Recipe Makeovers: 10 Commandments of Healthy Cooking
'The Recipe Doctor' shares her top recipe lightening tips.
My 10 Recipe Lightening Commandments
- In most bakery recipes (muffins, cakes, cookies, coffee cakes, bars,
brownies, nut breads, etc.) you can substitute whole wheat for two-thirds or
one-half the white flour called for. Compared to 1/4 cup of white flour,
each 1/4 cup of whole-wheat flour adds 3.5 grams of fiber and various
phytochemicals, and doubles the amount of magnesium and selenium. The extra
fiber helps slow digestion and increase fullness.
- In most bakery recipes, you can reduce the sugar called for by
one-fourth– and sometimes by one-third --without a big
difference in taste and texture. For example, instead of adding 1 cup of
sugar, you can add 3/4 cup. Or, if you like using Splenda, you can replace half
of the sugar called for with Splenda (or a similar alternative sweetener
approved for use in baking).This cuts the calories from sugar by 48 calories
for every tablespoon of sugar you take out or replace with Splenda.
- In egg dishes (quiches, frittatas, omelets, breakfast casseroles), you
can use egg substitute in place of half the eggs. In other words, if the
recipe calls for six eggs, you would blend three whole eggs with 3/4 cup egg
substitute (1/4 cup of egg substitute replaces each egg). You can replace half
the eggs in bakery recipes with egg substitute as well. By replacing one large
egg with 1/4 cup egg substitute, you'll shave 45 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1.6
grams of saturated fat, and 213 milligrams of cholesterol. If you don't like to
use egg-substitute products, you can also use egg whites for half of the eggs
- In many bakery recipes, you can cut the fat ingredient (butter,
margarine, shortening, or oil) in half. In other words, if a cake recipe
calls for 1 cup of butter or margarine, you can usually use 1/2 cup instead.
Remember to replace the missing fat with a similar amount of a moist but
healthy ingredient (fat-free sour cream, orange juice, low-fat yogurt,
applesauce, etc.) This change cuts both fat and calories, since each gram of
fat translates into 9 calories as opposed to 4 per gram for protein or
- Cook with reduced-fat or fat-free products when available -- and when
they taste good. Try fat-free sour cream, fat-free half-and-half,
reduced-fat cheeses, light cream cheese, light mayonnaise, extra lean meat
without skin or visible fat, reduced-fat or light sausage, less-fat turkey
bacon, light salad dressings, and light margarine for frosting . Many cut
calories and saturated fat along with total fat. A few fat-free products are in
my arsenal as well: fat-free sour cream and half-and-half, chicken broth, wine,
strong coffee, fruit purees, and fruit juice. These foods add moisture, and
sometimes flavor, to recipes where you aren't using a lot of fatty
- Never deep-fry when you can oven-fry or pan-fry with a lot less oil.
Choose canola oil or olive oil, and use about 1/2 teaspoon per serving
(depending on the item). When you pan-fry or oven-fry in a controlled amount of
oil, you can cut a lot of the fat and calories your food would soak up if it
were submerged in hot oil. For every tablespoon of oil you cut, you'll save 120
calories and 13.5 grams of fat.
- Use whole grains in your recipes whenever possible. We've already
talked about whole-wheat flour, but you can also substitute brown rice for
white rice, add barley to stews and casseroles, and look for recipes that call
for oats. There are also multigrain blends and whole- wheat pastas to choose
from in supermarkets now. Whole grains offer a plethora of health benefits,
plus fiber to fill you up. One-fourth cup of dry brown rice contributes 2 grams
of fiber and a 2-ounce serving of dry multigrain spaghetti adds 4 grams or more
of fiber to your diet.
- Extra ingredients and embellishments can often be removed or cut in
half. If a recipe calls for chocolate chips, you can use less. If it calls
for dotting your casserole or pie with butter, you can skip this step. In a
cake recipe, you can use half the original amount of frosting (in a
double-layer cake, just frost the top and middle and forget the sides). And in
some cakes, bars, and cookies, you can skip the frosting in favor of a light
sprinkling of powdered sugar. Using 2 tablespoons of frosting instead of 4 will
shave 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 2 grams of saturated fat. Each
tablespoon of chocolate chips you skip cuts the calories by 50 per serving, the
fat by 3 grams, and the saturated fat by almost 2 grams.
- Use top-quality ingredients when possible. Start with the
best-tasting, freshest ingredients you can find. For example, I use fresh
garlic (I buy it already minced in jars) and fresh herbs when I can -- they
usually have more flavor than the dried. Use ripe tomatoes and just picked
lemons for zest or juice, extra-fresh fish, the sharpest reduced-fat cheddar
cheese, and so on. All this means your lighter dish will be more likely to pass
muster with the masses!
- Switch to "smart fat" ingredients when possible. Certain fats, when
used in moderation, actually have health benefits! Omega-3 fatty acids (found
in fish and some plant foods like canola oil and ground flaxseed), as well as
oils that contain monounsaturated fats (like olive and canola oil) and foods
high in monounsaturated fats (like avocado and almonds) may help protect
against heart disease. In recipes, you often have a choice of which oil or
margarine to use. You can also add fish to some entree recipes instead of red
meat. When a recipe calls for melted butter or margarine, you can often
substitute canola or olive oil. Foods fortified with or containing omega-3s are
starting to pop up in several aisles in the supermarket, including low-fat
milk, eggs, and multigrain pastas.
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" and the author of numerous
books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.