8 ways to cut calories when cooking

Want to cut calories when you cook at home? These innovative ideas will get you started

8 ways to cut calories when cooking

Source: Best Health Magazine, November/December 2008

Where’s the best place to find great-tasting food without extra fat and calories? Your own kitchen, says Diana Steele, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in Vancouver. “If you’re cooking at home, you’re in charge, and you have endless opportunities to control the amount of fat you add and change the recipe ingredients to reduce fat.” Here are some simple ways to cut calories and fat from decadent-sounding home-cooked meals such as fettuccine alfredo or fondue—without sacrificing taste or convenience.

1. Substitute cauliflower for starch

A recent study from the University of British Columbia showed significant weight loss and lower cholesterol levels among participants who followed an eating plan based on a modern version of a traditional First Nations diet. The plan replaced starchy foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes with non-starchy vegetables, including cauliflower. For a tasty low-carbohydrate alternative, steam coarsely shredded cauliflower; its mild flavour can be seasoned with a little garlic or curry powder. One cup (250 mL) provides just 29 calories and five grams of carbohydrates, compared with 216 calories and 45 grams of carbs for the same amount of long-grain brown rice. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 187 calories, 1 g fat, 40 g carbs per 1-cup (250-mL) serving.

2. Cook with skin—then take it off

When you strip the skin from chicken before cooking—even if you wrap the meat in foil—you’re left with dry, diet-tasting food, says Rose Reisman, author of 17 cookbooks, including The Complete Light Kitchen. But eating the skin is hardly going to help you cut fat from your diet. So cook with the skin on and then discard it just before serving. That adds only one gram of fat per portion, but keeps the juices in. Rub garlic and herbs under the skin to maximize flavour. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 56 calories, 7 g fat per 4-oz (113-g) serving.

3. Boost cheesy flavour

Cheese can be a high-fat temptation, but lower-fat eating doesn’t mean you’re stuck with bland no-fat varieties. Choose great tasting cheese, and just use less of it, advises Reisman. If a recipe calls for one cup (250 mL) of cheddar, for instance, use 1/2 cup (125 mL) of Parmesan instead for a more intense and satisfying flavour. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 250 calories, 24 g fat per recipe.

4. Make your own patty

Burgers are a Canadian staple, but a decadent supermarket version can top 37 grams of fat and 440 calories. Substitute ground chicken for beef and mix with moisture- and fibre-boosting ingredients such as dried fruit, onions or even pineapple. (Tip: Use an egg white to bind it all together.) Cook it this way and you’ll save: 200 calories, 23 g fat per 6-oz (170-g) burger patty. (Try our Best Grilled Burgers or Chicken Burgers with Tropical Fruit Salsa.)

5. Keep creamy taste without using cream

Fettuccine alfredo is one of those Italian-inspired dishes that tastes delicious but is so laden with fat and cholesterol that it’s a far cry from the ideal Mediterranean diet. Steele suggests a simple solution: Blend low-fat ricotta or cottage cheese with skim milk to replace one cup (250 mL) of whipping cream. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 632 calories, 85 g fat per recipe.

6. Blend in lima beans

Avocados are packed with potassium, vitamin E, folate (a B vitamin) and fibre—but about 80 percent of their calories comes from fat (albeit the heart-healthy kind). When making guacamole, you can keep that creamy texture and the nutrients but reduce calories, by replacing two out of three avocados with a cup of cooked, puréed baby lima beans, suggests Mary Sue Waisman, a Halifax-based dietitian and author of Flavour First. Add a touch of lime juice and reduced fat mayonnaise. Stir in some fresh chopped tomatoes and cilantro, minced garlic, jalapeno peppers and ground cumin, and no one will taste the difference. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 522 calories from fat, 58 g fat per recipe.

7. Toss a better-for-you Caesar

Salad is a low-fat meal, right? Not if it’s a traditional Caesar made with lots of olive oil, eggs, Parmesan and croutons. Replace this dressing with a cooked white sauce made with low-fat milk, Waisman says. Let the sauce cool, then thin with a little olive oil. Season with lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. Whisk in garlic and a small amount of Parmesan. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 225 calories from fat, 25 g fat per 3-Tbsp (45-mL) serving.

8. Boil up some broth

While fondue parties are back in vogue, the traditional cheese variety is high in fat. For a low-fat, family-friendly meal, Waisman suggests trying the Japanese take on this Swiss favourite: shabu-shabu. Cook very thin slices of meat and vegetables in a pot of boiling broth made with a type of dried seaweed called kombu (or use low-sodium chicken broth). Then dip these tasty bites in ponzu sauce (available in specialty stores and the Asian food section of grocery stores), or a mixture of soy sauce, lemon juice and rice wine vinegar. Cook it this way and you’ll save: 246 calories, 15 g fat per 1/2-cup (125-mL) serving.

This article was originally titled "Cook Smart to Drop Pounds," in the November/December 2008 issue of Best Health Magazine. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!