Recipe Makeovers: 10 Healthy Cooking Commandments (cont.)

6. Never deep-fry when you can oven-fry or pan-fry with a lot less oil. Choose canola oil or olive oil, and use about 1/2 teaspoon per serving (depending on the item). When you pan-fry or oven-fry in a controlled amount of oil, you can cut a lot of the fat and calories your food would soak up if it were submerged in hot oil. For every tablespoon of oil you cut, you'll save 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat.

7. Use whole grains in your recipes whenever possible. We've already talked about whole-wheat flour, but you can also substitute brown rice for white rice, add barley to stews and casseroles, and look for recipes that call for oats. Whole grains offer fiber to fill you up, along with a plethora of health benefits.

8. Extra ingredients and embellishments can often be removed or cut in half. If a recipe calls for chocolate chips, you can use less. If it calls for dotting your casserole or pie with butter, you can skip this step. In a cake recipe, you can use half the original amount of frosting (in a double-layer cake, just frost the top and middle and forget the sides). And in some cakes, bars, and cookies, you can skip the frosting in favor of a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. Using 2 tablespoons of frosting instead of 4 will shave 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 2 grams of saturated fat. Each tablespoon of chocolate chips you skip cuts the calories by 50 per serving, the fat by 3 grams, and the saturated fat by almost 2 grams.

9. Use top-quality ingredients when possible. Start with the best-tasting, freshest ingredients you can find. For example, I use fresh garlic (I buy it already minced in jars) and fresh herbs when I can -- they usually have more flavor than the dried. Use extra-fresh fish, the sharpest reduced-fat cheddar cheese, and so on. All this means your lighter dish will be more likely to pass muster with the masses!

10. Switch to "smart fat" ingredients when possible. Certain fats, when used in moderation, actually have health benefits! Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and some plant foods like canola oil and ground flaxseed), as well as oils that contain monounsaturated fats (like olive and canola oil) and foods high in monounsaturated fats (like avocado and almonds) may help protect against heart disease. In recipes, you often have a choice of which oil or margarine to use, or you can choose to add fish instead of red meat. When a recipe calls for melted butter or margarine, you can often substitute canola or olive oil.

Originally published March 2, 2006.
Medically updated May 28, 2008.


Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

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