How to eat healthier without losing flavour

Simply changing a few ingredients can make your meals significantly better for you.

Everyone is looking for ways to eat healthier. Even if you have no interest in losing weight, or aren’t training for anything it makes sense to include better ingredients in your meals and cut out the bad ones, but the belief is that this comes at the cost of taste. Can anything truly replicate the delicious flavours of fats, oils, butter and cream in your favourite dishes or are we destined to simply eat them and deal with the guilt?

Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to improve your health without impacting the flavour of your meals. Substitutions for some of the worst culprits in our diets are getting better all the time, and there are now some genuinely easy and indiscernible ways to get the nutrient boosts you need without sacrificing all those delicious flavours.

Substitute out the oil in pan-cooking

Butter and oil have become the standard ways to cook food in a pan without it sticking, but these ingredients are among the worst culprits when it comes to packing on the weight. Rather try cooking the things you would usually fry in broth, balsamic vinegar or wine. This is a particularly good idea when frying up chicken or fish, as well as mushrooms or spinach, all of which are known for absorbing a lot of oil, and therefore, fat.

While it’s true that you will lose the crispiness that often comes from pan-frying, you will more than gain when it comes to flavour. There is little better than a tuna steak fried in a light soy sauce mixture. Don’t be shy to add additional ingredients, like tomatoes, or garlic to boost the flavour and the nutrient profile even further.

Eat fruit instead of drinking the juice

Picture: iStock

Fruit juice is a simple way for your body to ingest heaps of sugar without any of the dietary fibre benefits.  Most of the sugar in juice is fructose which can only be processed by the liver. Pouring a lot of fructose into your body in one go can, according to some experts, stop the liver from doing its job properly, which in turn is linked to a range of health problems, including obesity, type-2 diabetes and increased fat production.

Rather drink water and pick up a piece of fruit if you want that hit of sweet juice.  The fibre in the fruit protects us against the effects of fructose by slowing its absorption, and also makes us feel full. If you are tired of water, unsweetened iced-tea can give you some of that flavour to ease your cravings while adding no sugar at all.

Make your own

Picture: iStock

Everyone knows that box meals in stores are generally worse for you than making the dish yourself, but few people realise this extends to simple products like yoghurt as well. Store bought flavoured yoghurts are often packed with sugar. Avoid this by making your own. Buy plain yoghurt, or better yet greek yoghurt, and add chopped fruit pieces with a dose of honey. It tastes fresher and you get all the benefits with none of the downsides.

The same goes for salad dressing. Cut out the added sugar, sodium, and preservatives typically found in premade dressings by doing it at home. TMix vinegar or lemon juice and oil in a 2:1 ratio and flavour it with herbs and spices such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and pepper.

Start adding more “superfoods”

Superfoods are those foods are said to have anti-inflammatory properties or that add an extra punch of vitamins. These foods include apples, avocados, beets, berries, broccoli, cherries, citrus fruits, olives and olive oil, spinach, sweet potatoes, and zucchini. Cape Town based, Outcast foods makes a pancake batter that just requires the addition of water, but is absolutely packed with superfoods such as Goji berries, activated buckwheat, chickpeas, and maca. Their Falafels are made with activated chickpeas and two different blends of spices.

The benefit of these sorts of specifically created health substitutions is that you not only get the superfood boost, you also avoid things like gluten and high fats, with none of the loss of flavour. Check here for stockists.

Bulk up meat meals with veggies

Stews, mince and other blended dishes can be easily bulked up by adding veggies. Beans, sweet potato and things like barley or lentils can easily substitute for half the meat in the dish without significantly impacting the flavour. Meat is a dense source of calories and also much higher in fat, while vegetables can provide valuable nutrients and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

When making burger patties look no further than mushrooms as an ideal substitute for some of the meat. Not only are they far cheaper than meat they are also a great source of fibre and an excellent source of B vitamins, selenium, potassium, and copper. Cremini and Portobello mushrooms can be diced up and mixed with the patties and your guests and kids won’t even notice.

Don’t be afraid to use spices

When you are left with little option, but to substitute for a less flavourful option, like perhaps cauliflower for bread, don’t be afraid to make up for the loss of flavour with spices.  Caraway and cumin are great additions to savoury dishes, while cinnamon and cardamom can do wonders to sweet ones. For a more tart umami taste, there is little better to use than Tumeric.

Cinnamon, in particular, is a great way to trick your body into thinking it’s getting a dose of sweetness when it isn’t. While there is no way its ever going to substitute entirely for sugar, a dash on your breakfast oatmeal can trick your taste buds into thinking the flavour is significantly better than it is.


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