Tips for cutting fat from your diet

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We all know by now (or at least we should) that too much fat in our diet is not good for us. Yet most Americans still get some 40 percent of their calories from fat twice what most experts believe is best for optimum health.

One big reason for this high percentage is that many of us still believe adding fat to food is the only way to add taste. We sauté in butter and oils and add heavy cheeses and cream to our soups, stews and casseroles. But that “fat-is-flavor” theory is yesterday’s thinking.

Cooking lean

There are tons of wonderful ways to cut back on fat in food preparation and cooking (a big chunk of the 40 percent mentioned above gets inserted at the stove), without cutting corners on flavor. Consider these tips from the clever cooks at the Rodale Food Center.

  • Trim visible fat from all meats roasts, steaks and chops and remove the skin and visible fat from chicken and other poultry before cooking. This can cut the fat content by up to one-half.
  • Use nonstick pans or a nonstick vegetable spray (a well-seasoned pan makes it even easier) for frying eggs, pancakes, crepes and similar foods. It really works!
  • Sauté meat, poultry and fish in a little seasoned stock or liquid instead of in oil or butter. Stock can be frozen in ice-cube trays for use on an as-needed basis. Or, sauté chicken and fish in flavored vinegars or leftover cooking liquid from steamed vegetables.
  • Oriental sesame oil and extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil is excellent choices in cases where a little oil is absolutely indispensable as a seasoning agent. These oils have highly concentrated flavors, so you need only a few drops of any one to add taste to any dish soups, salads, vegetables and sauces. Never fry with sesame or walnut oil. Instead, stir a few drops into the dish just before serving.
  • If a soup recipe calls for sautéing vegetables in butter or oil, you can do one of two things: Either steam-sauté the vegetables using a little of the soup liquid in the covered pot or simply omit this step and allow the vegetables to cook along with everything else in the soup.
  • Poaching is an ideal, tasty cooking method for most firm-fleshed fish and boned chicken, and it’s quick. Heat fish or vegetables in three parts water and one part lemon juice. A blend of four parts water and one part soy sauce is nice for chicken, vegetables and red meat. You can season the poaching liquid with vegetables and herbs.
  • Use stock, herbal tea or juice instead of oil in marinades. If you’re baking, cover the pan to keep the food moist. This is an ideal method for fish, vegetable casseroles and meat loaf.
  • Spit-roasting is an excellent way to cut out the fat. This type of slow cooking allows the meat to expel much of its fat. Don’t coat the food with high calorie sauces, though (a high calorie content often signifies a lot of fat). Rather, baste the meats in their own juices.
  • Stewing, or braising, is also ideal because slow cooking allows the meat to give off its fat, which can be skimmed off.
  • The best way to defat soups, stocks and stews is to refrigerate them for a few hours, then skim off all the congealed fat that forms on the top. Just reheat the dish to serve.
  • Cook roasts, chops, steaks, meat- balls, hamburgers and other meat pat- ties on a raised broiler pan in the oven so the excess fat will drip away into the lower pan.
  • Use aromatic foods such as tomatoes (fresh or pureed), onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, leeks, fresh parsley, basil and thyme to add flavor to sauces instead of butter, cream or cheese. Small amounts of such flavor concentrates are all you need.
  • When preparing dishes with milk, yogurt or cheese, always use nonfat, low-fat or skim dairy products (like low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese, nonfat milk, and part-skim mozzarella and Swiss cheese).
  • In recipes that call for ricotta cheese, substitute with 1 percent low-fat or dry-curd cottage cheese. You can reduce the calories by as much as 50 percent. If you want a smoother texture, cream the cottage cheese in a blender or food processor first.
  • To cut even more dairy calories, you can substitute mashed tofu a low-fat, high-protein, cholesterol-free soy food for ricotta and cottage cheese in recipes. Since tofu is milder in flavor than the dairy cheese, you may want to add a little more seasoning to the recipe. Taste and see.
  • If you’re hooked on high-fat sour cream, try this instead: Process 1 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in 1 cup of plain, low-fat yogurt. Chill. Fat content is less than one-quarter that of sour cream.
  • Buttermilk and plain, low-fat yogurt can be substituted for milk and light cream in sauces and soups, cold or hot. To avoid curdling when you heat them, first mix 1 teaspoon of cornstarch into 1 cup of the buttermilk or yogurt. You can also remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt or buttermilk just before serving.
  • You can make a baked potato flavorful with a few drops of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce or an herb-and spice blend. Or mash tofu with a little low-fat (imitation) mayonnaise. Add curry and herb seasonings to taste.
  • Save the meat renderings in the bottom of the broiler pan to make natural gravy without added fat or starch. To degrease the renderings quickly, place them in a heat-proof measuring cup. Then submerge the cup in ice water three-quarters of the way up. The fat will rise to the top and begin to thicken so you can skim it off easily. Reheat the remaining juices and season them with bouillon or herbs and spices to taste.
  • To reduce the fat in salad dressings, replace at least two-thirds of the oil in a basic vinaigrette dressing with pureed cucumber or plain, low-fat yogurt.
  • Choose tuna (or other canned fish) packed in water rather than oil.
  • Instead of frying corn tortillas for Mexican dishes, steam-bake them in the oven. Wrap the tortillas securely in foil and bake just until hot and pliable, about 10 minutes at 375°F.
  • Avoid any packaged or processed foods where oil and butter are listed in the top three ingredients.

Eating lean

Here’s a set of guidelines for eating meat the healthful way.

Go lean

Order naturally lean cuts of beef, pork and lamb. The popular flank steak otherwise known as a London broil is a respectably lean cut of beef. A pork roast, made from pork loin, is also lower in fat, as is a leg of lamb.

Trim the fat

A 6-ounce T-bone steak untrimmed and without the bone, contains 552 calories and lots of fat. Trim away all the visible fat and you’ve got a 364-calorie steak with almost half the fat eliminated. Don’t be shy about asking the restaurants and supermarkets you frequent to do the same thing for you. In order to make an appreciable difference, the fat has to be trimmed before the meat is cooked. Besides, it’s easier on your will power if you don’t have to do the trimming.

Eat smaller portions

Again, this isn’t easy to do, but if you can think of meat less as the star attraction on your dinner plate and more as an ensemble player along with more healthful vegetables, it helps.

A word on hamburger

It’s true that ground beef even the so-called lean kind gets around 64.5 percent of its calories from fat. But there’s an alternative: Ground round gets only 57.7 percent of its calories from fat. Try it, you’ll like it.

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