By Lauren Tumas
How often do you get home too tired to cook, struggle with what to eat, and end up ordering takeout? We all know when hunger hits it's convenience over health that ultimately wins, so make it easy and be prepared. Stock up on these 10 staples and nix the takeout pizza. Just think of the money you'll save from not having to tip the pizza guy!
Related: The 10 Best Foods for Flat Abs
1. Hummus and Veggies
The Middle Eastern chickpea spread is an easy, protein-rich snack that fights hunger and balances blood sugar levels -- and a little goes a long way. Baked pita chips aren't the worst thing you can eat, but substituting some veggies can make a bigger impact than you think. "Hummus boosts energy because it contains iron, and red bell pepper slices are high in vitamin C, which helps to utilize and absorb the iron from the hummus," says holistic nutritionist Peggy Kotsopoulos, author of Must Have Been Something I Ate. Follow her easy recipe for plain hummus by throwing 1 can of chickpeas in a blender with a dash of ground cumin, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and splash of lemon juice. Keep a few batches in the freezer so all you have to do is thaw.
When not paired with greasy fried tortilla chips and margaritas, salsa is surprisingly low in calories. Kotsopoulos suggests buying yours from the refrigerated section of the grocery store where it's the freshest. Make an easy low-cal substitute for nacho layer dip by putting hummus on the bottom of a dish, layering with salsa, and then topping with olives or lettuce. Instead of chips, try Mary's Gone Crackers, which are made of brown rice, flax, and sesame seeds ($5.49, grocery stores nationwide).
There has been a misconception that eating only egg whites is best, but go ahead and eat the whole thing. It tastes better, and half the protein is found in the yolk. Proteins like those found in eggs yolks stimulate the release of the hormone glucagon that aids in fat burning and actually fights off belly fat. "The egg yolk has vitamin E in it, plus will help keep you fuller longer," says Kotsopoulos. Prep for the week by boiling half a carton of eggs to keep on hand for easy snacking.
Related: Healthy Breakfast Recipes to Beat Breakfast Boredom
4. Raw Almonds and Almond Butter
While peanut butter is packed with protein, almonds are better quality nuts that are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that counteracts free-radical damage. Not only are almonds good for your hair and skin, they're also rich in magnesium and vitamin B2, which help calm nerves and combat stress. "When you're stressed out, cortisol is released in the body and causes weight gain. The B2 vitamin in almonds helps with that while boosting your energy levels," says Kotsopoulos.
5. Chia Seeds
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and iron, chia seeds are great for weight loss because they act like a sponge, absorbing sugar and stabilizing blood sugar levels, says Kotsopoulos. Because of their high fiber content, the tiny seeds can hold up to twenty times their weight in water, so when they're mixed with liquid they plump up and absorb excess moisture. Add them to your oatmeal or put them in a bowl with unsweetened chocolate almond milk-they will absorb the liquid and gelatinize, similar to the consistency of a rice pudding.
This gluten-free grain can be made in bulk and keeps in the fridge for up to five days. Eat it plain or with just about anything -- veggies, a midday salad. Or for breakfast, try Kotsopoulos's favorite meal: A bowl of quinoa with shredded coconut or almond flakes, banana, and cinnamon plus a little vanilla. "Buy the plain kind, just like you would rice," she advises. "Only eating a bowl of white rice is like eating a bowl of sugar, because that's what it turns into." Quinoa is a complete protein source because it has amino acids, as well as stress-busting B vitamins.
Related: 13 Ways to Cook with Quinoa
7. Parmesan Cheese
It might sound too good to be true, but having a brick of Parmesan cheese around can be an asset to shedding pounds. "I use a vegetable peeler and slice the Parmesan on whole-grain crackers," says Bethenny Frankel, entrepreneur, reality star, and author of The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life. And it doesn't only aid in building stronger bones! Parmesan is one of the most flavorful cheeses so you only need about a tablespoon (22 calories) for a satisfying snack.
8. Sprouted Grain Bread
Both Kotsopoulos and Frankel keep this in their kitchens at home. Kotsopoulos uses it for sandwiches with apple or almond butter, while Frankel prefers hummus or soy cheese on hers. "When the grains are sprouted, the nutrient profile increases, which makes your body assimilate the nutrients better," Kotsopoulos says. Look for it in the freezer section at your grocery store.
A top belly-flattening favorite, yogurt is stacked with probiotics, bacteria that may help reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs. Pick a Greek yogurt over the regular kind, says Kara Lydon, a registered dietitian at Chobani. Greek nonfat or low-fat versions contain only half as much sodium as regular yogurt -- and no artificial sweeteners or preservatives.
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By Lauren Tumas