Healthy eating is a major component of living an overall healthy lifestyle. For those trying to eat healthier, learning to cook in healthy ways is key. Cooking healthy can be intimidating, especially for the beginning cook, but can actually be very simple with just a few basic tips.
Healthy Cooking Methods
Cooking methods are an extremely important part of learning to cook healthy. The manner in which you choose to cook foods can make the difference between whether or not they are a healthy or unhealthy choice. Cooking methods such as deep frying can add excess fat and calories to foods that could otherwise be healthy, such as okra. Healthier cooking methods include baking, broiling, grilling and steaming.
A common misconception of healthy cooking is that foods that are good for you are tasteless. Most people think of adding flavor using sauces, dressings, oils and butter, but flavor can be achieved in a variety of different ways. Herbs and spices enhance the natural flavors of vegetables and meats without loading on excess fat and calories. Citrus fruits like lemons and oranges can add flavor and moisture to chicken and fish when baked, broiled or grilled. Low-fat marinades are also an option for flavoring foods -- low-fat dressings like vinaigrette and Italian are smart choices. Herbs like oregano, basil, dill and chives pair well with the natural flavor of many vegetables.
Many recipes call for calorically heavy ingredients like sour cream, butter and cream or cream soups. Knowing how and when to cut back on recommended amounts and substitute healthier options is key. Greek yogurt can be substituted for sour cream, cream soups and mayonnaise in almost any recipe. Applesauce can be substituted in equal amounts for oil in baking recipes, decreasing the amount of fat in the recipe and adding an extra benefit of fruit intake. Olive and canola oils are better options than other types of oil because they are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Sugar can almost always be cut down in recipes, even when baking, without sacrificing flavor and product outcome. Experimentation is key -- as you try different substitutions and start cutting back, you will gain confidence and learn when and where changes can be made.
Know Your Terminology
Possibly one of the most confusing parts of learning to cook, healthy or otherwise, is culinary terminology. When learning to cook healthy and experiment with new recipes, it is imperative that you know what terms mean because they can give you clues to how healthy the recipe could be. Terms like cream sauces, fried, marinated, smothered and covered most often mean the recipe could be high in fat and calories. Many recipe books contain glossaries of common cooking terms that can help you learn the language and cook like a pro.
- Krause's Food and Nutrition Therapy: L. Kathleen Mahan and Sylvia Escott-Stump
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy Cooking Techniques: Boost flavor and cut calories
Amanda Davis began writing in 2010 with work published on various websites. Davis is a dietetic technician, registered, personal trainer and fitness instructor. She has experience working with a variety of ages, fitness levels and medical conditions. She holds a dual Bachelor of Science in exercise science and nutrition from Appalachian State University and is working toward her master's degree in public health. Davis will be a registry eligible dietitian in May 2015.