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Give favorite family recipes a makeover
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Healthy eating does not mean home chefs must abandon favorite dishes, but they can trim sugar, salt and fat and boost fiber to create lighter versions of beloved recipes.
Many Southern comfort foods include rich, high-calorie ingredients that can be exchanged for lower calorie options, said Natasha Haynes, a family and consumer sciences agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Baking chicken instead of frying it is just one way to lighten up a traditional dish.
“Grandma’s macaroni and cheese recipe is one that may need a makeover,” Haynes said. “Her recipe probably calls for 2 cups of whole milk, 2 cups of heavy cream, one stick of butter and 4 cups of a variety of cheeses -- ingredients that raise the calorie count and fat content of this favorite dish,” Hayne said. “Many recipes like this can have a healthy renovation without affecting the taste or texture of the food.”
Haynes said that home chefs can reduce the fat, sugar and sodium in most recipes for a shortcut to healthier eating. Low-fat and fat-free dairy products are one place to start.
“By cutting fat and sugar, you cut calories,” she said. “How much can you leave out without affecting the flavor and consistency of your favorite recipes? You’ll have to experiment, but there are a lot of options.”
These are some basic guidelines to follow for baked goods:
- Fat: Use half the butter, shortening or oil and replace the other half with unsweetened applesauce, mashed bananas or prune puree.
- Sugar: Reduce the amount of sugar by one-third to one-half, then add spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice or nutmeg, to enhance flavors. Vanilla and almond extract can boost the sweet flavor without adding sugar.
- Sodium: Reduce salt by one-half in baked goods that don’t require yeast. For foods that require yeast, don’t reduce the amount of salt, which is needed for leavening.
“For most main dishes and side dishes, you can reduce salt by one-half or eliminate it completely, but you should expect your taste buds to take some time to adjust,” Haynes said.
Sugar, salt and fat may be hidden in the ingredients added to recipes.
“If a recipe calls for 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, use half a cup instead,” Haynes said. “Use less soy sauce or buy reduced-sodium soy sauce. If you look, you can find many products with reduced sodium levels, including popular canned soups and canned vegetables.”
Ann Twiner, a family and consumer sciences agent and county coordinator in Sunflower County, said cutting sugar, salt and fat intake is a matter of health.
“Sodium is such a big deal today because more and more people are being diagnosed with high blood pressure,” Twiner said. “We are even seeing young children with high blood pressure.”
Twiner said a diet high in saturated fats, which are found in anything that comes from animals, including eggs, milk and cheese, causes arteries to clog over time. This can result in heart attacks, strokes and other health problems.
“If you cook your mother’s recipe for pot roast and then put it in the refrigerator, you will see a hard white film when you take it out if the refrigerator,” she said. “This is saturated fat, and this is what it does in your body over time. It will keep sticking to the sides of the arteries until they’re completely blocked.”
Change is difficult, and Twiner said it is important to take small steps rather than trying to make too many changes at once.
“Focus on the way your plate looks,” she said. “Make it full of color by adding fruits and vegetables -- half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, which can lower your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. Plus, fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.”
Cooking at home allows people to control the amount of sugar, sodium and fat in their food, Twiner said.
“Most of all, remember that fresh foods are always the best,” she said.