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I Tested 185 Recipes — Here’s What I Learned About Healthy Cooking – Everyday Health

4 minutes, 45 seconds Read

As a dietitian, I’m obviously interested in food that nourishes the body, but, for me, it’s got to taste great, too! As luck would have it, a large part of what I do for a living is develop and test recipes. In fact, I tested 185 recipes in 2023 alone! This means that I get to spend much of my time in the kitchen, testing out the recipes I come up with to make sure that they taste as good as they are for you. When I started my career 14 years ago, recipe development was not in my repertoire. It is a skill that I have developed and honed over the past few years and, as a result, I have learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the valuable tips and tricks I’ve picked up:

Using herbs and citrus for flavor lets you cut back on sodium. One of the first things I realized when doing a nutrient analysis (figuring out how many grams of fat, carbohydrates, protein, and calories are in a recipe) was just how easy it is to go over the recommended daily limit for sodium. By adding herbs and often citrus juice and zest for flavor, I barely even noticed the lack of salt, even though I was often cutting it significantly.

Not all salt is created equal. Another thing I discovered is that the type of salt you choose really matters. While I’m not a big fan of pushing brands, I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt exclusively in my kitchen for one simple reason: Because of the way that the crystals of salt are formed, this type of salt contains half of the amount of sodium of most other salts teaspoon for teaspoon.

Cooking with plant-based proteins is easier and more delicious than I anticipated. I am a born and raised omnivore, but since I have started developing recipes, I have become more and more vegan-curious. There are really two main reasons for this: First, the evidence touting the health benefits of following a plant-based diet cannot be denied. Second, using plant-based protein is a healthy recipe developer’s dream when you’re trying to keep saturated fat to a minimum. That’s because almost every source of saturated fat comes from an animal, notes the American Heart Association. Even though I had never regularly cooked with foods like tofu or tempeh in the past, I was pleasantly surprised to find how easily they could be incorporated into healthy recipes.

Swapping fats is an easy way to slash saturated fats. I grew up eating butter, and let’s be honest, it’s delicious. While I still use butter sparingly in my personal kitchen, I would never use it in one of the healthy recipes I develop because it isn’t going to help me hit the nutrition targets I’ve set for these recipes (especially when it comes to unhealthy saturated fat). As a result, I only use healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and nut and seed oils. The recipes are still incredibly flavorful and I don’t miss the butter one bit.

There are plenty of natural sugars to go around. Keeping added sugars to a minimum in foods that are expected to taste sweet is no easy task, but after a little experimentation, I found that natural sugars from unsweetened applesauce, bananas, and dates stood in for refined sugar quite well while simultaneously adding fiber, vitamins, and minerals to the finished product. When necessary, a tablespoon or two of honey or maple syrup also add sweetness and trace minerals (although they do still count as added sugars).

Whole grains are incredibly versatile. As a registered dietitian, whole grains have been my go-to for many years. Brown rice, quinoa, farro, oats, and whole-wheat flour have been staples of my diet and ever-present in my pantry. However, it wasn’t until I started to experiment in the kitchen that I really found just how versatile these grains can be. For example, while most of us think of oats as a breakfast food that could only be served with sweet ingredients, I tried it in a Savory Oatmeal Buddha Bowl and was shocked at how amazing it was!

Fruits and vegetables can be entrees. When it comes to healthy recipes, fruits and vegetables have to take center stage. These low-calorie foods are also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and have been linked to lower blood pressure, a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer, notes the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Plus, having plant-focused meals always helped me keep calories and saturated fat low while more than meeting the guideline I set for fiber.

Keep trying the foods you “don’t like.” While it may come as a surprise, there are some healthy foods that I don’t really care for. As a recipe developer, however, I sometimes have to step outside of my comfort zone. The results were sometimes shocking. Take, for example, the time I was supposed to develop a recipe with grapefruit (a fruit I hadn’t tried since childhood, when I hated it!). When I added it to the recipe I was testing and gave it another chance, I absolutely loved it! I guess taste preferences really do change over time!

After testing hundreds of recipes, I’m not only proud of the healthy meals, snacks, and desserts I’ve created, but also of how much I learned along the way. I hope these tips inspire you to do more healthy cooking. I know I’m looking forward to another year of delicious, healthy adventures.

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