Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thoughts on healthy cooking

In commemoration of D-Feast Friday, I thought I'd offer some thoughts on healthy cooking. On the face of it, it would seem absurd to listen to me on this subject, but I've been working on it, and have some things I think are worth sharing.

1) If you're interested in making the food you prepare be more healthy, I suggest you expand your ability to use spices and herbs. Most people find that fat, sugar, and simple carbohydrates taste really good. If we're to reduce the role of those things in our food, we need to find other ways to make our food delicious. Spices and herbs can be a pretty easy (and usually cheap) way to make things tasty.

2) One of the current trends among the foodies is an insistence on fresh, high-quality ingredients. I have some quarrel with that. I believe that approach will improve the tastiness of our cooking, but I also believe that budget and circumstances necessitate compromise. I read a recipe the other day that called for "farmer's market turnips". I call "nonsense!" on that. Are they really saying that supermarket produce would not be acceptable? I know a lot of words for that, but I'm not putting any of them in a blog posting.

3) A small amount of something really tasty can bring life to a pedestrian meal. I've been experimenting with quick pickles, a term used to refer to pickles that don't have to be "canned" and are ready to eat in a few hours or days. I have done kimchee, pickled roasted red peppers, pickled onions, and marinated cucumber. They're really easy to do, and a bite or two can liven up a plate, make a sandwich special...or even substitute for a late night snack.

4) Learn to roast vegetables. If you haven't had roasted cauliflower, you haven't had cauliflower. Don't quibble with me on this - Uncle Bob understands these things.

5) Speaking of veggies, there's a lot of very valid concern about how expensive healthy cooking can be. There are ways to alleviate this, though: cabbage is cheap, as are carrots and usually celery. Lots of other stuff is inexpensive in season. If you do well on beans (pintos and such), dried beans are really cheap and aren't hard to prepare.

6) Also on veggies, don't listen to people putting down the nutritional value of frozen veggies. According to the best info I can find, what kills the nutrients in produce is time off the vine. While the fresh produce in your marked may have been in transit or storage for many days, frozen veggies are flash-frozen within hours of picking.

7) Finishing up the veggie section, steaming produces a better-tasting result than boiling for many vegetables and does a better job of preserving nutrients.

8) Substitutions. The basic trinity of stuff most Americans could stand to eat less of is sugar, fat, and salt. The food industry has responded to interest in healthier eating by offering lots of products that has reduced amounts of one of these things or that are intended to substitute for other foods. From my standpoint, there are three things to be aware of here:
a) Most of the time, it seems, the manufacturer compensates for reducing one of the three "bad" ingredients by boosting one or both of the others. So, a low fat product, for example, might have increased amounts of sodium - maybe MASSIVELY increased amounts. Whether the approach they've taken is appropriate for you depends on just what you want in your diet. For example, I need to watch both carbs and fat. But, my blood pressure is well-controlled, so I'm willing to (selectively) accept increased amounts of sodium, even in careful choices.
b) The acceptability of substitutes as far as flavor is individual. I happen to like fat-free mayo, which many find to be horrible. On the other hand, I can't handle most fat-free cheeses. When I was a vegetarian for a while, I enjoyed some "veggie burgers", but the tofu "hot dog" I tried was one of the vilest things I ever put in my mouth. My point here is that if you choose to experiment in this area, don't be discouraged if the first product you try won't pass muster for you.
c) I don't know enough about this to speak knowledgeably. I do know, though, that some sugar-free foods (such as hard candies or gum) contain "sugar alcohols" that may raise blood glucose just as "real" sugar does. So be aware that "sugar free" doesn't always mean "good for diabetics". See this article from the Joslin Diabetes Center for a little more information.

That's probably enough ranting for now, don't you think?


  1. I agree with just about everything in this post - especially the frozen veggies part!

  2. Anonymous8:50 PM

    These are such great comments and there is no question frozen veggies are just fine (even Jamie Oliver says so!). :)

    I know nothing about pickling, but yes I agree - the farmer's market is not exactly convenient and I still think we manage to eat ok. ;)

  3. Keep up the thoughts on healthy cooking! I very much appreciate the "average everyday guy" take on what, to me, is a very overwhelming subject.


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T Minus Two by Bob Pedersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.