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Small Recipe Changes Can Make Big Difference In Your Health

By HealthLife Contributor
Updated: June 27, 2008
Trying to develop healthier eating habits? Cooking for yourself at home is an excellent way to be in control of the nutritive quality of your meals. Home cooked food is often lower in fat and sodium than dishes served in restaurants or convenience foods from the freezer section of the supermarket. Unfortunately, many of the old favorite comfort recipes are not very comforting when you think about how much fat, sugar and salt go into them. But often there are simple and easy ways to make helpful, healthier changes. Some simple mathematical changes include:

Subtract some ingredients, and add others

This takes a bit of planning, because much of cooking is chemistry, and even similar ingredients do not always perform the same way in a recipe combination. Certain substitutions work without an adverse affect on texture and flavor, while others do not. For example, you can cut the amount of fat in baked goods by decreasing the butter or shortening that the recipe calls for by 50 percent and making up the other half with unsweetened applesauce. You can decrease the amount of sugar in a recipe without adversely affecting the sweetness if you add stronger tasting spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or extracts. However, check the label before substituting commercially prepared sugar alternatives for sugar; not all can be used in baking without losing their sweetness to the heat. Salt can mostly be eliminated from prepared foods if you want to decrease the sodium content, but should not be decreased from baking recipes that require yeast because salt is needed for the yeast to do its jobs of leavening.
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Take away the worst offenders

If a high fat, sugar or sodium ingredient is added to the recipe primarily as a garnish or to improve the appearance of the dish, you might be able to get away with eliminating the ingredient entirely, or at least decreasing the amount you use. For example, carrot cake based desserts are often just as good with a very thin layer of frosting, or none at all. Chances are no one will miss the crunchy toppings on a casserole, (such as french fried onion rings, which are high in fat and sodium) if you remove the cover from the baking dish the last 15 minutes in the oven, so the casserole itself will be browned.

Know what preparation techniques are equal

For example, if a recipe calls for frying ingredients as part of the cooking, you can decrease the amount of fat in the recipe by using a smaller amount of the suggested frying element; non stick pans make this easier. You can also use nonstick spray or use a healthier oil (olive oil for example) instead of butter or shortening, at least with savory recipes. You can also experiment with grilling, or broiling meats, instead of frying them. This process will decrease fat without losing a larger volume of flavor. In fact, fattier meats produce oils when they are cooked and often do not need added fat in the cooking process. Basting does not need to be done with drippings, or other high fat content liquids; a low sodium prepared broth may do just as well.

Divide the recipe into smaller portions

The typical marshmallow fluff based fudge recipe has a great deal of sugar and fat. Altering any of the key ingredients has a significant adverse affect on texture. But cutting the fudge into smaller pieces may make you and your family more aware of the high caloric content and encourage reasonable intake.

Even when you are trying to lose weight, or eat healthier, no one food is the enemy. With some effort and a willingness to experiment, almost all recipes can be made a bit more health-friendly.
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