AgriLife Extension experts: Recipes can be altered for healthier holiday eating

COLLEGE STATION – Turkeys aren’t the only things getting stuffed during the holidays. That’s why Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts have offered advice on altering recipes to reduce the fat, sugar or sodium content in many traditional holiday meals.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts have offered tips for reducing the sugar, fat and sodium content of many traditional holiday recipes, while still focusing on maintaining their taste. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“The sugar, fat or sodium content of almost any holiday recipe can be reduced without a noticeable difference in taste,” said Dr. Mary Bielamowicz, AgriLife Extension nutrition specialist in College Station. “If a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use two-thirds. If it calls for a half-cup of oil, shortening or other fat, use one-third cup. And if it says to use one-half teaspoon of salt, use one-quarter teaspoon, or leave it out entirely.”

Bielamowicz said processed foods typically have a higher salt or sodium content, so people should be vigilant about checking food labels for sodium content as well as other nutrition data when selecting holiday food items.

Other healthful recipe ingredient substitutions Bielamowicz suggested include using plain, low-fat yogurt or applesauce in lieu of butter or margarine; fat-free, skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk, and egg whites or an egg substitute for whole eggs.

“You can also use whole-grain or bran flours in recipes calling for all-purpose flour,” she said. “In most instances, you can replace one-quarter to one-half the amount of all-purpose flour you see in holiday recipes with whole wheat flour as a more nutritious alternative with higher fiber content.”

Bielamowicz said modifying more complicated recipes may not always produce the desired texture, so it’s best to try the new recipe out and do a taste-test before serving it to friends and family.

“However, most changes in flavor or texture are typically not significant and are well worth the trade-off in fat and calories,” she said.

Bielamowicz, who is a registered and licensed dietitian, said people with diabetes should eat a holiday meal that fits within the guidelines for their diabetes meal plan as prescribed by a physician or dietitian.

“Look carefully at all the foods being served and know the number of carbohydrates you are allowed at meals and for snacks and select wisely from the menu.”

Low-fat also doesn’t always mean low-calorie, so be aware of both in holiday food choices, said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Bexar County.

“Try using reduced or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise instead of their higher-fat counterparts,” she said. “And try substituting evaporated milk for cream. For mashed potatoes, try using de-fatted broth instead of butter to reduce both fat and calories.”

She said turkey breast provides the lowest fat and highest protein content of any traditional holiday meat, and the healthiest cooking method for turkey or other meats is baking.

“If you’re cooking a turkey, leave the skin on to contain the flavor, but then remove it afterward to reduce the fat content. Baste your turkey it in its own juice or use a de-fatted broth. Make the stuffing outside the turkey.”

Sheppard said stuffing cooked inside the turkey absorbs more oil, and getting the bird’s internal temperature high enough to cook the stuffing adequately can lead to overcooking its exterior.

“For vegetables, the healthiest method of cooking is either steaming or roasting using a low-fat margarine or cooking spray,” she said. “For a dish like candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, try substituting mashed or baked sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar and butter substitute on top. For a green bean casserole, try reduced-fat mushroom or chicken soup or de-fatted broth. Use low-fat or skim milk, and skip the fried onion topping.”

Sheppard said using canola or vegetable oil in the same recommended amount as butter when baking holiday sweets, such as cookies, cakes and pastries, can significantly reduce fat and calories.

AgriLife Extension has offices in almost every county in Texas, many with personnel who can provide community education and outreach on nutrition, including healthier eating for people with diabetes and other health issues. They offer free or low-cost nutrition education to youth and adults, including presenting food preparation demonstrations for small groups in a variety of community venues.

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