Healthy-cooking techniques: Boost flavor and cut calories
Medically reviewed on March 8, 2017
Healthy cooking doesn't mean that you have to become a gourmet chef or invest in expensive cookware. You can use basic cooking techniques to prepare food in healthy ways.
By using healthy-cooking techniques, you can cut saturated fats. Consider, for instance, that many of the fats used for frying — such as butter and lard — are high in saturated fats.
Adults should limit calories from saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 200 calories from saturated fat — about 22 grams of saturated fat — a day. By switching to roasting, you not only eliminate added fat but also allow any fat in the food to drip away.
The healthy-cooking methods described here best capture the flavor and retain the nutrients in foods without adding excessive amounts of fat or salt. Use them often to prepare your favorite dishes.
Besides breads and desserts, you can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, vegetables and fruits. For baking, place food in a pan or dish, covered or uncovered. Baking generally doesn't require that you add fat to the food.
Braising involves browning the ingredient first in a pan on top of the stove, and then slowly cooking it partially covered with a small quantity of liquid, such as water or broth. In some recipes, the cooking liquid is used afterward to form a flavorful, nutrient-rich sauce.
Broiling and grilling
Broiling and grilling expose food to direct heat. Both methods allow fat to drip away from the food.
To grill outdoors, place the food on a grill rack above a bed of charcoal embers or gas-heated rocks. If you have an indoor grill, follow the manufacturer's directions. For smaller items, such as chopped vegetables, use foil or a long-handled grill basket to prevent pieces from slipping through the rack.
To broil, place food on a broiler rack below a heat element.
To poach foods, gently simmer ingredients in water or a flavorful liquid, such as broth or wine, until they're cooked through and tender. The food retains its shape during cooking. For stove-top poaching, choose a covered pan that best fits the size and shape of the food so that you can use a minimal amount of liquid.
Like baking, but typically at higher temperatures, roasting uses an oven's dry heat to cook the food. You can roast foods on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.
For poultry, seafood and meat, place a rack inside the roasting pan so that the fat in the food can drip away during cooking. To maintain moisture, cook foods until they reach a safe internal temperature but don't overcook them.
Sauteing quickly cooks relatively small or thin pieces of food. If you choose a good-quality nonstick pan, you can cook food without using fat. Depending on the recipe, use low-sodium broth, cooking spray or water in place of oil.
Searing quickly browns the surface of food at a high temperature, locking in flavor and adding a crusty texture to meats and other proteins. Heat a pan on high heat and use a small amount of oil for a golden crust. Finish cooking with another cooking method such as braising or roasting.
One of the simplest cooking techniques is steaming food in a perforated basket suspended above simmering liquid. If you use a flavorful liquid or add seasonings to the water, you'll flavor the food as it cooks.
A traditional Asian method, stir-frying quickly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food while they're rapidly stirred in a wok or large nonstick frying pan. You need only a small amount of oil or cooking spray for this cooking method.
New ways to flavor foods
Creating meals with herbs, spices and other natural flavorings is one of the best ways to add color, taste and aroma to foods without adding salt or fat. Healthy flavor boosts include:
- Fresh herbs. Choose herbs that look bright and aren't wilted, and add them toward the end of cooking.
- Dried herbs. Add pinches of dried herbs in the earlier stages of cooking. But avoid prepackaged seasoning mixes because they often contain a lot of salt.
- Dried mustard. Used sparingly, dried mustard adds a zesty flavor while cooking.
- Vinegar or citrus juices. Add them at the last moment. Vinegar is great on vegetables, and citrus works well on fruit such as melons.
- Marinades. Try a low-fat marinade for foods that you broil, grill or roast. To make your own marinade, use 1 part oil to 2 parts vinegar or citrus juice, and add herbs and spices as desired.
- Fresh hot peppers. Remove the membranes and seeds first, and then finely chop the peppers. A small amount goes a long way.
- Dried vegetables and fruits. Some vegetables and fruits — such as mushrooms, tomatoes, chilies, cherries, cranberries and currants — have a more intense flavor when dried than when fresh. Add them when you want a burst of flavor.