We can’t afford to take chances when it comes to our family’s health and well-being. With the options all around us, there are things we certainly have control over. The stakes are high. It involves extended or shortened lives for us and for those we love. Pretty high stakes. And don’t forget. It’s not just the number of years one lives that matters. Minding our health is ensuring not only length of life but quality of life. Surely we want to be as strong as our days, don’t we?
Especially when it comes to an activity so mundane yet so repetitive and essential to life as cooking, we want to do what we should and avoid what we shouldn’t. Hmm… makes sense. But tell this to my husband and you could just sense him isometrically bracing himself for something weird and punitive. Like a tiny dollop of yogurt and fat-free cottage cheese served over raw eggplant and okra with a nice cool glass of filtered water to match? Used to be so. Not anymore. There are do’s and don’ts so non-intrusive your family wouldn’t even notice any change. Except, after some time, a growing sense of well-being and all that it entails.
Now let’s buckle down to specifics. Things to do and not to do in three critical areas of our cooking agenda.
- On Cooking Equipment
Don’t use aluminum pans, never mind that they are the cheapest. They leach into our meals by the action of percolating liquid, injecting lead and all its toxicity into our very bodies. Pretty strong? It was meant to be.
Use non-stick pans? Yes, until they are scratched. Non-stick coatings, when ingested, are neither harmless for our bodies. They give us the advantage of reducing up to 50% our need of oil, which is a tremendous plus. Until they are scratched, that is.
What to use? Best would be the thick cooking glass, where feasible. But they do not seem to be so readily available and affordable. The most practical would be to opt for thick bottomed stainless steel. The downside is that they are harder to clean and the thinner sides allow heat to escape but such disadvantages are not intolerable. After cooking, deglaze by pouring water on it while it is still warm. It will make cleaning easier. Do the same on non-stick pans for longer coat life.
- On Cooking Ingredients
Don’t develop preference for recipes using a lot of oil, any oil. When unable to
avoid oil, make olive your #1 choice and canola oil your backup when olive oil would be too flavorful, as in cake mixes. Also, use real butter (in moderation) rather than margarine or butter substitutes. Aside from being healthier, it gives way more flavor without having to use very much. I use unsalted butter because it tastes like old-fashioned creamery butter. And guess what? When I made the switch, my family had no clue.
When choosing milk, cheese, sour cream and the like, choose “fat-free” as often as possible. I have to be honest, though, and admit that I do not like most fat-free foods because I find them flavorless. If you are in my camp with this one, pick “reduced fat” rather than “fat-free” because the flavor is still there but the fat is lower.
Avoid processed foods like the plague. These are foods altered in some way for a variety of reasons. Reasons for the alteration include preservation, flavor enhancement, size and color changes. Topping the list to avoid at all cost are processed meats like hot dogs, lunch meats, ham, bacon, jerky, processed cheese, artificially colored foods (bright orange crackers, chips, etc.), and anything that contains high amounts of preservatives and artificial flavor enhancers. Unfortunately, most canned items fall under this category. So do products listed as instant. I know it’s unrealistic to never eat anything canned or instant, but just be aware and make an effort to avoid them.
There are many alternatives to processed foods. As a rule of thumb, choose fresh items as much as possible. Otherwise, choose frozen rather than canned.
There’s something extremely important for us to avoid. And that is high sodium. A doctor told me recently that salt is every bit as bad for us as fat and that salt substitutes are often worse. If the family has been used to high sodium taste, get everyone’s support soonest and start right away. Gradually, if necessary. Our taste for salt is just a habit and by cutting down gradually, it won’t be such a stark change. And this doesn’t refer to reduction only of pure salt. Many seasonings, quick snacks and other foods we bring home have dangerously high sodium content. Be vigilant. Experiment a little. You’ll be surprised at how many other flavors can be used to make foods taste just as good, if not better. Fresh lemon juice is amazing in its salt-like flavor. Sprinkle it on cooked vegetables, fish meats – just about anything you usually salt (except popcorn. Ha!)
And then there’s something we need to do. Choose whole wheat and grains. This is no brainer for most people by now. Just about everybody knows that whole wheat and grains provide fiber, vitamins and minerals. In contrast, white, “balloon bread” (so called because it’s mostly air) is more like eating white glue. In addition to whole wheat breads and rice (brown rice), try using whole wheat pastas. They can seem a little heavy if you’re used to white pasta. If so, mix them half and half for a while until you get used to the heavier texture of whole grain pastas.
3. On Cooking Methods
Avoid frying. Even with non-stick pans. Learn to use your microwave for more than just thawing or heating. Steaming has become a preferred method of avoiding frying and it preserves nutrients as well. When frying seems to be the only option, try grilling. Most things that can be fried and also be grilled. And again, the flavor is great. And how about roasting? Baking? Poaching? Oh yes! We do have options.
When you incorporate these do’s and don’ts for healthier cooking, I bet nobody will notice a difference in flavor. Give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and amply rewarded.