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Healthy Habits: How-Tos

How to Make Any Dish Healthier

These simple tricks will help boost the nutrition profile of your favorite foods.

Worried that cooking healthier is going to leave you scouring grocery store shelves or slaving away in the kitchen? Relax. It's really much simpler than that, explains nutritional therapist Stephanie Brooks, a registered dietitian. It's pretty painless to make any dish healthier, she says. You usually have the ingredients you need on hand. It doesn’t mean you have to compromise flavor, either. Try these tricks to boost the nutrition profile of your favorite dishes.

1. Save the salt for last.

Salt, or the sodium in salt, can contribute to high blood pressure. When you’re baking, the chemical reactions involved require that you add salt to the recipe. But if you’re cooking, says Brooks, you can afford to add the salt right before you’re ready to serve. “Or wait and let everybody add their own,” she explains. You’ll usually find that the dish contains adequate flavoring without it.

2. Use the real deal … but less of it.
We often substitute low-fat options for ingredients such as cheese, compromising flavor and leaving us unsatisfied. Next time a recipe calls for a caloric ingredient, opt for using less of it but choose a variety with a stronger flavor. For example, use extra-sharp cheddar instead of medium cheddar. You might be able to use as little as half the amount, yet you’ll still enjoy plenty of flavor.

3. Put your knife to work.
You can maximize the flavor of those high-calorie, high-flavor ingredients by taking one more step. Spend a minute finely chopping ingredients such as cheese, bacon and olives. This helps distribute the flavor throughout your dish, and you’ll need a smaller amount. A piece of center-cut, finely chopped bacon will provide less fat and plenty of flavor, says Brooks. Hint: This works with high-calorie chocolate too!

4. Pass the sweet potatoes.
For a powerful nutritional punch, substitute sweet potatoes for white potatoes. Loaded with beta-carotene, vitamins B6 and C, and fiber, sweet potatoes (which sometimes wear a yam label at the grocery store) rank No. 1 on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of superfoods. While a baked white potato bears a glycemic index (GI) of 85, a sweet potato only has a GI of 54, which means it elevates blood sugar levels less.

5. Sneak in more veggies.
Too often, we cooks worry about straying too far from a recipe. But in most recipes, you can add as much as 50 percent more vegetables, without significantly altering the taste of the dish. Making tacos? Try adding chopped red bell peppers or shredded carrots to the meat. Add finely chopped or pureed veggies to sauces. When it comes to veggies, remember that more color means more valuable nutrients.

6. Substitute quinoa for rice.
Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is a superfood, a naturally gluten-free seed once cultivated by the ancient Incas. Eaten like a grain, it offers an excellent source of complete protein with plenty of fiber and a pleasant nutty flavor. If you’re worried about elevating blood sugar levels, quinoa’s GI of 53 makes it a better choice than white rice (72) or brown rice (66). Plus, it cooks more quickly.

Kim Boatman writes the popular weekly food column “Home Plates for the San Jose Mercury News and the Bay Area News Group. A former Mercury News features writer, Boatman is the managing editor of Exceptional Canine and a regular contributor to Completely You.

Also read:
How to Make a Sensational Smoothie, 8 Healthy Foods That Make You Happy and other food articles 

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