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A Dietitian’s advice on ways to make your favorite recipes Healthier

**shared with permission from Essential Health Press Release

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Make your recipes healthier with a few easy steps

The Holidays mean many of us plan to do more cooking at home. Cooking from scratch gives us the opportunity to Make Recipes Healthier that still taste great.

Denise Cleveland, registered and licensed dietitian and Director of Nutrition Services at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, suggests looking for ways to cut the calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar and salt in recipes while maintaining or improving flavor. Also boost the fiber and whole grains but retain the original texture.

Her first step is to read the entire recipe. Check the amounts and types of fats, sugars and salts. Many recipes rely on the “usual” amounts of these items, such as 1 stick of butter, 1 cup of sugar or 1 teaspoon of salt. The recipe’s creator may not have considered using a little less of these ingredients but give yourself permission to do your own recipe rehabilitation.

Decreasing fats, sugars and salt does not greatly affect how most recipes work or the number of servings.  However, fat and sugar provide structure and texture in baked goods.  Change these ingredients by only small amounts in cakes, cookies, breads and muffins.

Here are a few tips to help you review and experiment with your recipes.

To help with weight loss or weight control, decrease a recipe’s calories from fats and sugars:

  • Look for fats, such as butter, margarine, or oil. Cut the amount by 25 to 50 percent in non-baked goods.
  • Look for sugars, such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey. Reduce the amount by 25 to 50 percent in non-baked goods.
  • Substitute fat-free evaporated milk or soy creamer for cream.
  • Substitute fat-free sour cream or nonfat plain yogurt for regular sour cream.
  • Applesauce can replace fats and maintain moisture. Use a 1-to-1 ratio, such as ¼ cup applesauce for ¼ cup butter.

To help reduce carbohydrates, which is especially important for people with diabetes:

  • Decrease sugar by 25 to 50 percent in non-baked goods.
  • For baked goods, such as cakes and cookies, you can replace half the white sugar with a stevia product. You can’t use all stevia because the product won’t rise as expected.
  • For non-baked goods, replace all white sugar with a stevia product and use only half as much stevia as the recipe calls for.
  • Don’t bother with brown sugar substitutes because they have the same calories and carbohydrates as brown sugar. Instead, cut the brown sugar by at least 25 percent.

To decrease solid fats:

  • Instead of butter or stick margarine, use extra virgin olive oil or canola oil.  Reduce the amount by at least 25 percent. You can also use tub margarine but make sure a liquid oil comes first in its ingredient list.
  • Reduce the amount of cheese and choose a low-fat natural cheese.
  • Choose leaner cuts of red meat such as the loin or round cuts instead of chuck. Trim outside fat.  These leaner cuts work great in soups and stews.
  • Remove the skin of poultry.
  • Instead of breading, use finely chopped nuts to add flavor and crunch. Nuts add good fats.

To decrease sodium:

  • Eliminate all of a recipe’s salt or only use 25 percent. The exception is yeast breads and fermented products that need salt for the yeast to work and for the bacteria in fermented products to be at a safe level.
  • Choose the light soy sauce and reduce the amount by 50 percent.
  • Use only no-salt-added or reduced-sodium canned vegetables and tomatoes. Frozen vegetables without a sauce are also good substitutions.
  • Make your own soups and gravies. Use unsalted stocks, sodium-free bouillon packets or low-sodium soup bases.
  • Grind oatmeal in a blender and use instead of bread crumbs in recipes such as meatloaf.
  • Buy poultry products that aren’t processed with sodium solutions.

To increase whole grains and fiber:

  • Use white whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. White whole-wheat flour is 100 percent whole grain, loaded with magnesium and offers more fiber.
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice and just plan for a longer cooking time.
  • Add more low-sodium canned beans to soups and stews.

Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center and Clinics has licensed and registered dietitians on staff. Contact Denise Cleveland at

Recipe rehabilitation: Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casserole is a classic fall dish. Here is a Streusel-topped Sweet Potato Casserole found in Southern Living’s “Our Best Christmas Recipes.” To make this recipe healthier, decrease the amount of fat, using oil instead of butter and a fat-free milk product. Substitute a stevia sweetener for white sugar and cut the brown sugar in half.  Use white whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. These modifications cut the calories by one-third, the fats nearly in half and the sugars by almost 75 percent.

Original recipe                                                             Modified recipe

6 medium sweet potatoes or yams (about 3 pounds)      3 pounds fresh sweet potatoes or yams

¾ cup sugar                                                                  1/3 cup stevia sweetener such as Truvia

1/3 cup 2 percent milk                                                   ¼ cup skim milk, vanilla soy milk or rice milk

¼ cup butter or margarine, melted                                  2 tablespoons olive oil or tub margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla extract                                              1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon cinnamon                                                   ½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg                                           ½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 large eggs, lightly beaten                                            2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar                                 2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans                                      ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour                                      2 tablespoons white whole-wheat flour

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted                      2 tablespoons olive oil or tub margarine

A dietician's advice on ways to make your recipes healthier

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