Cutting the fat from your favorite foods doesn't necessarily mean cutting flavor. Using herbs, spices, and other healthier substitutions can kick up the taste of home-cooked low-fat meals in ways that can even make them more delicious.
New research by the University of Colorado food scientists demonstrated many everyday food recipes can be easily tweaked to lower fat content by adding healthier seasonings — without having any noticeable loss of taste or appeal.
"Eating healthy can taste great, just put a little spice in your life," lead researcher John C. Peters tells Newsmax Health.
For the new study, Peters — a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center — and colleagues asked 150 volunteers to taste a variety of foods (including meatloaf, vegetable dishes, and creamy pasta recipes) prepared as full-fat meals (with 610 calories) or reduced-fat alternatives (395 calories). To compensate for the loss of flavor in the low-fat dishes, researchers added everyday spices such as onion, oregano, paprika, and garlic.
The tasters were then asked to rate the meals they found most flavorful, without being told which foods contained less fat.
The results showed the volunteers rated both the full-fat meals and reduced-fat dishes prepared with spices about the same, in terms of taste. What’s more, the spicy reduced-fat meatloaf and vegetable dishes scored even higher than the regular versions, while the full-fat creamy pasta meals were favored just slightly more than the spicy alternatives.
"What we did was to increase the level of herbs and spices to boost the overall flavor profile so that whatever flavor fat was contributing was not detectable, at least in meatloaf and veggies," explains Peters, who presented the study’s findings at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago this month. "All we can say is that the overall taste and flavor of the food with herbs and spices added was equal to the same foods prepared with much greater levels of fat."
Peters says the techniques used by the food scientists to cut fat from the meals served in the experiment can be adapted to many recipes prepared at home. He recommends the following five tips for cutting fat without cutting taste or flavor:
Use Low-Fat Dairy Products. Many recipes, particularly those involving creamy sauces for pasta and other dishes, call for cream or full-fat cheese to give food a velvety "mouthfeel." But replacing cream with whole milk or evaporated low-fat milk can preserve their appeal without all the fat. Using low-fat cheese can also cut the fat content of a recipe by half or more, without any noticeable loss in flavor or richness.
Increase Herbs and Spices. Using common vegetables, herbs, and spices — garlic, shallot, onion, cumin, red, white, and black pepper — can boost a meal’s flavor profile without adding fat. Some spices — such as turmeric, rosemary, and oregano — also contain beneficial antioxidants that boost health as well as flavor. "The take home message is about flavor," Peters says. "So building a rudimentary stable of herbs and spices to use at home can really open up the culinary landscape for healthier eating."
Load up on Fat-Free Flavorings. Adding fat-free beef, chicken, or vegetable stock is a great way to build simple, flavorful sauces without adding fat. Balsamic vinegar and citrus juices give foods added kick and non-fat yogurt can be used in place of cream or sour cream to add mouthfeel and richness.
Spice Up Meat Recipes. To reduce fat in beef recipes, such as meatloaf, switch from "80/20 ground beef" — 80 percent lean meat, 20 percent fat — to "95/5 ground beef" and add herbs (basil and oregano) and spices (onion, garlic, pepper). You can also use ground chicken or turkey in place of beef; with the right seasoning you may even prefer the taste of poultry to meat in tacos, burgers, and meatloaf.
Make Vegetable Dishes Shine: Butter and fatty oils can turn vegetable dishes into high-fat meals, canceling out the health benefits of the nutrients they provide. Reducing the amount of butter in vegetable dishes — from 5 grams (about a teaspoon) to 2 grams per serving size — and adding spices such as garlic, onion, dill, and pepper can make them taste delicious, without all the fat. You can also enhance vegetables with extra virgin olive oil — a heart-healthy fat — and spike it with paprika or white pepper.
Peters also recommends several other "tricks" to bring out flavors in herbs, spices, and other seasonings.
"Fresh is always good except for long-simmering soups where dried will hold up better," he explains. "It’s always good to activate the dried spices by rubbing them or crushing them in a mortar before use to release their flavor. Another trick is to play the sweet/hot pairing. A pasta made with a reduction of orange juice, a little orange zest, and a pinch of cayenne really adds interest to shrimp, chicken or other light meat."
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