If you want to cook healthier versions of your favourite recipes without losing the taste, there are ways you can adapt them to reduce fat, sugar, salt, calories and increase fibre without changing your normal diet radically.
Here are 20 tips to consider.
1. Add lemon juice to leafy greens
Whilst the health benefits from leafy green vegetables are well-known, it can be difficult for the body to absorb all the nutrients, especially iron. Adding vitamin C in the form of lemon, lime or orange juice can make it easier to digest vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and kale.
2. Buy canned tomatoes over fresh
All tomatoes have cancer-fighting properties, but the most nutritious tomatoes in the supermarket are not in the produce section. Processed tomatoes are the richest known source of lycopene, because of their concentrated state. When buying fresh, look for smaller size and deeper colour; you will get more nutrients. If you have a choice, deep red tomatoes have more antioxidants than yellow, gold, or green tomatoes.
3. Bake with avocados not butter
Over 75% of the fat in avocados is unsaturated, and they will add nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and polynutrients to baked dishes.
Use strongly flavoured cheeses like mature cheddar or blue cheese in savoury dishes – you can use less and still get all the flavour. If you do not like the strong taste of such cheeses simply use low fat alternatives of your favourites. Grate cheese instead of slicing, as it will spread across a dish more easily and you can use less. Replace cream cheese with low fat cream cheese.
5. Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate
Numerous studies have shown that dark chocolate (above 70% cacao) can lower bad cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and help you lose weight. In addition, it works as an aphrodisiac.
6. Cook carrots whole
Carrots are more nutritious cooked than raw. And when cooked whole, they have 25% more falcarinol, a cancer-fighting compound, than carrots that have been chopped beforehand.
7. Cook with extra-virgin olive oil
Cooking with extra-virgin olive oil helps keep vegetables from slowing down your metabolism.
8. Cut down on salt
Most recipes indicate that you need to add salt. Replace salt with alternative seasonings such as pepper, herbs, spices, lemon juice, vinegar or mustard. Allow people to season their own food after tasting it – they are likely to add less.
Also, it is worth remembering that many foods already contain a lot of natural salt anyway.
9. Cut down on sugar
Use less sugar when you bake – most cakes will work even if the quantity of sugar in the recipe is halved. Items such as fruit cakes, fruit scones and tea breads can be made without adding sugar as the dried fruit will provide sweetness.
10. Increase the fibre content
Use brown alternatives of rice, pasta and bread to increase the fibre content of recipes which will help you feel fuller for longer. Instead of using all plain white flour in recipes, use a mix of wholemeal and plain flour when baking, e.g. when making apple crumble – you can also add porridge oats to make the top crunchy and add more fibre! Top dishes usually requiring pastry, such as chicken pie, with mashed potato instead.
Replace mayonnaise in salads with natural yoghurt or low fat fromage frais. Alternatively, try using vinaigrette dressings and serving them on the side. When making sandwiches, choose mayonnaise or butter, not both.
Trim the fat from meat and remove the skin from poultry before cooking. Then bake, grill, microwave, roast or poach instead of frying it. When roasting, place the meat on a grill rack – this allows the fat to drip away. If you are cooking minced meat, brown it and drain away the fat before adding other ingredients.
13. Poke holes in your bag of broccoli
Broccoli is well-known as a cancer-fighting superfood, but there is more than one way to make it even healthier. Storing broccoli wrapped in a plastic bag with tiny pricks in it will give you up to 125% more antioxidants than if you had stored the broccoli loosely wrapped or in a tightly sealed bag. Use a salad fork to get holes all over.
14. Prepare your salad a day before you eat it
Health studies that shown that tearing romaine and iceberg lettuce the day before you eat it will quadruple its antioxidant content. Shred clean greens with your fingers, put in a plastic bag with a paper towel to absorb extra moisture, and keep in the fridge till the next day.
15. Reduce fats
If frying, use a good non-stick pan and dry fry (e.g. in the case of mince). Leaving out the oil could cut 45 calories per teaspoon in your meal. If your food is drying out, do not add more oil, add a little water. Use fats and oils that are high in good fats (poly- and mono-unsaturated fats), e.g. olive oil and try using less than the recipe suggests.
16. Refrigerate cooked potatoes
Cook potatoes or other root vegetables, then chill them for about 24 hours before you eat them. The cooling process turns high-glycaemic vegetables into low- or moderate-glycaemic vegetables, and that transformation helps keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
17. Sauces and dips
Replace cream, whole milk and sour cream with semi-skimmed and skimmed milk, or low fat yoghurt. Low fat yoghurt and fromage frais can be used on hot or cold puddings and in dips instead of cream, double cream or Greek yoghurt. Fromage frais is fresh, skimmed cow’s milk cheese but is more like natural yoghurt. However, it is not suitable for use in cooking.
18. Soups and stews
Allow your broth, stew or soup to cool and skim off the fat that gathers on top of the liquid. Replacing some of the traditional fatty meats in stews with pulses like peas, beans and lentils can save calories and fat, as well as adding fibre.
19. Use Herbs
Culinary herbs are leafy plants that add flavour and colour to all types of meals. They are also rich in health-protective phytol-oestrogens. In many cases, herbs can replace the flavour of salt and oil.
Apart from boosting meat dishes, herbs can be added to soups, breads, mustards, salad dressings, vinegars, desserts and drinks. Herbs such as coriander, ginger, garlic, chilli and lemongrass are especially complementary in vegetable-based stir-fry recipes.
Flavour cooked vegetables with herbs instead of butter or oil. Replace some meat in dishes such as shepherd’s pie, casseroles and lasagne, with vegetables and pulses (peas, beans and lentils). For those fussy eaters who find them hard to eat, it is a great way to disguise vegetables.