Common mistakes while making healthy meals according to Alexandra Prabaharan, a nutritionist and caterer, and Raihan Yacob, a fitness trainer and nutritionist.
1. Throwing out your vegetable trimmings
Your vegetable scraps like broccoli stems and onion skin are not only rich in nutrients such as fibre and antioxidants, they are flavourful and perfectly edible. “To avoid creating waste, start a freezer bag of vegetable scraps, and when you have enough, use them to boost your soups and broths. You can strain out the onion skins, and blend the fibrous chunks for a thicker soup,” says Alexandra.
2. Using aluminium foil for grilling
“Many people like using aluminium foil when barbecuing or oven-grilling as it can help speed up the cooking and make cleaning up easy,” says Raihan. “However, at very high temperatures, aluminimum foil can release carcinogenic substances into your food. Use baking paper instead of aluminium foil for oven-cooking, and reserve foil for insulating or tenting baked dishes such that it doesn’t come into direct contact with your ingredients.”
3. Eating the meat but tossing the bones
Animal-based protein stock is packed with health benefits, and making your own stock is a skill worth learning. For example, instead of tossing out the chicken carcass, boil it in a pot with seasoning and other table scraps, then save the broth to be incorporated into dishes such as soups later. “Bone broth is very rich in nutrients, and cooking with the bones is a way to use the whole animal to your benefit,” advises Alexandra.
4. Not being mindful about your salt intake
The link between sodium intake and hypertension is well-documented, and it is possible that you’re consuming more salt than you realise. Says Raihan: “If you’re using salted butter in your cooking, skip the table salt, and add herbs and other seasonings instead to improve the flavour.”
“Low-sodium options in the supermarket aren’t always the solution either; you may end up consuming added carbohydrates and other additives that make them as salty as you prefer. Instead, focus on gradually decreasing your overall salt intake over time.”
5. Cutting out fruit due to fear of sugar
It’s true that some fruit such as mangoes and grapes can cause a spike in your blood sugar, and this may be a concern for people who want to lose weight or are concerned about diabetes. Alexandra advises, “Fruit should remain an essential part of your diet. By cutting them out, you are losing out on a source of not only vitamins and minerals, but also fibre, which are essential for gut and overall health,” she says. If you are concerned about sugar content, stick to fruit such as berries and grapefruit.
6. Making single-veggie dishes
Instead of single-veggie dishes such as cauliflower rice or carrot soup, mix up your vegetables. A believer of the ‘eat the rainbow’ rule, Raihan says, “Incorporating different coloured vegetables into your meals is an easy hack for increasing the nutrients in your diet. Different vegetables offer different benefits, and by having different colours on your plate you know you are getting a variety of nutrients.”
7. Switching to low-fat for all your dairy products
We often think we’re making a healthier choice when reaching for the low-fat pack, but it’s actually better to go for full-fat dairy products, such as milk, butter and cheese from grass-fed cows, as long as they are of good quality. “For dairy products to carry the low-fat label, something had to be taken out and something else added to them – such as carbohydrates, additives and flavourings – so they taste like the real thing. It’s best to stay as natural as possible with what you consume,” suggests Alexandra.
8. Boiling instead of steaming your vegetables
Boiling your vegetables is not doing your nutrients any favours. “When you boil your vegetables, water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C seep into the water,” cautions Raihan, who suggests steaming instead to ensure the nutrients stay within the vegetables. You can then save the water from steaming the vegetables to cook rice, make soup, or add to other dishes.
9. Eliminating food groups or overloading on others
Fats (such as cooking oils), carbohydrates (including sugar), and red meat are examples of food groups that have been vilified as the cause of weight gain. When you eliminate an entire food group out from your diet, it is likely you are overcompensating with something else. “Substituting things like sugar for artificial sweeteners may be taxing on your liver, and denying entire food groups will lead to a deficiency in essential nutrients,” says Alexandra. The conclusion: everything in moderation!
10. For meatless diets: not including a variety of legumes
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or are practising being plant-based a few days a week, it is possible you may be skimping on amino acids, which are essential for hormone regulation, muscle health and athletic performance.
As a fitness trainer, Raihan suggests loading up on legumes as your protein substitute, “Pack your meals with legumes like nuts and beans, while complementing them with complex carbohydrates.”