The key to healthy food cooking is actually to cook food as little as possible. There is a definite hierarchy to the process of healthy cooking; highest on the totem pole is that of raw foods, fresh fruits and vegetables as a major component of one’s diet. Eating whole foods is great for the digestive system, preserves a powerhouse of nutrients, containing a plethora of digestive enzymes and antioxidants to chase away those “free radicals” that cause aging.
When eating fresh fruits and vegetables, the aim is to encompass as much color as you can. Having a salad for lunch, and choosing to fill the plate with dark leafy greens, vibrant red/orange and even purple colors will ensure a host of healthy eating and fulfilling the daily requirement of having 5-6 servings of vegetables per day. Along with 2-4 oz. of lean protein like a boiled egg, low-fat cheese, chicken or turkey breast, peanut butter, beans, etc. will provide energy all the way to the supper hour. Pour a tablespoon of olive oil with balsamic vinegar, and you have had a serving of essential fatty acids, the good fats for health and weight loss or maintenance.
Having 2-3 servings of steamed vegetables at supper is preferable to boiling, as steaming keeps all the vitamins and minerals intact, instead of throwing them out in the water. It takes no more than 15 min. to steam carrots/broccoli/cauliflower/summer squash, etc. for a healthy side dish of beta carotene (precursor to Vitamin A), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially fiber.
As not all vegetables can be steamed, root vegetables like potatoes, turnip, beets need to be boiled. In the case of boiling these vegetables, it is better than baking, as long hours in the oven tends to bring out the “caramelized” effect, that is, becoming sweeter by drawing out the sugars. Sweet potatoes are fabulous when baked, but healthier when boiled because there is less sugar being drawn out of the vegetable, and a much better way of cooking, especially for diabetics.
As mentioned above, baking in an oven is better for meats than for vegetables. Baking is much better for French fried potatoes when done in the oven, as it avoids saturation of fat, therefore extra calories consumed. A great way to prepare oven fries is to cut up potatoes (with washed skins) into thin wedges; throw into a covered mixing bowl; dredge with a few tablespoons of olive oil/salt/pepper or hot pepper; and place on a baking sheet for 30 minutes on each side. This type of cooking is lesser in calories, fat, and trans fats.
These are favorite cooking methods for most Americans, and as much as food done this way is flavorful and tasty, burnt or charcoal meats carry carcinogens that put people at risk for cancer. The danger is lessened if meats are marinated and this way of cooking is not done regularly.
As for roasting poultry and meats in the oven, it is good practice as long as meats are not overly covered with sweetened sauces such as ketchup or barbecue sauce. Meats actually taste better cooked in their own juices and fats rendered and eliminated.
Healthy Stir Frying
This method of cooking is healthy because it includes fresh vegetables that are cooked minimally, with lean cuts of protein/meat that does not dominate the dish. It gives opportunity for all members of the family to be creative when stir frying, as anything can go into it except the kitchen sink. It also takes advantage of seasonal and local vegetables, so it is a great deal of fun to participate in creating one or more stir-fry dishes. Having it with a side of brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or a gluten-free substitute grain adds to more nutritious eating.
Condiment Free Cooking
Cooking with prepared sauces or condiments certainly add to the flavoring of dishes, but also adds on extra calories when used. While mayonnaise adds on fat calories, ketchup adds on calories from sugar. You can learn to cook more creatively by substituting low-fat yogurt instead of cream cheese, hot mustard in place of mayonnaise for sandwiches, or use egg yolks and olive oil to make salad dressing. Other tomato ingredients can take the place of ketchup, such as in a meatloaf.
Whenever possible, experiment with various fresh or dried herbs to give food a punch. Try Mrs. Dash spices, or make up your own concoction using all time favorites like basil, thyme, parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, etc. A dash of lemon or lime can give food that extra tang, such as in a Waldorf salad.
The healthiest dessert to have after a meal is a fruit salad. Again colors are paramount. Berries, pineapple, apple, clementines, etc. served with a helping of yogurt and nuts is nutritious, satisfying, and delicious. If you must have cooked fruit, try cooking apples in the microwave with cinnamon and maple syrup. Applesauce is also easily made via the microwave.
Dark chocolate is also healthy, as long as the cocoa content is at least 75%. This ensures a lower content of sugar. Even better is 85%, chocolate being a good source of antioxidants and fiber.
Best snacks for a quick pick-me-up is a handful of almonds, nuts and seeds. They are wonderful sources of unsaturated oils, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Don’t forget vegetable sticks or an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter. They are very satisfying when you have a food craving or hunger pang.
Soups are a potpourri of goodness as you can put almost anything in a soup. As long as you have a soup base, and it is very easy to throw a chicken or turkey carcass into a pot of boiling water right after Thanksgiving Dinner. Leave in the soup in the refrigerator overnight, take off the fat nest morning, and you have a relatively fat-free broth.
Most vegetables can be thrown into a soup, as well as wild rice, barley, peas, and all kinds of beans. This is a nutritious and healthy way of cooking and easy to store or take to the workplace, as well as for a snack.
Cooking with olive oil or coconut oil provides valuable fats that are necessary for overall health. So there you have it, all the methods for healthy cooking, in a hierarchy of means.