After 15 seasons as nutritionist for NBC’s The Biggest Loser, I’ve learned a great deal about the typical eating habits of many Americans, particularly the habits that cause weight gain. Oftentimes, my clients and The Biggest Loser contestants, are shocked to discover how many calories they’ve been taking in. A surprising number of excess calories come in the form of sauces, dressings, oils and condiments which can turn a healthy meal into a nutritional nightmare!
One reason we always seem to be pouring, slathering and dipping our foods into tasty extras is because our taste buds have become accustomed to the intense flavors of processed foods – from salty to sweet, spicy to creamy. “Flavorful” typically means to us that a food is appetizing to eat – and once we’ve tasted it, we want to keep eating.
Many of my clients are reluctant to part with their processed favorites because they don’t think their cravings can be satisfied with “healthy” food. But that’s a misconception. Nutritious foods can be absolutely bursting with flavor if seasoned and prepared properly. (And you don’t need to be a trained chef to do it!)
Tips for Creating Flavorful Food
Regardless of the recipe, the quality of the outcome is, in large part, a function of the quality and types of ingredients you use:
- Buy the freshest, highest-quality foods you can afford. Not only does freshness directly correlate to flavor, but focusing your diet on “clean” foods made from fresh, whole ingredients likely to be more filling and satisfying than consumer processed foods.
- Use salt properly. Salt is our top source of sodium, essential to our diet, and helps regulate fluid levels in our bodies. We need only about 2.4 grams of sodium per day – about a single teaspoon of table salt. Experiment with salt – from sea salt to flavored salts and everything in-between – to achieve different results in food. Fresh whole foods need little (if any) added salt.
- Incorporate herbs and spices. Even small amounts can pack a wallop of flavor.
- Add fat! The right kinds of fat, that is. Healthy oils like olive and grapeseed oils and nut oils.
- Make vinegar a staple. Balsamic, malt, rice and apple cider vinegar are the most flavorful.
- Prep before you cook. Healthy marinades, brines and dry rubs can help coax out flavors.
Another simple way to impart great taste is through your choice of cooking method.
- Dry heat. In the oven or on a grill, dry heat surrounds your ingredients with hot, dry air. Use nonstick cookware to avoid adding fat as a lubricant. Set stove or oven to the correct temperature to ensure foods retain flavor.
- Wet heat. Hot liquid – such as water or broth – eliminates the need for added fat. Food can be fully or partially submerged or suspended over the liquid.
Whether or not you are trying to lose weight, consuming appropriate portion sizes is essential to a healthy, balanced diet. Our eyes often deceive us (especially when we’re hungry!) so measure foods when you can, always after it’s been cooked for the most accurate measurement.
The Pièce de Résistance
Finally, cooking with flavor doesn’t have to be time-consuming…or even hands-on! Try Beer-Braised Pulled Pork Tacos (recipe below). This delicious recipe is one of my favorites and most of the work is done in a slow cooker.
Here’s to healthy, flavorful cooking! Bon appétit!
Beer-Braised Pulled Pork Tacos
Makes 4 (2-taco) servings
2 teaspoons olive or grapeseed oil
1 pound whole pork tenderloin
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 cup beer (any variety)
1 cup low sugar Barbecue Sauce
8 corn tortillas (6-inch diameter)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, for garnish
Chipotle puree (see below)
In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Quickly brown the pork and transfer it to a slow cooker. Add the onion and carrot to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, or until soft and just starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the beer and barbecue sauce and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the pork.
Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for about 3 hours. The pork will be very tender and separate easily with a fork.
Wrap the tortillas in foil and warm in the oven at a low temperature for about 15 minutes. Serve the pork in the warm tortillas garnished with cilantro. Pass chipotle puree and extra barbecue sauce in squeeze bottles, if desired.
Nutrient analysis per serving: 340 calories, 5 g total fat (1.5 g saturated), 75 mg cholesterol, 135 mg sodium, 41 g total carbohydrates (9 g sugars), 6 g fiber, 28 g protein
Yield: 1 cup
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – 1/4 cup water
Puree the contents of the can and the water in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator. The puree keeps refrigerated for 1 month or more.
Cheryl Forberg, R.D. is a James Beard award-winning chef, one of the nation’s leading advisors on health and nutrition, and chef and nutritionist for NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Cheryl is slated to speak at G3 Women’s Conference, March 11-13, 2015. Cheryl co-wrote the eating plan for The Biggest Loser show and has shared cooking and nutrition tips with the contestants for 15 seasons. She has also contributed to all of the books in the NYT bestselling “Biggest Loser” series and has authored other books including her latest, A Small Guide to Losing Big (2015). Cheryl strongly believes you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to eat well and that eating well can change your life. She lives in Napa, California with her boyfriend, four chickens and two dogs.