Lowering the sodium
Most of the sodium in the typical American diet comes from foods that have had salt or high-sodium ingredients added during processing or preparation. Fast foods and commercially prepared items such as frozen entrées are notoriously high in sodium. But even if you prepare most of your food at home, you may be adding sodium in the form of bouillon cubes, canned broth or soup, canned tomato products with added salt, soy sauce and other seasonings, or just plain table salt.
For most main dishes, side dishes, soups, and salads, you can reduce the salt in a recipe by half or eliminate it completely. (You may want to add other flavorings such as herbs, spices, or garlic to compensate for less salt.) You can also seek out low-sodium or reduced-sodium ingredients when a recipe calls for broth, canned or dried soups, or canned vegetables. In some dishes you may be able to substitute a fresh ingredient, such as fresh tomatoes in place of canned, salted tomatoes, for a substantial reduction in sodium. (For more suggestions, see “Reducing Sodium.”)
In baked goods that don’t require yeast, begin by reducing the salt by half to lower the sodium content. However, for recipes that call for yeast, don’t reduce the amount of salt. It’s necessary for the growth of the yeast, and reducing it could result in dense, flat loaves of bread.
Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet and has been shown to help lower blood glucose, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. It also helps to maintain the health of the colon, and a diet high in fiber promotes weight control since high-fiber foods cause you to feel fuller with fewer calories. Many high-fiber foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are loaded with other healthy nutrients, too. You can add fiber to your recipes by using ingredients such as whole wheat pasta, high-fiber cereals, whole wheat flour, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, nuts, and seeds.
To add fiber to homemade breads, cakes, pancakes, or cookies, try substituting whole wheat flour for one-fourth to one-half of the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. This will change the final flavor, appearance, and texture of the product, so if you and your family are not used to the flavor of whole-grain foods, you may want to start by replacing only one-fourth of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. As you become accustomed to eating more whole grains, you can increase the proportion of whole wheat flour.
If you prefer the lighter color of products made with all-purpose flour, try white whole wheat flour. It has all the fiber and nutrition of traditional whole wheat flour with a milder flavor and lighter color.
Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from lower-protein, softer wheat than whole wheat flour. It can replace half of the all-purpose flour when making items such as cookies, pie crusts, cakes, and muffins.
In other types of dishes, such as casseroles and soups, you can incorporate more fiber by adding extra vegetables or dried beans and by replacing refined grains such as white rice or pasta with less refined grains such as bulgur, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, or whole-grain pasta. Even regular bread crumbs can be replaced with high-fiber cereal crumbs for additional fiber.
Reducing portion size
Some special recipes are best left alone, even if they do contain a lot of sugar or fat. In some cases, attempting to make a recipe healthier will yield a disappointing finished product. One of my friends found this out when she substituted light butter for regular butter when making her pecan dainty cookies. Using the light butter resulted in cookies without the desired texture and flavor. In other cases, particularly when preparing family favorites, the social pressure to make the dish “the way we always made it” may be high.