Small changes can add up in new year

January 13, 2021 10:06:25 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


It's all but inevitable that a new year brings at least some thought of trying to "do better" this time around. We know that too much of what we consume isn't really good for us in the long- term. The older we get, the more I believe it sinks in. We're told often enough that certain foods may help reduce our risk for developing chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension and even cancer. Mississippi State University Extension Service Publication P3424 calls these functional foods-- vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and more. I expect we could all benefit from working more of them into our diets in 2021.


We often stumble when we sprint out of the gate determined to overhaul our eating "overnight." That seldom works, at least not for very long. But making a few simple substitutions here and there in our favorite recipes has a better chance of sticking. As can using healthier cooking techniques, so set the stage by having the right utensils and high quality nonstick skillets, baking pans and saucepans, advises the Extension publication. They let us saute and bake without having to add extra fat.




Start small


Yes, it may take some experimentation, but, "When substituting an ingredient, think about what the original ingredient does for the food you are making," reads the Extension advice. "Make sure the functional foods you are adding have similar properties to the ingredients you are replacing."


Make your changes gradually, maybe one or two the first time you modify the dish, and see how it turns out.


Even simpler than adjusting a recipe, add functional foods to what you already eat, like fruit to cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. Nut butters are good on whole-grain toast; they contain healthy unsaturated fats. Making pizza? Add veggies like bell peppers, tomatoes or spinach.



Keep in mind


If you're cutting back on sugar and fat in recipes, decreasing sugar may affect texture or volume of the food, the Extension brochure explains. Reducing fat can make baked goods tough or dry, or not rise correctly. Reduced-fat baked goods tend to bake faster than those made with full fat. You can try lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees and check for doneness a few minutes early when baking reduced-fat items.


"Fat helps baked goods rise," says the Extension article. "You may need additional leavening if you have reduced the fat in a recipe. Baking soda is preferred if there is an acidic ingredient such as fruit puree in the recipe."


Start by adding 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each half-cup of acidic ingredient. If there is no acidic ingredient, add some extra baking powder for lightness, starting with 3/4 teaspoon. But be careful; too much additional leavening can leave a bitter aftertaste. Another way to add lightness is to whip egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the prepared batter.



Functional substitutions


According to the MSU Extension Service, if your recipe calls for salt, you could use cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or ginger for sweets foods, or pepper, garlic, basil or dill for savory foods


If oil is called for in baked goods, fruit purees that don't have a strong flavor, like applesauce, pumpkin puree and carrot puree, could be used as subs. (First try substituting half the oil called for and see how that works. If baking something light in color, avoid dark purees; they will change the food's color.)


Instead of cream in soups, use pureed vegetables, which will thicken the soup without the saturated fat in cream.


Rather than all-purpose flour, use whole-wheat flour or oat flour. Both options add extra fiber.


If a recipe calls for sour cream, try plain, nonfat Greek yogurt. When sugar is on the ingredient list, you could try honey instead. Honey is sweeter than sugar; use about 1/4 less honey than sugar. Depending on what you're making, you may need to reduce the liquid in your recipe so it won't be runny.


You can access the complete Publication 3424 at


As you introduce substitutions or make gradual changes toward a better way of eating, be prepared to practice -- and don't be afraid to experiment.


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.