The best hack for a healthy diet

Summary: Eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself.

In less than a century, we have gone from fearing impending famines to worrying about controlling a global obesity crisis. Those most affected by this are urban-dwellers. If experts are asked to choose the biggest cause for the obesity epidemic, they blame the growing demand for processed and packaged food.

It is not hard to understand why. The aim of food corporations is to ensure that they sell as much as they can. To do that, through years of research in the “cravability” department, they have figured out the ingredients that make their products tempting to buyers—salt, sugar and fat—all of which they use in unhealthy amounts.

Given the scale of the problem, people have come up with many solutions to dealing with obesity. Most common among them is to diet. I’m not obese but I wanted to understand how difficult it is to go on a diet, so I tried the slow carb diet recommended by writer Tim Ferriss. I managed to lose 3.5kg in four weeks. Some of my friends have tried the 5:2 diet and have made it work too.

While fasting has benefits beyond keeping you healthy, there are easier ways to maintaining a healthy diet. The best hack I know to achieve this is to eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself.

The rationale is simple: when you choose to cook yourself, you will avoid making foods like french fries or chocolate brownies on an everyday basis, just because of the amount of effort that goes into making them. You will also use salt, sugar and fat in conservative amounts. The result is you will eat healthier food without having to set up strict rules around what you eat and when.

I used to think that cooking for one person is just an inefficient use of my time. But I’ve changed my mind. The amount of time you cook is actually a very good investment given the health benefits.

Implementation: It is impractical to think you will be able to cook every meal. So there are two tricks that might help you cook as many of your meals as possible. First, when you cook, make enough to last you two or three meals. Eating the same tasty food you cooked three times is not boring. Second, allow cheat days for when you have to or you choose to eat out. Relying on my slow carb algorithm, a rule of one cheat day a week is preferable.

Bonus: In 2010, I wrote a series of posts on tasty quick fix recipes. Their aim was to live up to my mum’s words: “There is always something you can make from whatever you have in the kitchen.” Since then I’ve come up with many more such recipes, and it’s time to revive that series.

This is a post in “the best hack series”, where the aim is to find small ideas that have a big impact in improving everyday life.

Image: chezmichelle, CC-BY-NC

Quick Fix Recipe 2: Potato + Onion + Yogurt

This is part of a series on recipes that I use to fix myself a quick meal with as little number of ingredients as possible.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 300 g potatoes
  • 100 g yogurt
  • salt, Indian Spice box (red chilli, turmeric, garam masala, cumin seeds, mustard seeds)

Method:

  1. In a pan, pour 1tbsp olive oil and sauté chopped onions till they are nice and brown.
  2. In the meantime, take the potatoes and put it in a carry bag. Microwave the potatoes for 12 mins at 850W and check if they are cooked. If not, run for a few more minutes. This is probably the fastest way in which I have ever cooked potatoes. Simple, hassle-free and good results. PS: Potatoes put in without carry bag dry up and are not cooked evenly.
  3. Peel and chop the potatoes as you like. Add some salt here and mix the potatoes well.
  4. In the pan, add the salt & spices to taste (chilli first, followed by turmeric, garam masala & cumin seeds). Mix onions evenly and then add yogurt and about 50 mL water. Mix well. Add the potatoes to this mixture and stir again. Leave the preparation on medium flame for 5-10 mins.
  5. Pour in a bowl and enjoy with nan bread or khakra.

Overall cooking time: 35 mins

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