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6 Tips on How to Increase Your Life Expectancy by Changing the Way You Cook

There's no miracle food that absolutely ensures a long and healthy life, but your cooking choices — what you use and how you use it — certainly have a profound impact on our well-being. Getting into the kitchen in the first place is the most important step — it's all too easy to rush out to the fast-food joint or the frozen aisle at the grocery — but, once there, here are a few general tips for setting down healthier choices on the dinner table.

Life expectancy and cooking connected
Allocating time for cooking well has a whole host of benefits.

1. First and foremost, cook more often

Allocating time for cooking well has a whole host of benefits — not least slowing you down and reducing the stress and anxiety that spring from a harried schedule. Cooking for yourself allows you to choose the best ingredients and the best methods of preparation, and steers you away from the time-saving but unhealthy alternatives of fast food and packaged, instant meals.

2. Practice healthier cooking methods

The American Heart Association, for example, recommends replacing frying with practices requiring less or no fat. These include baking, poaching, sautéing, steaming, or stir-frying — and often allow the natural flavors of the ingredients to take front and center. Try using vegetable oils in place of butter — or modify the preparation method so you can use water in place of any fat at all (Tip: See article Roasting Vegetables Without Oil). Forego the microwave; even for reheating, the stovetop or toaster oven can serve just as efficiently, with less modification of the food.

3. Research healthy ingredients and ingredient substitutions

Cut down on your use of fatty and calorie-rich ingredients. You can easily substitute healthier alternatives to many of these; depending on the recipe, the end result may taste virtually identical, or highlight an interesting and equally delicious flavor. When baking, consider using whole-wheat flour instead of white flour. Try yogurt in place of cheese or mayonnaise in any number of foods, such as dips or egg salad. Cut back on the sugar component in your baked goods — you'll be surprised how good less sugary confections can taste — and use other, healthier sweeteners like cinnamon or vanilla.

4. Grow your own vegetables and/or seek locally/organically raised produce

Eating fruits and vegetables that are really, truly fresh and that have been produced without the use of chemicals not only translates to a healthier meal: It also means you'll be eating the best-tasting produce conceivable. While it may seem daunting to try growing your own garden without prior experience, you can produce a surprising amount of herbs, greens, and other vegetable items in just a small space, whether you're in the city, the suburbs, or the countryside. There are many resources available for learning how to install and tend a garden. Even if you don't have the time or interest to work the land, you can enjoy similarly topnotch fodder by shopping at your local farmers market, if one exists, or joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, wherein producers in your area supply you with a week's supply of fresh vegetables, meats, and other products.

5. Consider eating less meat

The health effects of meat consumption are still fiercely under debate, as they've been for decades. Nonetheless, as institutions like the Mayo Clinic note, evidence suggests that at least reducing your weekly intake of meat and obtaining more of your protein from other sources can be a smart move for your health. Try getting more of your daily protein requirement — between 10 to 35 percent of your entire caloric intake — from legumes, eggs, nuts, and other healthful alternatives. Not insignificantly, you'll also be saving money.

6. Allow your taste buds to adjust to more basic and healthful foods

It's easy enough to develop addictions to fatty, sugary, and salty foods, but it doesn't have to be a difficult challenge to wean yourself off them, as long as you give yourself time and practice a little willpower. For example, if you tend to eat salad greens laden with fatty dressing, ease into a healthier preparation — using a simple vinaigrette, for example, or just lemon juice — and simply try it for a few days. Before long, you may find yourself craving the pleasant bitterness of the vegetable taste itself, rather than masking it with a condiment. Our palettes are adaptable, and our positive responses to raw or minimally processed foods founded on an ancient heritage. Give yourself the opportunity to taste ingredients in their unadorned form.

About the Author: This article was contributed by Jane Spencer.