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How to Love Food and Stay Healthy

By Georgie Fear, R.D.

I’m a foodie and love to cook too, and really delight in making delicious new dishes. But like you, I also strive to live a healthy lifestyle. I fell into a trap when I was first learning to cook; I would cook whatever looked or sounded delicious. But I soon found out that eating lots of homemade bread, sweets and rich entrees wasn’t helping me look or feel my best. I worried that my new found hobby was going to have to take a backseat if I wanted to stay healthy. Luckily, I can tell you that I found the exact opposite was true! Loving to cook and enjoying delicious foods can help support your healthy lifestyle.

Use your cooking know-how to “makeover” your own favorite recipes to make them healthier. Boost the fiber content by using whole grain flours in baked goods. Adding some wheat bran, oat bran or flaxseed will add fiber as well as a hearty flavor. Decrease fat content by reducing the amount of oil used in recipes. For baking, you can substitute applesauce or mashed bananas in place of some oil to maintain moisture. To prevent sticking when stir-frying or sautéing, you often only need a fraction of the oil called for in most recipes.

You can easily adjust any recipe to be healthier by skewing the proportions of different ingredients. Have a pasta salad dish that you love but know that it’s sky-high in fat and calories? You can enhance the nutritional benefits by adding extra vegetables and paring back the pasta to lighten the caloric load. Mayonnaise-based dressings can be made healthier by choosing olive oil based mayonnaise or low-fat dressing instead. Small tweaks like this can have a big impact on the nutritional content of a dish, while still keeping the flavors you love.

Also, keep an eye out for new healthy recipes. You can discover troves of fun ideas and recipes by reading healthy living blogs and magazines. And many of them now focus on providing mouthwatering food photography as well, so you can feast your eyes while planning your next delicious creation! Luckily, there are many people out there who share our love of health and good food!

Some of the latest trends in healthy living and cooking focus on using fresh, local ingredients, and minimally-processed foods. Using the fresh vegetables and fruit that are in-season where you live ensures maximal nutrition and an ever-changing inspiration for new dishes. Exotic spices can add international flavors and renew interest in even classic dishes, without additional need for fats to boost flavor. Whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet provide the benefits of fiber and vitamins, while being more interesting than standard pasta, bread or rice. Just remember: Food can be fun, cooking can be a stress-relieving activity, and appropriate portions and frequency are also important.

Here’s one of my new healthy creations.  It’s perfect for summertime! I used the classic Mediterranean flavors of tabbouleh, but re-worked them into a quinoa and chickpea dish. Not only is it rich in flavor and low in fat and calories, it’s gluten-free and packed with nutrition.

Quinoa & Chickpea Salad

This dish was inspired by the flavors of tabbouleh, a classic Mediterranean salad. Quinoa and chickpeas are used in place of cracked wheat, boosting fiber and protein content. Lots of fresh parsley is key to its fresh flavor. Cherry tomatoes and red onion add color and texture. Leftovers are even better the next day.

  • ½ cup quinoa

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 14-ounce can chickpeas

  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion

  • 10 ounces grape tomatoes, quartered

  • 2 cups loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped (about 1 cup chopped)

Combine quinoa and water in a small pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl stir together olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Add chickpeas, onion, tomatoes and parsley to bowl and mix. Stir in cooled quinoa. Makes 6 servings

Per serving: 176 calories, 7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 27 g total carbohydrate, 6 g dietary fiber, 7 g protein

For more from Georgie, visit her website.