A few tips on living the low-fat life

May 11, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Heart-healthy eating can be delicious, but it can also be a challenge.

It means learning a new culinary vocabulary, new techniques, a whole new way of thinking in the kitchen, in the grocery store, in the cafeteria at work, in a restaurant.

"We need to have our own personal repertoire of how to cook with less fat, or no fat, when we choose to," says Victoria Moran, author of "Get the Fat Out: 501 ways to Cut the Fat in Any Diet" (Crown, $9, paperback). Ms. Moran, a food and nutrition writer based in Kansas City, Mo., says she was heavy as a child, and has done a lot of struggling with food in her life. The book does have recipes, but it is mostly tips for living the low-fat life.

"Hot sauce on practically anything gives your taste buds so much to think about they won't know you're cutting fat," is tip No. 55. "Cocktail sauce is a better choice than tartar sauce (it saves 8 grams of fat per tablespoon)," is tip No. 207. "Get plenty of rest and sleep. Fatigue can easily be interpreted as a potato-chip deficiency," is tip No. 486.

In between are ideas for spicing foods (edible flowers, hot sauce, lemon extract), for topping lean baked potatoes (steamed mushrooms, mustard, mashed broccoli, pasta sauce, baked garlic) and for making a low-fat version of white sauce (with non-fat dry milk and cornstarch) or pie crust (with Grape Nuts).

"It's an outgrowth of how I eat and all the people I've met and interviewed," says Ms. Moran, who was in Baltimore recently to talk about the book. "I spoke with physicians, dietitians, cookbook authors, chefs. . . . Some of the best tips just came from people" who've made the change, she says.

Here are some of the things she learned.

In the kitchen: "The most important thing . . . is to get a really good non-stick skillet. You can tell it's good if it has a lifetime guarantee." You also need good knives, she says. "You're going to be working with more vegetables and fruit, and you'll just give up if you're fighting with your knives." And a blender or food processor is essential, she says.

In cooking: Sauteing can be done without oil. "You can saute in cooking wine or sherry, or vegetable broth -- just save the liquid from cooking any vegetable and freeze it in ice cube trays." (Watch out for sodium, if you're salt-sensitive.)

Seasoned rice vinegars give a flavor burst to a variety of foods. "It has a slightly oily consistency, and a little bit of sugar. You can use it all by itself as a salad dressing. And it's available in ordinary supermarkets -- look in the Asian foods section."

Baked mushrooms make a great topping for baked potatoes, she says. "You just put them in a piece of foil and put them in the toaster oven. They don't require any seasoning, they release their own juice."

Bananas, chopped, frozen then whirled in the food processor create "an incredible frozen custard," she says. "You can do it with other fruits, too, but you get more of a sorbet."

When dining out: "If you can choose the restaurant, and it's one noted for fine dining, you'll be fine," she says. Call ahead, if you can, to express your dietary needs. Make sure you are communicating with your server. "Most communication between servers and chefs is not personal," she says. Chefs may see only a piece of paper, or words on a computer screen. "You need to say, 'Was I clear about that?' "

For fast-food dining, "look for places that have baked potatoes," she says, or salad bars. "At the salad bar, get the naked food. Avoid anything that looks slick or shiny, or things like pasta salad."

Ethnic restaurants are good, she says, but you have to remember to eat "not like an American." For instance, to eat like the Chinese in a Chinese restaurant, double the rice and divide the entree.

To get started: "Pick a tip, something that you do routinely, like get up every morning and put butter on toast. Make that one change -- put jam on your toast." Just try something . . . and when that becomes routine, try something else, she says.

Going low-fat is one of the few instances where it's better to go cold turkey, she says. Research has shown that people who simply stop eating fat stop craving it in about six weeks. But people who try to cut back on fat continue to crave it.

"You really can change over night," Ms. Moran says. "You change the composition of your meals, but you never go hungry. Remember, with low-fat foods, you can eat more."

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