Healthier Food Choices at Home

(By Mark Beattie – 3rd year BSc Nutritional Sciences student at Manchester Metropolitan University)

With ongoing Covid-19 social restrictions impacting our day-to-day lives, we are spending more of our time indoors at home. Many of us have been cooking or baking and reconnecting with the foods we love. It has given us the opportunity to practice our skills in the kitchen and, for some, appreciate our favourite dishes together with others. Despite this, we should be mindful about the sort of foods we eat, the size of our portions, how often we have them, and how we prepare and cook them. This blog offers some simple suggestions to try which should benefit your overall health and enables you to continue enjoying the meals that you love.

Healthy Eating

Oils & Fats

Dietary Fats are essential nutrients our body needs in small amounts for important biological processes such as energy production, growth & development, hormone regulation, and absorption of Vitamins A, D, E and K.

Dietary Fats provide us with 9 calories (kcal) of energy per gram which is higher than Protein and Carbohydrates, both providing 4 kcal per gram. Therefore, we know that Dietary Fats are higher in calories and should make up no more than 35% of our daily energy intake.

Saturated Fat should only make up 11% of daily energy intake as it can increase non-High-Density Lipoproteins (non-HDL or ‘bad cholesterol’) in the blood, which contribute to Coronary Heart Disease. Trans Fats should make up no more than 2% of energy intake as these can increase inflammation which is a primary cause of many chronic illnesses, such as Type II Diabetes.

Ghee, Palm Oil, and Coconut Oil are all high in Saturated Fat and commonly used by BME populations. Try limiting use to only 1 or 2 tbsp per day. Rapeseed Oil and Olive Oil are widely available alternatives. These are lower in Saturated Fat and higher in Unsaturated Fats which can increase High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good cholesterol’) in the blood, which have positive benefits for heart health.

Reusing cooking oil should be avoided as it produces unhealthy Trans Fats.

Choosing Your Cooking Method

The way you prepare and cook your food can make a big difference to how healthy it is.

Did you know? 

  • Roasting or baking potatoes is known to retain more Vitamin C in the heating process compared with boiling them.
  • Potato skins contain the majority of the Fibre which is important for maintaining stable energy levels and a healthy digestive system.
  • Replace added salt with herbs, spices, salt-free seasoning, vinegars, peppers, garlic, or even lemon juice for extra flavour and zing.
  • Choosing leaner cuts of meat, cutting off visible fat, and removing skin from poultry can help to reduce your calorie intake.
  • Avoid over-boiling vegetables as this can cause B Vitamins to leach into the surrounding water which is then poured away.
  • Cooking carrots, broccoli and tomatoes can increase the availability of Antioxidants which help to prevent certain Cancers and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).

To Snack or Not to Snack?

There is conflicting information about whether snacking should be recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet. Frequent snacking on high-calorie processed foods with too much fat, salt and sugar have been linked to higher body fatness and may contribute to Overweight and Obesity. Fruit & vegetables are lower in calories and will provide essential Micronutrients, Protein, Fibre and contribute to your 5-a-Day. The effect that snacking has on weight gain really depends on long-term eating patterns, the foods eaten, portion sizes, and how physically active you are.

Examples of healthy snacks:

Fruit & Vegetables – mango, pineapple, banana, grapes, carrot, diced peppers, cucumber.

Starchy Carbohydrates – wholemeal chapati, rice cake with peanut butter, wholemeal pitta with guacamole.

Dairy or Dairy Alternatives – un-sweetened yoghurt with fruit, nuts & seeds, low fat milk blended with banana & cinnamon, low-fat paneer cubes with cherry tomatoes.

High-Protein Foods – Hard-boiled egg, handful of nuts & seeds, tinned sardines on wholemeal toast.

Below you will find links to a few recipes that use traditional ingredients but have been slightly altered to make them healthier. I hope they will inspire you to get making and eating!

South Asian cuisine

African-Caribbean cuisine

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