K-State Research and Extension News
November 11, 2009
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Holiday Season 2009: Enjoy Holiday Foods--Tips Make Special Diet...Special

Also see, Cook's Tips Trim Calories and Fat from Holiday Baking

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- While many people will choose to let their diets slide during the holiday season, those who follow a moderate or restricted diet to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol or other chronic illness can enjoy holiday foods without increasing their risks from the illnesses, a Kansas State University specialist said.

“The goal,” said Mary Meck Higgins, a registered dietitian and Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist, “is to reduce saturated fat, sodium and calories, but retain the flavor and texture of food.” 

“When choosing an entrée, start with lean protein foods,” said Higgins, who noted that the leanest cuts of beef and pork are typically identified with the words “round” or “loin” and may be labeled “Top Round,” “Sirloin” or “Tenderloin.”

Skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices, said Higgins, who recommended cooking poultry with the skin on to retain juices, but discarding poultry skin before eating.

“Trim away visible fat on lean meats and poultry before baking, boiling or slow-cooking. These are all moist-heat methods of cooking that will result in a tender final product,” she said.

Higgins, who also suggested skipping (or limiting) breading that adds calories and fat in favor of low-sodium marinades or rubs, offered the following tips for healthy meals:

* Decrease fat content by draining and discarding fat that cooks out of meats.

* Cover and chill meat and poultry broth until fat within the broth solidifies and can be removed before using the broth. [Tip: Use an ice cube to speed skimming of fat.] Or, purchase low-sodium broth and thicken it with cornstarch or pureed potatoes for a sauce or gravy. Adding a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice can flavor sauces or gravy.

* Use fat-free or skim milk and small amounts of vegetable cooking oil, soft tub or liquid margarine when making cream or white sauces.

* Most vegetables can be cooked quickly, either by steaming on top of the stove, or in the microwave. Most also can be dressed up with herbs or paired with other vegetables, such as green peas with pearl onions. A low-fat reduced-sodium cream soup with fresh mushroom slices added can be used for a quick vegetable sauce.

Not all vegetables need to be cooked, since many fresh raw vegetables can be used in salads and on a relish tray, Higgins said. Buy packages of precut pre-washed fresh vegetables, such as baby carrots or salad greens, to simplify preparation.

* Use fat-free evaporated milk (rather than cream or whole milk) when making cream soups.

* Skim fat off pan drippings and blend with low-sodium broth when making dressing.

* Flavor dressing with herbs, spices and whole grains, rather than fat.

* Substitute vegetable cooking oil for butter or lard, and fat-free or 1 percent buttermilk instead of whole milk to make healthier biscuits.

And, for dessert, choose low-fat and low-sugar alternatives to high-calorie foods, said Higgins, who recommends keeping a bowl of whole fruit on the counter for a quick and easy snack.


She also recommends keeping dried, frozen or canned (in water or juice) fruits on hand, and noted  that one-fourth cup of dried fruit is equivalent to 1/2 cup of other fruits.


When seasoned with cinnamon and cloves, poached pears or baked apples make an easy, healthy and elegant dessert, said Higgins, who is the state leader for Extension nutrition programs.

Mixing chopped fruit or fresh or frozen berries with plain or flavored non-fat yogurt also can make a quick and healthy finale to complete a meal any time, she said.

And, while pumpkin pie is a holiday favorite, serving the traditional pie filling as a custard will eliminate calories and fat in the pie crust.

While holiday cooks typically have the opportunity to trim calories and fat, it's up to everyone to choose a moderate portion, said Higgins, who recommends a protein serving of 3 ounces (about the size of the palm of the hand), and 1/2 cup servings of cooked fruits and vegetables that have added ingredients.

Choose larger servings of steamed vegetables and fruits that have been prepared without added fats, salt or sugars, she said.

More information on food, nutrition, health and managing special diets is available at county and district Extension offices and on Extension Web sites: www.ksre.ksu.edu, www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition and www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety.



Cook's Tips Trim Calories and Fat from Holiday Baking


MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Families typically have favorite holiday recipes, including many that date to previous generations when little was known about the risks associated with elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol or a high saturated fat diet.

Making adjustments in a family recipe often can reduce ingredients known to increase risks of chronic illnesses without sacrificing flavor, said Mary Meck Higgins, registered dietitian and Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist.

Subtle changes often go undetected, said Higgins, who offered suggestions for healthier versions of traditional baked holiday foods:

* For brownies, cakes and fudge recipes, substitute 3 (three) tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 (one) tablespoon of vegetable cooking oil for every ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate. 

* For cakes, brownies, breads or muffin recipes or mixes, substitute fruit puree (applesauce or prune puree are examples) for half to equal parts of butter, margarine or cooking oil.

* Experiment with decreasing sugar in recipes, and increasing sweet spices (cinnamon and ginger are examples), increasing vanilla or almond extract to add flavor, or replacing 1/2 of the sugar called for in a recipe with a heat-stable low-calorie sweetener or sugar substitute (sucralose or the brand-name Splenda is an example).

* For cakes, cookies, pies, quick breads and pancakes, substitute two egg whites or a pasteurized egg product (use according to package directions) for one whole egg.

* Use fat-free milk, fat-free yogurt, fat-free sour cream, fat-free cream cheese or fat-free whipped topping in place of whole-fat products, and as garnishes on desserts and gelatin salads.

* Check the food company's recommendations for baking with light or diet margarines or spreads. These reduced-calorie products typically have a higher water content than their regular counterparts and should be used only in recipes formulated for the product.


More information on food, nutrition and health, including how to manage a special diet, is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites, including: www.ksre.ksu.edu, www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition, and www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety.



K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Mary Meck Higgins is at 785-532-1671 or, by e-mail, mhiggins@ksu.edu.