Lynn Little: Healthful recipe modifications can reduce fat and calories

December 09, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

You might not think of them this way, but recipes are chemical formulas that specify the ingredients, proportions and methods necessary to produce a great-tasting product.

Any change made in the recipe will produce a slightly different product from the one that you normally enjoy. You may or may not be satisfied with the result, so experiment.

To decrease fat and calories in your favorite recipes, try some of the following well-tested tips for a lower-fat version:

In some recipes, you can simply reduce fat by 1/4 to 1/3. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of hydrogenated shortening, try 2/3 cup. This works best in quick breads, muffins and cookies. Do not substitute oil for margarine or shortening when making cookies. Substituting oil will make the cookies feel and taste greasy and is likely to change both texture and volume.

Use margarine instead of butter. Look for margarines that contain no trans fat and list liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient. Do not substitute light or diet margarines for shortening in baked recipes. These types of margarines have more water, therefore will cause the product to have less volume and a flat taste. Rather than substituting reduced-fat margarine, try using a smaller amount of regular margarine.


Use vegetable oils instead of solid fats. To substitute liquid oil for solid fats, use about 1/4 less than the recipe calls for. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of solid fat, use 3 tablespoons of oil. For cakes or pie crusts, use a recipe that specifically calls for oil, because liquid fats require special mixing procedures.

Use reduced-fat and reduced-calorie versions of sour cream, cheeses, mayonnaise or yogurt. If you heat a sauce made with yogurt, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 cup of yogurt to prevent separation. This also helps to keep yogurt smooth during baking. Be aware that fat-free spread or cream cheese do not work well when heated.

Make "yogurt cheese" by draining fat-free plain yogurt overnight in a strainer or cheesecloth in the fridge. Use it in recipes calling for cream cheese.

Substitute skim milk for whole milk.

Evaporated milk can be substituted for whipping cream and evaporated skim milk can be substituted for regular evaporated milk.

Use canola or olive oil for cooking, rather than solid fats or vegetable oil blends.

Use very small amounts of nuts or real butter in low-fat recipes to give food a flavor boost.

Try replacing half of the fat or even all the fat with one of the following:

Applesauce - substitute for equal amounts of fat. Product will be very moist, might need to reduce liquid in recipe.

Mashed bananas -substitute for equal amounts of fat. Gives a distinct flavor.

Pureed prunes -substitute for equal amounts of fat. Product will be very dry, so add moisture in form of prune juice, milk or water. This gives the food a dark color.

Pureed pumpkin - substitute for equal amounts of fat. This gives a distinct flavor and color.

Grated zucchini - substitute for equal amounts of fat. Works best in quick breads.

Low-fat cottage cheese - substitute for only half of the fat. The finished product tends to have a rubbery texture.

Pureed tofu - substitute for only half of fat. The finished product may have a "beany" flavor.

Nonfat yogurt -substitute for equal amounts of fat. The finished product will be very moist, may need to reduce liquid in recipe.

If you replace the fat with one of the above suggestions you might also want to decrease the sugar in the recipe by 1/4.

Avoid products containing tropical oils like cocoa, palm or coconut.

Use 2 egg whites for 1 whole egg to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol. In some recipes, you can simply decrease the number of eggs. This is especially true if the fat and sugar also are decreased in the recipe.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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