Fusing good taste and good nutrition
Every spring, Harvard Medical School's Department of Continuing Education, The Osher Institute at Harvard Medical School, and The Culinary Institute of America present a special event called "Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives."
This four-day conference brings together doctors, dietitians, and health care professionals for an experience that combines the latest nutrition research with healthy cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops.
Here are some practical tips for nutritious and delicious home-cooking from a recent Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives.
Make plants the main attraction
A substantial amount of research shows that people who eat a plant-based diet — mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes — live longer and enjoy better health than people whose diets consist mainly of animal-based foods like meat.
Many cultures developed their cuisines around plant foods out of necessity. Traditionally, animal protein was expensive, so limited quantities were available. Mediterranean, Latin American, and Asian cultures are known for pairing healthy plant foods with lean protein (fish, chicken) and monounsaturated fat (olive oils, nuts).
These diets can have substantial health benefits. For example, a Mediterranean-style diet has been found responsible for:
- longer life expectancy
- reduced heart disease
- relief from rheumatoid arthritis
- lower rates of Parkinson's disease
- lower rates of Alzheimer's disease
Here are three tips to get creative with your plant-based meals:
- Follow the motto "If it grows together, it goes together." For example, try the Spanish sauce called romesco over grilled vegetables. It's made from roasted red peppers, olive oil, and nuts.
- Make olive oil really shine by matching a bold olive oil, such as a Tuscan varietal, with other bold flavors, such as rosemary and pine nuts.
- Complement a milder olive oil, such as a French varietal, with subtly flavored foods.
Locally grown foods may be fresher and have higher nutrient content. Since they spend less time being shipped and handled, they may look and taste better.
Spice it up
Despite the lack of research on their health benefits, spices, herbs, and aromatics (any plant, herb, or spice that adds lively scent to a beverage or food) make other plant foods mouth-watering treats. And they are definitely a healthier option than piling on the salt. Unlike salt, spices have not been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke.
Here are four ways to ensure the quality and flavor of your spices:
- Buy them in small quantities and in their whole form to ensure freshness.
- Store them in a cool, dry space.
- Grind them right before use.
- Toast them dry in a hot skillet or stir-fry them in oil over medium-high heat (both for just 10-20 seconds).
Get excited about whole grains
Rich in fiber, vitamin E, and magnesium, whole grains (such as whole-wheat bread or pasta, or brown rice) are far better nutritionally than refined grains (such as white bread or white rice). And they make you feel fuller longer. Because the starch inside of them is absorbed more slowly, they're less likely than refined grains to quickly be stored as fat. Regular consumption of whole grains also reduces the risk of:
- heart disease
- diet-related depression (usually associated with very low-carbohydrate diets)
Here are five ways to incorporate different types of whole grains into your diet:
- Use whole-grain bread, pasta, and brown or wild rice.
- Try grains from around the world such as teff, spelt, farro, kamut, and amaranth.
- Blend whole grains with colorful vegetables, spices, and olive oil.
- Eat whole-grain cold or hot cereals, adding fruit, low-fat milk, or nuts.
- Season whole grains with sweet spices like nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, and masala spice.
Go a little nuts
In a large trial of men and women, eating nuts five times a week or more lowered diabetes risk by 27%. In another large study, women who ate nuts just about every day lowered their risk of heart disease by 32%.
However, since a one-ounce portion of nuts can pack 160 calories or more, eat them in moderation to help prevent weight gain. Two tasty suggestions: toasted pine nuts sprinkled over whole-grain pasta, or almonds on cereal.
Following the above advice will not only make your meals nutritious, but will also allow you to enjoy some of the most delicious food you've ever eaten.