It’s that time of year again: the time for fresh starts and New Year’s resolutions. Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m going to give up chips” or “I’ll cut out all sweets from my diet”? It’s common to go to extremes this time of year, pledging to make changes that are difficult to keep in the long run. Making smaller (and more realistic) changes that you can stick with will lead to long-term health improvement and reduction in cancer risk.
A good place to start is in the kitchen. You may have favorite meals or family recipes that you make time after time. Rather than making a resolution to cut back, make a resolution to add more nutrition to something you love. Pick a recipe to modify, and make it a project for you and a friend or family member.
One favorite of mine is coffee cake. My family has grown up eating blueberry coffee cake over the holidays. Sometimes we buy it from a bakery, other times we will make it ourselves. Traditional recipes are packed with sugar, butter, sour cream and white flour, making a breakfast that is high in calories and saturated fat.
However, a quick search on the internet for “healthy blueberry coffee cake” gives dozens of hits for versions of this popular breakfast using more nutritious ingredients.
This year we used whole wheat pastry flour in place of half of the white flour to add more fiber, and replaced sour cream with fat-free Greek yogurt to increase protein and cut calories. Lastly, we found a recipe that used two tablespoons butter and two tablespoons oil for the fat, rather than the usual half cup or more of butter required in most recipes. The topping was just walnuts, cinnamon, and a dash of sugar. These small changes made the recipe more nutritious, while maintaining the texture and taste I love.
When modifying a recipe, use low-fat versions of products like milk and cheese and add in whole grains. If you are making a dinner meal like lasagna, add in vegetables and cut out half the meat. Making ingredient swaps like this can help you get on track for cancer prevention without eliminating your favorite foods from your diet.
Tip: When you modify your own recipes, try one swap at a time so you can adjust it to your taste. Whole wheat products make a dish heartier tasting. Using applesauce instead of oil in baked goods (like cake) can make them moister and even slightly sweeter, allowing you to cut back a little on the sugar. As a rule of thumb, if you are replacing an ingredient start with replacing half of it with the healthier version.
How can you transform your favorite recipe into one that is cancer protective this year?
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.