Whether you're cooking an Indian, Iranian or Indonesian dish, watching the amounts of fat, salt and sugar you add are essential to achieving a balanced diet. What you eat can affect your blood cholesterol and other blood fats, your weight, your immunity, your risk of developing certain diseases and your general well-being. The good news is that by making small changes to your cooking methods, you could be making big changes to your overall habits.
Here are ten tips for healthier cooking:
- Always measure sugar, oil, and salt using tablespoons and teaspoons instead of just “eyeing” it; this will help you to get a true picture of how much you're using.
- What's in a tablespoon? One tablespoon of oil provides around 130 Calories. If cooking for a family of four to six, one tablespoon or less of oil is usually enough for frying onions or for vagar. Sprinkle water to prevent the onion from sticking – remember that you will also get some hidden fat from meat or chicken in the dish.
- Try a spray oil to help you use less oil. Even 20 sprays are much better than pouring from a bottle of oil!
- Avoid ghee and butter. They are full of unhealthy saturated fat. Choose small amounts of unsaturated oil (e.g. rapeseed, canola, olive, corn, sunflower) instead.
- What's in a teaspoon? One teaspoon of salt equals around five grams – the recommended maximum for an average adult is six grams per day. Start measuring added salt and gradually aim for about a quarter of a teaspoon for a dish cooked for four to six people. Add other salt-free seasonings and spices to enhance flavour.
- Use lower fat cooking methods, such as sautéing, baking, broiling, grilling, or boiling instead of frying. Try these:
- Marinate chicken overnight with yogurt, tomato puree, lemon juice, a couple of teaspoons of rapeseed (canola) oil, and various spices to taste, then grill and enjoy.
- Marinate vegetables of your choice – cauliflower, green beans, okra (bhindi), eggplant (brinjal), or mixed vegetables – in a variety of spices. Heat a teaspoon of oil and sauté until cooked but still crisp. Enjoy this as a snack, or eat with whole wheat roti, whole wheat pasta or brown rice.
- Avoid tari (layer of oil) in curries. Use a kitchen towel to skim off the fatty layer – it won't affect the flavour but it will affect the nutrition.
- When cooking meat dishes, you really don't need to add fat as there is usually plenty naturally present in the meat. Try dry-browning the meat in it's own juices.
- Use healthier oils – rapeseed (canola) and olive are two examples. These oils are good sources of monounsaturated fats which do not seem to raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol in your blood. Remember: gram for gram, fat provides double the calories of protein and carbohydrate, so moderation is still the key!
- Cook food in a covered pot, as this will help retain some of the nutrients during the cooking process. Other ways to retain nutrients include using less water when boiling vegetables – or better yet: steaming your vegetables; wash the vegetable before cutting and do not soak in water; cut the vegetables (but not too small) right before cooking, and cook them quickly.
- Some healthy recipe substitutions:
- Sour cream (crème fraîche) in recipes – try lower-fat sour cream, fat-free cottage cheese or low or non-fat yogurt.
- Salt in recipes – use a pinch of salt and try citrus flavourings (such as lemon or lime), as well as herbs and spices to enhance the flavour of your meal. Note that some bought seasoning powders are high in salt.
- White flour in recipes – substitute whole wheat flour or at least half the amount with whole wheat flour.
- White rice and pasta – substitute with brown varieties or try other grains like bulgur, couscous and quinoa.
- Increase nutrients in a variety of ways:
- Enjoy dhal with added butternut squash or carrots for added vitamins and fibre.
- Have a handful of nuts or seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, and peanuts) as a snack or add them to salad, rice, or even some curries for added fibre and protein.
- Add vegetables or lentils to curries and rice dishes to enhance the fibre, vitamin and mineral content.
- Add fruit and nuts to home-made low-fat yogurt and enjoy for breakfast or a nutritious snack.
Most importantly – enjoy a variety of foods and eat everything in moderation. Have fun cooking and experimenting with different flavors. Bon appétit!