Complete Idiot's Guide to Low Fat Cooking


The easiest way to create delicious and healthy, low-fat dishes in the least amount of time--with more than 100 recipes that are simple to prepare.
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The easiest way to create delicious and healthy, low-fat dishes in the least amount of time--with more than 100 recipes that are simple to prepare.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780028628882
  • Publisher: Alpha Books
  • Publication date: 3/18/1999
  • Series: Complete Idiot's Guide Series
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 7.26 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Table of Contents

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Lowfat Cooking

Part 1 - Why Cook with Less Fat?

  • Chapter 1 - Looking Good Equals Feeling Good: Let's Get Started
    • Food Must Be Fun
    • Do I Have to Use the Recipes in This Book Forever?
    • Self-Esteem and You
    • Is Dropping a Size or Two Really That Important?
    • Can I Still Eat in Restaurants?
    • Do I Need to Calculate the Fat Content of Every Bite I Take?
    • Using FDA Food Labels to Help You Lose Weight
    • What's the Deal with Fat?
    • Recommended Energy Intake Based on Heights and Weights
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 2 - The Relationship Between Fat and Cholesterol: Your Arteries and You
    • What Is Cholesterol?
    • What Constitutes a "High" Cholesterol Level? (Or, Blinding Me with Science . . .)
    • The Three Types of Fat
    • A Word About Olestra
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 3 - A Few Bytes on Nutrition
    • Calories and Energy
    • Protein: We Are What We Eat
    • Fat, a Necessary Evil
    • What's the Deal with Carbohydrates?
    • Vitamins, Minerals, and Water
    • The Food Guide Pyramid: No, You Can't Always Be on Top
    • Fantastic Fiber
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 4 - What About the Latest Study That Says . . .
    • Who Are the So-Called "Experts," and Why Do They Keep Telling Us What to Do?
    • But We Want to Change . . .
    • A Word on Fad Diets
    • So, Whom Should We Be Listening To?
    • What About Counting Fat Grams? Is That Still the Best Way to Shed Pounds?
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 5 - What's Next: Healthy Living into the Next Millennium
    • Diet Tips You Don't Want to Follow
    • Adapting Old Recipes for the New Regime
    • Entertaining: Why Would Anyone Want to Come Over Now?
    • Umm, Do I Still Have to Exercise?
    • Can I Still Drink Wine?
    • The Least You Need to Know

Part 2 - Fat-Free Is NOT Flavor-Free

  • Chapter 6 - Enhancing Flavor Without Adding Fat
    • The Fat-Free Flavor Enhancers
    • Adding a Little Spice to Your Life
    • Can You Say Soy?
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 7 - Stocking a Lowfat Pantry
    • Where Do I Start?
    • Coming to Gr ips with the Spice Rack
    • Olive Oil: Building Block of Healthy Cooking
    • Other Oils and Vinegars
    • Capers and Anchovies
    • Mustard
    • Chicken Broth: A Resource You Can Depend On
    • Lowfat Dairy Products
    • The Global Pantry
    • The Semiperishable Pantry
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 8 - Dining Out Means Making Smart Choices
    • Don't Forget Portion Size!
    • Asian Restaurants
    • Latin American Restaurants
    • Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Food
    • The Melting Pot
    • The Least You Need to Know

Part 3 - Lowfat-Friendly Cooking Methods Explained

  • Chapter 9 - Simply Steaming: Naked Vegetables and Feel-Good Fish
    • Why Choose Steam?
    • What Kind of Equipment Do I Need?
    • Getting Ready to Steam
    • What Can I Steam?
    • Garnishing as a Gift
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 10 - Grilling: The Oldest and Newest Cooking Method
    • What Kind of Equipment Do I Need?
    • Indirect Grilling
    • Direct Grilling
    • Grilling Safety Tips
    • What Can I Grill?
    • When Is It Done?
    • It's Not Tired, So Why Does It Need to Rest?
    • Meat: Choosing the Right Cuts for a Lowfat Meal
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 11 - Redolent Roasting: From Pork to Parsnips, This Is Wintertime Food
    • What Is Roasting, Anyway? And What's a Pot Roast?
    • What's the Difference Between Roasting and Baking?
    • So, Now What Kind of Equipment Do I Need to Buy?
    • What Can I Roast?
    • How Long Does It Take?
    • A Guide to Successful Vegetable Roasting
    • What About Roasting Fish?
    • What About Poultry?

  • Chapter 12 - The Beauties of Braising: A Long, Slow, and Tender Method
    • What's the Difference Between Roasting and Braising?
    • Can I Braise on the Stove Top?
    • What Can I Braise?
    • Browning First for More Flavor
    • Choice of Braising Liquid Can Make or Break the Dish
    • Gee, Isn't This Just Stewing?
    • The Importance of Skimming
    • Can I Adapt Recipes from Non-Lowfat Cookbooks?
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 13 - Brown-Bag It! Wrapping in Paper for Succulent Results
    • What Kind of Equipment Do I Need?
    • What Is This Cooking Technique Really Called?
    • What Can I Paper-Bake?
    • But Those TV Commercials Say I Can Use Foil . . .
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 14 - Eat It Raw! Salads, Vegetables, Fruit, and Fish
    • Quality, Quality, Quality
    • Vegetables Revealed
    • Frui t--Not Just for Dessert
    • Raw Fish: The Natural Choice
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 15 - Equipment You Should Have, and Why
    • What About the Stuff I Already Have?
    • First and Most Important: Nonstick Cookware
    • Cast Iron: Old But Never Outdated
    • Other Important Gadgets and Gear
    • Things It Might Be Nice to Have Someday
    • The Least You Need to Know

Part 4 - Recipes to Live With (and Live On, and On, and . . .)

  • Chapter 16 - Slim Soups
    • Garbanzo Bean (Chickpea) and Spinach Soup
    • Chinese Egg Drop Soup
    • Hot Summer Tomato Soup
    • Stale Bread and Garlic Soup
    • Classic Onion Soup
    • Carrot and Fennel Soup
    • Broccoli-Cheddar Soup
    • Lentil Soup for the Soul
    • Emerald-Green Chilled Pea Soup
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 17 - Shapely Salads
    • Baby Greens with Raspberry Vinaigrette
    • Green Bean and Mushroom Salad with Gruyère
    • Korean Cucumber Salad
    • Tabbouleh Salad
    • Sliced Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar
    • Potato Salad with Curry Dressing
    • Mediterranean Chicken Salad
    • Mediterranean Orange Salad
    • Asparagus and Tofu with Sesame Dressing
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 1 8 - Appetizers Above Suspicion
    • Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade
    • Hot and Smoky Hummus Wrap
    • Tzatziki (Greek Cucumber Dip)
    • Frozen Shrimp Cocktail
    • Bruschetta with Tomato-Basil "Salsa"
    • Cucumbers with Two-Salmon Filling
    • Crab Quesadillas
    • Stuffed Mushrooms
    • Homemade Mini-Pizzas
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 19 - Pass the Pasta
    • Spaghetti with Barely Cooked Tomato Sauce
    • Penne with Zucchini and Ricotta
    • Baked Fideo
    • Fresh Soba Noodles with Spinach and Miso Broth
    • Linguine with Spicy Breadcrumbs
    • Paglia e Fieno (Straw and Hay Pasta)
    • Spaghetti with Shrimp Bolognese
    • Orzo with Spinach and Pine Nuts
    • Roasted Eggplant and Goat Cheese Ravioli
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 20 - Virginal Vegetables
    • Vegetable Gratin
    • Caramelized Winter Vegetables
    • Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
    • Braised Fennel
    • Country-Style Green Beans
    • Steamed Broccoli with Gremolata
    • Corn and Garlic Confetti
    • Spinach with "Rustic Salt"
    • Sesame-Soy Snow Peas
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 21 - Your Own Private Idaho
    • Steamed New Potatoes with Butter and Chives
    • Celery Root and Potato Gratin
    • Mediterranean Potato Gratin
    • A Mash for All Seasons
    • Potato and Kale Soup
    • Accordion Potatoes
    • A Potato and Mushroom Gift
    • Grilled Potatoes
    • Potato Cakes with Salsa
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 22 - Grains Not to Grow With
    • Wild Rice with Mushrooms
    • Tomato Couscous
    • Dirty Rice
    • Tomato-Barley Risotto
    • Rice Pilaf with a Middle Eastern Attitude
    • Yellow Rice with Peas
    • Baked Polenta with Not-Your-Own Tomato Sauce
    • Spicy Lentil Salad
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 23 - Fishing for Compliments
    • Simple Seviche
    • Grilled Tuna with Mango Salsa
    • Salmon and Horseradish in a Paper Bag
    • Southeast Asian-Style Whitefish Fillets
    • King Crab with Kuta Beach Dippin' Sauce
    • Tuna Teriyaki
    • Skewered Garlic Shrimp
    • Steamed Whitefish with Salsa Fresca
    • Roasted Snapper with Garlic Ragout
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 24 - Pure Poultry
    • Chicken Yakitori
    • Asian Noodles with Chicken and Scallions
    • Chicken Breasts Escabeche
    • Chicken Breasts with Sweet-and-Sour Sherry Sauce
    • Chicken Paillard with Salsa Fresca
    • Chicken Scallops with Dijon Sauce
    • Grilled Chicken with Yogurt and Cumin
    • Orange-Sage Chicken
    • Turkey-Stuffed Vine Leaves with Yogurt
    • Mahogany Game Hens
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 25 - Managing Meat
    • Chile Vinegar-Marinated Skirt Steak with Onion Cilantro Relish
    • Mom's Flank Steak from the Seventies
    • Steak Kebabs with Yogurt Sauce
    • Wine-Braised Pork Chops
    • Pork and Fresh Ginger Sauté
    • Braised Lamb Shanks with Pearl Onions
    • Cumin-Scented Roast Pork Loin
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 26 - Sweets For The Sweet
    • Pears Poached in White Wine
    • Pineapple Frozen Yogurt with Banana-Rum Salsa
    • Cinnamon Applesauce
    • Pink Grapefruit Granita
    • Apple Pizza
    • Grilled Peaches with Honey-Ricotta and Balsamic Vinegar
    • Mani's Apple-Cherry Cobbler
    • Fresh Raspberry Sauce
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • Chapter 27 - Buoyant Breakfasts
    • Apricot Smoothie
    • Mango-Yogurt Smoothie
    • Creamy Polenta with Bananas and Raisins
    • Scrambled Parmesan Tofu
    • Cucumber and Salmon Breakfast Toast
    • Egg-White and Salsa Omelet
    • The Least You Need to Know

  • I ndex
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First Chapter

[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Lowfat Cooking

- 3 -

A Few Bytes on Nutrition

In This Chapter

  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Nutrition
  • The food pyramid explained
  • Finding fiber

Gather a group of nutrition "experts" and you'll get a dizzying rangeof opinions on every subject from the correct percentage of fat in the diet to thedangers of consuming too much sodium (salt). Luckily, almost all qualified nutritionistsand doctors agree on the most important issues, so it's easy to map out a lifestylethat will reap the rewards of good health and longevity. Understanding the basicsof nutrition will let you make your own smart choices about fueling your body ina sensible, simple, and "diet"-free way. There are tomes on nutrition thatcan rival an encyclopedia, but the essence of nutrition is simple: we eat food (calories)to fuel our bodies, and if our energy intake is more than our energy output (i.e.,physical activity), we gain weight.

Understanding the role of calories in our diet is the first and most importantstep; understanding fat is secondary but still crucial, particularly for those withhigh chol esterol. Good health, however, requires more than watching calorie and fatintake. Lack of calcium in the diet may cause bone weakness and osteoporosis; lackof iron can cause anemia. It's only by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet thatincludes all the vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in roughly the correct amounts,that you will function at the height of perfect, radiant health.

The USDA has created a cute food chart in the shape of a pyramid to help us simple-mindedfolks follow a healthy diet without taking remedial biology courses. But the foodpyramid has a few problems: (1) the serving sizes are confusing and unrealistic;(2) it does not take into account the difference in calorie requirements for a 20-year-oldstudent and a 35-year-old manual laborer; and (3) it doesn't tell you how to makefood fun. Science aside, food should be something we look forward to and enjoy withoutguilt. A few facts, some common sense, and you can plan your lifelong program ofgood health.

Calories and Energy

Our food is made up of three different groups: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.Everything we eat falls into one of these categories, and each carries a differentnumber of calories. Carbohydrates range from very few (lettuce = .13 k/cal per gram)to lots (pasta = 3.58 k/cal per gram); Proteins have a bit more (4 k/cal per gram);and fats are sky-high in calories (9 k/cal per gram). To survive, we need to eatsome of each group, and the daily combination adds up to our total calorie intake.

Each person has a different daily calorie requirement, depending on his or herheight, weight, age, and level of physical activity. If you take in more caloriesthan your body needs, you will g ain weight. If you expend more calories than youconsume, you will lose weight. For instance, if your recommended calorie intake is1,900 per day and you regularly consume 2,000, you will gain about 10 pounds in ayear. By increasing your energy output, or exercise, by 30 minutes a day, you willlose 10 pounds in a year. But make sure you don't eat more to reward yourself forexercising, or the effect of the exercise will be lost.

What's the Skinny?

Calorie-counting books are handy, but have largely been supplanted by food labeling. They can still be great for planning a menu and making a shopping list, though--a good way to insure that temptation doesn't win at the market. Calories are abbreviated as k/cal, and grams usually as g. Don't make the mistake of getting them mixed up, however. There's a big difference between the 9.6 grams of fat contained in a 3 1/2-ounce piece of roasted pork loin and the 209 calories it carries.

Those Sneaky Pounds

If you have attempted to follow a program of exercise and found yourself gainingweight, there may be another reason: muscle tissue weighs more than fat. So if youreplace fat tissue with lean muscle, you'll weigh more. Many a new visitor to a healthclub has sighed when the scale reads the same after three months of exercise. Justremember, muscle will burn fat, so it's a better kind of weight than you hadbefore, and the mirror will likely confirm that fact!

It's a Matter of Balance

Weight control is simply a matter of balancing energy output with energy intake.And the ke y to success is to look at your food consumption as a matter of balance,too. Don't eat all your allowed calories every day--save them up till the end ofthe week and blow them on a piece of chocolate cake. Enjoy! Try to look at your calorieintake as an average, not a daily target. This is where crash diets go wrong. Joyis not balanced with hardship, and the dieter is so disappointed when he inevitablyfails to keep up the strict regime that he usually abandons the diet. Who wants tofail all the time?

Counting Calories: Is It Necessary?

Unless you are a math whiz and carry a notebook and a calculator in your backpocket, counting calories will probably be a bit time-consuming. Unfortunately, ifyou plan to follow the "honor-system" diet that involves no rules but lotsof common sense, you'll need to have some idea of what you are eating.

This doesn't mean you'll be a calorie nerd for the rest of your life. It justmeans that as you ease into this fairly liberal way of creating a healthy diet foryourself, yes, you will have to keep track. If you follow the recipes in this book,you'll have the calorie and fat count spelled out for you. Write it down, start achart--it's not forever. The food labeling system makes it easy to count caloriesfrom prepared foods, but how will you know how many calories are in that baked potatoyou ordered (yogurt topping, please) at a restaurant? And as we know there's no nutritionlabel on fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is where it's helpful to have a calorie-counting guide on hand. There aresome excellent ones available, but I have had good results with Health Counts,from Kaiser Permanente (John Wiley & Sons, 1991). It ev en has pages at the frontthat you can copy and use as a calorie-counting chart. As soon as you've figuredout what you like to eat, what you should be eating, and most importantly, what portionsizes make sense for your new regime, you can abandon this practice (it took me aboutthree weeks to get comfortable enough to stop keeping the chart).

Watch Out!

Losing weight sounds so simple when you put it into scientific terms: 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day will strip 10 pounds per year from the average adult. The problem comes after you exercise, if you ignore your diet and eat more calories than you expended. It's a vicious circle: if you then consume an extra 100 calories (say, 2 slices of bread), you'll cancel any possible weight-loss benefit from the exercise (of course, it's still good for your heart).

Protein: We Are What We Eat

Protein is the most basic and most crucial fuel that the human body requires forsurvival. Take away the 99 percent of our bodies that is water, and what's left overis protein. Enzymes, antibodies, hemoglobin, and insulin are all protein--withoutthese the body would quickly cease to function. These crucial proteins are graduallyworn away as they are used, and the only way to replenish them is with dietary protein.Protein is highest in animal foods, so vegetarians must find their protein from grains,nuts, and legumes, but each of those are deficient in certain types of protein,or amino acids. This is why, back in the seventies, many practitioners of the Zenmacrobiotic (all-grain) diet ended up in the hospital with malnutrition. Luc kily,plant-based proteins tend to be complementary--what one lacks, the others can provide.This is why vegetarians must be careful to balance grains with beans, nuts, and freshvegetables in order to obtain the necessary protein for survival.

Proteins are made up of a combination of up to 20 amino acids, and are consideredeither "complete" or "incomplete." Complete proteins come onlyfrom animal sources (meat, eggs, and dairy products); all plant proteins start outincomplete, but by our own manipulations we can turn wheat into "wheat germ"and soybeans into "soy protein," both of which are nearly complete proteins.The USDA advises the average woman to consume about 50 grams of protein per day,while the average man should consume 63 grams, and a six-year-old child should have24 grams. Most Americans consume far too much, shooting up calorie levels, as wellas making the kidneys work harder to process the waste by-products of protein.

Toothsome Tips

Vegetarians and those who want to cut down on animal protein and fat should consider adding nuts to their diet, in limited amounts. Recent studies show that nut oils are at least as beneficial as monounsaturated fat in lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. Peanuts and almonds contain almost as much protein per ounce as red meat, and they're full of good vitamins and minerals, too. Don't get excited, though. This is still a fat source and must be controlled (about 180 calories and 18 grams of fat per handful--unless you have a very small hand). Keep your nut intake to 2 tablespoons, or about 1/ 2 an ounce, per day.

Table 1: Protein Levels of Various Foods


Serving Size

Grams of Protein

Beef sirloin

3 1/2 oz


Lamb loin

3 1/2 oz


Pork loin

3 1/2 oz


Cheddar cheese

1 oz


Lowfat cottage cheese

1 cup





Egg Beaters

1/4 cup


Dried beans, cooked

1 cup


Spaghetti, cooked

1 cup


Long grain brown rice

1 cup


Whole wheat bread

2 slices


Broccoli, cooked

1 cup



1 cup, shredded


Fat, a Necessary Evil

We all need some fat in order to live, contrary to what some high-profile no-fatexponents might have us believe. It is a medical fact that without fat, our cellwalls would weaken and we would be unable to absorb and metabolize certain essentialvitamins and amino acids. Our systems are incapable of synthesizing these essentialfatty acids from inside the body, so they must be consumed as part of our diet. However,our bodies generally only need about a tablespoon of fat per day, and most Americansconsume 6 to 8 tablespoons.

The USDA recommends that not less than 15 percent of our daily calorieintake be derived from fat. From family experience, I have seen what happens to strictfollowers of a completely nonfat diet, such as the Pritikin program, over the longterm. Some skin elasticity is lost, energy is very low, and hair takes on the appearanceof steel wool.

The USDA has another piece of advice that is of interest: they advise that welimit fat to 30 percent of our daily calories--but some doctors and nutritionistsagree that 20 to 30 percent is better. Certainly, it is better than the 40 percentthat statistics show most Americans consume, but many experts feel that 25 percentor even 20 percent is a more admirable goal. Perhaps the USDA is trying to be friendlyand set realistic, achievable goals, but they are falling short of the ideal. Onething everyone does agree on is that saturated fat (the kind that comes from animalfat and butter) should be restricted to 10 percent of your calorie intake. See thecalorie intake chart on page 10 and compute your fat and saturated fat gram intakevia the table below.

Toothsome Tips

Don't try to build Rome in a day--it takes time. If you don't like the taste of skim milk, try 2 percent first, then ease yourself into skim and other low- or nonfat dairy products. There is no need to eliminate the high-fat culprits in your regular diet; you just need to reduce them quite a bit. Feelings of deprivation can lead to diet failure, so remember that portion control is all-important in the lowfat lifestyle.

Fat and Cholesterol

The relationship of dietary fat to cholesterol levels is explored more fully inChapter 2. This is something you need to understand if cholesterol is a problem foryou. All adults shou ld have their cholesterol tested at least once every five years--moreif you have a history of high blood cholesterol. But there is another important factto keep in mind: even if your main reason for wanting to cut down on fat in yourdiet is a high cholesterol level, you should still closely watch your calorie intake.

As we've seen, consuming more calories than you expend means weight gain, andweight gain means more work for your heart. If your heart is weakened by a high levelof blood cholesterol, it will have to struggle harder to power an overweight body.It's a recipe for coronary heart disease, which causes 40 percent of all deaths inthe United States.

Almost all fat falls into one of the following three groups:

1.   Saturated fats such as animal fat, dairy fat, and palm and coconut oils interfere with the bloodstream's ability to clear out cholesterol. They also increase the production of "bad" LDL cholesterol. Saturated fat should make up less than 10 percent of the total caloric intake.

2.   Polyunsaturated fats are the vegetable oils, such as canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and peanut oil, listed according to percentage of saturated fat content (i.e., canola has the least saturated fat, peanut oil has the most). These fats are better for you than saturated fat, and can lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. But remember, they may also lower the "good" HDL cholesterol.

3.   Monounsaturated fats consist of olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil. This "good" fat has been shown to increase the "good" HDL cholesterol and lower the "bad" LDL. Of all the choices for your required daily fat intake, olive oil is the best.

Note: Fats and oils are placed in these groups based on the highest level of one of these particular fats; most have a little of all three but are predominately made up of one (this is why canola oil appears in both the polyunsaturated and the monounsaturated groups).

Watch Out!

Don't think you can load up on nonfat calories to your heart's content as long as you keep fat grams low. Many health-conscious people are taking advantage of the new food labeling system to quickly and easily count fat grams, keeping them below the recommended levels and thinking that's all there is to a balanced diet. Not true! Calories, not fat, cause weight gain, and calories are present in proteins, simple and complex carbohydrates, and fat. Too much of any of the three will cause weight gain (although it's virtually impossible to eat so many vegetables that your calorie count tips the balance, unless you pour Hollandaise sauce on them).

Toothsome Tips

There is one kind of fat that's really good for you: omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Studies show it may reduce the risk of breast cancer, and it is generally accepted by researchers that even one serving of salmon per week can cut the risk of heart disease by up to 75 percent. It's still a fat, so you have to limit consumption in line with your own personal guidelines, but it's probably the bes t protein and fat source you can choose.

What's the Deal With Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates should form the bulk of our diet, and include sugars and starches,as well as vegetables, grains, and legumes, desserts, and sweets. The primary roleof carbs in the body is to provide energy to our cells--carbs are what we run on.In developing countries, it's not uncommon for 80 percent of the diet to be madeup of carbohydrates. In the United States, it's more like 40 percent. That's becausewe eat way too much protein, and way too much fat. Replacing some of the proteinand fat with carbohydrates would instantaneously transform our diets for the better.Unfortunately, as with any simple solution, it's not quite that simple.

There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydratesare sugars, present in table sugar and fruit, and sugar alcohols (contained in sweeteners).Complex carbs are starches like wheat, bread, pasta, rice, cereals, grains, legumes,and other vegetables.

But these foods carry vastly different levels of carbohydrates. Grainsand starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn pack large quantities, whilesome other vegetable are so low in carbs that they can be eaten with great abandon(lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes . . . mmmmm). Confusion abounds aboutthe role that carbohydrates play in weight loss, but all you need to know is thatone raw tomato has 5.7 grams of carbs (25 k/cal), while a cup of cooked white ricepacks 50 grams (223 k/cal). It's easy to see which of these can be eaten with completeimpunity (in the summer, sometimes I think I can live on tomatoes alone).


Eating small amounts several times during the day curbs your hunger and is better for you than one or two large meals, which can drive up insulin levels, causing you to store most of your calorie intake as fat. This is even more important for the middle-aged and elderly, who lose the ability to burn off fat as quickly. Don't even think about skipping meals, which can lead to out-of-control hunger, cravings, and instant diet failure. Snacking should be restricted to small quantities of lowfat granola, muesli, dried or fresh fruit, or crackers.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Water

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies were understood by the common man long beforescientists explained what was actually occurring in the body. Sailors on long voyageswho never ate fresh fruit or vegetables contracted scurvy, a debilitating diseasefeaturing anemia and infection, among other things. A Scottish doctor discoveredthat fresh limes eradicated the disease, and in 1840 the British navy ordered thatlimes be required as shipboard rations (this had two side effects: Brits worldwideinherited the nickname Limeys, and the daily rum ration got a lot tastier).

It wasn't until much later that scientists discovered the need for vitamin C.A balanced diet that loosely follows the food guide pyramid, paying particular attentionto fruits and vegetables, will provide adequate vitamins and minerals. It's onlywhen dietary habits are changed drastically that deficiencies become a problem (likewhen those sailors went to sea).


Vitamin A comes from dark green and yellow vegetables, milk, butter, cheese,egg yolks, and liver. Vitamin A helps keep our vision clear and maintains the balanceof mucous membranes. It also keeps skin, bones, and teeth healthy. Never consumemore than the recommended daily amount, as overdoses can be toxic.

RDA (recommended dietary allowance per day): 700 mg RE


Overdoses of vitamin A can be toxic, and a case in England in the 1970s illustrates the point: a food faddist named Basil Brown went on a carrot juice fast, consuming 10 gallons a day for 10 days. Carrots are rich in vitamin A, and he was consuming about 10,000 times the RDA. His skin turned bright, fluorescent yellow, and then he died.

Vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it is easily lost toboiling water, heat, and light. There are eight different substances grouped underthe heading of vitamin B, the most common are B6 and B12. They are available as supplements,or pills, labeled B complex, and unless you are prepared to be very careful aboutcooking methods and adopt some fairly strenuous habits (like drinking the water inwhich your grains were cooked), it's easier to take the B vitamins as a supplement.The B vitamin, Niacin, lowers cholesterol levels, which may reduce the risk of heartattack, and aids in keeping the metabolism functioning at an efficient level.

B1 (Thiamin) RDA: 1.1 mg; B2 (Riboflavin) RDA: 1.3 mg; B3 (Niacin) RDA: 15 mg;B6 RDA: 1.6 mg; B12 RDA: 2.0 mcg

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is another water-soluble vitamin.Most vitamin C comes from fruits and vegetables, notably currants, strawberries,pineapple, and citrus fruits. Unfortunately, th e water-solubility problem means thatmost of the vitamin is lost within minutes of being cut, juiced, or otherwise exposedto the air. Vitamin C plays a crucial role in maintaining the collagen in our connectivetissues. Without this "cement" the body can almost literally fall apart,as happened to the sailors with scurvy. vitamin C can be synthesized by animals butnot by humans, so we need to consume vitamin C in our diets. How much is a matterof some conjecture and occasional heated argument. Any vitamin C that is not neededby the body is excreted, so overdose is not generally considered to be a problem,although some studies associate long-term high-dosing of vitamin C with the formationof kidney stones. A recent New York Times article reported findings that showour DNA can actually be damaged by overdosing on vitamin C. This is one nutritionalcontroversy that deserves watching.

RDA: 60 mg

Vitamin D is mainly found in fortified milk--other sources like eggs, liver,and fish oils don't contain enough to matter. This vitamin can be synthesized bythe body when it is exposed to sun, so deficiencies can occur in people who inhabitthe northern, low-sun climates and don't drink enough milk. Vitamin D is crucialfor children in developing bone density, but it is just as important for adults.Older individuals who don't drink milk because they want to limit calcium can sufferfrom "adult rickets," a bowing of the legs. A combined program of vitaminD and calcium supplements for elderly individuals has been shown to reduce bone fracturerates and counteract the effects of osteoporosis in men.

RDA: 10 mcg

Vitamin E comes from grains and legumes, where t he plants synthesize theirown to protect the seed coating prior to germination. Vitamin E is thought to beinvolved in the formation of red blood cells, and it plays an important role in maintainingthe immune system particularly for the elderly. In recent studies, doses of up to200 mg have been shown to increase the immune system's response to foreign antigens(the substance that helps the body produce antibodies). It is one of the antioxidants,which are believed to prevent the oxidizing of fats in blood that then build up onartery walls. Deficiencies are rare, and generally only occur in newborn babies.

RDA: 200 to 400 IU

Vitamin K is a relative newcomer on the scene. Its main function is toaid the blood in clotting efficiently. Recent studies have shown that it may alsohelp prevent the onset of osteoporosis after menopause. Vitamin K is found in leafyvegetables and inside the small intestines of animals, where it is synthesized bya symbiotic bacteria. Luckily, it is also synthesized in laboratories, and this isa more potent source than the other two. Patients who take antibiotics can accidentallykill all the friendly bacteria in their digestive tract, and eradicate vitamin Kin the process. This could cause problems with efficient clotting of blood.

RDA: 60 mcg


Sodium chloride, or salt, was once one of the most valuable commoditieson earth. It was used not only as a dietary supplement and to make food taste better,but also to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration. This could mean thedifference between death and survival through the winter for many in the Middle Agesand beyond. Salt, along with potassium, maintains stable cond itions inside and outsideour cells so that imbalances do not build up (it's called osmotic regulation--yikes!).Sodium and potassium are lost through sweat when you exercise, and lack of waterto replenish and lubricate muscles can cause those muscles to cramp. If you consumelots of prepared foods (you shouldn't, but sometimes there's not much choice), yoursodium intake will probably be too high. Lowfat prepared foods are big culprits,since they often replace the flavor that was lost when the fat was removed with salt.If you prepare all your meals from fresh ingredients, don't be afraid to add salt.Food just doesn't taste like itself without a little bit.

RDA: sodium: 500 mg for ages 18 and over; potassium: 2,000 mg for ages 18 andover (1 tablespoon of regular soy sauce contains 768.5 mg; low-sodium soy sauce contains478.5 mg). Some doctors have begun recommending potassium intake of up to 3,500 mgper day for adults, since many studies show it to be effective in reducing high bloodpressure.


Salt has been traded along with gold and gems, it's been stolen, and fought over. The current cheapness of salt, and concern over the relationship between sodium and high blood pressure, may make us forget, but salt is as essential to our well-being as any of the other nutrients we've discussed. In Roman times, soldiers were given an allotment of salt to keep up their strength in times of battle, called a salarium, the root of the word "salary." A good person is "worth his/her salt," or "the salt of the earth." Although many of us strive to keep salt consumption down, our language reminds us of the value of salt.

Calcium serves to harden our bones and teeth, which is why children needto consume adequate amounts when they are in the process of forming their bone structure.But adults need calcium, too (though less of it), and it goes hand in hand with vitaminD: if one is deficient, usually the other is, too. Calcium gets used up, and if notreplaced can result in actual weakening of the skeleton. Milk is by far the bestsource of calcium, though it's also present in clams, oysters, and canned salmon(with the bones). The RDA for ages 51 and over has recently been increased from 800to 1,200 mg, reflecting studies that show increased bone density and beneficial effectson osteoporosis. Older women who increase calcium levels to combat osteoporosis mayhave decreased levels of zinc, the healing mineral, but this can be averted by adding8 mg supplemental zinc to the calcium supplement.

RDA: for young adults and older: 1,200 mg

Lack of iron is one of the most commonly found mineral deficiencies inthe USA, principally among women, who lose iron when they menstruate. Iron-rich foodsinclude lean meats, organ meats, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.Dairy products are not a good source. We only absorb 10 percent of the iron we consume,and this is why keeping up adequate levels can be difficult. Unfortunately, lackof iron will quickly lead to weakness and anemia. In the days when most cooking tookplace in cast-iron cookware, iron deficiencies were rare because of the iron thatleached into food being cooked in the pans. This happens the most when acidic foodslike tomatoes and fruits are cooked in iron pans. If yo u are a vegetarian who suffersfrom anemia, consider making a weekly spaghetti sauce in a cast-iron skillet--itcould be the answer!

RDA: women: 15 mg; men: 10 mg

Our bodies also need phosphorus, sulfur, and magnesium, which arefound in animal foods and grains and will generally be sufficient in a good, balanceddiet. Trace elements like iodine, copper, and fluorine are needed in such small quantitiesthat they are rarely lacking in a normal diet.

Zinc deficiencies are fairly rare, but studies have shown that zinc helpsrepair damaged cells and speeds healing, so those who don't consume much or any animalprotein (its principal source) may want to take supplements, especially during thewinter cold season. Recent studies in China have shown that children who began toconsume the RDA of zinc (10 mg daily for under 10 years old) had increased perception,memory, reasoning, and better psychomotor skills such as eye-hand coordination. About10 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are thought to be deficient in zinc--the figureis slightly higher for girls. Pregnant women need zinc in higher levels, and amazinglyenough, a pregnant woman's ability to absorb zinc from food increases up to 30 percentduring the term of the pregnancy. Recent studies show that taking iron supplementsduring pregnancy can erase the increased ability to absorb zinc. Nonanimal foodsrich in zinc are popcorn, peanuts, and whole-wheat crackers. Beef, liver, and oystersare the richest sources of all.

RDA: 12 mg

Watch Out!

Pregnant and lactating (breast-feeding) women have different and increased needs for vitamins, nutrients, and min erals. Of course, the conventional wisdom does change occasionally, as it seems to in most areas of nutritional study. It is imperative that pregnant women avail themselves of the most current studies on nutritional supplements, dietary requirements, etc.

Water, Water, Water

There's one thing that every fad diet, expert nutritionist and respected doctoragrees on: the importance of adequate water to maintain health. "Drink eightglasses of water a day" rings throughout the health and weight-loss media. Waterkeeps the metabolism functioning, clears impurities out of the system, and transportsnutrients and wastes around the system. Don't leave home without it.

Our bodies use up several quarts of water every day, even without strenuous exercise.When we exercise, we lose even more. Water stimulates the metabolism, meaning weabsorb foods and nutrients more quickly and more efficiently. For weight-loss purposesthis is important because it means we are less likely to store excess nutrients asfat.

Most of our foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, are made up mostly of water,and our bodies can extract the water from them. But it just isn't enough. Coffee,tea, and caffeinated soda act as diuretics, causing the body to shed water, so theydon't count as part of recommended water intake. Buy bottled water if you like, ordrink tap water if it's good in your area. Keep water with you at all times and drinkit as a matter of course. Once you get into the habit it's not difficult to consumeeight glasses a day.

The Food Guide Pyramid: No, You Can't Always Be on Top

After costly and exhaustive studies, the USDA has provided u s with a nice, simpledrawing that illustrates how we should be eating. On the surface, it looks easy tounderstand, but get right down to it and it has a few problems.

For one thing, the serving sizes are unrealistic and confusing. We are advisedto eat 6 to 11 servings a day from the bread, cereal, and pasta group--which soundsrather overwhelming. That is, until you discover that 1 serving of cereal equals1 ounce. Differences of calorie content in different fruits are not taken into account(one apple, at 81 k/cal, is equal to one banana, at 105). The important things areclear, though: fats, oils, and sweets are to be consumed in small quantities only,and that vegetables and grain products should make up the bulk of our diet. The low-carbproponents might disagree, and I also have my doubts about the large quantity ofgrain products that are recommended (grains = high carbohydrates = high calories= weight gain--if over the RDA). What everyone does agree on is that for heart-healthyliving the fats have got to stay at the top, to be eaten less frequently.

USDA Servings Guide

Milk Group; 1 Serving is:

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces cheese
  • 2 ounces processed cheese

Meats and Beans Group; 1 Serving is:

  • 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts counts as 1 ounce of meat

Vegetable Group; 1 Serving is:

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of oth er vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

Fruit Group; 1 Serving is:

  • 1 medium apple, banana, or orange
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Grain Product Group; 1 Serving is:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

Fantastic Fiber

Experts actually all agree that a diet high in fiber has many benefits. From improvingdigestion to protecting against colon cancer, this is truly a wonder food. Expertsnow believe that a diet with sufficient fiber can even prevent you from absorbingsome of the fat that you consume. It's not a huge number, so it doesn't mean youcan have a cheese omelet for breakfast just because you had bran fiber yesterday.People who eat a diet high in fat generally absorb about 98 percent of dietary fat,but with sufficient fiber present that number drops to 94 percent. Every little bithelps!

Unfortunately, most people find it difficult to consume the recommended amountof fiber (25 to 30 grams), even though most fiber-rich foods are also rich in beneficialvitamins and minerals. Beans and legumes (like lentils) are great sources of fiber,and can be jazzed up with all kinds of lowfat flavor enhancers. Rice, beans, andlegumes feature quite prominently in the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet, whichwe'll be discussing throughout this book.

And remember, fiber is more than beans and bran. Use the table below to find afew additional sources of fiber.

Table 2: Fiber Conte nt of Various Foods


Serving Size

Grams of Fiber

Five-bean vegetable soup

1 cup


Dried figs



All-Bran cereal

1/3 cup


Baked beans

1 cup


Kidney beans, cooked

1/2 cup


Barley, dry

1/4 cup


Three-bean chili, canned

1 cup


Prunes, stewed

1/2 cup


Succotash w/ lima beans

1/2 cup


Yam, baked

1 med.


Peas and carrots, cooked

1 cup


Spinach, boiled or steamed

1/2 cup


Corn on the cob, cooked

1 med.


Lentils, dried

1/4 cup


Garbanzo beans, cooked

1/2 cup


Split pea soup

1 cup


Swiss muesli

1/2 cup


Buckwheat pancake mix

1/2 cup


Raisin bran

3/4 cup


Baked potato with skin

1 med.


Raspberries, fresh

1/2 cup


Artichoke hearts, canned

5 small


Oat bran, dry

1/3 cup


Broccoli, cooked

1 cup


Oatmeal, cooked

1 cup


Green beans, cooked

1/2 cup


Winter squash, baked

1/2 cup


Brown rice, cooked

1 cup


Shredded wheat cereal

1 biscuit


Spaghetti, cooked

1 cup


Toothsome Tips

Quaker Oats has been allowed to add "Smart Heart" to their oatmeal logo, and to advertise oatmeal as a cholesterol-lowering food (the FDA is pretty strict--companies aren't given that kind of permission unless the results are well proven). So start your day with a bowl of oatmeal. The fiber will help to keep you full longer, so you'll avoid overeating at lunchtime.

To Juice or Not to Juice

Every few years there is a juice fad, and fasting faddists sometimes exist onnothing but juice for days. Juices are a good source of vitam ins, but be aware thatjuices contain just as many calories as bottled and canned soda. And there is anotherproblem. Whole fruits contain fiber; by juicing them you remove the fiber and areleft with only the sugars. Fiber slows absorption of sugar into the metabolism, savingit for when it is needed by the body for energy. Without the fiber, these sugarsrace straight through, and if they are not immediately required for energy, the bodywill store them as fat.

The Least You Need to Know

  • Nutrition is a complex science, but understanding just a few facts will enable you to make smart choices every day, without having to use a calculator or consult a book.
  • We fuel our bodies by consuming calories, which are present in all the three food groups: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Each group carries a different number of calories by weight. If we consume more calories than we burn, we will gain weight.
  • Creating a balanced diet means more than just watching calories and fat grams, it means understanding a little about the role of vitamins and minerals in maintaining good health. Luckily, consuming a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water will provide most of the necessary nutrients.
  • Getting the recommended amount of fiber in a balanced diet is a little more difficult than keeping vitamins and minerals up to par. Finding fiber will benefit your digestion, rate of fat absorption, and the inside of your arteries. Study the fiber guide and keep a few dried figs on hand at all times.
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