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Published: Tuesday, 1/13/2004

Recipe makeovers

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Last of a two-part series

In Sunday's Living section, "The Skinny on Fat" discussed the variety of fats available in the supermarket, from oils to solids like shortening and butter - each with varying amounts of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration has ruled that trans fats will be listed on Nutriton Facts labels by 2006. To include both healthy fats and less fat overall in your diet, replace saturated fat and trans fats in your recipes with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Fish sticks may seem like a perfect food for kids. But if the fish is coated in breading made with hydrogenated oils, sprinkled with MSG, and deep-fat fried, it doesn't add up to good nutrition.

You can make a healthier version using cornflake breading and cod or halibut with a recipe from The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers by registered dietitians Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss (Broadway, $15.95).

There are a variety of ways to reduce fat in your diet, whether you are young or old, healthy or in need of a special diet. One of the best ways: Revise recipes to use healthier ingredients, less fat, and less sugar. And do your own cooking.

"We wanted families to make over recipes that are their family favorites," Mrs. Weiss said in a phone interview. "Take baby steps to positive change. Do your best to eliminate trans fats. These are so prevalent in our diet that it's almost impossible to eliminate."

The more processed and convenience products a family relies on, the more likely trans fats are a bigger part of your diet than you think. "Consumers need to read the food label. Compare products and pick products low in saturated fat. If there's hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list, that's a tip-off there are trans fats in the food," Mrs. Weiss says. "I worry about the type of fat. Steer away from trans fat and saturated fat. Look to reduced-fat dairy products, not fat free. Fat-free cheeses don't taste that good or work that well in cooking."

"We're not about deprivation. It's about adding good nutrition to the diet," she adds.

Even a healthy person should look at leaner meats, soy products, more fresh fruit and vegetables in their natural state (minus salt and fat), fewer processed foods, and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, olives, peanut oil, and canola, says Jane Graffin, coordinator of cardiac nutrition and diabetes education for Medical College of Ohio. She recommends nuts over peanut butter because of the trans fats and higher amount of soluble fiber from beans, legumes, whole wheat products, and oatmeal.

Mrs. Graffin helps patients focus on and reduce saturated fat in the diet after they have had a cardiac attack. "We don't look at cholesterol," she says. "Saturated fat contributes most to the amount of fat in the blood."

Regarding heart disease, "we've done an about-face from cholesterol," says Mrs. Graffin, who is president of the Northwest Ohio Dietetic Association. "We focus on the source of fats in a diet survey [of what the patient has been eating]." After discussing recommendations for a healthy heart diet, she asks a patient "what foods can you give up?" and "what can't you give up?" From there, she helps to develop a plan.

"I've seen quite a few people on Atkins diets who have had heart attacks or have had extremely high cholesterol levels, but some do lose weight and the cholesterol drops. Those are people who use lean meats and monounsaturated fat, and fish," she says.

Anyone on the Atkins diet should be supervised by a medical doctor. "Genetics plays a huge role in how one responds to that diet. You can't always predict if you will have an adverse response," Mrs. Graffin says. "What works for one may not work for the next person. Some people do require a low-carbohydrate diet to treat their condition."

When adapting recipes to lower-saturated-fat ingredients, she notes that "fat-free sour cream can be runny and it doesn't have the desired taste." She recommends Breakstone or Land O'Lakes fat-free sour creams. For making low-fat cheese melt as a topping, she sprays the I Can't Believe it's Not Butter Spray on the food item and then sprinkles on the cheese. The cheese absorbs the moisture from the spray and melts better.

"Don't change too much at once in a recipe," she advises. "If you do and it doesn't turn out, you don't know which ingredient was the problem. Cut the recipe in half to experiment so you don't waste ingredients if it doesn't turn out."

For Apple Crumb Pie, she uses canola oil in the crust. For the topping, she recommends I Can't Belive It's Not Butter or Land O'Lakes Spread.

And she notes: "Just because it's low fat doesn't mean you have to eat more of it. Learn to have a variety and balanced meals within all food groups.This is the only way you can control saturated fats and trans fats."

Imagine a chef going from cooking for a country club with rich foods and butter as a staple ingredient to cooking in a hospital, where it's a rarity to find a stick of butter except for a special event.

"It was a culture shock," says Doug Corcoran, executive chef and operations manager at Mercy Health Care Center and St. Anne's Mercy Hospital since 2001.

Now he's supervising recipes such as banana bread made with low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream or oil. Low-fat macaroni and cheese is made with reduced-fat cheese and skim milk. Instead of salt, Chef's Seasoning with a blend of herbs minus the sodium is used with vegetables, casseroles, and meats.

Soups and broth are made from natural stock. "We use no soup bases because of the sodium," says the chef, who shared a few of his culinary secrets. "I make a natural mushroom sauce using baked portobello (gills removed) as seasoning."

"The biggest thing is the portion size," he says. "People are used to supersizing at fast food. It's a big thing we battle. We keep everything to the recommended size. Vegetables are steamed. Salad dressings are low fat or no fat.

Banana bread is made with eggs or egg substitutes, but "there's only a small percentage of egg in each slice of banana bread," notes Pat Lynch, chief clinical dietitian for St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

"When you make items from scratch, you can use some fat," she says. "I love cookies. Store-bought cookies are a high source of trans fat. Make them yourself to reduce or eliminate trans fat. I use half oil and half butter. In some recipes like oatmeal cookies, you can use all oil."

Other tips:

•  Use yogurt in place of oil in a recipe in ratio of 1:l.

• For skim milk sauces, start with cold skim milk and bring slowly to heat so it doesn't curdle.

•  Make your own lower-saturated-fat margarine using one stick of softened butter with 1/2 cup canola oil and slowly beating by hand. Return to refrigerator, advises Ms. Lynch.

She notes that not everything in a hosptial is low fat. "Elderly people who are not eating well should not be on a strict diet. We liberalize diets for them. We're trying to get them to eat."

For the elderly population, "We don't emphasize recipes with low fat. We recommend recipes with good fat," says Rebecca Liebes, director of nutrition at the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio. By that, she refers to monounsaturated fat in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and nuts, which help lower cholesterol levels.

"We talking about avoiding transfatty acids in processed foods, fast foods, and baked goods," the dietitian says.

Clients of the agency include people age 60 and older via Meals on Wheels with home-delivered meals, and 58 sites throughout a 10-county area that include home-delivered meals as well as served meals. "Some people cook, but many of the home-bound population doesn't cook," Ms. Liebes says.

Meals are to be one-third of recommended daily allowances of vitamins and nutrients, low in saturated fat, with no added salt. "I'm not opposed to butter," says Ms. Liebes, who has been talking about trans fats with senior citizens for the seven years she has been with the agency. "Some margarines don't have trans fat, such as Olivio and Smart Balance."

The agency provides nutrition literature promoting healthy food choices. "With my assistant, Diane Miller, we try to be cutting edge. We give reasons and tools so seniors and caregivers can follow a healthy diet on their own."

Ms. Liebes uses the same healthy foods at home for her husband, Scott McClellan, their son, Joshua, 7, and their daughter, Nina, 18 months. After working all day, she likes to cook simple, nutritious foods such as baked salmon seasoned with Soy Vay teriyaki sauce and served with sauted spinach made with garlic and olive oil, a monounsaturated, or good, fat. The children eat the same foods as their parents.

Good nutrition can never start too early.



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