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Healthier Cooking | Spring 2006 Out Here Magazine

Dietitian Kitty Fawaz shows how heart-conscious cooks can lose the fat, yet keep the taste during cooking demonstrations at shopping malls and other public places.

Little changes can boost your well-being

By Hannah Wolfson

Photography by Matthew Starling

So many of our favorite foods just aren't good for us: creamy, cheesy dishes, salty soups and stews, and buttery rich desserts. But they're just so hard to give up.

You may not have to, says Kitty Fawaz, a dietitian with the St. Thomas Hospital Heart Healthy Institute in Nashville, TN. She's helped write two St. Thomas cookbooks full of ideas for making meals that keep the taste while forgoing cholesterol and saturated fats.

Say No to Salt

Try cutting the salt called for in a recipe in half. Then sub in other flavors: acids such as lemon or lime juice or vinegar, strong tastes such as garlic or onions, or fresh or dried herbs. Just steer clear of herb mixes such as garlic salt, which are full of sodium.

Read ingredient labels, she says. Staples such as canned tomatoes or chicken broth can be loaded with salt, and these days many come in a low- or no-sodium version.

Fewer Fats

The easiest way to reduce fat intake is to choose healthier cooking methods — pick steaming or roasting over sautéing or frying. If you do need a fat, Fawaz steers cooks toward heart-healthy canola, olive, or peanut oil instead of butter or meat drippings, which are high in saturated fats.

Instead of whole milk in soup or sauces, just try milk with 1 percent fat or less; fat-free half-and-half or canned evaporated skim milk can even fill in for cream.

"They're richer seeming but nonfat," Fawaz says. If the alternatives don't thicken a soup or sauce as you'd like, try making a little cornstarch mixed in water, some flour, or even instant potato flakes.

With meats, Fawaz suggests using ground chicken or turkey — as long as it's breast meat without skin — instead of beef or pork, particularly in strong-flavored dishes such as spaghetti sauce or chili. Better yet, cut the meat in half and use extra beans or vegetables instead.

Better Baking

Some of the neatest tricks work in baking. Applesauce is a well-known swap for oil in muffins and quick breads; baby foods such as pureed carrots or prunes also work well. If a recipe calls for a cup of oil, try swapping out ¾ cup with an alternative, but keep a little oil so the chemistry works.

For eggs, two egg whites will fill in for one whole egg, as will ¼ cup of egg substitute. It's the yolks that contain most of the fat and cholesterol. Nonfat buttermilk works just as well as whole in biscuits and pancakes.

Just remember that when it comes to processed foods, low-fat options aren't always the healthiest. When manufacturers drop fat, they lose flavor, so they often increase salt or sugar to make up for it. Better to tinker with healthier options yourself.

And what's Fawaz's favorite trick at home? As a Southern girl, she longs for greens and beans simmered with pork fat. Instead, she cooks her vegetables in low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth with a little bit of olive oil mixed in.

"That gives it," she says, "the Southern flavor."

Hannah Wolfson is a Birmingham, AL, writer.