By Sari Greaves, Nutrition Director at Step Ahead Wellness Loss Center in Far Hills, NJ Coauthor of the Cardiac Recovery Cookbook
We know that obesity is on the rise, and it comes as no surprise that extra weight takes a significant toll on your health. Women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches and men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches may have a higher disease risk than people with smaller waist measurements because of where their fat lies. A slimmer waistline can help prevent type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, sleep apnea, and other chronic illnesses.
Achieving a healthier weight starts in your home kitchen. Look no further than your pantry. With just a few nutritious ingredients, you can boost the flavor of everyday dishes and still slash calories.
Flavor Booster #1: Reduced-Sodium Chicken Stock
Fact: Every tablespoon of butter or oil you use in a recipe adds around 100 calories. That may not sound like a lot, but just 100 extra calories a day can translate into 10 unwanted pounds over a year.
The Good News: Reduced-sodium chicken stock is the perfect stand-in for oil or butter in sautés. It adds flavor to whatever you’re cooking, enough lubrication so that food doesn’t stick, and you’re now getting a fraction of the calories.
Dietitian’s Prescription: Start with a quarter-cup of stock per 2 cups of chopped vegetables, which adds only 5 calories of full-bodied flavor. For chicken dishes, work your way up to one cup by gradually stirring in a few tablespoons at a time in a skillet set to medium-high heat. You have now mastered the art of fat-free sautéing! Use reduced sodium stock, which contains at least 25% less sodium than traditional varieties.
Flavor Booster #2: Sundried Tomatoes
Fact: There’s no doubt that sandwich spreads are brimming with fat. Mayonnaise, which is an emulsion of oil, eggs, egg yolks, water, vinegar and spices, contains 1440 calories, 160 grams fat, and 24 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat per cup. Granted you may not be eating a whole cup on your turkey sandwich, but at 100 calories per tablespoon, the small dose of vitamins K, E, A and B12 you ingest come at a high calorie cost. What’s a mayo lover to do?
The Good News: With one simple flavor-boosted tweak, you can have your mayonnaise and eat it too. Sundried tomatoes are what I like to call your sandwich’s secret weapon, packed with vitamins A, C and lycopene. Sundried tomatoes also possess a unique taste element called umami, which adds a savory flavor that compliments your sandwich ingredients.
Dietitian’s Prescription: Stir together half of a chopped sundried tomato with 2 teaspoons of light mayonnaise for a delicious 45-calorie spread. For a creamier consistency, use an immersion blender to combine the sundried tomatoes and mayonnaise; it takes only 30 seconds!
Light mayo contains a higher percentage of water than oil in the ingredient list. Choose a canola-or olive oil-based light mayonnaise to lock in heart-healthy fats. Look for short ingredient lists to avoid fillers, like high fructose corn syrup, found in some light varieties. You have now replaced a major culprit of sneaky calories found in high-fat condiments.
All-star Sandwich Spreads From My Kitchen
Simply combine the ingredients below with 2 teaspoons of light mayonnaise per person.
Add a quarter-teaspoon chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauces. Chipotle peppers are ripe, red jalapenos that have been dried and smoked. Adobo sauce is a lightly spiced, thin tomato sauce found in the international food aisle at your grocer. It keeps in your fridge for about a month in an airtight container. These babies are hot, smoky and sweet. Need more incentive to try this satisfying spread? Studies show that spicy flavors in hot peppers not only satisfy, but may boost metabolism and help you stop eating sooner.
Add a quarter-teaspoon of curry powder and one teaspoon of diced red onion for a tangy touch.
Who can deny the cardio-protective benefits of avocado, olive oil, and chickpeas that have earned guacamole and hummus their reputations as heart-healthy party dips? If you want to reap the nutritional benefits of these foods without adding inches to your waistline, use them as a sandwich spread instead of as a dip. Just one tablespoon of hummus or guacamole will enhance the flavor of your next sandwich and contribute only 30-40 extra calories. This is the perfect portion-control solution if you are tempted to overindulge on chips and dip.
Flavor Booster #3: Ground Flaxseed and Sliced Almonds
Fact: Breaded food has a satisfying crunchy texture when used as a coating on baked foods. A quarter-cup serving of traditional breadcrumbs contains 120 calories but only 1 gram of the fiber that Americans desperately need to consume more of on a daily basis. For optimal health, men and women should aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber daily, preferably from natural sources such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The Good News: Instead of breadcrumbs, something I've had my clients do for years is use a powerful combination of ground flaxseeds and almonds. This mixture works just like breadcrumbs, but you get a nutrient package of fiber, vitamin E and omega-3 fats, all defenders against inflammation. Flaxseeds have a light nutty flavor, which can perk up the flavor of cereals, salads, casseroles, soups, pasta, and baked goods.
Dietitian’s Prescription: The swap is simple. Fold in 1 teaspoon of sliced almonds for every 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds. This 100-calorie heart-healthy coating adds an irresistible crunchy texture to anything from chicken cutlets to French toast.You can buy pre-ground flaxseed meal in the health section or cereal aisle at your local grocery.
Flavor Booster #4: Chinese Five Spice
Fact: Many fat-free marinades are loaded with sugar and sodium. How can you jazz up the flavor of meat, seafood, chicken, or vegetables without falling into the salt and sugar trap?
The Good News: Amp up the flavor of traditional dishes with Chinese five-spice powder. This pantry staple is like a spice rack in a bottle. The blend contains cinnamon, star anise, fennel, ground cloves, and black pepper, which adds a delicate balance of sweet and spicy flavors to any meal. Not only are you slashing sodium, sugar, and calories, but you are loading up on antioxidants to reduce inflammation.
Dietitian’s Prescription: A little goes a long way, so start out with a teaspoon of Chinese five spice for a meal for four people.
I guarantee that even the most apprehensive cook will feel inspired to use these flavor boosters. It’s an easy first step to peel off extra pounds and pack in essential nutrition. Bon appétit!