Tips for healthy Pacific food (+ 2 recipes)
Familiar flavours used in new and more heart-friendly ways
The flavours have been faithfully captured, but a new cookbook from The Heart Foundation is setting out to change the way much-loved Pacific dishes are prepared at home.
The Heart Foundation’s Pacific Heartbeat operations manager and dietitian, Mafi Funaki-Tahifote, says Pasifika Flavours is designed to inspire a healthier approach to modern and traditional dishes, using familiar ingredients in new and exciting ways.
“Nutrition is a large focus of the Heart Foundation’s work in the Pacific community. Incidences of heart disease are high among Pacific people, due to risk factors like obesity. With statistics indicating that 66.2 per cent of Pacific adults and 29.7 per cent of Pacific children are obese, diet and nutrition are crucial factors to address,” she says.
“We know that more than half of younger Pacific adults are less likely to meet the recommended three servings of vegetables per day, so we’ve made sure Pasifika Flavours is crammed with vegetable-rich recipes. We’re proud of the recipes and believe all Pacific cooks out there will love them too.”
Pasifika Flavours is available to download from heartfoundation.org.nz. Hard copies can also be ordered free of charge there too. Along with 25 recipes, the book contains nutritional tips (some of which we share below) on how to make healthier Pasifika food.
Tips and tricks for healthy Pacific food
Replace animal-based fats with plant-based fats
- Except for coconut fats (cream) and palm oil as these are high in saturated fat.
- Eat less saturated animal-based fats such as butter, meat fat, lard, ghee, cream and chicken skin.
- Good sources of plant-based fats include nuts, seeds, avocados and plant oils such as canola, soy and olive oils.
- Oils from fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are also healthy.
Cutting back on salt and sugar
- Try not to add salt when you’re cooking. If you do add salt, use the iodised version.
- Try to avoid adding salt at the table.
- Eat mostly whole and less-processed foods. Around ¾ of the salt we eat comes from processed or packaged foods such as bread, processed meats and sauces.
- Use the ‘per 100g’ column of the nutrition information panel, when comparing products.
- Salt is listed as ‘sodium’ on a product’s nutrition information panel.
- Look for foods labelled as reduced or low-salt options.
- Season with herbs and spices rather than salt.
- Gradually cut back on the amount of sugar you sprinkle on cereal, or add to your drinks.
- When choosing processed foods, choose those with low levels of sugar. Remember that the ‘per 100g’ information on food labels includes naturally-occurring and added sugar. The ingredient list will show how many types of sugar have been added.
Ways to reduce your saturated fat intake
- Eat mostly whole and less-processed foods, rather than high-fat convenience foods and takeaways.
- Cut off visible fat from meat and remove the skin from chicken.
- Choose leaner cuts of meat such as corned silverside instead of salted brisket.
- When cooking stews, casseroles, soups and gravies, skim off any fat that sits on the surface.
- Choose reduced-fat milk and milk products whenever possible.
Easy ways to flavour food
- Add extra vegetables and fruit that are in season.
- Instead of using salt, season dishes with pepper, ginger, garlic, onions, chilli, curry powder, lemongrass roots, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and paprika.
- Dry-roast spices in a frying pan to bring out more of the flavours.
- Add the juice of a lemon or a simple home-made salad dressing to cooked vegetables and salads before serving.
- Gently fry any onion and/or garlic in a little oil before you use them to bring out the sweetness.
Using coconut cream and oil
- Eat less coconut cream/oil.
- One-third of coconut cream is fat and most of that fat is saturated.
- Coconut cream and coconut milk are different; coconut cream has less water, has more fat and has a thicker texture.
- It’s important to try to dilute coconut cream by adding water without affecting the flavour and texture.
3 packets vermicelli
1 Tbsp peanut oil (or other oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1½ kg lean beef, cut into small pieces
2 large red peppers or carrots, finely chopped
2 cups broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen green beans, sliced
½ cup reduced-salt soy sauce
- Place the vermicelli in a large bowl and add hot water until just covered. Soak for 10–15 minutes or until the noodles have expanded
- Heat the oil in a large pot, add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook until onion is soft.
- Add the beef and cook until it is just done.
- Drain the vermicelli over a bowl, saving ½ cup of the soaking liquid.
- Add the vermicelli and ½ cup of soaking liquid to the beef mix.
- Add the vegetables and soy sauce, and simmer for a couple of minutes. Don’t stir too much or the vermicelli will become mushy. Serve immediately.
1 cup coconut water or water
3 Tbsp lite coconut cream
1⅓ cups crushed pineapple in juice
2 bananas, mashed
4 Tbsp custard powder
4 egg whites
3 Tbsp sugar
- Heat oven to 180C.
- Place coconut water, coconut cream, pineapple and banana into a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Wet the custard powder with a little water to form a thin paste. Slowly add the custard mixture to the saucepan, stirring constantly until thickened. Pour into baking dish and allow to cool.
- Whisk egg whites until stiff. Add sugar and continue to whisk until smooth and shiny with soft peaks forming.
- Place the egg white mixture on top of the custard and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown. Allow to cool before serving.