Trust me, eating healthier meals can be easy. More so, if you're cooking at home. That's because it's one of the best things you can do to get healthy- you're in full control of what goes into your food, and how you prepare it, and that's most important. So don't simply give up your indulgences or stick to the same ‘clean’ foods. There are many ways to tweak your favourite recipes to make them more nutritious for your everyday diet- here are my 11 Easy Tips For Healthier Meals.
Lowenthal's non-stick cooking pots, pans and bowls in an Easy Chicken Katsudon
Instead of peeling vegetables like carrots and potatoes, scrub them instead! Not only are many nutrients found close to the skin (especially for vegetables whose skins are darker than their flesh e.g. zucchini and eggplants), the skins also provide a good amount of fibre which is good for gut health. Added bonus: this saves on food waste too!
Did you know that frozen foods are as nutritious, if not more than their counterparts in the fresh foods aisle? These foods are flash frozen right from harvest, meaning all the nutrients they contain are ‘locked’ into the fruit/vegetable. When it comes to fresh foods, transportation and the exposure to extreme heat/cool weather can lead to the loss of nutrients from the food.
I always keep a bag of spinach and edamame in my fridge for the days when I don’t have time to go out on a grocery run.
Water-soluble nutrients (e.g. vitamin B, C) can leach out of foods when they come into contact with water during cooking. To minimise such nutrient losses, steam or microwave your vegetables instead of boiling them. If you must boil your vegetables, avoid overboiling, and use a small amount of water. The remaining water can be repurposed in your next curry or to cook stock in, so the nutrients are not wasted!
Try to include some lean protein at every meal. Not only is it an important component in our diet, proteins also take longer to digest, meaning they keep you fuller for longer and can prevent any sudden hunger pangs throughout the day.
That said, remember that there is more than just meat when it comes to protein. Try to incorporate a variety of plant-based protein in your diet too, like legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans, etc), nuts, and soy products (tofu, tempeh, etc).
If you happen to be roasting meat, do it on a grilling rack so the excess fats can drip away.
Fats do have a place in our diet, however animal fats contain a high amount of saturated fats which can be harmful towards heart health, so consume them in moderation. When cooking meat, trim any visible fat and remove the skin (for poultry) before cooking.
To put things into perspective, 1 tablespoon of grease can contain up to 120 calories!
Asian cooking calls for the use of many sauces/pastes - light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, gochujang, fermented bean paste, bagoóng, belacan, the list goes on! These foods are great for adding flavour, but they are also high in sodium/salt, which has a direct effect on your blood pressure.
According to the World Health Organisation, most people are consuming too much salt (9-12g/day) which is twice the recommended intake of <5g/day for adults (this is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt!)
Evidence shows that reducing our intake of sodium/salt can help to lower blood pressure and one’s risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart attack. Keep in mind the amount of sauces you’re using in your cooking, especially when combining more than one!
Herbs and spices are your best bet when it comes to adding flavour! Aside from garlic, onion and ginger that form the basis of most Asian dishes, there is a world of other herbs to discover!
Here are some dishes to try out with some of the most flavourful herbs and spices around:
Kaffir lime in a zesty spicy steamed fish with kaffir lime chilli
Some foods are better absorbed by the body than others when they are combined with certain ingredients. Here are some:
Turmeric + Black Pepper
Turmeric is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, namely curcumin. However, curcumin isn’t always well-absorbed in the body, so you may be missing out on it’s health benefits. Black pepper contains a compound called piperine (which also has anti-inflammatory properties), but most of all, science has shown that piperine helps to enhance the absorption of curcumin in the body. So remember to add a dash of fresh black pepper each time you’re using turmeric in your cooking!
Related article: Powerful Immunity-Boosting Foods for Flu-Free Days
Tomato + Oil and Heat
Tomatoes contain lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant that can help with promoting good health. However, did you know that you get more lycopene out of tomato sauce than from raw tomatoes? Lycopene is better absorbed in the body when it is heated, and consumed with fats.
Now, aren't they a good reason to cook up a delicious bowl of Tomato Turmeric Chicken, pictured above! (P.S. don’t forget the black pepper)
These are just a few ways to make your meals healthier and more nutritious, without compromising on flavour.
The bottom line: focus on natural foods and flavours, and eat in moderation!
Charlotte Mei is a nutritionist and self-taught cook based in Singapore. She frequently cooks up nutritious, delicious dishes - and the occasional indulgent treat too. Follow her on all her socials at @thecharlottemei .