Consumer Reports Insights: Cooking tips to help you lose the fat, not the flavor

More than 500 chefs from 37 states gathered at the White House in June to join Michelle Obama's newest effort to fight childhood obesity, the Chefs Move to Schools program.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's easier to eat healthfully if you keep your kitchen stocked with foods that are packed with nutrients but low in calories and saturated fat. Here are seven ingredients that fit the bill, plus advice on how to substitute them for their less-healthful counterparts.

1.Instead of heavy cream (411 calories, 27 grams of saturated fat per half-cup), try evaporated milk (170 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat per half-cup).

Evaporated milk looks like cream and has a similar consistency. Low-fat evaporated milk has even fewer calories and less fat.

Cooking tip: Try it in creamy soups or rice pudding. You can whip it by first chilling the milk, bowl and beater.

2.Instead of baking chocolate (73 calories, five grams of saturated fat per half-square), try cocoa powder (12 calories, 0.4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon).

Despite its more healthful profile, cocoa powder still has a deep, dark-chocolate flavor.

Cooking tip: Use it in chocolate souffles, cakes and meringues. Cocoa made by the Dutch process (such as Droste) has a very rich, smooth flavor.

3.Instead of bacon (42 calories, one gram of saturated fat per slice), try paprika, peppercorns or smoked salt (6 or fewer calories, 0 grams of saturated fat per teaspoon).

You can get the smoky flavor of bacon without the calories and, perhaps more important, without the preservatives, such as nitrates and nitrites. Worried about sodium? Stick with the peppercorns or paprika.

Cooking tip: Sprinkle smoked salt into simmering pea or potato soup, or stir one of the spices into an omelet or scrambled eggs.

4.Instead of ground beef (231 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving of cooked, 80 percent lean beef), try canned beans (about the same calories but almost no saturated fat per cup, depending on the type). Beans can have almost as much protein as ground beef, plus lots of fiber and other nutrients.

Cooking tip: Try beans in burritos, swap them for meat in chili or stews, or add them to a salad.

5.Instead of full-fat sour cream (444 calories, 26 grams of saturated fat per cup), try fat-free sour cream (189 calories, 0 grams of saturated fat per cup) or plain, fat-free yogurt (137 calories, 0.3 grams of saturated fat per cup).

These substitutes have a tangy flavor and creamy texture similar to the full-fat product, so they work well in dips and on top of baked potatoes.

Cooking tip: Strain yogurt to thicken it, then use it in place of creme fraiche or cream cheese, or add it to cold soups or salad dressings.

6.Instead of canola or olive oil (about 120 calories, 1 to 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon), try balsamic vinegar (14 calories, 0 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon).

Balsamic vinegar's sweet, fruity flavor is smooth, so you can use it to replace some of the oil in many salad dressings, sauces, marinades and other recipes.

Cooking tip: Drizzle vinegar over cooked meat, or add to steamed grains combined with dried fruit.

7.Instead of white rice and pasta (about 100 calories per half-cup cooked), try whole grains (about the same number of calories).

Packed with fiber and other nutrients, they're more healthful and flavorful than refined (white) grains. Plus, they can take longer to chew and digest, which may help you eat less and feel full longer. Experiment with a variety of whole grains, including barley, bulgur, farro and quinoa, as well as brown, black, or even purple rice.

Cooking tip: Cook grains in vegetable broth for richer flavor. And use them not just as side dishes but also in casseroles, salads and soups.

Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

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