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Real skinny on fats

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Focus on healthy fats in oils, nuts and fish

By Greg Summers

There’s no argument among the experts that we should consume less trans fats and saturated fats. The problem is we don’t want to give them up.

Trans fats and saturated fats contribute to increases in blood cholesterol and a greater risk of heart disease.

The truth is we like the taste. Saturated fats typically come from animal-based products such as red meat, butter and other full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are commonly found in packaged bakery products.

But not all fats are bad.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats – mainly found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish – help support healthy cholesterol levels. They also  provide our bodies with the fats needed for energy, vitamin and cell function.

Our problem is we don’t want to sacrifice for it. Fighting cholesterol doesn’t condemn us to a lifetime of bland, lifeless food.

In truth, low-cholesterol recipes can be extremely tasty since they cut out much of the grease that high-cholesterol dishes contain.

When adopting a low-cholesterol diet, these are the areas to concentrate on:

– Diverse oils – Deep frying should be eliminated, but that’s not say you can’t cook with vegetable-based oils such as olive and canola.

– Low fat foods – Alter your habits by reaching for more than skim milk. Look for low-fat alternatives for butter, cream cheese, whipped topping and other dairy products. New cholesterol-lowering margarine products like Benecol and Smart Balance contain no trans fats and are cholesterol-free.

– Buy lean meats – Diets heavy in red meat are also heavy in cholesterol. Limit you intake of red meat to special occasions and buy leaner cuts of meat. Replace meat in your diet with chicken, fish, turkey and lean cuts of pork. The lower the fat in meat, the less cholesterol it contains.

– Eat your fruits and vegetables – Vegetables don’t have to be as bland as we make them out to be. There are plenty of tasty recipes out there and can be a tasty addition to any low-cholesterol recipe.

– Focus on high fiber foods – Bran, whole grain wheat breads and whole grain rice are natural cholesterol reducers and add flavor and texture to a balanced diet.

Here are three low-cholesterol recipes that are packed with flavor.

Chewy Fruity Popcorn is an easy-to-make change of pace from potato chips  and other crunchy snacks. This carrot cake recipe gets its flavor from naturally sweet pineapple and coconut and a low-fat cream cheese frosting that adds a luxurious finish. Flavored with taco seasoning and salsa, Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken is a quick and easy, sure-fire family entree that even kids like. You can use mild, medium or hot salsa, depending on your individual taste.      

Chewy Fruity Popcorn

Ingredients

1 bag (2.9 oz.) microwave 94 percent fat-free butter popcorn (cooked according to package directions)

1 package 5-ounce dried cherries

1 cup dried apricots, chopped

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

3 tablespoons Promise Buttery Spread

1 teaspoon baking soda

Cooking spray

Directions

– In large bowl sprayed with cooking spray, combine popcorn with dried fruit; set aside.

– In a 1-quart glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl, combine sugar with corn syrup. Microwave at high four minutes or until mixture is a very pale yellow color. With heat-resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in pecans. Microwave on for 1 minute or until pale yellow. Stir in Promise Buttery Spread and baking soda. With spatula sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, quickly and carefully drizzle mixture over popcorn and fruit, stirring constantly, until popcorn and fruit are coated. Cool completely before serving.

– Recipe from North American Precis Syndicate

Carrot Cake

Ingredients

Cake batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1/3 cup chopped pecans

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 large eggs

2 cups grated carrots

1 1/2 cups canned crushed pineapple, drained

Cooking spray

Frosting

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 8-ounce block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened

3 cups powered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Grated carrots for garnish (optional)

Directions

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

– Lightly spoon flour into measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, coconut, pecans, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Combine oil and eggs; stir well. Stir egg mixture, grated carrot and pineapple into flour mixture.

– Spoon batter into a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

– To make frosting, combine butter and cream cheese in a large bowl. Beat with mixer at medium speed until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla just until smooth. Spread frosting over top of cake. Garnish each serving with grated carrot, if desired.

– Recipe from Cooking Light, April 2007

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

Ingredients

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 cup salsa

1 package reduced sodium taco seasoning

1 can reduced fat cream of chicken soup (condensed)

1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

1 can black beans

Directions

– Add chicken to slow cooker. Sprinkle taco seasoning over chicken. Pour salsa and soup over chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

– Remove chicken, shred into bite-size pieces. Add beans and chicken to slow cooker and simmer until beans are tender. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Serve over brown rice.

– Recipe by Gregory A. Summers, inspired by SparkRecipes.com