Most of us have gotten the message: Upping our quota of fruits and veggies, and lowering our intake of salt, sugar, processed foods and red meat is a good idea. But if you're struggling to master the art of cooking for wellness, you're definitely not alone.
Nutrition pros have developed many techniques and tricks that can help you modify recipes for healthier eating — and evidence-based research tells us they taste great, too.
These five tips will help you get started.
1. Start fresh, stay positive
Nutrition experts often recommend starting with some new-to-you recipes to launch your healthier eating journey. But you'll soon be savvy enough to transform favorite recipes into healthier versions, too.
Remember: "Healthier" doesn't mean "less tasty." Keep your mind open to experiencing new flavors. Enjoy the process as you experiment with fresh ingredients and create dishes that don't rely on fat and salt for taste.
2. Reduce fats, sugars and salt, increase herbs and spices
Most of us consume too much saturated fat. But fat adds flavor, so scaling back fat alone is not the answer. Studies have found, though, if you scale back fat and pump up flavor by adding herbs and spices, you can get the great taste you crave.
For instance, instead of 80 percent lean meat, choose 95 percent lean meat. Then, use a heavier hand with the basil, oregano, garlic and other favorite flavors for a really satisfying result.
Researchers have tried the approach with dessert, too. In one study, they cut the sugar content of apple crisp by more than a third, but added an extra jolt of Saigon cinnamon to compensate. It worked: Tasters liked that version just as much as the full-sugar original.
Build up your store of herbs and spices, set the salt aside and you've got a solid formula for healthier, tastier eating.
3. Swap this for that
Learn some basic ingredient swaps and you'll instantly up your healthy cooking quotient. Here are just a few examples:
- Heavy cream or half-and-half = fat-free half-and-half
- 1 egg = 2 egg whites
- Garlic salt = garlic powder
- Syrup = pureed fruit
- Ground beef = extra-lean beef, or ground chicken or ground turkey
- White rice = wild rice, pearl barley or bulgur wheat
4. Learn new cooking techniques
- Beware the fryer! Eating a lot of fried food has been associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Instead, learn to bake, grill, steam and roast.
- Pre-heat your saute pan. Adding cold ingredients to a cold pan results in drier, less tasty food; starting with a hot pan lets you sear in flavor.
5. Stock the right tools
- Nonstick pan. Does your recipe call for sauteing vegetables in oil? Using a good nonstick pan, you can usually saute without added fat.
- Steamer basket. Many top chefs steam fish, chicken or seafood atop a layer of aromatic herbs or vegetables for moist, flavorful results without adding fat.
- Kitchen shears. Invaluable for snipping away fat from meat, cutting up dried fruit for sauces and toppings, or quickly clipping fresh herbs.
Armed with your new knowledge and a few essential techniques and tools, you'll be able to tackle any recipe, and make it your way — the healthy, delicious way.