
Pace Chunky Salsa, Mild
Per 2 tbsp: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 230 mg sodium, 2 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 0 g protein
Keeping a jar of salsa in your pantry is no doubt necessary when you break out the bag of tortilla chips, but it can also be used to add flavor to dinners when you haven’t shopped for veggies recently. (Okay, or when you don’t want to spend the time chopping up veggies you do have.) Combine with lean ground beef and seasonings to make a meatloaf, throw a quarter cup into an omelet, use salsa verde to top white fish or dump a jar into a slow cooker with some chicken breasts to come back to a warm, spicy pulled chicken. We’d recommend a brand like Newman’s Own, which is low in sodium and free of any ambiguous ingredients like the “natural flavor” used in Pace products.
Pacific Organic Chicken Noodle Soup, Reduced Sodium
Per 1 cup: 90 calories, 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 460 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein
Progresso Traditional Chicken Noodle
Per 1 cup: 100 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 690 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 7 g protein
If you lead a busy lifestyle, you probably have a couple cans of soup lying around for late nights. They make great casserole starters or can be eaten on their own. Just be sure the one you pick up is low in bloat-inducing sodium, health-harming additives, and free of BPA—a chemical linked to causing belly fat, diabetes, and cancer. According to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than 16,000 canned food and beverage items contain BPA, one of which is Progresso’s Chicken Noodle. Sub out your tin can for boxed Pacific Organic soup, which is not only BPA-free but is also made with simple ingredients and is low in sodium.
Boxed Mac & Cheese
Pirate’s Booty Mac and Cheese
1 cup (68 g): 250 calories, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 530 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (1 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 9 g protein
Back to Nature Macaroni & Cheese
1 cup (70 g): 260 calories, 2.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 630 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (1 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 10 g protein
Everyone has a soft side for boxed mac and cheese—especially on cheat days. For those days of indulgence, go with Pirate’s Booty over Back to Nature. The seaworthy company developed a product that has a reasonable fat content, moderate sodium levels, and is low in calories. Not to mention, their ingredient list ends after only eight items—an impressive feat for boxed meals. On the other hand, don’t be fooled by the “natural” claim on the box; Back to Nature’s sodium content is through the roof, coming in at nearly 30% of your daily recommended intake of bloat-inducing, blood-pressure-raising sodium. What’s worse? They use an additive called sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP), a chemical “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA—but that is also a suspected neurotoxin, registered pesticide, and air contaminant.
Banza Chickpea Penne
Per ½ cup, dry: 190 calories, 3.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 60 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein
DaVinci Penne Rigate
Per ½ cup, dry: 200 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg sodium, 41 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 6 g protein
Whether you’re whipping up a quick dinner or tossing together a hearty pasta salad for your next cookout, consider using iron-, fiber- and protein-packed Banza Chickpea Penne instead of regular semolina-based noodles. DaVinci Penne Rigate and other similar, conventional pastas are void of any noteworthy nutrients, which is why we suggest skipping them. Looking for more skinny pasta options to boost your satiety and trim you down? Check out these 10 Pulse Pastas You Need In Your Life.