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Ask the Dietitian: Spice up that lowfat fare

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 20, 2002

Question: How can you make your food have flavor without using fatty products? Sue E., Clearwater, via e-mail.

Answer: Fat and flavor go hand in hand but low-fat cooking methods coupled with healthy food choices can equal heart-smart eating. There are a number of ways to have flavor without using fat.

Herbs and spices flavor food without using fats such as butter, margarine and oil. Dry spice rubs, pastes or marinades can be used to season meat, poultry, and fish. Rubs can be used on meats, poultry and fish before grilling or roasting.

Marinating times vary depending on the type of meat. Leaving meats in liquid too long can result in mushiness. For fish and shrimp, 15 to 30 minutes is enough. For boneless chicken breasts, 30 minutes to one hour is sufficient, and for bone-in chicken pieces and whole pork tenderloin, marinate for two to eight hours. Beef and lamb, steak and kebobs can be marinated for two to 12 hours depending on thickness and cut of meat.

Marinate all food in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage. Discard any marinade or rubs that come in contact with raw meat or fish. If using the marinade as a sauce, it must be brought to a boil to kill any harmful bacteria from the raw food. Another idea to boost flavor without using fat is to serve a condiment, such as salsa, with grilled meats.

Roasting, steaming, grilling, broiling and poaching require no added fats. Meats and vegetables cooked in parchment paper or aluminum foil can be prepared in just minutes and the steam trapped inside the packets keeps food moist and helps to concentrate flavor.

Nonstick cookware alleviates the need for added fat. If you need oil, use a vegetable spray to mist the food and you will use a lot less.

We eat food because it tastes good and if it's healthy, that's an added bonus.

Fresh vs. frozen and canned

Question: How do fresh, frozen and canned vegetables compare nutritionally? Pinellas Park High student.

Answer: Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables are all good food choices, nutritionally speaking. As soon as vegetables are harvested they start to change in texture, taste and nutrient content. The handling and storage of produce also affects its nutritional content. Every pantry needs to have canned and frozen vegetables because they offer convenience and fresh produce is sometimes too expensive. Flash freezing immediately after harvest maintains nutrients in frozen vegetables so that they offer similar taste and health benefits to fresh produce.

Canned vegetables are packaged immediately after harvest but heating changes some vegetables' color and can destroy Vitamin C. Food processors sometimes add Vitamin C to preserve color and add salt for more flavor. Read food labels carefully. Canned tomatoes have an added health benefit over fresh. Lyopene, a phytochemical found in tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit, is increased in canned tomato products. Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been linked to the prevention of prostate cancer.

- Dietitian Stephanie Tober welcomes your questions about nutrition and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls or answer individual requests. Send questions to her in care of Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at Please include your name and city of residence.

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