- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Eating healthier doesn't mean just steering clear of the Golden Arches and other fast-food havens. It can involve tinkering with a family recipe for a healthier twist on an old favorite.
Simple ingredient substitutions can reduce the amount of fat and sugar in our systems without sacrificing flavor.
Some changes are obvious. Using whole wheat, not bleached flour, in baking recipes adds more nutrients into the mix. Fat-free milk, not whole or reduced-fat, is the wise choice when the recipe calls for milk.
Other modifications can be made without spending any extra time in the kitchen. Claudia Joy Wingo, a medical herbalist and chef from College Park, says cooking healthfully need not take much longer than whipping up a burger and fries.
A fresh vegetable stir-fry takes little time to prepare, Ms. Wingo says. Side dishes such as couscous also cook quickly and offer a nutritional alternative to traditional white rice.
If a recipe calls for salt, Ms. Wingo says, try sea salt or seaweed flakes instead. The difference in taste will be slight, she says, and the alternatives include trace minerals often missing from our diets.
The No. 1 substitute for sugar in a baking recipe, area cooking experts agree, is applesauce. For added texture, Ms. Wingo says to dice up or crush apples into the blend. Maple syrup also can be used to sweeten a recipe in
controlled quantities. Herbs can provide a sweet alternative to sugar. Stevia, an herb that can be found in supermarkets, can be used in tea mixtures or baked goods to add a sugary kick.
Those concerned about cholesterol can try replacing each egg called for in a recipe with two egg whites. Chocolate can be replaced by a blend of cocoa powder and vegetable oil to make a dessert less fatty.
Eating healthier can be as easy as choosing organic foods at the supermarket. Not everyone is sold on organic products as the elixir of healthy living, but few would argue that organically grown products bear at least a slight advantage over those grown with pesticides and hormone enhancements.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture created the first uniform standards for organic products last month. Items that are 95 percent to 100 percent organic now carry a USDA Organic seal.
"One of the best reasons to buy organic food is that they have more nutrients in them," Ms. Wingo says.
She says organic fare has a subtle flavor edge over non-organically grown products.
A healthier meal can be made by adding, not substituting, items into the mix. For example, to introduce more vegetables into a diet, she recommends slipping grated carrots or celery into meatloaf and spaghetti sauce to add flavor, texture and vitamins.
"I don't think people realize that we need to have five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day," she says.
When it comes to food preparation, she doesn't think frying gets a fair shake.
"I don't think frying is so bad, as long as it's quick frying, like in a wok," she says. Besides, the average person needs three teaspoons of oil each day for essential fatty acids, she says.
If you do fry, she says, use olive oil. Olive oil burns at a lower temperature, which means it more quickly browns whatever food is frying in it. Then the cook can transfer the food from the frying pan or wok into the oven, where the grease can be cooked out of it. Or a chef can avoid cooking with oil by using chicken, beef or vegetable stock in its place.
If you must use oil, apply it sparely using a spritzer or atomizer, says Denise Bruner, an Arlington-based bariatric physician, a doctor who helps clients deal with weight management.
Dr. Bruner says her clients turn to chicken breasts as a nutritional, low-fat entree, but only to a point.
"There's only so much plain chicken breast anyone can eat," says Dr. Bruner, who recommends tenderizing meat by squeezing lemon juice or vinegar on it.
Seasonings such as curry, saffron and red pepper make chicken and other food staples more interesting, she says. Marinades and seasoning pastes, such as curry and pesto, also bring out the flavor in a meal.
If a sauce is important to a meal, she suggests adding mushrooms to the mix. Mushrooms typically yield extra liquid when cooked.
An old favorite such as fried chicken is tough to reproduce, no matter how clever the chef, but District chef Mike Simpson suggests a leaner alternative.
Mr. Simpson says chicken dipped in a mustard mixture, then coated in panko, Japanese bread crumbs, can be a delicious alternative if fried quickly in olive oil. Plus, the mustard base eliminates the need for dipping the chicken in an egg or milk mixture, he says.
For those with food allergies, substitutions can let them enjoy foods they otherwise couldn't savor. Rice milk, for example, is available for people with milk allergies. Rice flours are substitutes for wheat-allergy sufferers. The texture may be different, but it means wheat-based favorites don't have to be eliminated from a diet.
Another alternative to wheat is a combination rice-and-barley flour, says Shideh Mofidi, a pediatric dietitian with the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute in New York.
"It does really well in place of wheat," Ms. Mofidi says of the rice-barley combination, as does a tapioca flour available. She describes the taste as about "95 percent" as good as that of traditional flour.
Food allergy sufferers should take care, however, when considering such products, which typically can be found in health-food shops. Rice milk, for example, often is made by companies that also process traditional milk. They might use the same production facilities, so contamination of the regular milk into the rice milk is possible. Ms. Mofidi suggests calling companies that manufacture allergy-free products to make sure they follow strict standards.
She says the more people with food allergies can create meals from scratch, rather than relying on processed products, the better.
Some meals can be made healthier by replacing meat with heart-friendly vegetables.
Gail Naftalin, owner of Gail's Vegetarian Catering in Silver Spring, says some traditionally meat-based meals can be made with purely vegetarian ingredients. Using vegetables and meat substitutes, anyone can create healthier versions of pot roast, lasagna and chili, Ms. Naftalin says.
Her service creates vegetarian chili using either wheat gluten or a cracked wheat called bulgar, which creates a chewy consistency similar to that of meat. For shepherd's pie, she turns to Gimme Lean, a commercially produced meat substitute made from soy and wheat. For lasagna, she uses either mushrooms or eggplant to replicate a meaty texture, and her "meatloaf" is made of lentils, nuts, sesame seeds and other vegetables.
The meals aren't just for vegetarians, she says.
"People often call us to do food for them even if they're not vegetarian. They want a healthier meal," she says.
Mr. Simpson says substitutions aren't always possible. There is no substitute for nuts, for example, and those with a weakness for french fries won't be satisfied by baking sliced potato wedges.
Even if one follows a healthy menu, Ms. Wingo advises us not to abandon our sweet comfort foods.
"All things in moderation," she says. "You can have that brownie occasionally, but have it once a week."

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