Mayo Clinic Health Library

Healthy cooking techniques: Boost flavor and cut calories

Updated: 04-15-2011

Introduction

Introduction

Healthy cooking doesn't mean that you have to become a gourmet chef or invest in expensive cookware. You can use basic cooking techniques to prepare food in healthy ways.

By using healthy cooking techniques, you can cut fat — and calories. Consider, for instance, that each tablespoon (about 14 grams) of oil you use when frying more adds than 100 calories. To put it in perspective — adults should limit fat calories to no more than 20 to 35 percent of total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 400 to 700 calories from fat a day. By switching to roasting, you not only eliminate added fat but also allow any fat in the food to drip away.

The healthy cooking methods described here best capture the flavor and retain the nutrients in foods without adding excessive amounts of fat or salt. Use them often to prepare your favorite dishes. Click the tabs to the left for a description of these healthy cooking methods.

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Baking

Baking

Besides breads and desserts, you can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, vegetables and fruits. For baking, place food in a pan or dish surrounded by the hot, dry air of your oven. You may cook the food covered or uncovered. Baking generally doesn't require that you add fat to the food.

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Braising

Braising

Braising involves browning the ingredient first in a pan on top of the stove, and then slowly cooking it covered with a small quantity of liquid, such as water or broth. In some recipes, the cooking liquid is used afterward to form a flavorful, nutrient-rich sauce.

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Broiling and grilling

Broiling and grilling

Both broiling and grilling expose food to direct heat. To grill outdoors, place the food on a grill rack above a bed of charcoal embers or gas-heated rocks. If you have an indoor grill, follow the manufacturer's directions. For smaller items such as chopped vegetables, use foil or a long-handled grill basket to prevent pieces from slipping through the rack. To broil indoors, place food on a broiler rack below a heat element. Both methods allow fat to drip away from the food.

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Poaching

Poaching

To poach foods, gently simmer ingredients in water or a flavorful liquid such as broth, vinegar or juice until they're cooked through and tender. The food retains its shape during cooking. For stove-top poaching, choose a covered pan that best fits the size and shape of the food so that you need a minimal amount of liquid.

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Roasting

Roasting

Like baking, but typically at higher temperatures, roasting uses an oven's dry heat to cook the food. You can roast foods on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. For poultry, seafood and meat, place a rack inside the roasting pan so that the fat in the food can drip away during cooking. In some cases, you may need to baste the food to keep it from drying out.

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Sauteing

Sauteing

Sauteing quickly cooks relatively small or thin pieces of food. If you choose a good-quality nonstick pan, you can cook food without using fat. Depending on the recipe, use low-sodium broth, cooking spray or water in place of oil.

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Steaming

Steaming

One of the simplest cooking techniques is steaming food in a perforated basket suspended above simmering liquid. If you use a flavorful liquid or add seasonings to the water, you'll flavor the food as it cooks.

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Stir-frying

Stir-frying

A traditional Asian method, stir-frying quickly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food while they're rapidly stirred in a wok or large nonstick frying pan. You need only a small amount of oil or cooking spray for this cooking method.

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Using herbs, spices

Using herbs and spices

Creating meals using spices and herbs is one of the best ways to add color, taste and aroma to foods without adding salt or fat. Choose fresh herbs that look bright and aren't wilted, and add them toward the end of cooking. Add dried herbs in the earlier stages of cooking. When substituting dried for fresh, use about one-half the amount.

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