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 Recipes can be altered for healthier holiday eating Different ingredients, cooking methods can combat holiday calories 
by Texas AgriLife Extension Service - 11/4/2010
COLLEGE STATION – While the holidays are typically filled with fun and family, they also are filled with food -- and lots of it. Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas AgriLife Research experts of the Texas A&M University System have offered some suggestions on altering traditional recipes and making food choices to help cut holiday calories.

"The sugar, fat or salt 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 of a cup," she said. "If it calls for a half-cup of oil, shortening or other fat, use one-third cup. And if a recipe says to use one-half teaspoon of salt, use one-quarter teaspoon or omit the salt entirely." Bielamowicz said it’s easy to overuse salt during the holidays, and that new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines recommend a lower daily sodium intake than previous recommendations.

"The 2010 guidelines indicate that the recommended sodium consumption for the average American should be 1,500 mg or less sodium per day, down from the 2005 recommendation of 2,300 mg or less per day," she said.

She noted that processed foods typically have a higher salt content, so the consumer should be vigilant about checking food labels for salt content and other nutrition data when selecting holiday food items.

For more healthful substitutions to holiday recpies, Bielamowicz suggested 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. Another more healthful substitution is to 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."

Bielamowicz said modifying more complicated recipes may not always produce the desired texture or flavor and recommended trying out the new recipe before serving it to friends and family.

"But most changes in flavor or texture are typically not significant and are well worth the trade-off of a much healthier dish with less fat and fewer calories," she said.

"Holiday meals don’t have to be high in fat or calories to be tasty," said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Bexar County. "But low-fat doesn’t always mean low-calorie, so you have to be aware of both."

Try 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.

Sheppard said the preferred cooking method for vegetables is either steaming or roasting, using a low-fat margarine or cooking spray.

"In recipes 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, and 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 it can lead to overcooking the meat.

"For vegetable dishes like candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, try substituting mashed or baked sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar and butter substitute," she said. "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 suggested substituting canola or vegetable oil in the same recommended amount for butter when baking holiday sweets, such as cookies, cakes and pastries.

"It’s also important to think in terms of portion control when eating your holiday meal," said Sonia Elizando, AgriLife Extension assistant for the agency’s Better Living for Texans program. "You don’t want to fill up on high-calorie appetizers before the meal, and you’ll want to make it a point to eat smaller amounts of the higher-calorie foods available for the meal.

"Many splurge a little during the holidays and that’s understandable, but it’s important to remember there’s a difference between what you need to eat and what you want to eat." Healthier substitutions can also be made for more typically Southwestern holiday fare, according to other AgriLife experts.

"For those who enjoy barbecue beef for the holidays, research has shown that brisket has a healthier fatty-acid composition than other cuts of beef," said Dr. Stephen Smith, AgriLife Research meat scientist in Texas A&M’s department of animal science.

Research has demonstrated that beef brisket contains 'depots' or tiny reservoirs of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, he said. "But while brisket has a better fatty-acid composition, it still has about the same calorie content as other cuts of beef," he said.

Other alternatives for regional preferences in a main meat course might include smoked or barbecued turkey or chicken, said Nelda Lebya Speller, AgriLife Extension agent, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

"These are lower-fat, high-protein alternatives," she said, "and you may want to also skip or go easy on the barbecue sauce since many of them have a high sugar content." Tamales, another favorite holiday food throughout the Southwest, can be made with lower-fat substitutions and still retain their flavor, said Speller. "Combine the meat filling with some vegetables such as carrots, peas or celery, and use more filling than masa," she said. "Also, try canola oil instead of shortening or lard, and try non-fat refried beans as your bean-tamale filling."

AgriLife experts said there are Extension offices in almost every county in Texas, and many have personnel on staff to provide community education and outreach on nutrition, including healthier eating for people with diabetes and other health issues. Many offer free or low-cost nutrition education and food preparation demonstrations for small groups at community centers, churches, schools or other public venues.

Information on other healthful food substitutions can be found in the AgriLife Extension publication "Altering Recipes for Good Health," which can be downloaded at no cost from

Additional nutrition information can be found at the Texas A&M Family and Consumer Science website,

Provided by Texas AgriLife Extension Service on 11/4/2010
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