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Feature Article: Holidays


Creating healthier holiday food and recipes

Adapted by Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, former Extension Associate, from material by Susan Mills-Gray and Tammy Roberts, Nutrition and Health Education Specialists, University of Missouri Extension


Three-layer cakeWith a little bit of planning and modification, you can create a healthier version of many holiday foods and recipes.

A recipe is actually a chemical formula and each ingredient has a function that results in the taste, texture and appearance of the end product. It’s important to know what each ingredient does, how it can be changed and by how much in order to keep the final product as close to the original as possible.

Research has shown that when more fiber is added, when fat and cholesterol are reduced, and/or when less sugar and salt is used, most people either don't notice much difference between the original and healthier version or they accept the new product. So try out some of the suggestions below to makeover your favorite recipes, or try the recipes at the end of the article.

To add fiber
Adding whole grains may not be the first thing you'd consider changing in a recipe, but with the added nutrients such as fiber, potassium and magnesium, adding whole grains is one way to make a food more nutritious. To add more nutrients to your recipes, try baking with whole-grain flour. Be aware that whole grain flours can give a very dense, dry crumb, especially if you use too much.

Regular whole-wheat flour can be substituted for 1/4 to 1/2 of the all-purpose flour used in a recipe. Oat bran, oatmeal or 100% bran cereal (ground to flour in a blender) can replace up to 1/4 of all-purpose flour. Oats impart a hearty, chewy texture. Use whole-wheat pastry flour to replace 1/2 of the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. This pastry flour is made from soft wheat berries and has a lighter, finer texture than regular whole-wheat flour, making it perfect for baked goods.

Other whole-grain flours to try include barley flour and cornmeal. If you're not sure how to use a whole-grain flour, review the suggestions that most packages offer on how best to use the product.

To reduce sugar
Sugar can affect the texture, color and flavor of a baked good. Decreasing the amount of sugar in a recipe may make it lower in calories, but it might also change the final product. Removing all the sugar may produce a tough, flat, dry, grey product.

When changing the amount of sugar in a recipe, keep in mind that sugar can be reduced by 1/3 with good results. When reducing sugar, make sure to use 1/2 cup of sugar for every 1 cup of flour in cakes and cookies, and to add 1 tablespoon of sugar for every 1 cup of flour in quick breads and muffins. To help off-set the change in flavor when you reduce the sugar, try adding or using extra vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or another appropriate flavoring.


When using artificial sweeteners, don't replace more than 1/2 the sugar with an artificial sweetener. Acesulfame-potassium sweetener or sucralose sweetener are the best options for baked goods. Fruit purees and fruit juices can be used to replace sugar, but it becomes a challenge to get the correct liquid balance in the recipe.

To reduce fat and cholesterol
Fats alter the taste and texture of baked products. Because fat gives a moist, tender crumb, the more fat removed, the more the texture changes. Examples of fats include butter, oil, margarine and shortening. A good rule of thumb is to replace not more than 1/3 of the original fat called for in the recipe. For cakes and quick breads, you should have 2 tablespoons of fat for every 1 cup of flour.

Ways to reduce fat in a recipe include using 1/4 cup of canola oil or light olive oil instead of 1/2 cup of margarine (light olive oil has no detectable olive taste when baked with other ingredients). There are many reduced fat and fat-free products on the market. Because reduced-fat margarine has water added to it, the liquid in a recipe should be reduced when using this type of product.

You can also substitute unsweetened applesauce or pureed bananas or prunes for up to 1/2 half of the oil or margarine in the recipe. Because oil is a more liquid form of fat than margarine or butter, you can substitute less fruit puree or canola oil for butter or margarine (use about 1/4 less). For example, in baked breads, cakes and brownies with a recipe that calls for 1 cup of oil, you can substitute 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce for 1/2 cup of the oil.

Other ingredients that contribute to the fat content in a recipe include cream and eggs. If a recipe calls for cream, try replacing cream with non-fat evaporated milk or fat-free half-and-half. There are many fat-free or low-fat dairy options available. To replace eggs, substitute two egg whites for one whole egg or use a packaged egg substitute (directions can be found on the package).

To reduce salt
Salt adds to the overall flavor of a product, helps control the fermentation of yeast, and contributes to the strength of a product. However, salt should be used in moderation. Unless you are making a yeast-based muffin, you can omit the salt in most recipes. To reduce the salt in a recipe, use citrus juices, herbs and other salt-free spice blends instead.

Keep in mind, that whenever you start changing a recipe, start small. Make one change each time you make the recipe. Once you like the way the recipe turns out, experiment with other changes. Over time, you’ll develop a new recipe that you enjoy.

With a few changes to your favorite recipes, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier holiday season.

Enjoy the following low-fat, low-sugar muffin recipes!

Carrot Oatmeal Muffins
1 cup skim buttermilk
1 cup dry oatmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/2 cup oat bran, dry
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix buttermilk and oatmeal and let stand until liquid is absorbed. Add sugar, egg, carrots, raisins, cinnamon, applesauce and yogurt. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Spray muffin tins with nonfat cooking spray and fill. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins

Per serving (1 muffin): 132 calories, 1 g fat, 5 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 0 mg cholesterol, 104 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber.

Chocolate Cherry Muffins
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups fresh cherries

Mix dry ingredients together, set aside. Mix egg, milk and oil well. Add to dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in cherries. Spray muffin tins with nonfat cooking spray and fill. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins

Per serving (1 muffin): 175 calories, 5 g fat, 4 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 0 mg cholesterol, 157 sodium, 2 g dietary fiber.

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins
1 cups dry oatmeal
2 cups bran flakes, finely crushed (measure, then crush)
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 egg white
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup brown sugar

Combine all ingredients until moistened. Spray muffin tins with nonfat cooking spray and fill. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins

Per serving (1 muffin): 135 calories, 3 g fat, 3 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 0 mg cholesterol, 164 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber.


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Last update: Monday, December 07, 2015