Cooking methods that help your health



Healthy cooking does not mean you have to be gourmet cook. You just need to use basic food selection and cooking techniques that will turn fresh food into healthy meals.

It is wise to try to get all the nutrients we can from every morsel of food we eat, but is that realistic or necessary? Studies show that based on the daily nutritional requirements, if we get 50-75 percent of the original nutrients from the foods we eat, we will have no problem meeting those goals. The key to being successful is to eat a variety of foods. That variety needs to include protein sources, dairy foods, fruits and vegetables, and grain foods. That does NOT mean eating only chicken, cheese, carrots, apples, and milk. It means eating a variety within each group of food.

Cooking terms:

The following is a list of healthy cooking methods without using excessive fat and calories.

• Boiling cooks food in hot water and is best for cooking whole wheat pasta and rice. Avoid boiling vegetables too long — that reduces the nutrients left in the food.

• Braising browns the food on the stove top and then cooks at a low temperature in a small amount of liquid. A great method for cooking tough cuts of meat.

• Broiling cooks food at high temperature in the oven close to the direct heat source (3-6 inches). Use a pan with a rack so that the fat drips off of the meat.

• Grilling is similar to broiling, except the food is cooked on a grill.

• Poaching simmers foods in liquid.

• Roasting is similar to baking in that you cook the food in the oven, but roasting involves higher temperatures.

• Sautéing cooks food in a pan with a small amount of liquid.

• Steaming cooks food as the food sits above boiling water and the steam cooks the food.

• Stir-frying cooks food in a large pan or wok on the stove over high heat, stirring frequently. Avoid sauces high in sodium.

First, select whole foods as often as you can. That means a food without a label. If it has a label, you should be able to pronounce the list of ingredients or can imagine where they may be grown. Eat seasonally by purchasing fresh produce in season and locally if possible. When fresh produce is harvested in other areas, it could be ripened while transported and lose valuable nutrients along the way. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can have more nutrients than some fresh transported a long distance because they are prepared quickly after harvesting.

Healthy cooking methods can cut the fat and calories in your diet. Adults should limit fat calories to about 30 percent of total calories. For a 2,000 daily calorie meal plan, that means 600 calories from fat a day. That is about 5 tablespoons per day.

Below are some cooking tips that can capture the flavor of the foods and retain the nutrients in foods.

• Use cooking methods that use less oil, butter or fat. Each tablespoon of oil used in frying adds 14 grams of fat or more than 100 calories.

• Steaming retains the most nutrients because the food in not immersed in water. Just find a metal basket or colander to hold the food over some boiling water. Cover with a lid. Water will boil away easily, so be sure to start with enough.

• Use low-fat cooking methods such as grilling, broiling, poaching, stir-frying or roasting instead of frying.

• Broiling and grilling exposes food to direct heat, leaving it crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. These methods are great for meat, seafood, poultry, vegetables and even fruit. Try with sturdy vegetables such as carrots, or thick-sliced potato wedges. Marinate vegetables or brush light with oil and place 4 inches over

heat source, baste with oil, marinade or juice.

• Roasting cooks meats and vegetables in a dry heat in the oven. Roast meats in a pan with a rack, so the fat can drip away from the meat during cooking. The flavors of vegetables can be intensified by roasting them on a baking sheet brushed lightly with oil and herbs.

• Use nonstick cookware to sauté or brown foods. Try filling a spray bottle with olive oil or use low-fat cooking sprays.

• Instead of frying, coat meat with egg whites and then bread crumbs or crushed cereal and bake in the oven.

• To seal in the juices, wrap fish in parchment paper or foil with onions and herbs and bake in the oven.

• Place frozen vegetables in boiling water to retain the most vitamin C and other nutrients.

• Sauté vegetables in low-sodium broth or water with small amount of herbs.

• Enhance flavors by using onions, fresh herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, fresh peppers, garlic, ginger or reduced-sodium soy sauces.

• Rinse canned fruits, vegetables and meats before using to wash away some of the sodium.

Sandra Brown is the food safety and nutrition faculty for Washington State University Clark County Extension. Reach her at 360-397-6060, ext. 5700, or