Keep fats to a minimum
It’s a good idea to minimise ‘hidden fats’ by choosing lean meats and reduced fat dairy products. Processed foods can also have lots of hidden fats. Dietary fats are best when they come from the unrefined natural fats found in nuts, seeds, fish, soy, olives and avocado. Fat from these foods includes the essential long-chain fatty acids and this fat is accompanied by other good nutrients.
If you add fats when cooking, keep them to a minimum and use monounsaturated oils such as olive and canola oil. A little added oil can be a good thing.
At the shop
Low fat cooking begins when you are shopping:
- Choose the low fat version of a food if it exists – for example milk, cheese, yoghurt, salad dressings and gravies.
- Choose leaner meat cuts. If unsure, look for the Heart Foundation tick of approval.
- Choose skinless chicken breasts.
General suggestions on healthy cooking methods include:
- Steam, bake, grill, braise, boil or microwave your foods.
- Modify or eliminate recipes that include butter or ask you to deep fry or saute in animal fat.
- Avoid using oils and butter as lubricants. Use non-stick cookware instead.
- Don’t add salt to food as it is cooking.
- Remove chicken skin, which is high in fat.
- Eat more fresh vegetables and legumes.
- Eat more fish, which is high in protein, low in fats and loaded with essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- If you need to use oil, try cooking sprays or apply oil with a pastry brush.
- Cook in liquids (such as stock, wine, lemon juice, fruit juice, vinegar or water) instead of oil.
- When a recipe calls for cream as a thickener, use low fat yoghurt, low fat soymilk, evaporated skim milk or cornstarch.
- When browning vegetables, put them in a hot pan then spray with oil, rather than adding the oil first to the pan. This reduces the amount of oil that vegetables (such as mushrooms) can absorb during cooking.
- An alternative to browning vegetables by pan-frying is to cook them first in the microwave, then crisp them under the griller for a minute or two.
- When serving meat and fish, use pesto, salsas, chutneys and vinegars in place of sour creams, butter and creamy sauces.
Water soluble vitamins are delicate and easily destroyed during preparation and cooking. Suggestions include:
- Scrub vegetables rather than peel them, as many nutrients are found close to the skin.
- Microwave or steam vegetables instead of boiling them.
- If you like to boil vegetables, use a small amount of water and do not overboil them.
- Include more stir-fry recipes in your diet. Stir-fried vegetables are cooked quickly to retain their crunch (and associated nutrients).
Salt is a traditional flavour enhancer, but research suggests that a high salt diet could contribute to a range of health problems including high blood pressure. Suggestions include:
- Don’t automatically add salt to your food – taste it first.
- Add a splash of olive oil or lemon juice close to the end of cooking time or to cooked vegetables – it can enhance flavours in the same way as salt.
- Choose fresh or frozen vegetables, since canned and pickled vegetables tend to be packaged with salt.
- Limit your consumption of salty processed meats such as salami, ham, corned beef, bacon, smoked salmon, frankfurters and chicken loaf.
- Choose reduced salt bread and breakfast cereals. Breads and cereals are a major source of salt in the diet.
- Iodised salt is best. A major dietary source of iodine is plant foods. Yet there is emerging evidence that Australian soil may be low in iodine and so plants grown in it are also low in iodine. If you eat fish regularly (at least once a week), the need for iodised salt is reduced.
- Avoid salt-laden processed foods, such as flavoured instant pasta or noodles, canned or dehydrated soup mixes, chips and salted nuts.
- Margarine and butter contain a lot of salt but ‘no added salt’ varieties are available.
- Most cheeses are very high in salt so limit your intake or choose lower salt varieties.
- Reduce your use of soy sauce, tomato sauce and processed sauces and condiments (for example mayonnaise and salad dressings) because they contain high levels of salt.
- Use herbs, spices, vinegar or lemon juice to add extra zing to your recipe and reduce the need for salt.
Culinary herbs are leafy plants that add flavour and colour to all types of meals. They are also rich in health-protective phyto-oestrogens (plant compounds that have some similar effects to the female hormone, oestrogen). In many cases, herbs can replace the flavour of salt and oil.
- Herbs are delicately flavoured, so add them to your cooking in the last few minutes.
- Dried herbs are more strongly flavoured than fresh. As a general rule, one teaspoon of dried herbs equals four teaspoons of fresh.
- Apart from boosting meat dishes, herbs can be added to soups, breads, mustards, salad dressings, vinegars, desserts and drinks.
- Herbs such as coriander, ginger, garlic, chilli and lemongrass are especially complimentary in vegetable-based stir-fry recipes.
To make a sandwich even healthier:
- Switch to reduced salt wholemeal or wholegrain bread – for example, some brands of soy linseed bread.
- Don’t butter the bread. You won’t miss butter if your sandwich has a few tasty ingredients already.
- Limit your use of spreads high in saturated fat like butter and cream cheese. Replace them with a thin spread of nut spread, hummus, low fat cheese spreads or avocado.
- Choose reduced fat ingredients when you can, such as low fat cheese or mayonnaise.
- Spend a little time on presentation. You are more likely to enjoy a meal if it’s visually appealing as well as tasty.
- Make every meal an occasion. Set the table. Eat with your family. Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy your food without distractions like television.
- Long-term deprivation, such as crash dieting, doesn’t work. Allow yourself the occasional guilt-free treat.
- You are less likely to overeat if you eat slowly and savour every mouthful.