When trying to cook healthy food it can be difficult to find meals that are low in refined sugar and saturated fat AND taste good enough to remove the temptation to eat junk food. A lot of "healthy cooking" can seem like a lot of work very little taste. It can be un-appetising at the best of times, especially when you're standing in a shop eyeing up the sausage rolls.
However, it only takes a touch of creativity to turn something like a boring chicken breast portion into something much more appetising. The foods, spices, tips and tricks below can all be used as an important part of any healthy eating plan, helping you to keep on the straight and narrow by adding taste to potentially dull dishes and keeping the calories down.
Spice Up Your Life
Whether you're using fresh basil or ground cinnamon, herbs and spices give healthier food the flavour it sometimes lacks, and have zero calories in them. They can be picked up pretty cheap, and last for a long time. These plants and powders can stop you from resigning yourself to a disappointing meal and using them might even spark off a whole new appreciation for food or a passion for cooking.
For example:
Marinating chicken completely changes the taste of the meat and stops it from drying out under the grill.
A sprinkling of garam masala on rye crisp-bread and cottage cheese makes this healthy snack a whole lot better and parsley, oregano, chives or paprika can all be used to spice up scrambled eggs.
If you don't consider yourself much of a cook then consider buying a herb and spice guide to teach you which flavourings go best with which foods. One final bonus of eating spicy food is that many spices have thermogenic properties, meaning that they make you produce more heat, thereby burning more calories.
Getting Saucy
Instead of reaching for the vegetable oil, ketchup or barbecue sauce, consider alternative oils and sauces to help bring out the best in your food. Lemon juice gives a citrus kick to anything you put it on, wasabi naturally reduces your appetite and vinaigrette can be chucked on vegetables, beans, meat or fish to make them much more appealing.
Coconut oil is a particularly impressive substance - it helps increase the flavour and juiciness of anything you throw it on, and has a very high concentration of medium chain fatty acids. These MCFA's are a kind of carbohydrate substitute that don't send your blood sugar levels soaring, making coconut oil a top-notch fuel for the body. Various vinegars can also provide a strong taste to a meal, and with such a variety to choose from - balsamic, wine, sherry, herb - you're likely to find something you like.
Like for Like
Sometimes you can't resist a meal with unhealthy components, even though you know that the rice in your curry is full of carbs and the flour you use is packed with gluten. However, substituting unhealthy ingredients for healthier alternatives can allow you to have your cake and eat it.
Black beans or whole wheat flour can replace white flour in a cake or cookie recipe while stripping out a lot of the gluten.
Avocado purée or mashed banana can be used as a replacement for butter in baking, providing the necessary texture while avoiding the high fat and salt content of the dairy alternative.
Quinoa is a great replacement for couscous - it's a whole protein with a delicious nutty taste that knocks the comparatively flavourless, gluten filled couscous out of the park.
Zuchinni ribbons or whole wheat pasta are perfect replacements for pasta
Cauliflower has a number of uses as a replacement food - if you steam and grate cauliflower it can go alongside a chilli or a curry in the place of rice, and mashed cauliflower is a much healthier alternative to mashed potato
Prosciutto or pancetta can be used to give you the smokey taste of bacon with far less sodium, and replacing ground beef with ground turkey will make any meal much healthier with hardly any difference in taste.
Sweet as Sugar
When it comes to finding an alternative to white sugar, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin should be completely avoided. However honey, maple syrup and molasses are all healthier ways to satisfy a sweet tooth than refined sugar. An even better alternative is agave nectar - a type of sugary syrup made from the agave plant. It has a very low glycemic index and tastes pretty good to boot. It can be added to teas or poured into porridge to sweeten things up without sending your insulin levels through the roof.
Locking Nutrients In
Steaming is much healthier than boiling, as it stops vitamins getting leeched out into water and also retains colour, consistency and taste in most vegetables. Eating food raw is actually considered healthiest, as any form of cooking tends to destroy some of the nutrients in foods. This may not be to everyone's taste, but cooking food a little less rather than charring meat on the barbecue or turning vegetables into limp mush will definitely help you get the most out of your meals.
Wrapping Things Up
We're so used to having strong flavours with no thought required when eating junk food, so when it comes to cooking healthy meals it can be hard to figure out how to make stuff taste good without taking cookery courses! It is a more involved process than just frying up some bacon or boiling some pasta, but the benefits that come from avoiding processed foods stuffed with additives make it well worth the effort. Hopefully you've now got some ideas on how you can make your next meal delicious, allowing you to look and feel great and still eat awesome food that you love.
The Cookery School at Braxted Park, Essex, combines a stunning location with award-winning chefs and a diverse range of courses to suit all abilities. Perfect for corporate hospitality and food fanatics alike, it is the ideal way to learn new skills from the some of the country's finest chefs; Paul Boorman, Mark Webb, William Grinsted and Peter Bayless to name just a few.
Whether you are looking to explore the world of cooking with a new cuisine, throw the perfect dinner party or create the ultimate team building experience, you will find the ideal solution for you at Braxted Park.
 For more information on the Cookery School at Braxted Park or the courses it runs, visit www.braxtedparkcookery.co.uk


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