You don’t have to be an experienced cook to prepare appetizing dishes that are low in fat. But everyone who cooks and stores food does need to be fully informed of how to guard against food poisoning.
Implements for Low-fat Cooking
Most cooks already have on hand the basic equipment for preparing healthful meals. See For food items to stock up on.
Nonstick skillet or wok, for stir-frying and sautéing meats and vegetables with minimal oil or other fat
Vegetable steamer, for retaining vitamins and minerals during cooking
Two heavy-gauge stainless steel saucepans: a medium or large one for pasta, a smaller one for soups and sauces
Skimmer/strainer to remove congealed fat from chilled soups and stews
Several sharp knives
Wooden spoons and plastic spatula to avoid damaging nonstick cookware
Measuring cup and measuring spoons
Microwave cookware (if you own a microwave)
PREPARING MEAT, POULTRY, AND FISH
Animal foods contribute a substantial amount of fat to the diet. Here are ways to compensate.
Techniques that are good for cooking meat, poultry, and fish without adding calories from fat include broiling, braising, poaching, and roasting. Avoid frying.
Stir-frying and sauteing, which require adding fat, are ﬁne periodically if you use oil cooking sprays or a small quantity of oil. Choose a nonstick skillet or a wok. Heat the pan before adding oil when preparing to stir-fry.
Heat makes the oil go further, so you can use the smallest possible quantity. Be careful when adding the oil, so that you avoid getting spattered.
When roasting chicken or turkey, elevate the bird on a roasting rack. Baste the fowl with wine, fruit juice, or broth instead of drippings.
Chill drippings, then skim off the fat before making gravy.
Remove the skin from chicken after cooking, not before, to reduce fat content. Skin locks in moisture, ﬂavor, and heat-sensitive vitamins.
It’s easy to undercook foods in the microwave and leave dangerously high levels of bacteria alive. Proper cleaning and maintenance are also important to ensure safety.
Heed your manual’s recommendations for both cooking and standing times. Also, follow the instructions for operating procedures and safety precautions.
Be sure that children who use the microwave know the rules for its operation. If there are signs of rusting inside the unit, have the oven repaired.
Clean the oven cavity and the door with water and a mild detergent. Do not use scouring pads or other abrasives.
Cover food to keep heat from dissipating before the center is cooked. While microwave ovens cook the surface of food rapidly, the center may not be cooked until minutes after the microwave has shut off.
If the microwave does not have a turntable, turn the dish several times during cooking for even heating.
Stir such foods as casseroles and soups.
Don’t let the food come in contact with plastic wrap in the microwave. Chemicals from the plastic can “migrate” into the food, With possibly harmful results.
Check for thorough cooking at the center of salty dishes, such as prepared dinners. Salt makes it tougher for microwaves to penetrate the food. Salt may also produce dark spots on vegetables during microwaving.
Stay close by the oven if you are using a microwave for popping corn. Some ovens can scorch popcorn in two minutes, and heat buildup can cause a fire.
Marinate meats to be grilled in the refrigerator, not on the counter, so bacteria Won’t have a chance to grow.
Place meat that has been parboiled or partially cooked on the grill immediately after removing it from a microwave, stovetop, or oven.
if you have to precook meat well ahead of serving time, cook it at a temperature high enough to destroy all bacteria, then refrigerate it.
Wash all utensils and plates that have come in contact with raw meat before using them for cooked foods.
Cook meat medium to well-done.
Keep vegetables or fruits that are intended for grilling separate from raw meat to avoid contamination.
Choose the leaner cuts of meat for Chemicals suspected of causing some types of cancer may be activated when fatty foods are smoked or grilled. However, most researchers feel that occasionally eating barbecued meat poses little hazard to your health.
To be on the safe side, keep fat from dripping onto the coals and producing chemical-laden smoke. Use a drip pan, Wrap the meat in foil, or place the meat over to the side, not directly over the coals. Raise the grill so it’s farther from the heat source.
Cutaway any of the meat that has been charred. Chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer to accumulate on charred surfaces, so try to avoid eating such meat.
Use regular charcoal. Softwoods, such as mesquite, burn at a higher temperature than regular hardwood charcoal, which increases the risk of creating cancer-causing chemicals.
Serve food immediately if possible. When the outdoor temperature is 80°F or hotter, serve Within an hour. Otherwise, perishable food should be served or refrigerated Within two hours after it is cooked.
Practice environmentally friendly barbecuing: avoid lighter fluid and self-igniting briquets, which can create smog-forming emissions. Instead, use electric or other fire-starter devices, or switch to a gas grill.
If dripping fat causes the fire to ﬂare up, douse it with a lettuce leaf. Place it over the ﬂame.
If you want to use some marinade for a dip or basting sauce, reserve a portion in advance. Don’t reuse marinade that’s touched raw meat: it may be contaminated.
CHOOSING A CUTTING BOARD
Contrary to expectations, microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have found wooden cutting boards to be more sanitary than plastic ones for cutting raw meat and poultry.
On some of the boards that were tested, nearly 100 percent of the bacteria were dead, or at least gone, in three minutes. (One theory: wood cells absorb and trap bacteria.) Old woods performed even better than new ones.
When contaminated boards were stored overnight, the wooden ones were bacteria-free the next morning, while the population soared on the plastic boards. And it wasn’t easy to wash off the plastic, especially if the surface was scratched.
Whatever you use to cut poultry and meats, wash it afterward with soap and hot water. Be especially thorough if the board is covered with grease. Researchers suggest putting plastic in the dishwasher and using bleach on it.
Wash vegetables quickly when preparing to cook them, then drain or pat dry. Do not soak them. Vitamins and minerals dissolve in the soaking water.
The best way to eat most vegetables is raw or slightly cooked so they retain the maximum nutrients, color, and texture. Aim to cook vegetables just long enough to be softened but still remain somewhat crisp or crunchy. (Exceptions to this rule include potatoes, turnips, and acorn and butternut squash.)
Techniques recommended for cooking vegetables to the crisp-tender stage are steaming in a steamer basket or microwaving in a small amount of water.
Cook farm-fresh produce from a roadside stand for slightly less time than the same product purchased at a supermarket, which is likely to be “older” and to have traveled farther.
For even cooking, cut to uniform size any vegetable that can’t be prepared whole.
Preserve any liquid that remains after steaming or boiling vegetables: it contains vitamins and minerals that leached out during cooking. Use the liquid as soup stock, in casseroles, or in a sauce.
When cooking fruits and vegetables, consider a microwave oven. Fruits and vegetables are the best dietary sources of vitamin C—the vitamin most easily destroyed by heat. However, microwaves do not affect vitamin C.
Substitute plain low-fat yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and sauces. At 16 calories per two-tablespoon serving, it has one-third the calories of sour cream. It is also higher in protein and calcium and lowers in fat. Or make Mock Sour Cream (see recipe on facing page).
For scrambled eggs, combine one whole egg with the white of a second egg. You’]l have half the fat, calories, and cholesterol of two Whole eggs. In many dessert recipes, you can often substitute two egg whites for one whole egg.
Use ground turkey or extra lean ground beef for chili, casseroles, or spaghetti sauce.
Increase the protein, fiber, and minerals in dishes by adding chickpeas, navy beans, lima beans, and other dried beans and peas, which are known as legumes. They add nutrients but relatively little fat to soups, stews, salads, and other dishes.
Chill soups and stews after cooking, then skim off any fat that congeals on top. Do the same with canned bouillon before cooking, or run an ice cube over the top to remove fat.
Rinse legumes carefully and remove any or debris.
Soak dried peas and beans at least four hours in a large pot of water. For a speedier method, place the dried peas or beans in a saucepan, cover with an inch of water, and boil for two minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the legumes sit, covered, for an hour.
Substitute mashed cooked legumes for cheese and mayonnaise in dips and sandwich spreads. Not only are dried peas and beans lower in fat, but they also may help lower your LDL cholesterol, which is the so-called bad cholesterol.
Instead of drenching pasta with a cream sauce, try tossing the noodles with lentil soup or other bean soup, either canned or homemade. You’ll cut the fat content and boost your fiber intake.
Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice onto steamed vegetables for zip Without calories. If you can‘t do without the ﬂavor of butter, use just enough to add the taste (less than a teaspoon) immediately before serving.
Add tofu to stir-fried vegetables and casseroles. Tofu also is known as bean curd—is made from soybeans. Rich in protein and minerals, cholesterol-free tofu is a soft cheese- like product that makes a good substitute for meat.
Refrigerate fresh bean curd submerged in water in a covered jar or bowl. Change the water daily to keep the bean curd fresh for several days.
If the bean curd is too soft and waterlogged when you want to use it, rinse out a piece of cheesecloth and line a strainer with two or three layers of it. Place the strainer over a bowl and let the bean curd drain there for several hours, or until it feels firm and the excess liquid is gone.
Puree bean curd in a food processor and use it in place of cream in soups.
Eat dried peas, dried beans, and nuts with rice, barley, bread, or other grains to get the most benefit from their protein.
Select olive, peanut, soy, canola, sesame, and walnut oil for cooking and salad dressings. These monounsaturated fats are considered healthy for the heart (except by those who advocate an extremely low-fat diet for persons with heart disease).
To cut calories and fat by about a third, choose Whipped butter or margarine rather than stock versions. Diet margarine can save you about half the calories of margarine and butter, which both have 100 calories per tablespoon.
When sauteing onions, garlic, or other vegetables or herbs, substitute vegetable-oil spray for oil or butter. One tablespoon of oil has 125 calories and 14 grams of fat; 1 tablespoon of butter has 100 calories and ll grams of fat; l 1/4 seconds of spraying adds up to ‘7 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.
Introduce new foods to your family in small amounts, then ask for a verdict. For example, add a few slices of kiwifruit to a dessert dish, or try mustard greens in a salad.
DRESSING YOUR SALAD
To Whittle down the fat and calorie content of your salad dressing, replace half the oil— or more than half—in dressing recipes With low-fat ingredients, or expanders.
In noncreamy dressing, substitute lemon or tomato juice, water, ketchup, or broth for part of the oil.
For a creamy dressing, use low-fat yogurt, buttermilk, tofu, or cottage cheese instead of mayonnaise, sweet cream, and sour cream. For a smooth texture, swirl the dressing in a blender or food processor for a few seconds.
Wash, drain, and dry salad greens well. Consider a salad-spinner device. Dressing sticks best to dry greens, so by drying greens, you’ll be able to use less dressing for the same ﬂavorful taste.
Sharpen kitchen knives regularly. You are more likely to cut yourself using a dull knife than a sharp one.
When baking cakes, try reducing the amount of sugar by one-third. You’ll save 258 calories per one-third cup. You can also cut back the sugar in many cookie recipes by a third to a half Without sacrificing much taste.
As tempting as it may be, don‘t taste cake or cookie batter that contains raw eggs. The eggs may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria (which are killed by cooking). Save your spoon-licking for the cake frosting if it is egg-free.
Add sweetness to baked goods and other foods With such spices as cinnamon and ginger. Vanilla and almond extracts are good sugar substitutes.
Replace half the White flour called for in most recipes with Whole-Wheat flour. You, Will, get a bonus of more fiber, vitamins, and minerals, plus richer color and taste.
Bake crustless pies. For example, baked pumpkin-pie filling gives you a smooth, tasty dessert that is high in vitamin A and low in fat.
Be aware that carob desserts have virtually the same calories and fat content as the chocolate versions. The chief benefit of using carob when baking for children is that carob, unlike chocolate, has no caffeine.
WHEAT GERM, BROWN RICE, AND SPROUTS
Wheat germ, which is rich in protein, zinc, several B vitamins, and vitamin E, is great for sprinkling on cereals and salads and as a breading for fish and meat. But because it contains fat (polyunsaturated), Wheat germ goes stale quickly, so keep it refrigerated.
Brown rice, which is high in fiber and minerals, is more nutritious than white. Soaking brown rice in Water reduces the cooking time from 45 minutes to 25 minutes. If you cook the rice in the soaking water, you will preserve nutrients that may have leached out into the water.
Mung-bean and alfalfa sprouts are rich in nutrients, especially vitamin C. Use them in salads and stir-fry dishes, or in sandwiches.
Give your favorite dishes a sodium-free makeover. Substitute dried or fresh herbs and spices, or a salt-free blend. A good herb assortment includes basil, dill weed, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, and thyme. Recommended spices are allspice, cardamom, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, ground ginger, dry mustard, and nutmeg.
To cut down on salt, ﬁll your pepper shaker with salt. Fewer and smaller holes make it ﬂow slower and more sparsely than from a saltshaker. Eventually, you may want to get rid of the shaker to avoid adding table salt.
Soak salty foods like corned beef and sauerkraut in cold water for at least 15 minutes before cooking or eating. Change the water several times if you wish.
Reduce the salt in soup or other liquids heated over the stove by adding raw sliced potatoes. Remove the slices when they begin to turn soft.
Salt can be eliminated from any recipe except baked goods made with yeast, in which it is necessary to control the rising of the dough.
Read labels to avoid seasonings that are high in sodium. Many combination seasonings, such as lemon pepper and salad seasoning, include liberal amounts of salt.
AVOIDING FOOD POISONING
The keys are good hygiene, proper cooking temperatures for animal protein, and the rule “Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” Remember proper storage, too (see “Smart Shopping, Safe Storage,”). Keep utensils, working surfaces, and your hands clean. Rinse your hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before preparing food. Wash them thoroughly with soap and Warm Water after you’ve handled raw meat.
When canning foods, follow instructions carefully to avoid botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning.
Thaw frozen meats-especially ground meat—in the refrigerator, and cook them as soon as they have defrosted.
Cook steaks, roasts, ribs, and chops until no pink remains. Cooking to “rare” may not kill the bacteria that can cause illness.
Cook poultry until there is no red in the joints and juices run clear when you prick it.
Cook fish so that it flakes With a fork, and it looks firm and opaque, not shiny.
Don’t prepare or serve steak tartare or other raw ground meat dishes. These are among the type of foods most likely to cause food poisoning. Grinding equipment may harbor contaminants, and ground meat offers microorganisms more surfaces on which to multiply.
Cook ground meat until it is Well-done. The center should look gray or brown and the juices should run clear, not pink or red.
When dining out with your family, check the food sewed to young children and the elderly before they eat. Make sure that they do not eat rare or undercooked hamburgers. The very young and the elderly are especially vulnerable to food poisoning.
Don’t depend on the sniff test. Meat that has been contaminated With E. colt bacteria, a major cause of food poisoning, does not necessarily smell bad.
If you travel abroad, be cautious about what you cat (see “Eating and Drinking Here and Abroad,”).
Do not eat raw ﬁn fish or shellfish if you have an immune disorder or are on chemotherapy. Although most ﬁsh you buy have been commercially frozen and thawed, freezing does not kill bacteria (it does kill most parasites).
STOCKING YOUR PANTRY AND REFRIGERATOR
When you have the ingredients Within easy reach, preparing meals With balance and variety will not be hard. As a rule, use fresh herbs and spices rather than dried or powdered versions.
Greek: Olive oil, red and White wine Vinegars; lemon juice; orzo (rice-shaped pasta), rice, short macaroni; cannellini beans, Gigantes, lentils, dried yellow split peas; plain low-fat yogurt; canned and fresh tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, carrots; garlic, oregano, rosemary, and parsley.
Italian: Balsamic and red Wine vinegars; dried cannellini beans and chickpeas; extra- virgin olive oil; various types of dried pasta; coarse cornmeal; dried porcini mushrooms, canned and fresh Italian plum tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, leeks, red peppers, spinach; Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in chunks for grating; part-skim ricotta cheese; garlic, basil, oregano, rosemary, and sage.
Mexican: Corn tortillas, dried pinto, and black beans, rice, White cornmeal; avocados, tomatoes, corn on the cob, zucchini and pumpkin squashes, jicama, cilantro; limes, apples, mangoes, papayas, pineapples; fresh and dried chilies.
Chinese: Short- or medium-grain rice, egg noodles; soy sauce; corn or peanut oil, sesame oil; fermented black beans, fresh ginger, scallions, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
French: Olive oil, red Wine vinegar; red Wine, cognac, and port for sauces; Dijon mustard; chicken stock; shallots, garlic, chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon.
Low-fat: Chicken or beef bouillon; pasta, brown rice, and other types of grains; an assortment of Whole-grain bread, rolls, pita, and bagels, which can be frozen; fresh fruits and vegetables (frozen produce as a backup); dried peas and beans.
MAKING FOOD TASTE BETTER
Choose foods for each meal that give you the maximum textural variety of chewiness and crunchiness, smoothness and roughness.
Use less fluid in soups or sauces to increase flavor intensity.
Use the greatest possible variety of spices. Fresh herbs are often more flavorful than dried herbs. Vary spices with different dishes.
Chew your food thoroughly to release all the taste- and scent-bearing molecules each bite contains.
Alternate bites of one type of food with bites of another type. The olfactory receptors in your nose, which detect scents, adapt to smell by roughly 50 percent in the first second or so after stimulation. This means that you will savor the most taste With the first bite, and then only half the taste sensation with the second bite.
Drink water to clear your palate as you eat.
Check your medications. Ask your doctor if one of them may decrease the taste sensation. If so, have him or she suggests alternative medications that do not diminish the taste.
Stop smoking, if you do smoke, for the sake of good taste, as well as for all the other beneﬁts that come with quitting (see “Dealing with Addiction,”).
Cooking in iron pots adds iron to foods, which is a plus for nearly everyone, but especially for pregnant women and people who eat no meat, poultry, or ﬁsh. Foods high in acid, such as tomatoes, cause the most iron to leach out from the cookware.
Don’t stint on nutrients just because you don‘t feel like cooking. For a Well-balanced meal with almost no effort, bake a potato (or two), and top it with leftover side dishes, for example, cooked broccoli, spinach, chili, or spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle some grated cheese on it.
Add a small number of chopped nuts to ground meat for hamburgers or meatloaf. Nuts are a delicious meat extender and since they are relatively high in protein and vitamin E, more nutritious than most bread crumbs.
To help your family stoke up on beta-carotene, a health-enhancing substance found in orange vegetables (and some leafy green vegetables), grate a carrot or two into tomato sauces for spaghetti, lasagna, and other casseroles and pasta dishes.
It’s easy to boost the protein content of vegetable and fruit salads, which tend to be loaded With carbohydrates but light on protein. Add ground toasted sesame seeds or toasted sunﬂower seeds.
Prepare a snack or appetizer quickly by slicing some raw vegetables and making a dip in the blender. Use cottage cheese with chopped onion and canned minced clams that have been drained. Or substitute chopped fresh parsley and garlic cloves for the clams.
To save time and effort in the cleanup, boil pasta and cut-up stalks of broccoli, cauliﬂower, or other vegetables in the same pot.
For an easy first course or dessert, half a grapefruit, drizzle some honey on top and place on a baking sheet in the oven. Broil six inches from the heat for one to two minutes. Serve warm or cold.
When berries are in season, buy more than you need. Freeze the extra berries on a cookie sheet, then transfer them to a closed container for use throughout the year.
When preparing dishes to freeze, undercook slightly so that the food will retain its texture when reheated. Season the dishes with a light hand, then correct seasonings before serving. Freezing causes some spices to turn bitter or intensify in flavor.
Never place food on a paper towel or napkin for microwaving. Recycled paper products contain chemicals that may promote cancer.
When baking muffins, banana cake, or other recipes that call for two Whole eggs, replace one of the yolks with a tablespoon or two of milk. You, Will, halve the cholesterol content of the baked goods.
For a nutrient-packed breakfast or snack, place in a blender a large peach that is peeled, pitted, and quartered, 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 ice cube, and a dash of cinnamon. Process until well blended.
After a big meal, pop a few fennel or anise seeds into your mouth. Italians and Greeks use these sweet herbs as an aid to digestion.
Getting the Most from Convenience Foods
Perk up frozen, quick-cooking, or store-bought dishes by adding vegetables, cheese, and other foods. You can get nearly the same texture, flavor, and nutritional quality as home-cooked meals.
Add fresh mushrooms, onions, and peppers to bottled or canned spaghetti sauce.
Top frozen pizza with fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions.
Add a single-serving can of tuna to a pasta salad from a salad bar.
Thin mayonnaise dressing on coleslaw with low-fat yogurt.
Spice up frozen or canned corn with lemon juice and salsa.
Add fresh onions, peppers, beans, chicken bouillon or tomato sauce to quick-cooking rice.
Add steamed zucchini, mushrooms, and a bit of grated cheese to a microwave “baked” potato.
Mix sliced yellow squash, broccoli florets, or green peas into a flavored rice-and-noodle casserole.
Add diced mushrooms, celery, carrots, and onions to prepared poultry-stuffing mixes.
Increase the calcium in instant mashed potatoes. Follow package directions but reverse the quantities of milk (use skim) and water called for.