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Pantry Staples

Master the Mediterranean Diet: Stock Up On These 11 Must-Have Pantry Staples

Give your pantry a Med makeover and fill it with these essential items that'll make your meals more flavorful and healthier.

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Of all the different eating plans, regimens and routines, the Mediterranean diet is consistently ranked as one of the best. And for good reason: dozens of studies show the Mediterranean diet lowers inflammation, protects the brain, reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, and enhances longevity. 

But in order to reap these benefits, you’ve got to put the right foods on your plate and follow the guidelines of the Med diet. That means your fridge should be filled with fresh produce and stocked with seafood or lean meats. And when it comes to pantry staples, you’ll want to stock up on items that can effortlessly transform any meal into a Mediterranean-approved dish. Make sure to keep the following 11 essentials in your kitchen.

1. Beans, lentils and peas

Legumes are a significant source of protein in the Mediterranean diet, and they’re loaded with fiber – which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They’re also high in resistant starch to balance blood sugar, support healthy weight, improve gut bacteria and protect against cancer. Red, black and kidney beans are also rich in disease-preventive antioxidants. Buy a variety of canned beans for instant meal prep, plus dried peas and lentils (which are fast and easy to cook). 

Make it Mediterranean: Combine French lentils with roasted sweet potatoes, baby arugula, walnuts and basil. Toss drained chickpeas with olive oil, garlic powder and oregano, and roast till crispy. Puree white beans with baby spinach, roasted red peppers and garlic.

2. Canned and dried tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene, which works to protect the heart, improve immunity and lower your risk of cancer. And studies show lycopene from canned tomatoes is better absorbed and used by the body compared to fresh tomatoes, especially when the canned variety is combined with olive oil. Buy a mix of different kinds – crushed, pureed and diced tomatoes, tomato paste and dried tomatoes – to maximize your pantry’s versatility.

Make it Mediterranean: Heat diced tomatoes with onions, eggplant, yellow peppers, garlic and rosemary. Stir minced dried tomatoes into pesto. Simmer pureed tomatoes with leeks, fennel, olives, shrimp and a splash of red wine.

3. Canned sardines

Fish is the main animal protein on the Mediterranean diet, but you don’t have to stick with fresh. Canned versions are a convenient, speedy sub. They’re rich in protein and omega-3 fats, shown to dampen inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and anchovies are also high in omega-3 fats and other nutrients. If you’re looking for extra calcium, buy bone-in varieties. Look for sustainable, wild-caught varieties, and choose a few different types: Canned, jarred, and packed in tomato sauce or olive oil are all great options.

Make it Mediterranean: Sauté sardines, garlic and red pepper flakes, then layer over avocado toast. Mix salmon with Greek yogurt, red onions and celery, and serve in avocado halves. Stir minced anchovies and tarragon into vinaigrette.

4. Pasta

A mainstay in the Mediterranean, pasta is an easy, versatile and budget-friendly base for any fast dinner. Combining it with olive oil and fiber-rich vegetables slows absorption and minimizes blood sugar spikes. Look for whole-grain penne, fettuccine, farfalle (bowtie) and orzo. If you’re avoiding wheat, choose gluten-free varieties or pasta made with legume (which offers extra protein and fiber). 

Make it Mediterranean: Toss penne pasta with roasted fennel, cherry tomatoes and chopped basil. Top fettuccine with canned sardines and broccoli sautéed with garlic. Simmer orzo, shallots and dried porcini mushrooms in tomato sauce until tender.  

5. Olive oil

The main cooking oil in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, and it’s been shown to protect against heart disease, stroke and other diseases; in one study, olive oil cut the risk of all-cause mortality by 26 percent. Buy extra-virgin olive oil for dressings, sauces and sautéing; for higher-temperature cooking, like roasting, use virgin olive oil. You can also stock up on a variety of jarred olives (Kalamata, Castelvetrano, Niçoise, Cerignola) to add nutrition and instant appeal to meals along with olive oil. 

Make it Mediterranean: Blend olive oil with butter and minced fresh herbs. Toss sliced green olives, roasted leeks and lemon juice into pasta. In a food processor, pulse black and green olives, garlic, olive oil and capers for a zesty tapenade.

6. Balsamic vinegar

Traditionally made from Trebbiano grapes in the Modena region of Italy, balsamic vinegar adds richness, depth and a uniquely Mediterranean flavor. And it’s high in antioxidants that reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, a feat that can protect the heart. Look for balsamic vinegars marked as “Aceto Balsamico Tradizional” with DOP certification to guarantee quality and origin. Include balsamic glaze (also called “crema di balsamico” or “balsamic syrup”), which is made by reducing balsamic vinegar into a tangy-sweet syrup, to drizzle over fruit, salads, vegetables and bread. And don’t forget to read the label to be sure your vinegar is free from sugar, corn syrup or artificial flavors

Make it Mediterranean: Brush peaches with balsamic vinegar and broil until tender. Toss arugula, walnuts, blackberries and apples with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Drizzle balsamic syrup over strawberries and top with a dollop of vanilla yogurt.

7. Nuts and seeds

Like olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats, as well as magnesium, potassium, vitamin E and fiber and other nutrients. Buy a selection of raw varieties; almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are the most versatile. Include Brazil nuts for a potent dose of immune-boosting selenium.

Make it Mediterranean: Soak cashews and sunflower seeds, and puree with olive oil for a creamy, dairy-free dressing. Toss pumpkin seeds with roasted butternut squash and fresh basil. Sauté chopped almonds with Mediterranean herbs and use as a crunchy salad topping.

8. Herbs and spices

Having plenty of herbs and spices on hand is key for keeping your Mediterranean meals flavorful and exciting. Plus, these seasonings have a lot to offer. Garlic, which is abundant in the Mediterranean diet, enhances immunity, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and may protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. Other Mediterranean staples – like basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes – have anti-inflammatory and immune-supportive benefits. Buy a variety, and use them to amp up flavor, instead of salt. 

Make it Mediterranean: Blend garlic powder and dried herbs in a shaker as salt-free seasoning. Add dried rosemary and red pepper flakes to olive for a flavorful dipping oil. Stir thyme and oregano into soups for instant Mediterranean appeal.

9. Dried fruit

Dates, figs and prunes are prominent players in Mediterranean cuisine, and they’re rich in fiber, minerals and antioxidants that protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. Look for unsweetened, organic dried fruits like these and buy a variety. Figs, prunes, raisins, apricots, cranberries and dates add interest (and nutrition) to both sweet and savory recipes. Plus, they’re easy to store and keep in your pantry since they last longer than fresh produce.

Make it Mediterranean: Simmer figs with apples, cardamom and vanilla. Add chopped dates to tomato and eggplant ratatouille. Toss grapefruit segments with cranberries and pistachios.

10. Jarred vegetables

Have you ever considered keeping veggies in your pantry? The cornerstone of a traditional Mediterranean diet is an abundance of vegetables, loaded with disease-preventive antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients. So, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty available to use while you’re cooking. While fresh is best, canned or jarred vegetables can make for fast, flavorful additions to any meal (and an excellent sub when you’re short on fresh-bought options). Buy a variety of Mediterranean standards, like roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, eggplant, giardiniera (a mix of pickled vegetables), piquillo peppers and stuffed grape leaves. 

Make it Mediterranean: Toss artichoke hearts into salads. Chop giardiniera and use in hummus wraps. Puree roasted red peppers with chickpeas, olive oil and garlic.

11. Red wine

Central to the Mediterranean diet, red wine is rich in antioxidants, especially resveratrol – which has been shown to support immunity, reduce inflammation and potentially offer protective benefits against heart disease and cancer. Stock up on a variety of red wines to enjoy in moderation (about a glass a day). Or, skip the drink and cook with some red wine to reap similar benefits. If you don’t drink alcohol, red grape juice has most of the same benefits. 

Make it Mediterranean: Combine red grape juice with sparkling water and pomegranate seeds. Simmer pears in red wine with rosemary sprigs till tender. Add a splash of red wine to soups and tomato sauce for a more robust flavor.

Looking for more ways to master Med-inspired meals? Once you’ve stocked your pantry with the above Mediterranean staples, try these recipes and meal plans:

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