Monday, March 21, 2011

Do We Need to Cook to be Healthy?

This is a question dietitians are asked frequently. Studies show improved health for individuals who choose a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, but low in saturated fats and sodium. So can you make healthy choices if you don't cook or don't have the equipment to cook?

Picture of fresh vegetables
Fresh vegetables

The answer is yes, with a little thought and planning. Here are some healthy options that require little or no cooking from each food group.

Fruits and vegetables:

  • Try to choose fresh produce. It can be washed and eaten raw, and precut options are available in most grocery stores.
  • Frozen fruits are great to sprinkle on your cereal or yogurt.
  • Frozen vegetables can be added to soups or heated for a quick side dish.

Whole grains: 

  • Choose whole grain cereals such as oatmeal or shredded wheat cereal. Add some low-fat yogurt and fresh berries and you have a healthy breakfast to start your day.
  • Toast some whole wheat bread, then spread on some nut butter and top it with sliced banana. 
  • For lunch, consider grains such as brown rice, quinoa or millet. Many whole food grocery stores offer salad bar or deli options that are healthy and delicious. Just be cautious of salads made with mayonnaise or sour cream as they tend to be high in calories and saturated fats.

Lean proteins: 

  • Oven-roasted turkey or chicken from the deli can be a great lean protein option if you remove the skin before eating.
  • Add tofu, beans, nuts or seeds or a hard-boiled egg to some pre-washed greens to make a healthy salad. 
  • With fish, fresh is always best and bakes up quickly, but if you don't have that option, canned salmon or tuna are good alternatives. Whether you cook, make a commitment to choose fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins that can lead to better health now and in the future.

— Kelly Cantrell, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University

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