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Lighten Up Your Favorite Foods
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Lighten Up Your Favorite Foods

By Belinda Elliott
Guest Writer

CBN.comThe term “healthy foods” once conjured a scary mix of images in my mind. I pictured non-flavorful, plain chicken breasts, lettuce, and plates full of tofu and bean sprouts. I couldn’t imagine that a person could eat healthily and actually enjoy the taste of anything.

But I’m learning that eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to mean giving up all the foods you love. (See part one of this article to learn why I changed my diet.) With a little creativity, you can still enjoy your favorite foods.

The key is creative substitutions. For example, I loved baked potatoes. Baked potatoes are actually good for you, unless you top them the way I do. By the time I smother my potato in butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon, any health benefits I would have received are outweighed by all of the artery-clogging saturated fat I’ve added.

Does that mean I have to give up baked potatoes? No, I just need to top them differently. I’ve found that broccoli with a small amount of parmesan cheese makes a tasty potato topping. I’ve also used chili beans. With a nice flavorful (and healthy) substitute, you don’t even miss the butter and sour cream. Baked sweet potatoes are also delicious.

Here are some other ideas to cut fat and calories.

Condiments and Adding Flavor
Use Mustard or BBQ sauce instead of mayonnaise.

Switch to a fat-free oil-based salad dressing, or leave the dressing on the side and dip your fork into it before each bite. This allows you to have the taste, but you don’t eat as much of it as you would if you poured it over your salad.

Add vanilla or spices to your coffee, tea, or smoothies instead of sugar.

Try hummus. Made from chick-peas and spices, this is my new favorite sandwich spread and dip for veggies.

Flavor your food with herbs and spices rather than relying on butter or cream sauces.

Don’t fry or sauté in butter; use a small amount of extra virgin olive oil instead. Also, spraying your grill or pan with a light cooking spray sometimes eliminates the need to use any oil at all.

Substitute turkey bacon and turkey sausage in place of beef or pork.

For those recipes that call for large quantities of eggs, substitute egg whites or an egg substitute in place of the whole egg to reduce fat and calories. A good rule of thumb for baked goods and omelets is to substitute two egg whites for each whole egg.

Rather than grabbing a quick bowl of sugary cereal, opt for oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, granola, or whole wheat toast.

Salads don’t have to be boring. If you grow tired of lettuce or spinach topped with veggies, try some new combinations. Salads are very good with fruit. Experiment with apples, mandarin oranges, or blueberries. Also try adding a few chopped walnuts or sliced almonds for a little crunch.

One of my favorite additions to a salad is garbanzo beans. They are a good source of protein and fiber, and add a unique flavor to the salad.

Another great addition is avocado. Avocados offer monounsaturated fat, the good kind that helps lower cholesterol. Slice one up and see how the taste enhances your salad (and sandwiches too).

Throw out your white bread and choose whole-grain bread. Be sure to check the ingredients on the label. Choose products that list the first ingredient as whole-wheat or whole-grain. I love whole-wheat pitas for yummy pocket sandwiches.

 Use lean meats such as turkey or chicken and a lot of vegetables.

Be aware of how much fat and calories condiments can add to your meal. Rather than slathering my sandwiches with high-fat mayonnaise, I now sprinkle a little fat-free Italian salad dressing for a flavorful addition without all the fat.

Comfort Foods
Some of my favorite foods are of the greasy, fried variety. Typically, these choices are full of fat and calories, but they can be made into more healthful entrees. Here are some of my favorites made over to be lighter, but just as delicious.

Fried Chicken -- Instead of frying chicken, bake it in the oven. For a crunchy coating, try coating the chicken pieces with a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil or fat-free Italian dressing and crushed almonds, breadcrumbs, or parmesan cheese.

French Fries -- Baking potatoes can also be quartered, coated with a small amount of oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese or garlic, and baked in the oven for a healthier side dish. You can also do this with sweet potatoes, for an even healthier alternative.

Pasta Dishes -- Use whole-wheat pasta as a healthier choice than white pasta, and remember that a serving size of cooked pasta is only about the size of a tennis ball (1/2 cup). Skip the cream based sauces (although even some creamy sauces can be made low fat, see the Cooking Light link below). Opt for a tomato sauce instead.

The lycopene content of tomato sauce has been proven to be a powerful antioxidant and may help reduce the risk of some diseases, including some types of cancer. Add some fresh veggies and a few of your favorite Italian spices to make a zesty sauce for your pasta. Throw in some lean grilled chicken for extra protein.

Pizza – It is a little-known fact that pizza can actually be healthy. Look for thin crusts, or even better, make your own whole-wheat crust. Use cheese sparingly (low-fat, of course) and load up on tomato sauce and lots of veggies.

If you are like my husband and absolutely cannot live without your favorite type of pizza (his is pepperoni with mozzarella cheese), check out the individual-sized frozen pizzas from brands like Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, and Healthy Choice. These offer the same great taste to satisfy your craving for pizza, but with a smaller portion size and fewer calories.

Soup – Soups can also be healthy. Look for soups that are not cream-based and that include a lot of vegetables. Also, be sure to watch out for the sodium content of canned soups. Buy low-sodium varieties when you can.

Hamburgers – Try turkey burgers in place of beef and opt for whole wheat buns. With lettuce, tomato, and a small amount of mustard, you can have the taste of your favorite fast-food burger without all the fat.

Healthy Recipes Online
For more healthy recipes and ideas, check out these Web sites.

Cooking Light is one of the best magazines (and online sources) for healthy recipes. In one of my favorite features, they take well-loved dishes like fettuccine alfredo and baked potato soup, and show you how to make them with less fat and calories.

Prevention Magazine offers a wealth of articles and recipes for living a healthy lifestyle. offers recipe collections that include low-calorie, low-fat, heart-healthy, vegetarian, diabetes-appropriate recipes as well as meals for two and cooking for kids. Their large collection of recipes is also searchable by ingredient, fat content, calorie content, type of dish, and ease of preparation.

The Mayo Clinic Web site offers a collection of healthy recipes as well as a cooking clinic that provides a list of healthy substitutions to use in your recipes.

Just Do It!
It may take some planning and experimenting with new recipes, but healthy foods can taste just as good as their unhealthy counterparts. Adopt a few of these ideas and improve your health without sacrificing taste.

Comments? Email me


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