Now that your fridge and grocery cupboard are stocked with all the essentials to help get you on your way to a healthy low-GL diet; what do you do with all this fresh goodness and how do you transform it into a delicious and tasty meal?
Keeping the GL load of your diet down, and your blood sugar balanced, isn’t just about what you eat but also how you cook what you eat.
The longer you cook something and the higher the temperature, the faster food releases its carbohydrates, raising the GL of your meal. The best way to eat food is as close to its natural raw state as possible.
Here’s a list of the good, the ok and ugly cooking techniques you can use to steer you on a path to low-GL healthy eating. Print it out and stick it on your fridge as a reminder of the options available to you when cooking.
This is the best method of cooking green, leafy vegetables and those with less starch. Steaming preserves a lot of a food’s vitamins and minimises the chance of raising the GL. As a very versatile way to cook, steaming is a particularly good way to prepare fish, leaving it succulent and moist, but is not the best for starchy vegetables and red meat, which take longer to cook. Before you go out and invest in a fancy, tiered contraption, give steaming a try by placing your vegetables in a colander over a pot of boiling water and sealing the steam with a lid. It’s just as effective but be careful not to burn yourself on any escaping steam or hot handles!
This method adds loads of taste without compromising on health. The great advantage of this cooking technique is that the lower temperature of steaming doesn’t destroy nutrients as much as frying does, and you only need to use a small amount of oil, if any. To steam-fry, use a shallow pan or a deep-set frying pan with a thick base and a lid that seals well. You can steam-fry without oil, by first adding two tablespoons of liquid to the pan – such as water, vegetable stock, soya sauce or a watered-down amount of the sauce you’ll use for the dish. Once it boils, immediately add your vegetables, ‘sauté’ rapidly for a minute or two, turn the heat up, add a tablespoon or more of the liquid and clamp the lid on tightly. After about a minute, add the rest of the ingredients. Turn the heat down after a couple of minutes and steam in this way until cooked. You can also use a little olive oil, butter or coconut oil instead of the liquid. Et voila, a healthy meal with lashings of flavour!
Although boiling raises the GL of foods more than steaming, you can minimise this by using as little water as possible, keeping the lid on and cooking the food as whole as possible. For ultimate nutritional value, aim to cook your vegetables to a crisp, al dente, state, as opposed to soft and soggy which is neither nutritional nor appealing.
Covering food in liquid, like water, milk, or a flavoured broth and simmering to gently cook is how you poach food. This underrated cooking technique allows you to make delicious water-based sauce dishes. One of the most delicious and easy things to poach is a fillet of white fish in a vegetable broth flavoured with freshly grated ginger, crushed garlic, a sprig of lemongrass, spices and even some wine – the alcohol burns off though so don’t worry about it derailing your healthy and clean dish!
A very useful cooking technique for larger food with a thicker skin such as butternut. The danger with baking is we tend to coat our food in oil, which oxidises at high heat to create harmful free radicals. Baking usually requires high heat and long cooking times which is why it just doesn’t make it on to the ‘good’ list.
Frying itself should be kept to a minimum where possible, and deep-frying avoided altogether. When, IF, you do fry, use coconut oil or olive oil rather than vegetable oils as they are much less likely to oxidise at high heat.
Whilst grilling food that contains fat is a lot better for you than frying, browning or “burning” food also creates free radicals. As South Africans, braaing is part of our culture but try instruct the braaimaster to get the meat off the grid before it’s charred beyond recognition.
Although fast, microwaving food can deplete important antioxidants we get from food. Microwaves also use high temperatures – which is why they’re so quick. If you must microwave, try use the lower-voltage/heat settings for longer and cover dishes to encourage steaming, although you will need to leave a bit of room to allow steam to escape.