Cooking at home? You’re on the right track

Dietitian Kelly Pelham shares four must-knows when it comes to cooking nutritious meals.

Dietitian Kelly Pelham shares four must-knows when it comes to cooking nutritious meals.

Kelly Pelham is a New Zealand-registered dietitian and sports nutrition educator. As a fanatical foodie with a passion for health and nutrition, dietetics was the perfect path, she says. Based at Three Rivers Medical, Kelly is committed to helping people accomplish their nutrition, health or sporting goals.

Healthy eating is one hot buzz-word at the moment. Isn’t it ironic then that so many of us follow recipe books step-by-step? Very few chefs have proper nutrition-based training, yet some of us utterly rely on their cooking expertise to base our family meals on.

Even if they do have some knowledge around food and health, their cookbooks still need that “wow” and “selling” factor, which usually isn’t the “eat your greens” message.

So, before you whip out your favourite recipe book, there are a few things you might want to consider.

1. Fat

Thinking about the frequency, amount and type (FAT) can help you get it right when it comes to fat. Cooking with 1-2 tablespoons is generally fine between 4-6 people, but you may want to re-think if this is just for you.
Salad dressing is one to watch, it’s often a hidden source of excessive fat. Alarm bells should be ringing when a serves-four recipe calls for anything over two tablespoons of oil (1 tsp = 1 serve). The type of fat is also important. There are absolutely no health reasons to rush off and buy coconut oil. Stick to olive, canola or rice bran when it comes to cooking, for their favourable nutrition and heat stability component, and boost flavour with healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.

2. Sugar

Aside from the obvious table sugar, honey, sweet chilli, relishes or chutneys are also major culprits, followed by dried fruit, mirin, tomato and Worcestershire sauce — just to name a few.
Various health organisations have interpreted World Health Organisation recommendations for free sugars as no more than 4–9 teaspoons per day. With something like sweet chilli, one tablespoon of sauce equals roughly 2 teaspoons of sugar. Divided by your family of four, that’s only ½ a teaspoon. But when a recipe suddenly calls for ¼ cup you are now looking at 2 teaspoons each. Keep these teaspoon recommendations in mind and, using common sense plus mathematics, you can easily reduce quantities to a more respectable sugar level.

3. Salt

Food is no good to us unless we like it and eat it. This is where salt comes in. Salt has been added to cooking for years and it’s hard to find a recipe that doesn’t end with: “season with salt to taste”. While salt might not be an issue by itself, growing reliance on pre-packaged foods, sauces and exotic flavours makes it too easy for a salty overload.
The problem? High sodium (found in salt) levels can raise blood pressure in many people, a leading risk factor for heart disease. Processed meats, soy, oyster and fish sauce, stocks, curry pastes, mustards and even crushed garlic are high sodium products.
Just one tablespoon of soy sauce can have 900-1000mg of sodium, nearly half our upper level intake for sodium. Bottom line: if your recipe has high sodium products, don’t double up on salt.

4. Gluten, Dairy & Refined Sugar Free

Flick through the pages of your trusty Edmonds and you will find flour, milk and butter featuring in many recipes. Swap with a newer, up-market cookbook and you will instead find almond flour, soymilk and coconut oil.
Gluten- and dairy-free are two major selling factors at the moment. Are these recipes healthier? Unless you have coeliac disease, cow’s milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance, absolutely not.
Eliminating these foods can actually be more detrimental than beneficial to your health, particularly without dietitian guidance.

“No refined sugar” treats is another to particularly watch out for, with alternatives often having similar calorie composition anyway.

Either sigh with relief about not having to spend extra money on special products; or visit your GP and dietitian for suspected food/nutrient problems.

Because we are such a diverse society, we cannot always rely on cookbooks getting our unique nutrition requirements right.

However, if you are cooking meals at home — recipe or not — you are on the right track to good health. It really all boils down to your overall diet quality, which hopefully looks like plenty of colourful vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes and lean protein.

Cookbooks are a fantastic help with this . . . but don’t always take them with a grain salt.

Healthy eating is one hot buzz-word at the moment. Isn’t it ironic then that so many of us follow recipe books step-by-step? Very few chefs have proper nutrition-based training, yet some of us utterly rely on their cooking expertise to base our family meals on.

Even if they do have some knowledge around food and health, their cookbooks still need that “wow” and “selling” factor, which usually isn’t the “eat your greens” message.

So, before you whip out your favourite recipe book, there are a few things you might want to consider.

1. Fat

Thinking about the frequency, amount and type (FAT) can help you get it right when it comes to fat. Cooking with 1-2 tablespoons is generally fine between 4-6 people, but you may want to re-think if this is just for you.
Salad dressing is one to watch, it’s often a hidden source of excessive fat. Alarm bells should be ringing when a serves-four recipe calls for anything over two tablespoons of oil (1 tsp = 1 serve). The type of fat is also important. There are absolutely no health reasons to rush off and buy coconut oil. Stick to olive, canola or rice bran when it comes to cooking, for their favourable nutrition and heat stability component, and boost flavour with healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.

2. Sugar

Aside from the obvious table sugar, honey, sweet chilli, relishes or chutneys are also major culprits, followed by dried fruit, mirin, tomato and Worcestershire sauce — just to name a few.
Various health organisations have interpreted World Health Organisation recommendations for free sugars as no more than 4–9 teaspoons per day. With something like sweet chilli, one tablespoon of sauce equals roughly 2 teaspoons of sugar. Divided by your family of four, that’s only ½ a teaspoon. But when a recipe suddenly calls for ¼ cup you are now looking at 2 teaspoons each. Keep these teaspoon recommendations in mind and, using common sense plus mathematics, you can easily reduce quantities to a more respectable sugar level.

3. Salt

Food is no good to us unless we like it and eat it. This is where salt comes in. Salt has been added to cooking for years and it’s hard to find a recipe that doesn’t end with: “season with salt to taste”. While salt might not be an issue by itself, growing reliance on pre-packaged foods, sauces and exotic flavours makes it too easy for a salty overload.
The problem? High sodium (found in salt) levels can raise blood pressure in many people, a leading risk factor for heart disease. Processed meats, soy, oyster and fish sauce, stocks, curry pastes, mustards and even crushed garlic are high sodium products.
Just one tablespoon of soy sauce can have 900-1000mg of sodium, nearly half our upper level intake for sodium. Bottom line: if your recipe has high sodium products, don’t double up on salt.

4. Gluten, Dairy & Refined Sugar Free

Flick through the pages of your trusty Edmonds and you will find flour, milk and butter featuring in many recipes. Swap with a newer, up-market cookbook and you will instead find almond flour, soymilk and coconut oil.
Gluten- and dairy-free are two major selling factors at the moment. Are these recipes healthier? Unless you have coeliac disease, cow’s milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance, absolutely not.
Eliminating these foods can actually be more detrimental than beneficial to your health, particularly without dietitian guidance.

“No refined sugar” treats is another to particularly watch out for, with alternatives often having similar calorie composition anyway.

Either sigh with relief about not having to spend extra money on special products; or visit your GP and dietitian for suspected food/nutrient problems.

Because we are such a diverse society, we cannot always rely on cookbooks getting our unique nutrition requirements right.

However, if you are cooking meals at home — recipe or not — you are on the right track to good health. It really all boils down to your overall diet quality, which hopefully looks like plenty of colourful vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes and lean protein.

Cookbooks are a fantastic help with this . . . but don’t always take them with a grain salt.

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