Healthy Cooking Basics

Learn these basics of healthy cooking

Overwhelmed by the idea of cooking healthy? Don’t be: follow these few simple tips that will not only boost the nutritional value of your meals but will also thrill your taste buds.

1. Use healthy fats

Many people make the mistake of equating healthy cooking to total elimination of fats. Not only is fat indispensable for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K and for hormone production, fats also help lift the taste of your dishes. So, to add some heart-healthy monounsaturated fats to your diet, drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil on your salad or add a few avocado slices. For cooking purposes, use virgin coconut oil which is packed with antioxidants and can withstand pretty high temperatures. Of course, even healthy fats contain calories, so don’t go overboard.

2. Get the most out of your veggies

While it may seem logical that raw veggies would be more nutritious than cooked ones, the truth is some vegetables are healthier when things get a little bit hot. Take tomatoes for instance, studies show that lycopene becomes 35% more available when tomatoes are cooked. This antioxidant gives the juicy gem its red color and may guard against heart disease and several cancers. Cooking carrots will help your body absorb 30% more beta-carotene. This carotenoid supports night vision and offers effective protection against some cancers as well as lung and heart diseases. Another example is spinach — cooking Popeye’s favorite food appears to boost its content of lutein, an antioxidant which protects against macular degeneration. Moreover, cooking leafy greens help the body absorb more calcium since heating unbinds calcium from oxalic acid. This being said, don’t boil or overcook your veggies — extreme temperatures decrease vitamin and mineral content of veggies.

3. Think lean

When buying beef, choose leaner cuts such as those labeled ‘loin’ or ‘round’ or those graded as ‘select’ and make sure to trim any visible fat. Chicken is another great option but try to discard the skin. And have fish and legumes at least twice a week. Making omelets or frittatas? Avoid using more than 1 teaspoon of oil or butter.

4. Go unrefined

It’s a simple fact: whole grains (like barley, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth and so on) are healthier than refined products as they have their bran and germ intact and hence, are higher in fiber, B-complex vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients. Refined products are rapidly converted into sugar by the body and create an insulin surge which causes a state of inflammation and promotes fat storage. Enjoy whole grains in moderation though; excessive consumption will also lead to high levels of insulin.

5. Choose cooking methods that will best retain flavor and nutrients

  • Baking: For a quick meal, wrap a sweet potato and a piece of salmon in foil paper; bake and serve with a salad.
  • Braising: Brown your ingredient first and slowly cook it with a little bit of water or broth.
  • Broiling and grilling: Ideal for veggies and meats.
  • Poaching: Gently simmer eggs or fish in water or a flavorful medium such as juice, broth or lemon water.
  • Roasting: This is similar to baking but at higher temperatures. To prevent your roast from drying out, you may need to baste it occasionally.
  • Sautéing: This technique involves cooking small pieces of food in a large non-stick pan.
  • Steaming: Steaming retains nutrients and taste of vegetables and involves cooking in a perforated basket suspended above simmering liquid.
  • Stir-frying: Ideal for small, uniform sized pieces of veggies or meat.

6. Keep an eye on sodium

Instead of using salt to add flavor to your dishes, try herbs and spices. Your heart will thank you for it.

One last thing: use different cutting boards for raw meats, cooked meats and produce (vegetables and fruits) to avoid cross-contamination.

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