Eating healthy can be difficult if you eat at restaurants most of the time.
But if you learn a little bit about the art of cooking, nothing can stop you from eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet. In fact, research has proven that eating home-cooked food is a healthy choice.
A 2014 study published in Public Health Nutrition found that people who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less. The study also suggests that those who cooked at home six to seven nights a week also consumed fewer calories on occasions when they ate out (1).
Another study published in the Journal of the Georgia Public Health Association in 2016 concludes that enhancement of chronic disease management among patients, and the prevention of obesity among children, can be accomplished through healthy cooking and diet (2).
Again, in a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers found that eating home-cooked main meals more frequently was associated with a range of indicators of a healthier diet, and several markers of cardio-metabolic health including adiposity, cholesterol and diabetes risk (3).
Cooking is a talent that anyone can develop.
To cook healthy, you do not have to make restaurant-style dishes. The simple food you can cook at home can be tasty and filling, too. By eating home-cooked meals, you can benefit from all the essential nutrients and preserve your health and well-being.
Also, cooking can be a fun way to spend quality time with your family members and you get to save a lot of money.
Here are some of the top secrets to cooking and eating healthier.
1. Shop Wisely
Before you start your own cooking, you need to do some grocery shopping. But remember, you need to buy the right ingredients to make healthy food.
- Shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Opt for whole-grain food items rather than refined grain products like white flour, white rice, white bread and regular cereals.
- Whenever possible, buy organic products.
- Buy herbs and spices for seasoning.
- Buy low-fat dairy products like skim milk and low-fat yogurts and cheese.
- Buy whole-wheat cereals and oats to fix a quick breakfast.
During the weekends, take a trip to the farmer’s market to shop for local seasonal fruits and vegetables, dairy products and organic grains that are more nutritious and healthy.
Before going to the market, check your pantry and refrigerator and prepare a list of things you need. Stick to your list to resist impulse buying. Also, get in the habit of reading food labels before purchasing anything to help you make the healthiest choices.
2. Choose the Right Cookware
For healthy cooking, you need to have the right cookware, too. In fact, using the wrong cookware can be bad for your health.
A 2017 study published in Science of the Total Environment found that aluminum cookware made from scrap metal in countries around the world poses a serious and previously unrecognized health risk to millions of people. Such cookware releases significant levels of lead, aluminum, arsenic and cadmium into the food being cooked (4).
It is recommended never to use aluminum as well as painted or decorated pots and pans, as some are made of lead and silver toxic materials. This can lead to severe digestive disorders.
Glass, stainless steel and cast iron cookware are some of the safest options. For instance, cast iron cookware supplies you with iron every time you cook, which can help reduce the risk of anemia, muscle weakness, sleep problems, menstrual pain and many other issues.
3. Replace Salt with Herbs
Your body needs a little bit of salt to get the sodium it contains. Sodium is important for regulating volumes of fluids in the body and aids the uptake of various other nutrients into the cells. But consuming salt in excess takes a toll on your health.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern (5).
Also, the World Health Organization recommends a reduction in sodium intake to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, a stroke and coronary heart disease in adults. It recommends a reduction to <2 g/day of sodium (5 g/day of salt) for adults (6).
Well, this does not mean that you need to compromise on how your food tastes. Instead of processed salt, use just a pinch of high-quality Celtic or Himalayan sea salt. You can also use pepper, herbs and spices to add flavor to your dishes.
4. Use Sugar Alternatives
Like salt, excess sugar is also not good for your health. It can contribute to problems like weight gain and obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Some foods contain natural sugars, while others contain added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sugars and syrups used during preparation or processing of foods, or added at the table.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are eating and drinking too many added sugars, which is contributing to the increasing incidence of health problems (7).
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for women and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men. For children, the recommended daily sugar intake varies depending on their age and caloric needs, but ranges between 50 and 100 calories (3 and 6 teaspoons) per day (8).
When you cook sweets at home, replace the sugar with some healthier options like raw honey, stevia, dates, maple syrup, jaggery and coconut sugar, to name a few.
When buying any kind of prepackaged food, always read the ingredient list for added sugars.
5. Use Smart Fats
When cooking, you’ll inevitably need to use some kind of fat. Use of excess fat is not healthy and even using the wrong kind of fat can be bad for you. Unhealthy fat is linked to diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, and cancers of the reproductive system, colon and gallbladder.
But not all fat is bad. Opt for unsaturated fats, rather than unhealthy saturated fats like butter.
You can use healthy cooking oils like extra-virgin olive oil, which also contains omega-3 and 6 fatty acids as well as vitamins E and K. Olive oil can help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and cancer. Plus, it can make your skin and hair healthy.
Canola, coconut, sunflower and safflower oils are also healthy options.
No matter which oil you choose, use any kind of fat in moderation because all fats are loaded with calories.
6. Opt for the Right Cooking Method
When it comes to healthy cooking, using the right technique is a must.
Cooking food in oil has become commonplace, but it’s one of the worst sources of unnecessary fat and calories in your diet.
A 2015 study published in Nutrients reports the deep frying is associated with frequency of fried food intake and risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure, diabetes or hypertension. The study suggests adverse health effects are linked to higher frequency of fried food consumption (9).
This is why it is recommended to skip deep-frying and try oven-frying or other healthy options like pan roasting, steaming, baking, grilling, braising, boiling or microwaving your food.
Also, when you microwave or steam your vegetables, it helps retain the nutrients.
Avoid deep frying, as repeated heating of oils and fats during frying may lead to formation of trans fatty acids and certain toxic substances in the oil.
7. Make Your Own Sauces, Dressings and Condiments
When preparing a healthy plate of salad or a sandwich, most of us end up making a big mistake by adding sauces and dressings bought from the market.
Most sauces, dressings and condiments that are readily available in the market are loaded with fat, salt, sugar and several toxic elements. So, it is best to prepare your own sauces, dressings and condiments using simple and healthy ingredients from your kitchen.
For instance, for a creamy salad dressing without unhealthy fats, puree an avocado, add some herbs and other flavorings and your healthy salad dressing is ready.
Avocados have several vitamins, copper, iron, potassium, fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids that help promote brain and heart health, prevent arthritis, protect against cancer, aid digestion and nourish your skin.
You can also make dips and marinades using Greek yogurt, vinegar, and other fruit- and vegetable-based purees.
- Home cooking a main ingredient in healthier diet, study shows. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141117084711.htm. Published November 17, 2014.
- The Eating and Cooking Healthy (TEACH) Kitchen: A Research Protocol. Journal of the Georgia Public Health Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215654/. Published 2016.
- Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: cross-sectional analysis of a population-based cohort study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-017-0567-y. Published August 17, 2017.
- Cookware made with scrap metal contaminates food. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170123110345.htm. Published January 23, 2017.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 8th Edition. Chapter 4 – 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
- Sodium intake for adults and children. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sodium_intake_printversion.pdf.
- Nutrition. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html. Published September 27, 2016.
- Added Sugars. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Added-Sugars_UCM_305858_Article.jsp#.WwLOPiDhXIU.
- Fried Food Consumption and Cardiovascular Health: A Review of Current Evidence. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4632424/. Published October 2015.