Spot these common booby traps in supposedly healthy dishes.
When you see the word “lighter” or “healthy” on a recipe title, you assume that it is the better-for-you choice. But that isn’t always the case, given that the term “healthy” is pretty subjective. There is no true definition as to what a healthy recipe is. There may be a 400-calorie dinner recipe deemed healthy, and there may be a 850-calorie dinner recipe deemed healthy – yes, I have seen it! However, there are ways to spot common recipe booby traps that can sabotage even the healthiest dish.
1. Healthy Oil Overkill
Olive, safflower, sunflower and peanut are the healthier oil choices. Many folks don’t measure the amount of oil the recipe calls for. Instead, they do a quick and easy swirl or two around the pan. For every tablespoon of extra oil used in a recipe, you’re adding 120 calories. Also, some vinaigrette recipes that serve four people call for one cup of oil to make the dressing and then instruct you to pour the entire dressing over the salad. One cup of oil contains 1,920 calories – split into four, that’s still an additional 480 calories per person! Although you are eating healthy fat, it’s just way too much for one meal.
Keep it healthy: Aim for one tablespoon of oil per person in any recipe – that’s 1/4 cup in a recipe that serves four. Because oil is a calorie-heavy ingredient, it’s important to measure it.
2. Ooey Goeey Cheese
My family used to own a cheese store in New York City that sold more than 500 varieties. My taste buds absolutely adore all the delicious flavors cheese has to offer, but my waistline doesn’t always seem to agree. Ellie Krieger, registered dietitian nutritionist, Food Network chef and author of “Weeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less” says, “The healthy recipes I create often incorporate ingredients like real cheese, because a little can go a long way in flavor and appeal. But I use it strategically, in small amounts, so the balance of the dish is still healthful. If you just pile the blue cheese onto your salad, for example, it can easily hit the stratosphere in calories and saturated fat and sodium.”
Keep it healthy: Look for recipes that use cheese wisely. For example, choose recipes with a larger portion of reduced fat cheese within the dish (like lasagna) and full-fat highly flavored cheese sprinkled on top. Also, “when adding ingredients like cheese, be sure to measure – and even better, weigh it—so you know you are getting the healthy balance you are aiming for,” Krieger says.
3. Whole Grain Overload
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend you make half your grains whole, so ingredients such as whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice and farro are all welcome additions to any healthy eating plan. But these ingredients also contain a hefty number of calories if the serving calls for too much. A recipe that calls for one pound of dry pasta for four people will result in close to 400 calories per serving for the pasta alone, not including the sauce or pasta add-ins.
Keep it healthy: Keep your eyes on the portions in order to prevent calorie overload. Aim for two ounces of dry pasta per serving (or about one cup cooked). For whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and farro, aim for 3/4 cup to one cup cooked portions per serving.
4. Monstrosity of Meat
I truly love my lean cuts of steak, but when a recipe calls for two or three pounds of it for four people, that’s 1/2 to 3/4 pounds (or 8 to 12 ounces) of meat per person. If you made a flank steak, that’s 372 to 558 calories and 18 to 27 grams of fat per 8- to 12-ounce portion, respectively, not including marinades, sauces and sides.
Keep it healthy: Whether you choose chicken, turkey beef, lamb or fish, the servings should be in check. Aim for 3 to 5 ounces of cooked lean protein at one meal. Below are the daily recommendations for lean protein:
- Men (ages 19-30 ): 6 1/2 ounces
- Men (ages 31-50): 6 ounces
- Men (age 50 and older): 5 1/2 ounces
- Women (ages 19-30): 5 1/2 ounces
- Women (age 30 and older): 5 ounces
5. Sensationalized Salt
Although salt won’t affect calories, studies have found that too much sodium may lead to heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a maximum of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. If a recipe contains salty ingredients such as soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, cheese and canned beans, they can easily push sodium levels to over 1,000 milligrams per serving. In addition to salty ingredients, the recipe may call for additional salt to taste!
Keep it healthy: Start by using lower sodium versions of ingredients such as soy sauce and chicken broth. For canned ingredients such as beans and vegetables, choose lower- or no-added salt varieties whenever possible. If they aren’t available, be sure to drain and rinse them before using. Studies show that you can reduce sodium by up to 40 percent by doing so. After cooking the dish, taste it to determine if it needs additional salt.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition and author of the forthcoming cookbook “The Greek Yogurt Kitchen” (Grand Central Publishing 2014). She consults and blogs for various organizations, including FoodNetwork.com’s Healthy Eats Blog and Sears’ FitStudio.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.