Follow these simple cooking tips and trade your salt shaker for a balanced variety of vitamins and flavors.
In this third and final part of our interview with Ruby Schuler, RD, registered dietitian at Queen of the Valley Wellness Center, learn how to trade the salt shaker for a satisfying variety of flavors and nutrients. Read part 1 and part 2 of the series.
Q. I'm trying to reduce the amount of salt I feed my family. Are there good alternatives to salt that I could use for cooking?
A. As a whole, Americans eat way too much salt, and high levels of dietary salt increase the risk of heart disease. Salt is found in virtually everything, partly because it helps preserve food and partly because food manufacturers know that it can lead to cravings for every-increasing quantities of whatever they put it in. It's habit-forming, and once you develop a taste for salty food, foods with less salt can taste bland and unappetizing. Luckily, there are flavorful ways to wean your taste buds off of salt. Instead of cooking with salt, add citrus or another acidic component instead. Things like rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, limes and lemons will bring out the flavors of your dish, and keep it low in calories and sodium. If you do need to use salt, make sure your measure it to avoid adding too much. It will take time to get used to a low-sodium diet, but let your body and your taste buds adjust. It can take about four weeks to retrain the taste buds to get used to less salt.
Q. Which oils do you recommend for cooking?
A. One of the most popular oils many people use when cooking is extra virgin olive oil. Please do not use it; if you must cook with olive oil, choose regular rather than extra virgin. Even though it’s a healthy option for eating, extra virgin is not meant to be used as a cooking oil. It has a low smoking point, which is the temperature at which oil begins to emit toxic, carcinogenic smoke. I highly recommend switching to vegetable, avocado, grape seed, or sunflower oil instead. These have much higher smoking points, and are safer for you and your family.
Q. I’ve heard boiling vegetables makes them lose their vitamins and minerals. How should I cook vegetables to keep them from losing their nutritional value?
A. That’s true; there are water-soluble vitamins that can be removed through boiling. If you want to keep your vegetables crisp and full of their nutritional value, try sautéing, grilling, baking, broiling or steaming them in the microwave. Microwaves have a tendency to change their texture a bit, but vegetables will not lose their vitamins or minerals.
Q. Is there a multivitamin you recommend?
A. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate vitamins and other supplements, so it’s difficult to weigh the pros and cons of each and find a winner. Instead, I recommend eating your vitamins by filling your plate with a rainbow of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and lean meats.
Q. There are so many diets out there--it's hard to tell which are sound and which are fads, and nobody can try them all. Do you have a specific diet you’d recommend?
A. Instead of a particular diet, I recommend finding a good balance in meals. "Eat the rainbow," as they say. Fill up half of your lunch and dinner plates with a colorful selection of vegetables, and then add in legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats and low-fat (or non-fat) dairy. Add a serving of fruit to your breakfast for a sweet morning snack.
And speaking of sweets, don’t deprive yourself of your favorite snack or dessert. It’s okay to indulge every now and then; it actually helps you from bouncing back into old, unhealthy eating habits. If you don’t allow yourself a little leeway, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s okay to add a special treat to your grocery cart and not feel guilty about it.
How often do you challenge yourself to try new foods and cooking techniques? Share your success story in the comments below and tell us about your new and healthy favorites.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.