You can't swing a dead carrot these days without hitting someone raving about some new superfood or declaring a previously healthy ingredient as toxic. Eating healthily has become a difficult task…or has it? Armed with a few bits of knowledge, you'll find it easy to buy and prepare healthy meals that are high in flavor.
Start with the Best Ingredients
It may seem obvious, but in order to make a healthy and tasty meal, you must start with the best ingredients. "Best" means the freshest, high-quality, in-season foods. Fruits and vegetables that are not in-season in your area will not be as fresh, and many are treated with chemicals that not only make them less healthy–they can also rob them of flavor
While buying organic foods is healthier both for you and for the environment, budget and availability may limit your organic selection. Organic or not, it's important to learn how to choose produce that is at its peak, how to choose the best cuts of meats, and how to tell when fish is past its prime.
The same rule applies to everything in your pantry. If the best olive oil costs twice as much–and tastes twice as good–as the next best one the local store carries, get the good stuff (though often, the more expensive item is not the best item). You will find you use less of those ingredients that have richer flavors.
Let the Ingredients Speak for Themselves
A lot of healthy recipes involve substituting spice mixtures for salt, one type of fat for another, or eliminating certain categories of food altogether. While such recipes are definitely lower in unhealthy ingredients, if they don't taste as good as the dishes they are replacing, they will not satisfy–and that is not acceptable.
One good rule of thumb comes from home-style Italian cooking: The central ingredient of a dish should be the dominant flavor. If you are making a salad and you have a few heirloom tomatoes that are bursting with tomato-y goodness, keep the salad simple; adding raisins, nuts, herbs, or a heavy dressing will overwhelm your star player.
A good steak stands on its own. Gravies, butter, and a crust of salt are overkill. Better yet, cut down meat portions by making the meat a garnish or serving smaller sizes complimented with a side dish of rich, healthy mashed yams with just a little bit of goat milk butter. A secret weapon of many professional chefs is duck fat: It looks rich and it tastes even richer, but it has the fat profile of olive oil. Unrendered duck fat can be found in many stores for less than $1.00/lb. It is easy to render, and once the process is finished, you are left with cracklin's–little crispy duck rinds that make a luxurious garnish.
Good preparation is as essential as good ingredients for making tasty, healthy meals. Shortcuts are often the enemies of flavor, and taking time to cook good food is often not only healthy for your body–it also nourishes the spirit. Canned whipped topping usually contains chemicals, what you don't use can go bad, and you can't adjust the amount of sugar it contains. Even worse, some contain sugar substitutes–just as much an enemy of health as the fruit of the cane itself. Whip your own cream; you can control everything about it, and if you make only a small quantity, you can more easily control portions.
Boiling and microwaving aren't necessarily bad methods of preparation, but they don't add flavor to a filet of salmon or skewer of mushrooms and peppers like grilling or broiling does. Experiment with recipes and read food blogs to learn how to bring out the best of every kind of food. If your day job or family life doesn't leave you with much time in the kitchen, gadgets like pressure cookers and stovetop smokers cut down on time and effort without sacrificing flavor.
It's that word that we love to hate because we hear it everywhere we turn. Perhaps it rankles us because we know it's best, but it can be so hard to embrace it. By following the simple suggestions of being picky about every item, substituting only with tasty ingredients (don't forget the duck fat!), and using the best methods of preparation, any home cook can learn to feature the healthy ingredients while minimizing or eliminating unhealthy ingredients without anyone knowing the difference.
Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger with decades of experience manipulating words. Using words, he has aided in the prosecution of killers, he has helped people find houses for sale by owner , and he has penned vows of marriage.