Summer is just around the corner. For a lot of people, this means going the extra mile to get themselves ready for the beach. But why wait for summer before eating healthy?
Getting a healthy body all-year round is possible, but it does entail discipline and a little sacrifice. While a lot of people might think this “sacrifice” entails counting calories or choosing bland tasting food, that’s not necessarily true. There are a lot of effective weight loss programs and easy to follow diet menus that are as tasty as they are nutritious. More importantly, there are simple things that one can do to make cooking easier and dishes healthier.
Simple Food Hacks to Healthy Home Cooking
There’s a large number of people who would argue that nothing beats home cooked meals. US First Lady Michelle Obama made it her mission to get more families invested in home cooked meals. Michael Pollan, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, said that the “single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being” is to make home cooked meals. But today’s rat race has had people equating cooking at home as something stressful and time-consuming. However, coming up with delicious and healthy food recipes is easier than you think, especially with these simple healthy food hacks.
Pick a grain of salt
It’s not just the news that you have to take with a grain of salt these days. According to the American Heart Association, the ideal daily sodium intake should be kept at 1500 milligrams or less. Excessive consumption of salt is one major contributor to an unhealthy diet and is also associated with heart failure, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and stroke. While it’s next to impossible to totally remove salt from your diet and your dishes, there are ways to cut back on it. One simple hack comes to us from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who says that when you’re having sushi, just pour a little soy sauce on your plate and make sure that it’s the fish side that touches the soy sauce. This is because the rice would absorb it easily, with the diner ending up with more sodium than necessary. Another way to cut down on sodium in meals is to use citrus zests. Simply grate some zest and add to dishes for that extra boost of flavor.
Spice it up
People might tire of hearing it, but using different herbs and spices can have a major impact on the taste and nutritional value of the dish. Dr. David Heber, Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition had said that “many herbs and spices offer health benefits.” For instance, cinnamon has anti-oxidants that help cells process glucose. Eating just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day will minimize the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Ginger helps reduce inflammation and improves attention span while using rosemary in meat marinades prevents the development of heterocyclic amines, free radicals that are said to cause cancer.
You can go for dried herbs or better yet, opt for grow fresh herbs. Not only will your garden or kitchen sill look nice, but you’ll also have a steady supply of flavor boosters. Just chop some parsley, chive and thyme, add a little lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and voila – an instant sauce for everything! Or if you prefer stronger flavors, toss chipotle chili’s in the blender, add a little olive oil and blend into a paste. It goes well with anything, even your plate of steamed broccoli. What’s more, you can blend a big batch to keep in the fridge so you’ll always have some handy.
Go for an oil change
Something as easy as an oil change (Find out the 6 types of oil that you should never use for cooking here) can have a major impact in healthy home cooking. Olive oil is a great and healthy alternative to corn oil and canola oil, although there are those who prefer grapeseed oil or sunflower oil. But like everything in life, too much of a good thing can be bad, including olive oil. As a rule, try to use one oil for cooking, and another for finishing. Sunflower, grapeseed, rapeseed and peanut oils are good for roasting and frying because of its neutral flavor while olive oil can be used in sautes and for cooking over moderate heat. Coconut oil is also a good option when roasting, sauteing and baking. For finishing off your dishes or for salad dressings, nut oils, garlic or herb-infused oils are a good choice. Olive oil can also be used in dressings.
One useful hack to losing weight and keeping those calories in check is to use an oil mister to ensure that you don’t go overboard on the oil. If an oil mister sounds too fancy or expensive, try a cheap water spritzer bottle. Put olive oil in it and use to mist salad or spritz olive oil on the frying pan.
Chop it Up
A lot of people are discouraged from making a home cooked meal by the amount of peeling and chopping that one has to do first. You can save time and effort by using some simple shortcuts. Use your food processor to chop vegetables. Grating vegetables lessens the prep and cooking time. They are also easier to eat raw and can also be used to make simple, tasty and healthy side dishes. Buying pre-sliced vegetables in the supermarket can also save a lot of time, plus they’re still healthy.
Check the frozen food aisle
Fresh fruits are a much better choice for snacks and desserts. While fresh fruits are ideal, frozen ones can be just as good. Check out your frozen food sections for your favorite fruits or for those that are in season. As these are picked and frozen while they’re still at their peak freshness, their nutrients have been locked in. After that, it’s just a simple matter of incorporating them in your dishes or preparing them for dessert. Or, freeze your own fruits and blend them up to create your own raw ice cream.
Upgrade your kitchen gadgets
You can already whip up a good meal with just a good chef’s knife, a paring knife and a wooden cutting board. However, certain gadgets will admittedly make life easier and your dishes better. A cordless immersion blender can be a boon to any kitchen as it can be used to grind spices, mash produce or make a healthy soup. A vegetable spiral cutter is also a good kitchen investment for those who prefer their pasta to be made from zucchini or carrots.
Two in one
Preparing food that can be extended to two meals or more is another kitchen hack that you can use to make home cooking easier and more fun. Double the ingredients you use and freeze for later use. For instance, cube and roast two squashes when making soup. Use one to puree into a delicious soup while the other can be used in another dish, like pasta or tacos. Leftover salad greens can also be used to make spring rolls or bibimbap, a popular rice and vegetable dish from Korea.
Paleo hacks to try
The paleo diet has been steadily gaining ground among health conscious individuals, with some believing that it’s one of the best weight loss program around. Contrary to what people think, this is an easy to understand healthy eating diet plan. In the paleo diet, the focus is essentially on eating food that our Paleolithic ancestors did – vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, meats and animal products like eggs and honey. Dairy, grains and processed food are eschewed as these are relatively recent inventions. While some might find it hard to imagine what dishes can be made when following the paleo diet, there’s actually a dizzying array of paleo recipes that you can do.
In truth, some might find the idea of following a weight loss program daunting, especially if it involves a total lifestyle change. But as John Berardi, the founder of Precision Nutrition, said, you can look for simple and easy ways to incorporate the idea of the paleo diet in your life (Also read: The Most Common Paleo Mistakes and How to Avoid it). Here are some paleo food hacks for a healthy diet that you can try:
Say sayonara to sugar
Refined sugar is undeniably bad for you, but it doesn’t mean we have to trudge into this life without sweets. Use raw honey or pure maple syrup instead. These unrefined sugars are a healthier choice and something that would make you question why you ever needed those white, granulated, over-processed ones.
You can still have your cake and eat it too with the paleo diet, as long as you switch flours. Ditch your all-purpose flour with nut flour and start baking. There’s really no need to worry about not having your favorite pancake for breakfast with paleo.
Take advantage of the seasons
With the paleo diet’s focus on earth-based products, it’s safe to assume that anything you find in the produce section of your supermarket is OK. While that’s essentially true, the nearest farmer’s market might provide a lot more options. After all, the produce there are not only fresh and in season, it’s also more affordable. You can even buy in bulk and freeze it for later. This is especially true for berries as you can simply wash them, pat dry, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer the berries into a freezer bag and it will keep for several days to weeks.
Keep healthy snacks on hand
Most of the time, our unhealthy food choices stem from the lack of time and limited options. If your pantry is full of processed food and salty chips, odds are that’s what you would be picking for a snack. So keep several paleo-friendly snacks in your pantry and fridge instead. The aforementioned frozen berries are a good option. You can also make several paleo burritos and freeze them for such moments. There are also some good, easy to make, low-carb roll-up recipes out there. Or simply have some fresh fruits and easy to snack on veggies like carrots on hand.
Make your own chips
It’s easy to see why people love their potato chips. Its’ salty, delicious crunch is undeniably addicting. But it also gives you zero nutrients. So instead of constantly resisting the lure of the potato chip, why not make your own kale chip? Like the beloved potato chip, kale chips can also be little pieces of salty, crunchy heaven. Plus it’s nutritious. Making your own kale chips is also easy to do, as this recipe shows.
Switch up your salads
Salads don’t have to be the boring romaine, tomatoes and olive oil vinaigrette combination (Also Read: The Worst Salad Dressing You Should Never Eat). Think out of the box and make salads more interesting and fun to eat again by subbing the usual ingredients with something new. For instance, go beyond lettuce and try a combination of baby kale, arugula and spinach leaves. Basil, endive and radicchio are also interesting options. Give the tomatoes a rest and use avocados, roasted peppers, grated carrots, citrus fruits or artichoke hearts for garnish instead. Amp up the flavor of your salads by using a Paleo Green Goddess dressing or a tahini dressing. Make it even healthier by opting for avocado or walnut oil.
Smart food swaps to make for a healthy diet
Going on a diet to lose weight or to get healthy doesn’t automatically mean cutting down on food or giving up something for life. Most of the time, it all boils down to making a healthy choice. Here are some food swaps that you can do to reach your health goals:
- Swap your sugary, calorie-laden soda for water or other sugar-free options
A 12-ounce can of Coke shockingly has around 9 ½ teaspoons of sugar, which in Coke’s list of ingredients, is hiding behind the name high fructose corn syrup. This is way above what the American Heart Association has recommended, which is no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and up to 9 teaspoons for men. So drop the coke and reach for plain water and see the pounds drop. A study conducted by Deborah Tate of the University of North Carolina has shown that people who switched to water were twice as likely to lose 5% or more of their body weight. There are also other health benefits to drinking water. But if you’re one of those who don’t like the bland taste of water, go for soda water and add a bit of flavor with a little cranberry juice or a slice of lemon.
- Swap your regular butter for ghee, nut butter and other spreads
Butter might have a bad reputation among some groups for being a health villain, an unhealthy ingredient that should be avoided at all cost. However, it’s actually margarine, which is chockfull of trans fat, that should be avoided. While butter might have saturated fat, full fat butter that’s produced from grass-fed cows has vital nutrients like Vitamin K12 and butyric acid, which helps keep our colon healthy. The trick here now is choosing an organic butter or its healthier alternatives, like ghee.
- Bake better brownies with black beans
Make your pastries or baked goods healthier by adding black beans. Patricia Bannan, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight says black beans can minimize the blood sugar spikes people experience when eating sweets. Using black beans in brownies, for instance, won’t affect the chocolate taste. But it will add much needed protein and fiber.
- Replace tortillas with spinach
Put a paleo spin to your favorite fajitas recipe by ditching the tortillas and using spinach instead. You still get to enjoy the meats, spices, peppers and onions that make fajitas great, but you won’t miss the carbohydrates and calories the tortillas bring. On a related note, this swap can also be used on another Mexican favorite – the burrito.
- Swap pasta for vegetable noodles
It’s hard to imagine living in a world without pasta. Luckily, you don’t need to give it up as you can make noodles out of almost any vegetable and even some root crops with the help of a good vegetable spiral cutter. Once you have one, you can start making your own squash or zucchini spaghetti. There are a wide range of sauces that you can do, like sesame ginger sauce or ginger almond butter sauce for your veggie pasta. You can even go all out and make your own pesto bacon sauce.
Choose organic all the time
One way to achieve a healthy diet is by making healthy food choices. This is not just about choosing fresh produce over frozen ones, but also the kind of produce you pick. For instance, is the meat you’re eating grass-fed? Are you buying free-range chickens or organic vegetables? There’s a whole world of healthy difference when you reach for grass-fed beef or organically grown vegetables. Plus, organic doesn’t necessarily mean expensive nowadays. Simple food hacks, like going to the farmers market or your local spice shop, buying in bulk or even planting your own organic garden, can save you some serious bucks.
Keeping healthy or losing weight is not always easy. But with a little know-how, some creativity and these healthy food hacks, you can be on your way to a healthier and happier life.