By: Rachel Neifeld, RD CDE, CDN

Steam Vegetables
Steaming is one of the best ways to preserve vegetable nutrients- especially the water-soluble nutrients including important B vitamins, vitamin C, and other phytonutrients. Microwaving is also a healthy way to cook vegetables to preserve nutrients since there is no contact with water. The best way to steam vegetables is with about 2 ounces of water at a low heat for anywhere between 5 to 12 minutes depending on the vegetable. If veggies are boiled, use the leftover water in soup or stew to reap the nutritional benefits.

Don’t Overcook Garlic
Crush or chop garlic before cooking and let it sit for 5 minutes before eating or cooking to allow it to produce allicin- a health-promoting sulfur compound that is the key to unlocking many of garlic’s health benefits. Additionally, wait 5 minutes before adding any acidic ingredient such as lemon juice to cooking, as acidic ingredients can deactivate allicin. Garlic should also be added towards the end of cooking so that it is cooked for no longer than 15 minutes to retain its health-boosting, antioxidant properties. If cooking garlic and oil, keep the heat at 250 degrees Fahrenheit or below to preserve the health benefits of the garlic and oil.

Store and Use Oil Properly
Healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants called polyphenols are abundant in olive oil, making this savory fat-source a top choice when it comes to heart health. To reap the oil’s cholesterol-lowering effects, look for brands that are sold in dark tinted bottles that protect the oil from oxidation, which can occur when exposed to light.

Store olive oil in a dark, cool area; keep it away from the stove, as heat can also deactivate olive oil’s health-promoting components. The healthiest type of olive oil to purchase is cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. However, since this type has the lowest smoke point, it should only be used fresh or when preparing a quick stir fry at a low temperature; oxidation and acrylamide (a potential carcinogen that is formed when foods are cooked at high temperatures) formation can occur at close to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Easy Salt solution

Most canned beans put a big dent in the daily recommended sodium intake of 1 teaspoon a day (about 2300 milligrams); most brands contain more than 300 milligrams of sodium in one serving. By rinsing canned beans under running water, you can reduce salt content by at least 10 percent. Though it may not seem like much, every milligram counts when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Try to purchase food products that contain less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. Beans are a great vegetarian protein source and are packed with essential pregnancy nutrients, B-vitamins, fiber, and folate, so don’t let excess sodium get in the way of the nutritional benefits. When it comes to canned beans, their health-boosting potential is definitely worth the rinse.

Another hidden source of sodium comes from adding salt to water to help it boil faster. The salt in the water is absorbed into the food and contributes an unnecessary source of sodium to your diet. Salt’s effect on decreasing boiling time is minimal and not worth the extra sodium intake - your heart will thank you for waiting the extra couple of minutes.

Avoid Hidden fat

Meat protein contains saturated fat- the kind that should be limited as it can clog arteries and lead to heart disease. To reduce the saturated fat content of meals, be sure to drain off the extra fat when cooking ground beef or turkey. This extra step can remove a good portion of the saturated fat found in meat- whether it’s beef, turkey or chicken. It’s also a good idea to select lean cuts of beef which are labeled “loin” or “round,” and to remove all visible fat from meat before cooking. Also, instead of choosing lean beef, go extra lean which can make a difference when it comes to fat content. Four ounces of lean ground beef contains at least 3 extra grams of fat than extra lean beef which contains only 5 grams of fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat.