The following questions and answers were the subject of an article on Patty Rademacher. They clarify the concept, offer helpful hints and empower the reader on making healthier lifestyle decisions.

Q. What prompted the change to low-fat foods?
A. My husband's cholesterol level was out of sight. I felt partially responsible because through the years he had been my main taste-tester, and as a result he developed an educated palate and became accustomed to highly flavored, rich foods. I knew I needed to change my method of preparation, but I also knew that if I didn't create food that tasted good he would only cheat, which would defeat the whole purpose. My goal was to try to transform my family's favorite foods into low-fat/high-taste versions while keeping them the family favorites.

Q. For many of us, a low-fat diet means deprivation. Does this have to be the case?
A. Definitely not. Around the time I was transforming my own family's diet, I was approached by a colleague who was undergoing treatment at the cardiac center of Greenwich Hospital. She asked me if I could teach a heart-healthy cooking class in conjunction with the hospital dietitian, for people undergoing rehab after a cardiac incident. The class consisted of 30-40 people, typically half of whom were the recovering patients. You could distinguish the patients immediately because of their despondent expressions. They were dreading the imposed dietary changes, and were already feeling deprived of the foods they loved most. Most people are under the misconception that low-fat means bland and boring.

 

Q. Why write a cookbook?
A. While teaching classes, I would talk about all the recipes and conversions that I had developed. I would hand out sheets of recipes and food product guidelines. Students would routinely ask me for more recipes, and the question of whether I would write a cookbook was raised frequently. Before I knew it, I had a book in hand. I wanted to give people helpful hints as to how they could transform their own recipes. It's important to give people the tools they need to convert their own favorites, so that they are less likely to revert back to their old standbys. I wanted this book to be an inspiration to start a new lifestyle, for preventative as well as rehabilitative purposes.

Q. Have you found any helpful diet paradigms?
A. Through much research I discovered the "Mediterranean Style Diet," which is a great model for healthy cooking and eating. The originator of the Mediterranean Style Diet, Ansel Key, determined that many people who lived in the Mediterranean regions had very low incidences of heart disease. As most people are aware, fat in the diet can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are the main culprits. The traditional diet in the Mediterranean region consists of pasta and grains, fish, vegetables in season, green salads, cheese, fruit, and occasionally meat. Unlike the typical American diet, which is high in the saturated fats found in meats and dairy products, fat is almost entirely from olive oil, a monounsaturated fat. Adopting the Mediterranean style diet does not feel at all like dieting.

Q. Which fats are "good" and which are "bad?"
A. Monounsaturated fats, the kind found in extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, and nut oils, are the "good" fats. They will actually lower potentially harmful cholesterol and raise beneficial cholesterol, and are less likely to clog the arteries. Polyunsaturated fats, which are derived from plants, are good because they contain no cholesterol. There are exceptions to this rule, though; coconut and palm oils can raise cholesterol levels. Recent preliminary research has also indicated that polyunsaturated fats that are artificially saturated to become hydrogenated oils will raise blood cholesterol and may be more likely to promote cancer than unaltered fats. This would include margarine and peanut butter. "Bad" fats are the saturated ones, found in meat and dairy products.

Q. What is the essential element in successful low-fat cooking?
A. High flavor. Unfortunately, fat tastes good. Anyone can take out the fat; it's what you put back in during the cooking process that maintains, retains or increases the flavor. Fresh herbs, spices, dried and fresh fruits, and wild mushrooms are successful substitutes. To successfully lower the quantity of meat in a veal or chicken dish, you can replace a portion of the meat with wild mushrooms, succulent fresh vegetables, or dried fruit. Just cut all ingredients into the same size cubes, and cook in a low-fat sauce. The object is to use meat as an accent rather than the main focus of the dish. A good example would be a stir-fry or pasta-vegetable dish. I have also gradually diminished the number of meals with meat, starting with one less a month, then one less per week. One of my favorite alternatives to mayonnaise or butter is flavorful roasted garlic, which I incorporate into salad dressings and sauces and also use as a spread on breads. A bonus to using garlic is that it is a food that naturally lowers cholesterol.

Q. What other factors contribute to the success of a low-fat meal?
A. Eye appeal and texture are almost as important as taste. Sauces, soups, and particularly desserts need to be prepared so that the consistency feels the same in the mouth as their high-fat counterparts. Tofu or evaporated skim milk thickened with corn starch are great texture substitutes.

Q. Can we keep red meat in our low-fat diet?
A. Red meat is full of saturated fats, so I make a Mediterranean meatloaf by substituting turkey breast for 75% of the ground beef. The turkey breast, with skin removed, can be ground along with low-fat ground sirloin in a food processor, or can be purchased commercially prepared. In order to give this combination a more piquant flavor, I add grilled vegetables and a small amount of flavorful cheese.

 

Q. How does one replace fat in desserts?
A. Although cooking low-fat desserts takes longer, it's worth the effort. Initially, cut the butter or oil by one-half, substituting fruit purees such as applesauce or apple butter. Substitute good quality, Dutch processed cocoa for chocolate. For cheesecakes, replace cream cheese with light ricotta, low- fat cream cheese, tofu, or nonfat yogurt cheese, and add apricot or almond flavoring. Use the same principle in baking as you do in cooking: add extra flavor when you remove the fat.

Q. What are the best low-fat cooking methods?
A. Roasting, poaching, steaming, broiling, stove-top grilling and outdoor grilling. Enhance each dish by using fresh herbs and spices; it is the best way to bring out the flavors we are used to in traditional foods.

Q. Can cookware or other tools actually help reduce fat in our foods?
A. High quality nonstick copper-bottomed stainless steel or anodized aluminum cookware is essential. With either of these products, you can cook on a medium-high heat with a small amount of oil and get a good browning effect, which greatly enhances the flavor of the food. A good food processor is also a great aid. One of my favorite cookware pieces is a heavy-gauge anodized aluminum nonstick grill pan with ridges on the bottom and a stay-cool handle. A good- sized round grill pan is ideal because you can quickly cook an entire meal in one pan with little or no fat. Place the chicken or fish in the center and the vegetables around the perimeter. Another favorite is a large anodized aluminum nonstick stir-fry pan with stay-cool handles, which is ideal for everything from healthy stir-fry to wonderful pasta dishes.

Q. What in particular makes newer non-stick cookware better than the old?
A. The cookware I recommend is new heavy commercial-quality. It conducts heat so well that you can brown food in it. Other non-stick pans, especially older ones, are so thin that you cannot get the pan hot enough and will only steam the food and produce less flavorful meals. The new pans have triple- layer non-stick coatings with stainless steel reinforcement, making the coating much more durable so the non-stick quality lasts longer.

Q. Can you offer any strategies for introducing low-fat foods into the family diet?
A. When you are trying to make the transition with your family, it is important not to announce that what you are about to serve is a low-fat rendition. It's the kiss of death; your family is predisposed to be negative. This is essentially where the title of my book was born. I would be entertaining at home, making my substitutions, while my unsuspecting guests were praising the food. I finally said, "Guess what? This meal is completely low fat!" Their response invariably was "I can't believe this is low fat, it tastes so good!"

Q. Is the low-fat diet here to stay?
A. A low-fat style of eating is not just a fad. People are increasingly health conscious. Although they are very busy and concerned with convenience, they are also concerned with maintaining fitness and health. Cooking fast, healthy meals will be a requirement for the next millennium.

 

 

 

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