How Can You Cook Healthy Food at Home
The link between food and disease is pretty well established. If you eat well and stay healthy, you will benefit in many ways. You will be more active despite age, you will be fitter and you will face fewer health issues. Even outward appearances like the skin and hair and teeth benefit immensely if you eat nutritious food.
Conversely eating a high fat or highly refined food diet, foods that are junk and fast foods and ready to eat foods can have a negative impact on health. Not only do people become obese, but they also get prone to many diseases including cancer, heart disease, joint disorders, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, acidity, and other problems.
There is a much greater awareness about eating a healthy diet consisting of nutritious foods today than ever before. Increasingly people are turning to healthier eating habits and even restaurants and cafes have menus that feature healthy foods.
Packaged food companies, too, have healthy alternatives on offer and supermarket aisles are full of organic, natural, whole foods, low in fat, sugar, refined and processed items.
So how can you adopt healthy cooking at home?
Before Starting to Cook Healthy, Get Rid of Unhealthy Staples
Do go through your kitchen, pantry cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer. If you have many packaged, ready to eat, frozen foods you may not be eating healthy. You need to overhaul your food stocks, so ditch
- Sugared cereals
- Refined flours
- White sugar
- Powdered instant or quick cooking soups
- Instant packaged, bottled or canned sauces
- Instant noodles
- Quick cooking oatmeal
- Refined and processed vegetable oils
- Ready to use frosting
- Most packaged biscuits, cookies and crackers
- So-called healthy granola bars
- Packaged deli meats and cuts
- Margarine or imitation butter spreads
- Coffee creamer powder
- Fruit juices
- Frozen pot pies
- Candies and sweets
- Deep fried foods
- Ready to cook rice and other meals that are packaged
- Bottled and ready to drink beverages masquerading as tea, coffee, milk and juice
- Highly processed cheese spreads and dips and slices
- White packaged bread and rolls
- Frozen pizzas, tortillas and wraps
If these foods comprise the majority of your staples in the kitchen, then you need to start eating healthy sooner rather than later.
All packaged, frozen and ready to cook or ready to eat foods are full of dangerous additives, preservatives, fillers, and other toxic ingredients. Most are high in hydrogenated fats, sugar, salt, and other chemicals. Some may have phthalates, nitrates, and HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) or may contain sugar substitutes. All these ingredients are known to contribute to ill health and play a role in cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and contribute to obesity and an unhealthy diet.
What Foods Should Find a Place in the Kitchen?
If your kitchen cupboards (and refrigerator and freezer) are largely empty after you get rid of your food stocks, then what should the foods be replaced with? If you want to cook healthy food at home you have to start with the basics. Be warned – you may have to fork out more for healthy foods as they do not keep for a long in supermarkets, so are often given the go-by.
Fruits and vegetables: When you go to your neighborhood grocery store or visit your favorite supermarket you should try and buy whole vegetables and fruits. Many stores may have only bagged versions, forcing you to buy the entire lot, whether you need it or not. While large quantities may be cheaper to buy, do so only if you can use them or freeze them. With unbagged versions, you can examine the product and buy the exact quantity that you need or want. But do stock up on large quantities of fruits and vegetables and use them.
The store may have organic or fresh or whole food or fresh section and you should make it a point to visit it. As for cut and prepped vegetables and fruits, avoid these as far as possible unless you are planning to use them immediately unless you are aware that the stores get these on a daily or even twice a day basis. Remember that cut vegetables and fruits, even if pre-cleaned and washed and ready to use offer a great deal of convenience, but many of the vitamins start to diminish in the presence of light and air.
While fresh is always best, buying some frozen vegetables and fruits are also pretty good as long as they are ready to cook. Many of these have most of their nutrition intact as they are quickly frozen in factories and, as long as the cold chain is maintained, are almost as good as the fresh ones.
Meats: From the meat section you can buy unprocessed frozen fish, chicken, meat and other stuff or you may be able to get them from the butcher if there is one nearby. Again, avoid processed stuff. Tofu is a great vegan and vegetarian alternative and a good protein source as is tempeh, which is a vegetarian alternative to meat.
Beans and legumes: These are an excellent source of protein (great for vegetarians and vegans), are reasonably priced and usually easy to cook. They can be a great addition to soups and salads as well. Whole beans can also be sprouted for more nutrition.
Dairy: As for milk, since you get a wide variety, you can choose the fat content of the milk you buy and can get it in different variations like raw, pasteurized, ultra heat treated or long life milk and others. Avoid highly processed cheese and buy the fresh variety. Cheese is, in any case, a highly processed food, usually high in sodium and often high in fat. When buying yogurt avoid the sweetened ones and buy the natural varieties. If you want, you can add fruit to it before eating it.
Grains: Avoid refined and bleached flour and its derivatives. Opt for whole ground flour where possible. Experiment with brown rice instead of white, quinoa, buckwheat, spelled, barley, couscous, rye, oats, corn, faro, whole wheat pasta, millets, and other grains. These foods also provide much-needed bulk and fiber to the diet and are good for digestive health.
Sauces, condiments, and pickles: Be especially wary of using the cheapest range of any of these attractively packaged products like ketchup, relish, mustard, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, and others. Many of these commercial products are high in sodium, sugar, fillers, additives, and flavorings. You can make your own healthier versions or check labels before buying and use them sparingly.
Oils and butter: While you should always limit your daily fat intake for health reasons, it is also important to choose the right fats. Choose unrefined and cold pressed oils as far as possible and use these. However, many of them have a low smoking point, so you will need some oils that you can use for cooking. Among the healthy fats are the Indian ghee, poly and monounsaturated oils, virgin and extra virgin olive oil and butter. Coconut oil has recently got bad press; like other oils, use with caution.
How Do You Cook Healthy?
Now that your kitchen and pantry is stocked with healthy ingredients, cooking should become easier. That may not be the case if you don’t actually cook much, but at least having the right ingredients is a good start.
In order to cook healthy, you have to manage your time a bit better, particularly if you stop using convenience and frozen foods. You will also have to do a lot more cooking, which can be problematic if you are always short of time.
So cook more during weekends and freeze your own meals for those times when you are stressed or running short of time. This is much better than buying ready to eat and ready to cook frozen foods from the supermarket in most instances.
You can consider investing in a few appliances that will make cooking easier. You may consider the use of these gadgets for healthier cooking:
- Blender or food processor – if you don’t have one, this is a must for every kitchen. You can whip up smoothies, sauces, purees, and soups and even grate or finely chop vegetables and meats for cooking or for the freezer. You can also make your own dips, hummus, peanut butter that is healthier than anything you can buy.
- Slow cooker – this is great for overnight or full day cooking of many beans and meats.
- Pressure cooker – for quick cooking, this beats microwave hands down. You can cook beans, meats, legumes, and even vegetables, soups and steamed dishes very quickly. It preserves nutrients and tastes as well.
- Breadmaker – you can make your own bread from healthy flours, without preservatives, emulsifiers, and additives.
Don’t clutter your kitchen with too many gadgets and appliances that are never used. It is always better to invest in a few high-quality multi-use appliances.
Cooking Tips for Health
Here are some cooking and eating tips for healthier food
- Don’t overcook foods since fast cooking retains more vitamins and nutrients.
- Never throw away the water used to boil any foods. If you do need to drain water, use it in stock and gravies. For the same reason, if you need to have cooked vegetables, consider steaming or pressure cooking them.
- Avoid reusing oil for frying and cooking as heating oil to high temperatures degrades the nutrients and reusing oil can be dangerous to health since it increases cholesterol levels. However, if you use oils with a high smoking point, strain it after use and refrigerate it, it will not degrade so quickly. Or if you use an electric frying that keeps the oil at constant temperatures, you may be able to reuse the oil a few times. Of course, when you want to cook healthy, you should avoid fried foods in the first place.
- Once the food is cooked it should be eaten quickly and should not be left lying around in the kitchen as bacteria start forming when food is at room temperature for long. Or you can refrigerate it once it has cooled down sufficiently.
- Refrigerated food should be reheated well unless it can be had cold.
- Don’t keep cooked foods in the refrigerator for many days. There are specific time frames for the length of time you can cook different foods in the fridge.
- Cook in food-safe containers. Many metal utensils may leach out metals that enter your body. Even some non-stick pots and pans can leach out harmful chemicals, particularly if they are used at high temperatures or the coating has begun to wear off. Glass and oven-proof and ceramic coated pots and pans are usually safe to use.
Above all, Check Labels
Any kind of food that is labeled has all the details on the labels. So you need to educate yourself as to which ingredients are good and which ones are bad. Even items that may be touted as healthy, low fat, low sugar, low sodium or purport to have health benefits should be had with caution.
For instance, many sugar-free items may have either sugar substitutes (that come with their own side effects) or natural sugars (applesauce, honey, maple syrup, dates). The latter will still increase blood sugar levels and also have more calories.
Once you adopt healthy cooking habits you and your family will find food tastier and more delicious. You will also find that you have more vitality and energy since junk and unhealthy foods make you feel stodgy and full and lethargic. Eating healthy results in weight loss, improved mood and when you cook healthy at home, your children, too, will learn about the right diet and inculcate healthy eating habits. Being healthy and keeping the disease at bay are only some of the benefits of cooking healthy food at home.