Since becoming a nutritionist, a message I strive to get across is that for most of us, it’s the small things that count and being consistent as opposed to making drastic unsustainable change. A big area where this applies is in the kitchen cooking! There are simple changes we can make to improve the quality and nutrient density of our diet, without much effort at all!
If you are wondering what improvements you can make, here are a few of my top cooking hacks to help transform your health:
Add healthy fats to green smoothies and salads/veg
Our fear of healthy fats is slowly being broken down which I am incredibly glad to witness because I have forever been an advocate for healthy fats in the diet! When we don’t consume adequate fats, we not only miss out on the health benefits of eating fats but can also miss out on getting the full benefit of the other food we eat. For example, fruits and vegetables contain beneficial fat-soluble antioxidants and vitamins. Fat-soluble means, in order for us to absorb the antioxidants and vitamins, we need adequate fat in our diet, preferably in the same meal. If you regularly start your day with a green smoothie full of veggies and some fruit, try adding a serve of healthy fats such as avocado or nuts/seeds. The same goes for salads, add a delicious dressing using extra virgin oil or tahini or add some avocado and nuts/seeds to the salad. Adding healthy fats will also make these meals much more satisfying and help see you through to your next meal.
Make extra virgin olive oil your oil of choice
If I had to choose one cooking ingredient to really prioritise, it is definitely Australian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). EVOO is higher in natural compounds and antioxidants compared to regular olive oil because it is less refined. The health benefits of EVOO are undisputed and a new study has discovered that olive oil in the Mediterranean diet may hold the key to improving the lifespan and mitigating age-related diseases, due to the way it can activate a specific pathways in cells. By cooking with EVVO, try to see it as not only using oil for its non-stick function, but also as a way to add extra nutrition to your diet.
Swap packet sauces and flavourings for homemade
This is a no brainer but so many of us rely on pre-made sauces and flavourings due to the misbelief making our own mixes takes more time! Unfortunately a lot of packet sauces and flavourings contain added sugar, poor quality oil, preservatives and thickening agents, which can leave us feeling a little blah after eating. When it comes to spice mixes, choose a brand, which only contains spices, or purchase a few spices and spend some time making up your own mixes. For example, if you are a lover of Mexican food, purchase some chilli power, cumin and paprika and create your own mix. This is not only a cost effective way to cook but also a healthier alternative. When making a stir-fry instead of using a bottled sauce try soy sauce + sesame oil + pinch chilli + grated ginger + lime juice and some fresh herbs! When it comes to curries, if you have leftover herbs, blend them up with some garlic, ginger, chilli and spices to create an express curry paste.
Use a marinade when grilling meat
Throwing a steak or fillet of fish on the BBQ is not an uncommon dinner especially during the working week. Research has suggested grilled meat is a source of heterocyclic amines – carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds. However, when meat is marinated using spices and herbs, which are rich in antioxidants, the heterocyclic amines may be reduced. Interestingly, a study has shown a marinade containing rosemary and thyme to be the most effective at reducing heterocyclic amines. If you are a meat eater, try marinating meat prior to cooking and if you regularly make meat patties and cook them on a BBQ or a grill, try adding herbs and spices to the pattie mix for the same beneficial effect.