The link between diet and health is important. Food alone cannot make you healthy. But good eating habits, based on variety and moderation, can help keep you healthy and even improve your health. Good eating habits include knowing how to prepare and select foods that fit into the Dietary Guidelines.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that we eat less fat, sugar and salt and more complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and fiber. One way to help meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines is to modify our recipes and methods of food preparation. This is relatively easy because many recipes are higher in fat, sugar and salt than is needed for good flavor and quality.

Here are a few ways to update recipes. These suggestions apply to most foods except when specific proportions of ingredients are essential to prevent spoilage (such as cured meats, pickles, jams and jellies).

— Reduce fat by one-fourth to one-third in baked products. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup hydrogenated shortening, try 2/3 cup oil. This works best in quick breads, muffins and cookies.

— In recipes such as muffins and snack cakes, try replacing half to all of the fat with prune puree, lowfat yogurt or unsweetened applesauce. The pectin in these “fat replacers” helps hold the product together and gives the mouth-feel of fat. Because they add sugar calories, you also may want to decrease the added sugar by one-fourth.

— Cut back or even eliminate added fat in casseroles and main dishes. For example, browning meat in added fat is unnecessary because some fat will drain from the meat as it cooks. Use a microwave oven, nonstick pan or cooking spray.

— Saute or stir-fry vegetables with little fat or use water, wine or broth.

— To thicken sauces and gravies without lumping, eliminate fat and mix cornstarch or flour with a small amount of cold liquid. Stir this mixture slowly into the hot liquid to be thickened and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Add herbs, spices and flavorings.

— Chill soups, gravies and stews; skim off hardened fat before reheating to serve.

— Select lean cuts of meat and trim off visible fat. Remove skin from poultry before cooking.

— Bake, broil, grill, poach or microwave meat, poultry or fish instead of frying.

— Decrease the proportion of oil in homemade salad dressings. Try one-third oil to two-thirds vinegar. Low-fat cottage cheese or buttermilk seasoned with herbs and spices also makes a low-fat dressing.

— Use reduced-calorie sour cream or mayonnaise. To reduce fat further, use plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt, buttermilk or blended cottage cheese instead of regular sour cream or mayonnaise for sauces, dips and salad dressings. If you heat a sauce made with yogurt, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 cup of yogurt to prevent separation.

— Use fat-free low-fat milk instead of whole milk. For extra richness, try evaporated fat-free milk.

— Choose low-fat cheeses such as feta, neufchatel and mozzarella instead of high-fat ones such as Swiss or cheddar. Also use less cheese.

To decrease saturated fat and cholesterol:

— Use two egg whites or an egg substitute product instead of one whole egg. In some recipes, simply decrease the total number of eggs. This is especially true if the fat and sugar also are decreased in the recipe.

— Use margarine instead of butter. Look for margarines that contain no trans fats and list liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.

— Use vegetable oils instead of solid fats. To substitute liquid oil for solid fats, use about one-fourth less than the recipe calls for. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of solid fat, use 3 tablespoons of oil. For cakes or pie crusts, use a recipe that specifically calls for oil, because liquid fats require special mixing procedures.

Decrease sugar by:

— Reduce sugar by one-quarter to one-third in baked goods and desserts. Add extra spice or flavoring to enhance impression of sweetness. This works best with quick breads, cookies, pie fillings, custard, puddings and fruit crisps.

— Decrease or eliminate sugar when canning or freezing fruits. Buy unsweetened frozen fruit or fruit canned in its own juice or water.

— In cookies, bars and cakes, replace one-quarter of the sugar called for with an equal amount of nonfat dry milk. This reduces calories and increases calcium, protein and riboflavin in the recipe.

— Choose fruit juices, club soda or skim milk over soft drinks and punches. Make fruit juice coolers with equal parts fruit juice and club soda or seltzer.

— Non-sugar sweeteners can replace part or all of the sugar in many recipes. However, most have limitations. Some products will not work well in recipes that are cooked or baked. Saccharin can be used in hot and cold foods but may leave a bitter aftertaste. Sucralose is heat stable, but works better in recipes like pies and quick breads where sugar is primarily used to provide sweetness rather than texture, volume and browning. In such cases, using a sucralose blend made from half sugar and half sucralose may work. Be aware, however, that none of the non-caloric sugar substitutes provide the volume or structure that sugar does, so rather than simply substitute, it’s best to choose recipes especially tested for use with non-sugar sweeteners.

Watch your salt:

— Salt may be omitted or reduced in most recipes. Do not reduce salt in cured meats or pickled or brined vegetables — it acts as a preservative. A small amount is useful in yeast breads to help control the rising action of the yeast.

— Start with a gradual reduction. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of salt, try 1/2 teaspoon. If you reduce the amount of salt gradually, you’ll soon adjust to a less salty flavor. Choose fresh or low-sodium versions of soups and broths, soy sauce, canned vegetables and tomato products.

— Rely on herbs and spices for flavor, rather than salt.

— Use garlic or onion powder instead of garlic or onion salt.

— Omit salt from water when cooking pasta, noodles, rice or hot cereals.

— Try fruit juice or wine for cooking liquid instead of broth or bouillon.

— Read labels. Any ingredient that includes sodium in its name contains sodium.

To increase fiber:

— Choose whole grain instead of highly refined products (whole-wheat flour and bread, bulgur, brown rice, oatmeal, whole cornmeal and barley).

— Whole-wheat flour usually can be substituted for part or all of the all-purpose flour. If a recipe calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour, try 1 cup of all-purpose and 1 cup of whole-wheat flour. When completely substituting whole-wheat for white flour, use 7/8 cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of white flour.

— Add extra fruits and vegetables to recipes.

— Add fruits to muffins, pancakes, salads and desserts, and add vegetables to quiche fillings, casseroles and salads.

Putting it into practice …

Decide what ingredients to reduce. Those on the high end of the range are the ones to reduce. Reduce fat or sugar to at least the midpoint of the range. Reduce eggs, if needed, to within the range. Reduce sodium if desired.

Decide which ingredients to increase. Fat and sugar provide moistness and richness to recipes. When they are reduced, add liquid back, usually in the form of water, milk, fruit juice, applesauce, or fruit or vegetable pulp. Add back at least half as much liquid as sugar and fat reduced. For example, if you reduce the sugar in a recipe by 2 tablespoons and fat by 4 tablespoons, add 3 tablespoons milk or fruit juice. Replacing a portion of the sugar that remains in the recipe with honey or molasses also may improve the softness and moistness of the resulting product.

Consider adding nonfat dry milk to increase the calcium content of the product. In many baked recipes, nonfat dry milk can replace up to one-fourth of the sugar in a recipe with good results. Also, 2 to 4 tablespoons of nonfat dry milk powder per cup of flour may be added to cookies and cakes as an additive. Add as much nonfat dry milk powder to the recipe as sugar reduced.

Try the recipe. Do not overbake. Products with less sugar are not as brown as those with more sugar. Evaluate the quality and flavor. If the recipe still seems richer than necessary, reduce fat and sugar further and further increase liquid. If the product seems dry, consider adding more liquid (water, fruit juice, applesauce, fruit or vegetable pulp).

Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension

Pineapple Zucchini Bread

1 1/4 cups sugar

2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup canola oil

2 egg whites

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 cups shredded zucchini

1 can (8 ounces) unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar, applesauce, oil, egg whites, egg and vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and baking soda. Gradually beat into sugar mixture until blended. Stir in the zucchini, pineapple and walnuts.

Transfer to two 8 in. x 4 in loaf pans coated with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool loaves for 10 minutes before removing loaves from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at or 910-862-4591.

Sandra R. Cain Extension director R. Cain Extension director
Ways you can promote better health