Monday, March 5, 2012

Five Questions to Help You Make Healthier and More Nutritious Food

Do you ever look at a recipe and wonder how you can make it healthier? Do you have an old favorite that you know is just not that awesome for you, but you really want to eat it anyways? Ask yourself these five questions, follow some of the tips I offer, and your favorite recipes could become a lot better for you!

1.      First look at the protein. Can you substitute something leaner?

I have never had an issue subbing ground turkey for ground beef. It is much leaner and you are not going to sacrifice much flavor. Another good substitution is chicken Italian sausage for pork Italian sausage. I recently made that switch in the Martha Stewart recipe. I purchased chicken Italian sausage at Trader Joe’s and just cut it into in half and sliced it. I felt like the soup would have been really greasy had I used Italian sausage, and I don't know about you, but I do not like greasy soup!

Also, do not discount non-meat sources of protein such as nuts, beans and eggs.

2.      Look at the fat used in the recipe. Is there a healthier fat you could use?

Olive oil is almost always better than vegetable oil. Other options are coconut oil and grapeseed oil. The concern with olive oil, especially extra virgin, is that you can’t use it at high temperatures. Buy the light version or non-extra virgin and it can withstand higher temps. Olive oil is full of good healthy fats that are good for your hair and skin.

Another oil that is not so great for you is mayonnaise. Use avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo. Avocado is another food that is full of good healthy fats. If you want to go the fat-free option, you can always check out Rocco’s recipe for “mayo” made of yogurt. I love it and it is such a great option for chicken salad or tuna salad.

Plain Greek yogurt is always a good sub for sour cream and it can be used in a ton of other recipes to make things creamy. Think twice about using heavy cream, half and half and butter and give Greek yogurt a shot.

3.      What kind of veggies does the recipe call for? Are there healthier veggies you could substitute or veggies you think you could add?

Not all vegetables are created equal. Potatoes are really not that awesome for you and I consider them a starch, not a vegetable. Are the potatoes mashed? Maybe try this recipe for mashed cauliflower instead. Another option is replacing them with sweet potatoes which are much healthier for you. Sweet potatoes will change the flavor of the recipe since they are so sweet, but they also might satisfy a craving for starch.

Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and is actually very hard for you to digest. Would romaine, spring mix or spinach work instead?

Can you add a vegetable? Cooked spinach does not have a ton of flavor and can be added to egg dishes, soups and even potatoes for some added nutrition. Why not turn chicken soup into chicken vegetable soup? Is there another vegetable that seems like it would be really good in the salad you are making?

4.      Is there ways to cut sodium in the recipe?

Usually I add about ½ as much salt as the recipe calls for. I figure if I am serving it to anyone else, they can add it themselves. I try to make up for the sodium, by adding spices. If I am making something Mexican, I might add a bit more cumin. If it is Italian I up the garlic and Italian seasoning.

I also avoid store-bought items while cooking. Rather than use store-bought salad dressing, which is full of sodium, sugar and who knows what else, I make my own. Just remember for any vinaigrette, the oil to vinegar ratio should be 3:1. I also make creamier dressing by using Greek yogurt and vinegar. You can add garlic, dried onion, parsley, and parsley to make your own ranch dressing. You can add a bit of lemon, some dill and feta cheese and you have a fantastic Greek style dressing.

You can make your own breadcrumbs, barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce (I cannot wait to try my friend Robin’s featured here), croutons, spaghetti sauce,  and taco seasoning and you will greatly cut down on the amount of sodium you consume.

5.      Is there a healthier starch to use?

All starches are not created equal. Refined flour is not very good for you. Whole wheat flour contains much more fiber, iron and other good nutrients. So rather than white bread, use whole grain wheat. Use whole wheat pasta rather than the kind made with refined flour.

Brown rice is superior to white, and also contains more fiber and good nutrients. If you are really partial to white rice, they do make a fortified kind, but also remember that it is more processed and I know I prefer food closest to its natural state.

A good rule of thumb is that the deeper in color something is, the better it is for you.

Quinoa is another whole grain alternative to rice and if you live in Minnesota, you can luckily easily purchase wild rice in the grocery store, which is awesome for you!

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