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CONSUMER REPORTS: How to cook healthier meals

by Consumer Reports editors on April 21, 2013 1:40 AM

When it comes to eating healthfully, the way you prepare food can be just as important as what you buy, according to Consumer Reports. For example, cooking some foods makes their nutrients more available, such as lycopene in tomatoes and carotene in carrots.

But some common cooking habits can be unhealthful. Salting water to make it boil faster when preparing pasta not only doesn’t work, but it also adds unnecessary sodium. And rinsing chicken before roasting it can spread pathogenic bacteria in your kitchen sink. Following are eight cooking mistakes to avoid the next time you prepare a meal, and some smart steps to take instead.

Mistreating your vegetables. Boiling and overcooking certain vegetables robs them of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Instead, Consumer Reports recommends steaming them. Studies show that this cooking method preserves more nutrients in vegetables than boiling, stir-frying or even blanching them.

Salting food before tasting. Just one teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the generally recommended daily limit.

For people who are 51 or older, and African-Americans or those who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the recommended maximum is 1,500 milligrams a day. To cut down on sodium, remove the salt shaker from your table and try to train yourself to be satisfied with less. Cut back on ready-to-eat processed foods and high-sodium condiments, such as barbecue sauce, ketchup and soy sauce.

Not rinsing canned vegetables. You can cut down on sodium in canned vegetables and legumes, such as black beans and chickpeas, by rinsing them in water. That helps lower their sodium content by about 10 percent or more, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Failing to remove fat from ground beef. If you pan-fry burgers instead of broiling or grilling them, be sure to pour off the fat. Or try making burger patties in a broiling pan, which has slits or holes to let the excess fat drain away from the meat.

Pan-frying instead of oven-frying. Food soaks up oil as it fries. Try switching to “oven frying,” which uses little oil but still delivers a “fried” crunch.

First, coat the food in something crispy that also adds nutrients, such as whole wheat panko crumbs. Then spritz the food with cooking spray or drizzle with oil, and bake.

Baking with white flour only. The milling process that produces white flour not only removes fiber, but also saps the flour of iron and several B vitamins. When baking, Consumer Reports suggests replacing some white flour with fiber-rich whole-grain flour.

Preparing fat-free veggie salads. Using fat-free dressing or a squeeze of lemon on a salad saves some calories, but it may prevent your body from absorbing all of the nutrients in the vegetables. That’s because some nutrients are fat-soluble, and our bodies don’t absorb them as well without a bit of fat in the meal.

Mishandling olive oil. Of all the types of olive oil, extra-virgin usually contains the most phenols — that is, natural health-promoting plant chemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticlotting properties. Heat, air and light can affect olive oil’s flavor and possibly its nutrients, so be sure to buy extra-virgin olive oil in a small, dark-colored bottle, and keep it tightly capped and stored in a kitchen cabinet away from the stove and sunny countertops.

Overcooking fresh garlic. Garlic has been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers and heart disease. But if you cook it too long, you might miss out on some of its benefits.

So keep cooking times as brief as possible.

Sticking to the same menu. Preparing the same type of meal over and over, or otherwise limiting the food you eat, restricts your nutrient intake. Research has linked a varied diet to better overall health and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

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