How can I cook healthy meals?

        Health | Heart

To reduce the cholesterol and fat in your diet, follow these tips when you are cooking.

Lighten Up Your Recipes

Review recipes to make heart-healthy substitutions. Many of your favorite recipes can be made healthier simply by substituting lower-fat ingredients. Look at the list of ingredients on your recipe. Then look at the table below to see if any of the ingredients are listed in the left column. If so, you can make the recipe a healthier one by using the ingredient in the right column instead.

What Can I Substitute?

Instead of this ... Use this ... Whole eggs, egg yolks Egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute Butter Liquid or tub margarine, unsaturated vegetable oils, butter-flavored granules, herbs and spices to flavor food Sausage, bacon, cold cuts Lean skinless turkey or chicken or lean ham Mayonnaise Nonfat yogurt, mustard, low-fat or nonfat mayonnaise Regular yogurt, sour cream Nonfat yogurt, nonfat sour cream Potato chips Pretzels, low-fat or baked chips Whole or 2% milk Skim or 1% milk Whole-milk ice cream Ice milk, low-fat frozen yogurt, low-fat or nonfat ice cream, sorbet Prime cuts of meat Select or choice cuts Whole-milk cheese Reduced-fat, low-fat, or nonfat cheese Whole-milk sour cream Nonfat or low-fat sour cream or yogurt Coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil Unsaturated oils, such as safflower, sunflower, canola, and olive oil Regular salad dressings Low-fat or nonfat salad dressings, vinegars

Use less fat in recipes.

If a recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use ½ cup butter and replace the other half with 1/4 cup of prune puree. You can make prune puree by pureeing 1 1/3 cups of pitted prunes and 6 tablespoons of hot water in a blender or food processor. This makes one cup of puree. For baked goods, you can replace 1 cup of butter, oil, margarine, or shortening with 1 cup of applesauce and still have a moist, great-tasting item without all the fat and calories.

Cook With Leaner Meats

Prime cuts of meat that have fat marbling throughout are considered by many to be the tastiest. However, you can get most of the flavor with less fat by choosing choice or select grades of meat. All meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol. But some types are leaner than others. The following are healthier substitutes for fatty meats, such as prime cuts or standard ground beef:

  • fish and shellfish
  • skinless chicken, Cornish game hen, or turkey
  • lean or extra-lean ground beef, with no more than 15% calories from fat
  • lean ham, pork tenderloin, loin pork chop
  • leg of lamb, arm of lamb, lamb loin
  • wild game, such as rabbit or venison

For the healthiest choice, pick cuts with the smallest amount of visible fat. Avoid high-fat, processed meats, such as bologna, hot dogs, salami, and bacon.

Even when you make healthy meat choices, you should still eat meat only in moderation. Eat no more than 6 ounces of meat per day. Three ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or a standard personal checkbook.

Use Lower-Fat Preparation Methods

Follow these tips for the healthiest cooking methods.

  • Bake, broil, roast, steam, microwave, poach, grill or stir-fry with only a little oil.
  • Use nonstick pans.
  • Spray a light coating of vegetable oil in place of liquid oil or butter, or cook with defatted broth, bouillon, fruit juices, or wine.
  • Trim any visible fat from meats before cooking.
  • Place meats on a rack and pour off fat after cooking.
  • Baste meats with wine, orange juice, or lemon juice instead of fat drippings.
  • Chill meat juices and skim off fat before using in gravies, soups, and stews. You can also purchase a fat separator. When you pour meat juices into this container, the fat rises to the top and separates from the meat juices so that you can pour out only the juices without the fat. You can get a fat separator at a kitchenware store or the housewares department of larger stores.
  • Remove skin from poultry or turkey before serving.
  • Thicken sauces and soups with skim or 1% milk and a little flour or cornstarch rather than whole-milk products.

All these methods reduce fat without reducing flavor.

Make Vegetables the Center of Meals

Several times a week, substitute nonanimal sources of protein, such as tofu, beans, peas, or lentils, in place of animal protein. This can take some getting used to if you are a so-called meat-and-potatoes person. If this is new for you, look at a few vegetarian cookbooks or magazines to get ideas for preparation methods and spices. Make gradual changes. Over time, you'll get used to your new meals, and your tastes will change. Substituting fish in place of meat is a healthier choice, too. Have fish at least twice a week instead of meat. Adding more vegetables may also increase your soluble fiber, and that helps lower your LDL - or bad - cholesterol.

Soluble fiber is found in all of the following:

  • oats
  • oranges
  • pears
  • Brussels sprouts
  • carrots
  • dried peas and beans

Add as many of these foods to your diet as possible.

Choose Fat-free Flavorings

You can choose healthy foods and then without realizing it add unhealthy ingredients if you aren't wise about how you add flavor. Flavor vegetables with herbs. Use herbs in place of butter or margarine. Or use a little unsaturated vegetable oil. Many cookbooks have lists of herbs that bring out the flavor of foods. Try a few. You're apt to discover some new flavors that you like. Try basil on zucchini, for instance. Or use lemon pepper on broccoli.

Rely on Homemade - Avoid Boxed Foods

The word homemade usually makes food sound better. And, not surprisingly perhaps, it often tastes better too. The real key is that it is usually healthier for you. Use fewer prepackaged foods. Prepackaged sauces and mixes and instant products, such as instant rice and pasta meals and instant cereals, often contain fat. It may seem less convenient at first, but try recipes for rice dishes from low-fat cookbooks or magazines. Soon you'll have a few recipes memorized. This will make it easy for you to prepare dishes in fresher, healthier ways using your own mix of spices. You might also be surprised at how little time other homemade dishes that don't rely on a package really take.

Choose Margarines and Salad Dressings That Lower Cholesterol

If you cannot bring your LDL - the bad cholesterol - down to a healthy level by reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol you eat, try this. Add food products such as margarines and salad dressings that lower cholesterol. Look for the brand name Benecol. This product contains substances called plant stanols. In tests, stanols have been shown to help lower cholesterol.

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