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Ten tips for healthier cooking

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Introduction

When it comes to healthy eating, the way you prepare food can be just as important as what you buy.

Here are ten tips on ways to cook more healthily.

1. Avoid boiling and overcooking vegetables

Boiling and overcooking many vegetables rob them of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Instead, try steaming them. That preserves more nutrients in vegetables than boiling, stir-frying, or even blanching. Use a steamer basket and a timer. Check spinach and other fast-cooking greens after 5 minutes of steaming, diced or shredded vegetable pieces after 10 minutes, and denser vegetables, such as whole carrots or potatoes, after 20 minutes. You can also steam vegetables in the microwave using just 1 to 3 tablespoons of water to preserve nutrients.

2. Do not overcook fresh garlic

Garlic has been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers and heart disease. But if you cook it too long, you might miss out on some of its benefits. So keep cooking times as brief as possible, and crush or chop garlic rather than using the whole cloves, which tend to lose their health benefits faster in cooking. To get the maximum nutritional advantage, add raw garlic to homemade salad dressings, pesto, or hummus.

Garlic

3. Fry in the oven, not in the pan

Food soaks up oil as it fries. How much depends on the food, the temperature of the oil, and whether the food is coated. Research shows that vegetables such as potatoes suck up more fat during frying than meat does. Try switching to “oven frying,” which uses little oil but still delivers a “fried” crunch.

To begin, coat the  food in something crispy that also adds nutrients and contains fewer calories, such as whole wheat panko crumbs or a mix of crushed bran flakes and corn flakes. Then spritz the food with cooking spray or a drizzle of oil, and bake.

4. Include some good fat in your salad

Using fat-free dressing or a just a squeeze of lemon on a salad saves some calories but also may prevent your body from absorbing all of the nutrients in the vegetables. That is because some nutrients are fat-soluble, and our bodies do not absorb them as well without a bit of fat in the meal. For example, the carotenoids in carrots, which the body converts to vitamin A, go mostly unabsorbed and unused without any accompanying fat.

5. Reduce the salt content of your dishes

Just one teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the generally recommended daily limit, and above what doctors recommend for people aged 50 or over, or those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Try to make do with less salt, bearing in mind that many foods contain a degree of natural salts in them anyway. Cut back on ready-to-eat processed foods and high-sodium condiments, such as barbecue sauce, ketchup, and soy sauce. Instead, choose healthier flavour enhancers, such as a squirt of lemon or lime juice on vegetables, a splash of balsamic vinegar in stews, or a sprinkling of oregano or cumin on meat, poultry, and seafood.

6. Remove the fat from ground beef

If you choose to pan-fry burgers instead of broiling or grilling them, be sure to pour off the fat before eating them. Or, if you are going to use cooked meat in a casserole or for pasta sauce, consider first blotting it with paper towels, or rinsing it under hot tap water in a colander and then draining for 5 minutes.  Research has shown that this technique removes half the fat left after cooking, but does not substantially reduce the protein, iron, zinc, or vitamin B levels in meat.

7. Rinse vegetables

You can cut down on sodium in canned vegetables and legumes, such as black beans and chickpeas, by rinsing them in water, which helps lower their sodium content by up to 10%. However, rinsing can also remove some of the vitamin C from some canned vegetables, such as peas. Using no- or low-sodium canned foods is an even easier way to keep your sodium intake in check.

Bottle of olive oil and olive berries on white background.

8. Store olive oil properly

Olive oil is an essential part of any healthy cooking programme, especially extra-virgin oil, which contains the most phenols, natural health-promoting plant chemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticlotting properties. Heat, air, and light can affect olive oil’s flavour and possibly its nutrients, so be sure to buy extra-virgin olive oil in a small, dark-coloured bottle, and keep it tightly capped and stored in a kitchen cabinet away from the stove and sunny countertops.

9. Try and alternate the menu

Preparing the same type of meal over and over, or otherwise limiting the food you eat, restricts your nutrient intake. Research has linked a varied diet to better overall health and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

10. Use whole grains

The milling process that produces white flour not only removes fibre but also robs the flour of iron and several B vitamins. When baking, try replacing some white flour with fibre-rich whole-grain flour. Baked goods made with whole-grain flour are denser than those made with white flour. So start by substituting whole-grain flour for just a quarter of the amount of white flour. Whole-wheat pastry flour is finely milled and lower in gluten than all-purpose flour, lending a more tender texture to cakes, pie crusts, pancakes, and muffins..

Also look out for milder-tasting white whole-wheat flour, which gives you the benefits of whole-grain but looks like white flour.