So far, the Food and Drug Administration has not gotten around to mandating content labels for cookbooks. That makes it hard for folks who need to change their diet but don't know what to change it to. Every day brings another book with "lean," "healthy," "low-fat," "skinny," and "light" somewhere in the title.
Some of the books live up to the rosy promises on the jacket; some do not. Some are concerned only with fat and calories, and not concerned with sodium. Some offer "reduced-fat" versions of favorite recipes that still exceed the guideline of 30 percent of calories from fat.
As with food items, you have to read the ingredients list and match them to your diet target. (Mine is no more than 24 grams of fat a day, no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol, and no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium.) Check the serving size, as well: If you're spending fat and sodium credits, you don't want to leave the table hungry.
Here's a survey of some of the more recent cookbooks. These are books I would (and do) use in preparing heart-healthy meals. I haven't included those that say they're low-fat or heart-healthy but don't give nutritional information; those that require the use of butter, sugar or salt substitutes; those in which many or most of the recipes exceed the 30 percent guideline; and those that require learning some new fat/calorie counting system.
*"The Wellness Lowfat Cookbook," by the editors of the Wellness Cooking School and the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter (Rebus/Random House, 1994, $24.95). Strikingly clear introduction on diet and heart disease; good nutritional information with recipes.
*"Provencal Light," by Martha Rose Shulman (Bantam Books, 1994, $29.95). A charming, personal book, with recipes that are low in fat, but "not austere." "Like the other cuisines of the Mediterranean, the cuisines of Provence are inherently healthy," Ms. Shulman writes. "The Provencal diet is based on vegetables, grains, legume and fish. People here don't overeat, and nothing goes to waste."
*"500 Fat-Free Recipes," by Sarah Schlesinger (Villard Books, June, 1994, $23). "Each recipe contains one gram of fat or less," says the author, whose husband's heart disease returned nine years after bypass surgery. Recipes use no butter, oil, margarine or shortening, no meat, poultry, fish, or tofu, no avocados, nuts or seeds. Dairy products are all non-fat versions.
*"Sunset Low-Fat Mexican Cookbook," by the editors of Sunset Books and Sunset magazine (Sunset Books, 1994, $9.99). Traditional Mexican or Mexican-style recipes with less than 30 percent of calories from fat. (The salt-sensitive should watch sodium content of recipes.)
*"Slim to Shore Cookbook," by Jan Robinson (Ship to Shore Inc., 1994, $14.95) New Zealand author and sailor collects recipes from yacht chefs and has adapted more than 250 to contain no more than 3.9 grams of fat (most contain less); good nutritional information with recipes.
*"Simple, Lowfat and Vegetarian," by Suzanne Havala (Vegetarian Resource Group, 1994, $14.95). A book of tips, questions and answers, helpful hints, charts, tables and some recipes designed to avoid fat at home, at restaurants, at amusement parks, on trains and planes and cruise ships. (The Vegetarian Resource Group is based in Baltimore; call 366-VEGE for information.)
*"Baking without Fat," by George Mateljan (Health Valley Foods, 1994, $12.95). Author is the founder of a California all-natural, no-fat food company. Recipes for banana date cake, corn bread, honey raisin cookies, carrot cake and other favorites contain no added fat or high-fat products, no refined sugar, virtually no salt, no white flour and no artificial fat substitutes.
*"Eat, Drink and Be Healthy," by Janet M. Chiavetta (Piedmont Publishers, 1992, $24.95). Clear, 140-page introduction on diet and health; recipes designed to reduce author's husband's high cholesterol level (it went from 330 to 210 in 3 months) and appeal to her two teen-age sons. Nutrition information includes percent of calories from fat.
*"Eat More, Weigh Less," by Dr. Dean Ornish (Harper Collins, 1993, $22.50). The author runs a California cardiology clinic that focuses on life-style changes to reverse heart disease, including exercise, stress-reduction, and a vegetarian diet with less than 10 percent of calories coming from fat. Inspiring introduction on the role of lifestyle in heart disease and obesity; gourmet vegetarian recipes from top-ranked chefs such as Joyce Goldstein, David Boulud, Bradley Ogden and Martha Rose Shulman.