Using healthier fats
You may have been told to reduce the amount of saturated and trans fat in your diet because of the effects these fats can have on your blood cholesterol level. A diet high in saturated fat can raise your total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease. Trans fat can also raise LDL cholesterol levels and additionally lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include fatty red meats, butter, cheese, cream, whole milk, and coconut oil. Foods high in trans fat include some margarines and shortening. Other sources of trans fat include many commercially baked goods, such as crackers, cookies, and cakes, and commercially fried foods, such as French fries and donuts.
When cooking at home, try replacing butter, margarine that contains trans fat, and shortening with liquid vegetable oils such as canola, flaxseed, peanut, olive, safflower, or sunflower oils. For example, oil can be used in place of butter when sautéing vegetables or browning meats. However, I’ve had mixed results when substituting oil for the solid fat in quick breads, cakes, cookies, and pie crusts and prefer to use recipes that have been designed to use oil.
Reducing the sugar
With almost 800 calories per cup, sugar can contribute a lot of calories and many grams of carbohydrate to a dish. It can often be reduced in recipes by one-fourth to one-third. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you can reduce that amount to 3/4 cup or 2/3 cup. When you use less sugar in a recipe, you can enhance the sweetness in the food with spices and flavorings such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, or vanilla extract.
In yeast breads, sugar is necessary for the growth of the yeast, which is what makes the bread rise. Omitting or reducing the sugar in yeast bread recipes could result in dense, flat loaves and is not recommended.
In candies, crystallized sugar provides the proper consistency and texture. It’s not advisable to reduce the sugar in candy recipes. If you enjoy making candy and wish to eat less sugar, your best bet is to eat less candy.
In jams, jellies, and marmalades, sugar acts as a preservative as well as a sweetener. For safety reasons, therefore, use recipes developed for reduced-sugar preserves rather than adjusting your own recipes. Also be aware that homemade, reduced-sugar jams and jellies may have a shorter shelf life — both at room temperature before opening and refrigerated after opening — than full-sugar varieties.
Sugar substitutes can be used to replace sugar in some items. However, nonnutritive sweeteners do not add volume, tenderness, or moistness the way sugar does, nor do they brown foods, ferment, or act as a preservative. For foods that rely on sugar for their structure, appearance, and texture — such as cakes, cookies, muffins, and quick breads — replace only part of the sugar called for in the recipe with low-calorie sweeteners. For foods in which sugar is used primarily for its sweet taste — such as beverages, sauces, marinades, frozen desserts, puddings, custards, and fruit fillings for pies and cobblers — you may be able to replace all of the sugar with low-calorie sweeteners.
When using artificial sweeteners, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for amounts to use in place of sugar and types of foods to use them in. Some sweeteners lose sweetness when heated to high temperatures for extended periods, while others do not.