I’ll just put this out there: I’m a bit food and cooking obsessed.

I love the process of thinking about creating meals. I often plan one, two, sometimes even three, meals ahead. I read cookery books like they’re novels, and I love baking for friends and family. Over the last few years, my love of food has been tested a little as I’ve suffered from bad, sometimes debilitating, Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I initially felt a bit hard done by about being hit by IBS as I’ve always eaten healthily; I don’t eat meat, I include healthy fats in my diet, cook from scratch and eat very limited processed food. Suddenly things I’d taken for granted, like eating garlic and onions, were off the table as I reacted so badly to them. I still have to be careful about eating salad as too much raw food can be difficult for me to digest. And I can’t tell you how much I miss eating chickpeas! It has made me reassess what ‘healthy’ really means for my body and the importance of knowing what goes into food.

The role of cooking

This is where cooking comes in. In the modern world, it’s pretty tricky to know what’s really in your everyday food if you don’t know the basics of cooking. For anyone with special dietary needs this is even more important.

If you’re not able to cook it’s a lot more difficult to have a healthy, balanced diet. I’m not talking about whipping up a 3 Michelin-starred meal or something worthy of Masterchef. Some simple skills that will allow you to create a tomato sauce can go a long way. In comparison pre-made sauces are laden with sugar, salt and all sorts of things that make them able to survive on a supermarket and then cupboard shelf for a VERY long time.

Part of the skill of cooking is learning how to make food taste good. Eating healthily isn’t about punishing your taste buds, but there is a process involved in getting used to fresh tasting food and learning how to cook it properly.

And yes, treats are important, but they shouldn’t be the majority of your diet and they can also be made in a healthier way (which a few of the tasty photos shared during the chat attested to).

I was really interested in knowing how the Health Bloggers Community felt about the role of cooking in healthy eating. I therefore recently held a Sunday night Health Bloggers Twitter chat to find out. It was pretty clear that I wasn’t the only one who thinks being able to cook is important.

Picture from FoodAtHeart.co.uk

Tips for healthier cooking

What tips did your fellow health bloggers share? Here are my highlights:

  • Eat seasonally – food tastes better when it’s not from thousands of miles away and is grown when it’s meant to
  • Eat more vegetables – courgetti is a particular vegetable hero
  • Get to know your spices and seasoning – this can be the difference between a great tasting or bland dish
  • Learn some basic sauces and dressings, particularly a selection you can use across lots of different types of dishes, such as bolognese, béchamel and one for stirfries
  • Keep your fridge and cupboard stocked with good ingredients to help you avoid temptation
  • Buy the best ingredients you can afford – this could mean upgrading to free range eggs or a couple of organic items, but start somewhere
  • Experiment with a range of healthier cooking techniques, such as steaming and quick stir frying
  • Reduce the amount of sugar suggested in baking recipes
  • Cook with love
  • Stick with it – cooking takes a little patience!

Although there are some general rules about what makes food healthier, like anything whole and unprocessed, take the time to find out what makes your body feel best. And building a habit is important; as Mary of nufo pointed out, “Cooking is an issue of momentum; the more you do it, the better you get”.

Get to know your palate, get to know your body, slow down and listen to what works for you. And, most importantly, enjoy the process of cooking as that’s how you’ll produce great tasting food.