We need food to survive—it provides the fuel that our body needs to carry out all its functions. But, let’s face it; we eat for lots of different reasons beyond mere survival, such as being social or simply for the pleasure of it. It is important to eat a healthy diet, but there are lots of foods out there that we love that are not so healthy, and to say we will never eat them again is not realistic. Again, we are not just eating to survive and we want to eat things that taste good. So, the goal becomes eating healthy as much as we can or making not-so-healthy foods a bit more so, so we can still enjoy them without doing too much damage. If you are looking for ways to prepare your food in more healthful ways, here are some tips to do just that.
Tips for Reducing Salt Intake
If you have ever tried the regular and low-sodium versions of the same products, it becomes glaringly obvious the role salt plays in making food more flavorful. Salt gets a bad rap but our bodies actually need sodium for many important reasons, such as maintaining fluid balance. But, eating it in excess is where the problem comes in. If you are a bit heavy on the salt when it comes to your cooking, there are lots of ways to cut back without sacrificing flavor.
Experiment with more herbs and spices…not only will they accomplish the same goal of enhancing flavor, they often provide myriad health benefits. They are delicate though, so it is best to add them a few minutes before you are finished cooking to maintain optimal flavor. Dried herbs pack a bigger flavor punch than fresh herbs—generally, one tablespoon of dried herbs and 4 tablespoons of fresh will provide roughly the same degree of flavor.
Dairy products such as butter and cheese are often deceptively high in sodium so look for low-salt or salt-free versions. While fresh is best, if you used canned foods—which are notoriously high in sodium—make sure to rinse the food before cooking it. If a recipe calls for salt, cut it by at least half.
We eat certain foods because they provide a wealth of nutrients that our body needs to be healthy, but the way we prepare them can reduce the availability of these healthy substances. Certain substances in food, such as water-soluble vitamins are very fragile and we want to prepare and cook our food in a way that minimizes the loss of these important nutrients.
Clean fruits and vegetables thoroughly rather than peeling them since the peel often contains the richest store of nutrients. Chopping vegetables into bigger chunks can help retain nutrients since less of the surface is being exposed to air. Less water is better when it comes to preserving water-soluble nutrients; if you must boil in a pot, make sure to at least cover it. Steaming or using a pressure cooker are better options. The longer you cook and the higher the temperature will also determine how much nutritional value is retained since many nutrients are sensitive to heat and air exposure; this is another good reason to cover pots and pans when you are cooking—it will help food cook more quickly. Because high heat degrades nutrients more quickly, grilling and roasting are preferred to frying, which requires higher temperatures.
Cutting Down on the Fat
While there are good fats and bad fats, this nutrient packs more than twice the calories of protein and carbohydrates; for this reason, you want to make sure you are not eating too much of it. What we cook our food in is a major contributor to the fat in our diet since the two main players tend to be oil and butter, both of which are packed with fat. Luckily, there are lots of ways to cut back and still make delicious meals. Using non-stick cookware is a great way to cut back on butter and oil since one of the main reasons for using them is to keep food from sticking to cookware. Try using some low-salt vegetable broth instead; the extra flavoring provided by herbs and spices is not just good for cutting back on salt but on oil and butter as well.
Instead of slathering vegetables with butter, try some lemon or other citrus fruit. Try some Greek yogurt instead of sour cream—it provides the tang without all the fat. When cooking with cheeses, choose more strongly-flavored ones such as cheddar so you can get the desired taste with less. When recipes call for oodles of ricotta or other crumbled cheeses, substitute half of the amount with some low-fat cottage cheese; you will still retain the benefits of dairy, such as protein and calcium, as well as the flavor and texture.