Over the years, this column has covered the basics and the subtleties of good nutrition many times over. From sodium to sugar, fats to supplements and then on to Celiac disease and diabetes — I’ve walked you through it all.
And now it’s time to get creative and have a little fun with it. After all — it’s food, and food should be fun! We’re going to do some recipe makeovers. Many dishes are favorites because they taste good, but we know they’re not so good for us so we shelve the recipe. Well, many dishes can tolerate a healthful tweak without a loss in taste or texture. Send me your recipes, and I’ll pick one to make over every month.
Most often we’re trying to cut down on fat, sugar and sodium. Here are some general makeover guidelines that you can apply at home right now:
Fat makes food taste good. It carries flavor and gives ice cream and peanut butter a smooth, creamy texture. From meat to baked goods, fat makes food moist and tender or brown and crispy. Now you know why we like it so much!
In baked goods, fat tenderizes, adds moisture and keeps our cakes light. Too little fat will make your bakery dry, while too much will flatten it. Remember those chocolate chip cookies that flattened like pancakes? Yup, too much butter.
Fat carries nutrients and flavors and gives us a feeling of satisfaction. It also adds unwanted calories. To reduce fat:
- Substitute half the fat with unsweetened applesauce or prune purée. For example: ½ cup butter plus ½ cup applesauce or prune purée = 1 cup butter. Prune purée works best for darker products such as carrot cake, brownies and gingerbread. Apricot purée or mashed banana can also be used in some recipes.
- Use low-fat dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, low-fat sour cream, low-fat ricotta, light cream cheese. These can also replace butter in recipes.
- Combine low-fat cheese with regular cheese to reduce your fat by 50 percent! Low-fat cheese is not very tasty, but combined with regular, it’s hard to tell the difference.
- Skip regular mayonnaise. Use low-fat mayonnaise or yogurt — a good substitute in many recipes.
- Sauté or fry ingredients with healthy oils instead of butter, or just use water.
Take half a cup of the following ingredients, and here’s the amount of fat:
Light mayonnaise: 401
Vegetable shortening: 906
Canola oil: 813
Yogurt, plain low-fat: 70
Applesauce, unsweetened: 50
In addition to providing sweetness, sugar adds flavor, bulk, structure and moisture to baked goods. It also adds bulk to your waistline. To reduce sugar:
- You can reduce the amount of sugar in any recipe by one-third to one-half.
- Recipes can be adapted by using equal amounts of organic sugar, turbinado sugar and sukanat instead of white table sugar.
- Liquid sweeteners such as agave nectar, honey, brown rice syrup, barley malt and maple syrup can also be used, but instructions are needed for making substitutions.
- For example:
½ cup honey = 1 cup sugar. Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup.
½ to 2/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar = 1 cup sugar. Reduce liquid in recipe by ¼ cup.
- Use no-calorie sweeteners (any product with less than 5 calories can be called a no-calorie sweetener). Instructions for making substitutions vary and are usually listed on the label. Try Zero, Z-Sweet, Stevia or Xylitol.
Salt is a natural preservative which inhibits the growth of molds and bacteria. Salt should not be adjusted in products that contain yeast as it is necessary for leavening. Without salt, food may become dense and flat. It gives food flavor. It also causes high blood pressure and heart disease when we consume too much of it, which the average American does.
How to reduce salt:
- Salt can be reduced by one-half in baked goods that don’t require yeast.
- Replace salt with herbs and spices to enhance flavor.
- Reduce or skip the salt in cooking water.
- Substitute prepared ingredients that have less sodium:
Low sodium broths
Low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
No salt-added canned vegetables
Salt-free seasoning mixes
For most dishes, you can reduce the sodium by one-half or eliminate it completely.
Make a recipe healthier — boost the nutrients!
Healthy substitutions not only reduce the amount of fat, sugar and sodium in recipes but can also boost the nutritional content, especially with the addition of fiber. By adding higher fiber ingredients, you automatically supply other vitamins and minerals as well.
- Don’t be afraid of whole wheat flour. An easy recipe swap for a quick fiber gain is whole wheat flour in place of white, all-purpose flour. Pie crust, bread and delicate baked goods need extra care to make them whole wheat. Other recipes, like certain muffins and cookies, do very well even with complete substitution of whole wheat flour for white flour.
- Besides using all or part whole wheat flour, be sure to add other tasty ingredients like oats, fruit, nuts and even vegetables for extra fiber.
- Experiment with adding small amounts of wheat bran, oat bran, corn bran or ground flaxseed to recipes for bread, muffins, oatmeal or other baked goods.
- Next time you make chili, bean soup, or a bean stew, reduce the amount of meat and replace it with beans. Use refried beans to thicken soups or sauces.
- Use whole-wheat pasta to increase fiber and reduce calories. Same goes for rice; use brown instead of white.
You may have to practice making your revised recipe until you get the results you want, but it is well worth the trouble for a healthier version of your favorite dish.