By: Hila Aran, MSc, RDN
You don’t need a degree in nutrition science or be a top chef to cook healthy. You can use basic cooking techniques to prepare food in healthy ways and save on fat and calories. In fact, you can even preserve important nutrients.
Keep in mind that 1 tablespoon of oil has about 100 calories. Think about how many calories you can be saving yourself just by being more aware to how often and how much of it you use! My first tip to you for healthy and simple cooking is to measure fats used in your diet instead of pouring them directly. In general fats from animal sources, also known as saturated fats, are less healthy than those from vegetables sources also known as unsaturated fats. Try to avoid butter, cream, margarine and lard and opt instead for vegetable, canola, corn, olive oils, etc.
Every type of fat has a smoke point, at which you will notice smoke rising from the surface of the fat when heated. Fats with a higher smoke point are better to use for high heat applications such as frying or sautéing. Examples of these include canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil and corn oil.
The temperatures at which foods are cooked / fried, and time they require, can also impact fat absorption. Foods cooked at lower temperatures usually take more time and absorb more fat.
Here are some steps you can take to lower your fat intake when cooking and baking:
- Use substitutes- Some substitutes have similar properties to fats when cooking and baking and thus can be used as an alternative. For example, pureed cannelloni beans have been found to be a satisfactory substitute for shortening when making brownies. Likewise, plum puree and applesauce can be used as substitutes for fats in baked goods. Egg whites can be used instead of whole eggs.
- Choose lean cuts of meat and low fat cheese.
- Use nonstick pots and pans.
- Roast or broil your foods. During these processes fats melts and are reduced.
Nutritionally, vegetables are rich in fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and other important vitamins and minerals. They are also rich in phytochemicals and low in calories when compared to other foods. Vegetables can lose some of their nutritional content during storage, preparation and cooking. In general baking, steaming, stir-frying and leaving the skin on when cooking helps retain nutrients to a greater extent. In order to maintain as many nutrients as possible opt for methods such as steaming, roasting, or broiling. You may also choose to use the juices as a soup or gravy. These methods preserve vitamins and minerals, and enhance flavors and colors.
Following are tips to increase nutrient intake from vegetables when cooking and baking:
- Serve vegetables immediately after cooking to maintain quality and lessen vitamin loss.
- Increase consumption and enhance flavors by using a variety of healthy cooking methods as described above.
- Use seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables as part of your cooking process when possible, but feel free to use frozen or canned fruits and vegetables if needed.
- Decrease the time from preparation to consumption of raw fruits and vegetables in order to lower nutritional losses.