You've heard it before: If you want a truly healthy meal, cook it yourself. But sometimes, you can put in a ton of effort making a nutritious meal, only to find that you've fallen prey to one of the many healthy-cooking mistakes. Avoid taking the healthy out of your meal by learning about eight common cooking mistakes.
1. Putting Oil in Pasta Water
You may have heard that adding oil to boiling water will keep your pasta from sticking together and to the bottom of the pot. In reality, this is far from true. In fact, adding oil to your pasta water makes it harder for sauce to stick to your pasta when you're preparing it. It also strips certain nutrients out of the pasta and can add unnecessary calories. Instead, once your water boiling, add one tablespoon of salt per quart of water and keep the pasta moving around by stirring frequently.
2. Boiling Your Veggies
Boiling your veggies may be one of the quickest and simplest way to prepare them, but resist the urge to opt for the easy way out. When vegetables are boiled, a good deal of their nutrients — like vitamins and proteins — are eliminated. And don't even think about microwaving them! Instead, try using a vegetable steamer, throwing them on the grill, sauteeing them on the stove or roasting them in the oven to lock in the flavor and nutritional value.
3. Equating Fat With Calories
Opt for olive oil or butter over margarine when cooking — as margarine has a lot of bad fats and processed ingredients. And while olive oil and butter both contain fats, don't equate fat directly with "bad calories." Olive oil and butter have a comparable amount of calories in each serving, so don't overcompensate when using the healthier olive oil while cooking. Moderation is key. Also, look for extra virgin olive oil and grass-fed butter to ensure the highest quality of ingredients.
4. Peeling the Produce
You may be used to peeling your fruits and veggies before eating them but resist that urge. A lot of fruits and vegetables hold their essential nutrients — like vitamins A and C — in or right beneath their skin, so ingest this part of the produce as much as possible to get all of the health benefits. You'll get the most bang for your buck from cucumbers, zucchinis, apples, potatoes, kiwi, eggplant, carrot and squash. The exception to this rule is for citrus, onions, bananas and asparagus.
5. Skimping on Flavor
Many people think that a nutritious meal has to be tasteless and bland, but this simply isn't true. Eating foods that are low on favor will make healthy eating a chore, and you'll be more likely to crave unhealthy, flavorful foods. Instead, give your food a flavor kick by using spices such as basil and cayenne pepper, which can help give your metabolism a boost. Just go easy on the salt. You don't need much to give your dish a kick, but too much can push you over your daily sodium intake.
6. Overcooking Your Food
This rule is especially important when it comes to vegetables, since they're some of the easiest foods to overcook. And when you overcook your vegetables, two things happen: They become unappetizing — who wants to eat mushy squash? — and they lose a lot of their nutritional value, making them empty calories. When cooking, keep an eye on your veggies to make sure they're not losing their color and only cook them for a few minutes.
7. Going Heavy on the Sauces and Dressings
Don't ruin a delicious and nutritious veggie-heavy stir fry meal or salad by adding too much teriyaki sauce or ranch dressing and packing on a lot of unnecessary calories. Only use enough sauce to add flavor to the dish, and do the same when it comes to dressings for salads. When possible, use low-sodium or low-fat sauces and dressings when cooking. And watch out for added sugar! You'd be surprised how much is unnecessarily added to condiments.
Read more: 10 Common Food Traps (and How to Avoid Them)
8. Sticking With the Same Old Stuff
No matter what the meal, eating the same foods over and over again is the quickest way to get sick of them. Avoid falling into a rut and losing your motivation to eat healthy by constantly changing up the meals you cook. Use different ingredients every night, try different cooking methods and even make up a few recipes of your own — anything to make healthy eating fun and delicious.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you trying to cook healthier meals? What are some of your favorite recipes? Do you find yourself making any of these healthy-cooking mistakes? What other mistakes would you add to the list? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!