Technology has given us unprecedented access to all sorts of recipes. In fact, you could say we are in oversupply.
Some recipes look great in the picture but when you look through the ingredients or methods they may not actually be all that healthy by the time it gets to your plate.
As you sift through the options online not all recipes will be equally healthy, which can make it tricky to identify which are appropriate for you and your health and performance goals.
The aim is to try new recipes and new flavours whilst still maintaining some consistency in your health and diet.
It’s useful to understand how to manipulate a recipe to boost nutrient density and match your needs. Here are nine tips and examples to making recipes healthier:
1. Substitute high-fat protein sources for lean protein sources
If beef mince is an ingredient, choose extra lean beef mince. Or if chicken thigh is listed, choose skinless chicken breast.
2. Replace highly processed meats with less processed
Substitute salami for grilled chicken or sausages with a lean steak.
3. Boost your vegetable intake
Generally-speaking, half of your plate at main meals should consist of non-starchy vegetables. If the portions in the recipe aren’t going to reach this then add some more, either on the side or as part of the meal. Frozen and canned vegetables can provide a great veggie top-up to wet dishes or stir frys. This can also make the portions seem a little bigger but without the extra energy.
4. Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking
Unlike what is commonly thought, this oil can be safely used to cook at temperatures up to 200 degrees Celsius while also providing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory and gut benefits.
5. Make creamy dishes creamy without cream
If cream is listed, there may be options where you can use an alternative, consider replacing it with Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, smooth ricotta or light cream cheese to reduce the amount of saturated fat and increase the protein quantity. For example, Greek yoghurt can be a delicious way to make soup creamy or to top off a taco in place of sour cream.
6. Know your substitutes for food allergies or intolerances
Don’t write off a whole recipe because of one ingredient. If you have coeliac disease but there is regular pasta listed as an ingredient, choose gluten-free pasta instead. Alternatively, if you have a FODMAP intolerance and react to onion and garlic, replace these with the green tips of shallots and garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil.
7. Choose whole grain over refined grain
Whole grains are more nutrient-dense than refined grains, including a higher amount of fibre, vitamins and minerals. If flour is a listed ingredient, consider wholemeal flour instead, similarly choose wholemeal pasta over regular pasta.
8. Adapt portions to meet your needs
Total energy requirements as well as total protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats needed will differ significantly across individuals. Therefore, the allocated serve size will not necessarily be appropriate for your goals or needs. If it’s a more energy dense meal, you may need a smaller size. If you have a high energy budget from training, you may need a little more.
9. Mix-up the cooking methods
Frying and deep food generally results in a greater use of oil than baking or steaming. If reducing total energy intake is part of your goals, choosing baking or steaming will support this greater than frying.