Modify recipes and food preparation to promote health

November 08, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

The link between diet and health is important. Food alone cannot make you healthy. Good eating habits, based on variety and moderation, can help keep you healthy and even improve your health. Good eating habits include knowing how to prepare and select foods that fit into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which suggest that we eat less fat, sugar and salt and more complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and fiber.

One way to help meet these recommendations is to modify our recipes and methods of food preparation. This is relatively easy because many recipes are higher in fat, sugar and salt than is needed for good flavor and quality.

To cut calories, identify which ingredients contribute the most calories. To cut fat, sugar or sodium, or to increase fiber, identify the ingredients that contain these components.

Fat is the most concentrated source of calories. Each gram of fat supplies nine calories, compared to four calories for each gram of protein or carbohydrate and seven calories for each gram of alcohol. Reducing the amount of fat in a recipe is the most effective way to cut calories.


Ingredients can be eliminated completely, reduced in amount, or replaced with a more nutritionally acceptable ingredient.

Not all recipes need modification.

To decide which recipes might need modifications, ask:

· Is the recipe already low in fat, cholesterol, sugar or salt? If so, only minor or no changes might be needed. If a recipe calls for one egg and the dish serves eight people, the amount of cholesterol per serving already is relatively low.

· How often is the food eaten? It is not as important to modify a recipe for a dish eaten once or twice a year as it is for foods eaten more often. It is more important to cut the fat in a weekly tuna fish salad sandwich than it is to cut the fat in a birthday cake.

· How much of the food is eaten? Sometimes the best way to modify the intake of a certain food is to eat less of it. Decreasing the quantity eaten might be more satisfying than decreasing the quality. Many people prefer to eat less real jam or jelly than to eat the regular amount of a low-sugar jam.

Here are a few ways to update recipes. These suggestions apply to most foods except when specific proportions of ingredients are essential to prevent spoilage (such as cured meats, pickles, jams and jellies).

To decrease total fat and calories:

· Reduce fat by one-fourth to one-third in baked products. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup hydrogenated shortening, try 2/3 cup oil. This works best in quick breads, muffins and cookies.

· In recipes such as muffins and snack cakes, try replacing half to all of the fat with prune puree, low-fat yogurt or unsweetened applesauce. The pectin in these "fat replacers" helps hold the product together and gives the mouth-feel of fat. Because they add sugar calories, you also might want to decrease the added sugar by one-fourth.

· Cut back or even eliminate added fat in casseroles and main dishes. For example, browning meat in added fat is unnecessary because some fat will drain from the meat as it cooks. Use a microwave oven, nonstick pan or cooking spray.

· Saute or stir-fry vegetables with little fat or use water, wine or broth.

· To thicken sauces and gravies without lumping, eliminate fat and mix cornstarch or flour with a small amount of cold liquid. Stir this mixture slowly into the hot liquid to be thickened and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Add herbs, spices and flavorings.

· Chill soups, gravies and stews; skim off hardened fat before reheating to serve.

· Bake, broil, grill, poach or microwave meat, poultry or fish instead of frying.

· Decrease the proportion of oil in homemade salad dressings. Try one-third oil to two-thirds vinegar. Low-fat cottage cheese or buttermilk seasoned with herbs and spices also makes a low-fat dressing.

· Use reduced-calorie sour cream or mayonnaise. To reduce fat further, use plain, low-fat or nonfat yogurt, buttermilk or blended cottage cheese instead of regular sour cream or mayonnaise for sauces, dips and salad dressings. If you heat a sauce made with yogurt, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 cup of yogurt to prevent separation.

· Use skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk. For extra richness, try evaporated skim milk.

· Choose low-fat cheeses such as feta, Neufchatel and mozzarella instead of high-fat ones such as Swiss or cheddar. Also use less cheese.

To decrease saturated fat and cholesterol:

· Use two egg whites or an egg substitute product instead of one whole egg. In some recipes, simply decrease the total number of eggs. This is especially true if the fat and sugar also are decreased in the recipe.

· Use margarine instead of butter. Look for margarines in which liquid vegetable oil is the first ingredient.

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