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Cooking healthy does not have to be complicated or expensive. Unfortunately, with busy schedules and full days, making a nutritious meal can still prove to be an epic challenge. Aside from overhauling your entire pantry, the solution to your dining woes could be as simple as trading one ingredient for another or preparing your food in a different way. Check out these ideas to instantly upgrade your meals — and your results.
According to the National Institute of Health, nearly 50 percent of all deaths in the U.S. in 2017 were caused by diseases associated with poor eating habits. Try these cooking methods and food swaps the next time your in the kitchen — it's a great place to start.
Just because you’ve always cooked chicken a certain way does not mean you can’t improve on your skills. Here are some methods to consider that can replace a less-healthy go-to technique such as boiling, panfrying or deep-frying.
Stewing slow-cooks food in a liquid, allowing flavors to blend together while tenderizing the meat or other protein and preserving the nutrients. True, stewing takes a little longer and the texture might be softer than you’re used to, but the ingredients of your favorite go-to meal can remain the same. “You can also stew using minimal kitchen equipment,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, which can expedite cleanup time.
Broiling is a great cooking option because you can season meat, fish, poultry and veggies with a simple dry rub instead of with oil or other fats. And because it’s dry, the seasoning will stick to the food and won’t run or drip off into the bottom of the baking dish, according to Harbstreet.
“Grilling is a nutritious way to cook lean protein like chicken or beef because you avoid batters and excess oils,” says Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, LDN, ACSMCPT. Grilling also allows the fat from your protein to drip off your food and into the grill, meaning you eat less fat as a result. “Some people worry that grilling can create carcinogenic compounds, but you can minimize your risk by marinating meat beforehand,” Carroll says. Also, make sure your grill is not so hot that you see tall, visible flames licking up between the grates.
Great roasting veggies include broccoli, beats, carrots, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, peppers and zucchini.
There is nothing more pathetic than a limp, boiled vegetable or a rubbery boiled protein. Roasting is a healthy, dry cooking method that allows a veggie to keep its crunch and meats and poultry to retain their [nutritional value. In other words,&nbp;the vitamins and minerals of your food don’t get sucked out into the boiling water and tossed down the drain.
Eating food as close to its pure form as possible is ideal, and here is where steaming is a suppertime superstar. “Steaming cooks food quickly and preserves much of its nutritional value without adding other ingredients,” Carroll explains. And because it only requires water as a vehicle for heat, there are also no added calories.
What has more calories, oil or air? (Hello, Captain Obvious.) “Instead of submerging the food in oil, air circulates around it to achieve the same crispy, crunchy texture,” Harbstreet says. And air-frying is versatile, meaning you can use it for vegetables, potatoes, protein and more.
Swapping one ingredient for another can instantly make a meal healthier. Change just an ingredient at a time in a recipe so it’s not a complete shock if something tastes a little different.
Sub for: Sour cream, mayo or heavy cream.
Yogurt is a healthy source of protein, calcium and probiotics. “Try subbing plain Greek yogurt into recipes where you’d traditionally use something like mayo or sour cream,” Carroll says. “Not only will you save some calories, but you’ll add extra protein, too.” While it’s not a perfect fit for every dish, yogurt works well in creamy sauces and dips or in dishes like potato salad.
Sub for: Rice, potatoes and pizza crust.
Known for its fiber, B vitamins and cancer-protective nutrients, cauliflower adds a hearty component to any meal. You can rice it and use in place of traditional rice to save on carbs, or you can steam/boil and mash it to use instead of potatoes in a side or for flour in pizza crust.
Sub for: Standard table salt.
If you’re going to add salt to a dish, it might as well work for you rather than against you. “Using pink Himalayan sea salt adds trace minerals while enhancing the other flavors in a recipe,” says Kathy Smart, HTC, PTS, CEO of Live the Smart Way. This specific type of salt contains minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, which can stabilize electrolytes and reduce the chance of dehydration. It also helps improve metabolic function, strengthens bones and lowers blood pressure.
Sub for: Fruit-flavored yogurt or protein powders.
Fruit-flavored yogurt often contains added sugar — anywhere from 13 to 17 grams per 100-gram serving. Reduce your sugar without losing out on protein and nutrients by trading up to cottage cheese. A great source of protein, B vitamins and calcium, cottage cheese contains only about 160 calories per cup and has a whopping 25 grams of protein, including casein, which metabolizes slowly, increasing satiety. “Use cottage cheese to boost the protein content of a smoothie instead of using heavily processed powders,” Harbstreet says.
Sub for: Other vegetable oils.
Avocado oil is low in saturated fat and high in potassium and vitamin E — key nutrients for optimal heart health. Try it in place of vegetable oil for dressings and sauces, and because it has the highest smoke point of all oils, you can use it in high-heat dishes such as stir-fries, Smart says.
Sub for: Processed flavor packets.
Using a little lemon, orange or lime zest in a recipe instead of a commercial flavor packet — which may contain added preservatives and chemicals — is a healthier choice for seasoning a favorite dish. And while most people are only focused on the inside of a citrus fruit, the zest contains many health-preserving nutrients such as vitamins B and C. “It also adds a little zip to baked goods, soups and stews,” Smart says.
Written by Nicole Clancy for Oxygen Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.