Healthy cooking doesn’t mean you have to become a gourmet chef or invest in special cookware. Simply use standard cooking methods to prepare foods in healthy ways. You can also adapt familiar recipes by substituting other ingredients for fat, sugar and salt.
Use these methods
These methods best capture the flavor and retain the nutrients in your food without adding too much fat or salt.
- Baking. Besides breads and desserts, you can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, and vegetable and fruit pieces of the same size. Place food in a pan or dish (covered or uncovered) and bake. You may need to baste the food with broth, low-fat marinade or juice to keep the food from drying out.
- Braising. Braising involves browning the meat or poultry first in a pan on top of the stove, and then slowly cooking it covered with a small amount of liquid, such as water or broth. In some recipes, the cooking liquid is used afterward to form a flavorful, nutrient-rich sauce.
- Grilling and broiling. Both grilling and broiling expose fairly thin pieces of food to direct heat and allow fat to drip away from the food. If you’re grilling outdoors, place smaller items, such as chopped vegetables, in a long-handled grill basket or on foil to prevent pieces from slipping through the rack. To broil indoors place food on a broiler rack below a heat element.
- Poaching. To poach foods, in a covered pan gently simmer ingredients in water or a flavorful liquid, such as broth, vinegar or juice, until cooked through and tender. For stove-top poaching, choose an appropriate-sized covered pan and use a minimum amount of liquid.
- Roasting. Roasting uses an oven’s dry heat at high temperatures to cook the food on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. For poultry, seafood and meat, place a rack inside the roasting pan so that the fat can drip away during cooking.
- Sautéing. Sautéing quickly cooks small or thin pieces of food. If you choose a good-quality nonstick pan, you can cook food without using fat. Depending on the recipe, use low-sodium broth, cooking spray, water or wine in place of oil or butter.
- Steaming. One of the simplest cooking techniques to master is steaming food in a perforated basket suspended above simmering liquid. If you use a flavorful liquid or add herbs to the water, you’ll flavor the food as it cooks.
- Stir-frying. Stir-frying quickly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food while they’re rapidly stirred in a wok or large nonstick frying pan. You need only a small amount of oil or cooking spray for this cooking method.
Find new ways to add flavor
Instead of salt or butter, you can enhance foods with a variety of herbs, spices and low-fat condiments. Be creative.
Poach fish in low-fat broth or wine and fresh herbs. Top a broiled chicken breast with fresh salsa. Make meats more flavorful with low-fat marinades or spices — bay leaf, chili powder, dry mustard, garlic, ginger, green pepper, sage, marjoram, onion, oregano, pepper or thyme.
To bring out the sweetness in baked goods, use a bit more vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg.
If the recipe calls for butter, margarine, shortening or oil, substitute the following:
- For sandwiches, substitute tomato slices, catsup or mustard.
- For stove-top cooking, sauté food in broth or small amounts of healthy oil like olive, canola or peanut or use non-stick spray.
- In marinades, substitute diluted fruit juice, wine, or balsamic vinegar.
- In cakes or bars, replace half the fat or oil with the same amount of applesauce, prune puree or commercial fat substitute.
- To avoid dense, soggy or flat baked goods, don’t substitute oil for butter or shortening, or substitute diet, whipped or tub-style margarine for regular margarine.
- In soup, chili or stir-fry, replace most of the meat with beans or vegetables.
- As an entrée, keep it to no more than the size of a deck of cards — load up on vegetables.
If the recipe calls for meat, substitute the following:
If the recipe calls for whole milk, substitute regular or evaporated fat free or 1% milk, or evaporated skim milk.
If the recipe calls for whole egg, substitute 1/4 cup egg substitute or 2 egg whites for breakfast or in baked goods.
If the recipe calls for sour cream or cream cheese, substitute fat-free, low-fat or light varieties in dips, spreads, salad dressings and toppings. (Fat-free, low-fat and light varieties do not work well for baking.)
If the recipe calls for sugar, you can reduce in most baked goods the amount of sugar by one-half without affecting texture or taste, but use no less than 1/4 cup of sugar for every cup of flour to keep items moist.
If the recipe calls for white flour, you can replace half or more of white flour with whole grain pastry or regular flour.
If the recipe calls for salt, substitute herbs (1 tbsp. fresh = 1 tsp. dried = 1/4 tsp. powder). Add towards the end of cooking and use sparingly — you can always add more. Salt is required when baking yeast-leavened items. Otherwise you may reduce salt by half in cookies and bars. Not needed when boiling pasta.
Reprinted from The Mayo Clinic Diet, © 2010 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published by Good Books (www.GoodBooks.com). Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The above is an excerpt from the book “The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat well. Enjoy life. Lose weight.” by the weight-loss experts at Mayo Clinic and Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H. Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H., is chair of the Division of Preventive, Occupational, and Aerospace Medicine and a consultant in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. He is also an associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at the College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic. A specialist in nutrition and weight management, Dr. Hensrud advises individuals on how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. He conducts research in weight management, and he writes and lectures widely on nutrition-related topics. He helped publish two award-winning Mayo Clinic cookbooks.
Mayo Clinic is the first and largest integrated, not-for-profit group practice in the world. Doctors from every medical specialty work together to care for patients, joined by common systems and a philosophy that the needs of the patient come first. Collectively, Mayo Clinic treats more than 500,000 patients a year.