You might have already noticed that the Core Meals are designed to rely on fresh vegetables and unprocessed poultry and fish as the centerpiece of your eating plan. Even though a good variety of dishes can be created using that limited range of foods, you will soon want to expand your range of options. The use of substitutions, allowances and makeovers of favorite recipes will allow you to do that without veering outside your doctor’s recommendations!
Allowances, Recipe Makeovers and Substitutions
The following chart suggests a number of ways you can adjust your cooking habits to remove (or at least greatly reduce) the sodium, sugar, saturated fats, and starchy carbs from your daily routine.
You will find that some substitutions are not simply one thing for another. Some dishes will get a makeover by including new ingredients with flavors that offset the lack of salt or fat, or some will get an entirely new flavor profile, such as with the influence of Cajun, Caribbean, Asian or Mexican flavors and seasonings.
Instead of Regular cheese
Choose Low-fat or non-fat cheese
Instead of Creamer or half and half
Choose Non-fat creamer or non-fat half and half
Instead of Whole or 2% milk
Choose 1% or non-fat (skim) milk
Instead of Regular cream cheese
Choose Reduced fat or non-fat cream cheese
Instead of Regular ice cream
Choose Non-fat or low-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet
Instead of 2-4% milk fat cottage cheese
Choose 1% or non-fat cottage cheese
Instead of Alfredo, cream sauces
Choose Marinara, primavera or light olive-oil based sauces
Instead of Regular mayonnaise
Choose Light or non-fat mayonnaise
Instead of Prime grades of beef
Choose Choice or Select grades of beef
Instead of Spareribs
Instead of Chicken with skin on
Choose Chicken without skin
Instead of Whole egg
Choose Egg whites or egg substitutes
We highly recommend that you look at our Resources and Products pages for more information on great seasoning substitutions, and ideas for creating new versions of your favorite dishes. We think you’ll find lots of ways to meet your lifestyle needs while still enjoying your daily meals.
If you’ve been diagnosed with both diabetes and heart disease, you probably already know that sodium, sugar, saturated fat and starchy carbs, are four key things that you will need to limit. Controlling any one of these represents a lifestyle change, but all four?! We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy eating! It just means that you will want to choose carefully and use your “allowances” wisely, just as you would with a well-planned family budget.
When using your allowances, don’t squander them all through exceptions and forgetting to read labels. Budget them very deliberately for the things that will make a difference for you. Maybe you’ll decide that it is worth it to “spend” some sodium or saturated fat on a little Swiss cheese in your omelette, or some butter on your potato. As with exceptions, the question will be “Is it worth it” to use an exception for a particular food? You can decide when it’s worth using up an allowance, but know that you might need to adjust something else to meet your goals.
Here are some suggestion for using your allowances wisely:
Sodium: sodium in canned soups, canned vegetables, frozen meals and prepared sauces is not going to enrich your life. Make your vegetables fresh (or at least buy the no-salt variety) and save the salt you are allowed for things that really need a bit of salt. For us, those are eggs, potatoes (within the limited use of starches) and the occasional popcorn. For everything else, use fresh, unprocessed ingredients and allow your taste buds to get used to the “real” taste of foods without salt.
Sugar: if you’ve been diabetic for awhile, maybe you’ve already adjusted to not eating deserts, no sugary cereals, no junky sweet snacks, and no sugar-sweetened drinks. If not, now is definitely the time to change, because uncontrolled blood sugar is a risk factor for heart disease. If you’re here because you have both, it is time to find new ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. This might be a transition process, using a combination of artificial sweeteners and things like sweet fruits that have fiber (like apples), which will slow down the absorption of the sugar. You’ll want to save your actual sugar allowances for (a) foods that contain some sugar that you cannot avoid (like ketchup), and (b) treats that are truly worth it.
Saturated fat: with all the healthy fats that are available, limiting saturated fat doesn’t have to be hard, at least not when you cook at home. The biggest challenges might be keeping breakfast meats, hamburger and fatty beef out of your life, particularly if you eat out. Almost any dish made with hamburger can be duplicated with ground turkey, eliminating much of the saturated fat content. Turkey burgers can be made delicious and juicy with a little extra care. When eating out, look for lean meats, particularly fish and poultry. If you must order steak, look for the leanest cuts, like filet mignon, and ask for it to be cooked without added salt. If your morning is not complete without a breakfast meat, experiment with “bacon” or sausage made of turkey or chicken, and limit quantities.
Starchy carbs: some meals, no matter how varied and delicious, still might not seem complete without some form of potato. Save whatever starchy carb you are permitted for these moments, and make it yourself with whole unprocessed ingredients and healthy fats. If you must have a potato, use your own ingredients and bypass the high sodium and fat content of prepared potato products. Breads and pastas also fall into the starchy carb category. If you can enjoy whole grain breads and pastas, those will at least avoid some of the effects of highly refined carbs. If not, consider avoiding foods altogether that are built on bread and pasta ingredients, except when you have no choice but to make an exception.
Nearly everyone has favorite recipes, either those they’ve prepared themselves or those others prepare for them. For all those old recipes, like greens seasoned with bacon grease, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, or Mom’s apple pie, you have four choices:
- Don’t ever eat it again,
- Eat it about once or twice a year and treat it as a splurge,
- Eat it rarely, limit it to small amounts, and call it an exception;
- Eat it often, but swap the unhealthier ingredients for healthier ones (i.e., do a makeover).
We like the fourth option the most, because it lets us use our imaginations and expand our options without losing control of our goals.
Here are makeovers of a few of our favorite dishes:
|Old favorite||Nutritional downfall||New adjustment||Nutritional savings|
|Kale greens or Collard greens pressure cooked and sautéed in bacon grease or ham base, seasoned lightly with vinegar.||High sodium content of ham base; high saturated fat of bacon grease.||Same greens pressure cooked, but sautéed in olive oil afterward with some garlic, a little broth concentrate, then seasoned lightly with aged balsamic vinegar. We like Benson’s Table Tasty to top it off.||No saturated fat No sodium|
|Seafood chowder recipe with cream, butter, assorted fish and potatoes||Relies heavily on potatoes (starchy carbs) and high saturated fat, uses salt||Fish sautéed in avocado or olive oil instead of butter; added chopped celery, carrots, shallots and onions sautéed in olive oil as well for less reliance on potatoes, decreased amount of potatoes, used milk and thickened base with arrowroot power or cornstarch instead of using heavy cream.||Much less starch from potatoes; no saturated fat or sodium.|
|Steamed vegetables with butter, salt and favorite seasonings.||Salt and saturated fat in butter||Steamed vegetables with all-foods sauce and sodium-free seasonings, like Mrs. Dash or Benson’s Table Tasty.||No saturated fat and no sodium.|
|Scalloped potatoes with cheese, cream and salt||Reliance on potatoes flavored with saturated fat and sodium||Single servings (small amounts) of healthy scalloped potatoes layered with olive oil, onions and small amount of parmesan cheese. and sodium free seasoning, baked like scalloped potatoes.||Less reliance on potatoes, smaller servings, and greatly reduced saturated fat and sodium.|
|Hamburgers on white bread bun with fries||High in saturated fat, relies on 2 starchy carbs; unlikely to include any vegetables, use of salt||Substitute turkey for hamburger, give turkey burgers flavor and juiciness with olive oil and finely chopped, sautéed vegetables, topped with a mushroom/onion or other combination of onions, peppers, etc.; stir fry vegetables on side.||Minimal or no saturated fat, starchy carbs (bread and potatoes) replaced with flavor-rich seared or sautéed vegetables; no salt.|