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How To Become a Leaner Cook

Making wise food choices at the supermarket is one step towards a healthy diet. The next step is learning to prepare those foods in a healthy manner. How? By modifying a recipe.

Modifying recipes to reduce cholesterol and saturated fats

There are two basic ways to modify a recipe: change a cooking technique or change an ingredient. Low fat cooking techniques include baking, broiling, poaching or steaming. You can further "de-fat" your food by using non-stick vegetable oil sprays to treat pans or grills. Also try using marinades and herbs to flavor meats, fish and poultry instead of high fat sauces and gravies.

Changing an ingredient is a little more complicated. Only certain ingredients can be changed without altering the basic nature of the recipe. Before you start, ask the following questions about your recipe:

There are three ways to modify an ingredient: reduce it, eliminate it, or substitute a more acceptable ingredient. Paying attention to the source of fat in a recipe and making appropriate modifications is the key to keeping recipes light and nutritious. Here are some food categories and tips on ways you can lower fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories in your favorite recipes.

Whole milk Skim mild 1 cup high-fat yogurt (creamy, plain) 1 cup low-fat or fat-free sour cream or low-fat yogurt
Whole milk cheese Low-fat cheese 1 cup sour cream 1 cup low-fat or fat-free sour cream or low-fat yogurt
1 Medium whole egg Egg substitute or 2 egg whites 1 ounce baking chocolate 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup heavy cream 1 cup evaporated skimmed milk, or, if cream is to be beaten, try substituting 2 or 3 egg whites with a tablespoon of sugar for each white and beat until they hold stiff peaks. The meringue can then be folded into the recipe just like whip cream. Sauteeing in oil Spray pan with spray vegetable oil or use meat stock
  Fat in quick breads, cakes and  brownies Substitute 1/2 or 3/4 or all fat with applesauce or other pureed fruit.

Butter/Margarine Substitute

BUTTERBUDS is 100% natural butter flavor granules. One tablespoon has 6 calories and no cholesterol. One packet (8 to a box) equals the flavor of a ¾ pound of butter (1 stick). Reconstitute to liquid by adding water. Substitute an equal amount for butter, margarine or vegetable oil in a recipe (see below). Watch your intake of this if on a low sodium diet.

Liquid Butter Buds Butter/Margarine Vegetable Oil
cup (1 packet) 8 tablespoons, 1 stick, 1/2 cup 1/2 cup
1/4 cup equals 4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick, 1/4 cup 1/4 cup
2 tablespoons equal 2 tablespoons 2 tablespoons
2 teaspoons equal 2 teaspoons 2 teaspoons

Egg Substitute

EGGBEATERS is made from egg whites with coloring and other ingredients. ¼ cup equals 1 whole egg. Use ¼ cup for 1 egg yolk, however, if the recipe calls for more than 2 egg yolks, it may not turn out well. For cakes, 1/3 cup for each egg will give better volume. If egg content is high (3-4) reduce liquid by 2 tablespoons to compensate for the liquid in eggbeaters.

Tips on Preparation

  • Don't use oil in a recipe in which you are using a sugar as it does not give satisfactory texture.
  • For skim milk to use in recipes, add 1 tablespoon dry Butter Buds to 8 ounces skim milk.
  • To use margarine in a dough recipe that calls for butter, add 1 tsp. extra flour per cup or the dough will be too soft.
  • When using non-fat yogurt for a cream sauce or in cooking, mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon yogurt and stir into the rest of the yogurt. Stir over medium heat until thickened. This will prevent separation.
  • To stabilize yogurt in a chilled product, add 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water.

Note: Healthy adults should not exceed 6 grams of sodium chloride a day. This is equal to about 1 level teaspoon of salt.

This page was contributed by Mary Johnson, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., dietitian at Diabetes and Endocrinology Associates in Princeton, NJ.

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.