13 substitutions and preparation methods for healthy eating

Thirteen substitutions and preparation methods for healthy eating
By Devon Peart, RD
August 21, 2014
substitutions and preparation methods for healthy eating

The Canadian palate is becoming more sophisticated. The proliferation of internationally inspired foods is bringing a global flavour to menus. Through travel, dining out, and experimenting with cookbooks and online recipe sites, Canadians are exposed to a wider variety of foods and flavours than ever before. And that means that chefs can use healthier preparation methods, and get creative when it comes to making nutritious food taste great!

It’s no secret that consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious. Sure, they want tasty food – taste is always priority one – but they want it to fit into a healthy lifestyle. And thankfully the bias that once existed about food – that if it’s good for you, it must not taste good – is disappearing as more and more people discover how delicious nutrient-rich meals can be. And that’s thanks to inventive chefs who are willing to experiment with different ingredients, herbs and spices to bring out the flavour in foods without adding salt or fat.

It’s also about presentation. Put as much effort into the nutritious fare as you do with the rest, and people will give it a try. Make it taste great, and they will come back for more! As with any recipe, a chef is limited only by his or her imagination when it comes to creating flavourful, nutritious dishes.

Start with good quality, fresh ingredients. The following easy substitutions can help you cut down on fat, calories and sodium:

  • Thicken soups with pureed vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or cauliflower, or try pureed lentils or tofu, instead of cream.
  • In marinades, reduce oil by up to half and increase other ingredients like balsamic vinegar, 100 per cent fruit juice or low-sodium broth.
  • Sauté foods in beer or wine, instead of full fat. Use a ratio of 3:1 alcohol to fat, for example 3 tbsp. wine with 1 tbsp. non-hydrogenated margarine. Or use low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth.
  • Season vegetables with lemon juice rather than butter.
  • To make gravies, use 100 per cent fruit juice, vegetable juice or low sodium broth rather than meat drippings.
  • Choose lower fat cheeses (20 per cent MF or less), and use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
  • Use mashed beans instead of sour cream in dips. Select the type of bean depending on the desired flavour.

Next, choose a healthy cooking method. The following preparation methods bring out the flavour in foods without adding a lot of fat, calories or salt.

Bake, grill, broil or roast – All of these methods expose food to direct, dry heat, while allowing the fat to drip away. (For roasting, place a rack inside the pan.) For best flavour, cook foods just until they reach a safe internal temperature; overcooking will dry them out.

Sauté – Quickly cooks small, thin pieces of food. You can use a small amount of oil, or substitute low-sodium broth or water.

Steam – Works well for cooking vegetables because it allows most of the nutrients to be retained. Once cooked, add a little lemon juice to bring out the flavour in the veggies. You could also add minced garlic, herbs or spices.

Poach – Uses a small amount of liquid, at just below boiling. You can use water or use juice, broth or stock for added flavour.

Simmer – Another cooking method that uses liquid at slightly below boiling. Good choice for tougher meats because it tenderizes them during cooking.

Braise – Braising involves searing (browning) meat or vegetables in a pan on the stovetop, then cooking it slowly in a small amount of liquid (water or broth). You can retain the liquid and use it for a flavourful sauce. For this method you don’t need an expensive cut of meat. Meats will soften when braised, so inexpensive cuts are actually better. An affordable way to incorporate meat into your menu!

The above cooking methods require either no oil, or very little. When you do use oil, choose unsaturated varieties such as olive, canola, sunflower or other vegetable-based oils. Unsaturated fats are most associated with heart health. Starting with healthy ingredients, cooking foods in healthy ways, and enhancing flavours with fresh herbs and spices will have you on your way to nutritious, delicious meals and healthy, happy customers!

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About the Author:

Devon Peart is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters in Community Nutrition, and the Collaborative Program in Women’s Studies, from the University of Toronto. She is a consulting dietitian, writer and Huffington Post blogger. Devon worked for six and a half years for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s former Health Check Program, first as Business Development Manager at the national level and then as ON Program Manager. Devon has also provided nutrition counseling in individual and group settings, facilitated workplace nutrition education, worked with child nutrition programs, and in health promotion in a hospital setting.

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