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Oct 31, 2012 12:30 PM

The short-sightedness/foolishness of some cookbook authors

I never fail to be impressed--negatively--at the silliness and short-sightedness of some cookbook authors.

Case in point: a recipe that appeared in a second-tier, major-metro-area newspaper this past weekend, for a black bean dip to serve 8.

The recipe is garnished with sour cream--1/4 cup. The author of this recipe is a host of a TV cooking show, and her credit lists one cookbook (there could be more, of course).

The author calls for *reduced fat* sour cream. 1/4 cup divided by 8 servings means an average of 1/2 tablespoon per serving.

Figuring 60 calories per T of regular sour cream, and perhaps 10 calories per T of reduced-fat sour cream, that means that using the reduced calorie sour cream saves a whopping 25 calories! Total. And all that substitution costs is taste.....

I've seen lots of short-sightedness of this kind with cookbook authors--limiting the amount of fat, and salt, often when the amount of fat, or salt, per serving, is minimal. Sad.

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  1. In many cases, I think this is more about the author recognizing that some people just need to see low/reduced fat in order to be interested in a recipe. While many people who aren't afraid of fat will just think "well, I'll just use regular sour cream."

    I know quite a few people who will make anything they see labeled as low-fat, and they usually seem more interested in how it's low-fat than how it tastes. "I made this dessert with fat-free cool whip, fat-free egg beaters, and splenda!! It only has 1 gram of fat per serving!!"

    3 Replies
    1. re: bluex

      Somewhat OT, but I do understand the OP's point when he says, "...all that substitution costs is taste.....".

      I used to make batches of Habanero Basil Mayonnaise. That stuff was HOT. I had to wear gloves and point a fan at my face because the fumes were too much to breathe. Finally I got the idea to use low fat mayo (which I normally loathe) to cut some calories and it tasted fine. Then I had the bright idea to use fat free mayo so I could have a guilt free version of my favorite condiment. Win-win, right? It was VILE. Not even habaneros could hide the taste of that foul fat-free mayonnaise. I had to throw the whole batch away.

      1. re: bluex

        Exactly, bluex.

        People also don't understand that dairy products that remove or reduce fat often add other substances that are not in the full fat version in order to give it a desirable texture.

        1. re: taos

          Plus, for example, when you remove fat from, say, milk, you are concentrating the sugar in the milk.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. I agree that Fat Free cream cheese does not taste very good. In fact, I find a lot of diet drinks taste horrible. I much rather drink water than diet Coke. Really.

          That being said, I understand that some people really need to cut their calories. Looking at our country (USA) average weight, where 2/3 of the adults are OVER-weight, I say it is not a bad movement. We also need to keep in mind that we are reducing the 25 calories of fat to 0. 25 to 0 is a lot. Of course, cutting on just one recipe is useless. If you want to cut fat, then it is important to reduce fat from all the recipes. Yet, we cannot simply say that "And all that substitution costs is taste". If you make one excuse here and one excuse there, then you won't get anything done.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            OTOH, you could save a LOT of calories by just foregoing the stuff entirely, or taking only 1/2 of a "normal" portion.

            <rant mode: on> I'm constantly surprised and amazed at the stupid things people do, eating-wise. For expl, I know a fellow who;'s a PhD psychologist. I was at dinner with him the other day., at an Italian rest. This fellow has recently started VISIBLY gaining wgt. Nevertheless, he requested a ginger-ale with his dinner--not low-cal, but normal calorie--then had another one. (I cannot imagine drinking a sugary beverage with a meal--wouldn't it kill the taste?) And as his side dish, he requested spaghetti with tomato sauce! Spaghetti is a refined carb, so not so healthy for you--and not especially high in taste, either (why not just eat the sauce and skip the pasta???).

            1. re: Howard_2

              <OTOH, you could save a LOT of calories by just foregoing the stuff entirely, or taking only 1/2 of a "normal" portion. >

              True. But everyone has a different diet plan. Some people are about cutting total calories, some are about reducing fat, while others are about reducing salt intake.

              1 cup of whole milk has 146 calories, 8 g of total fat, and 8 g of proteins. 1 cup of nonfat milk has 83 calories, 0 g of fat, and 8 g of protein. So drinking nonfat milk can get the person the same amount of proteins, most of the calories, but none of the fat. For a person who is worry about total fat or saturated fat, say someone who has high cholesterol, this is a very important diet.


              Simply foregoing does not always work, same thing about taking 1/2 portion. A person may simply want to reduce fat intake without reducing protein intake, right?

              I do agree with you that sometime people do make irrational decisions, like reducing salt in the home meal and only to eat a bag of potato chips later.

              1. re: Howard_2

                I would just like to say that I have recently lost 41 pounds in the past year, and 50+ overall, all while eating pasta at least once a week. Now, that's a small 2oz portion of pasta, I'm sure not like what your friend ordered. But, I would never consider ordering a sauce without pasta. Might as well just go without it altogether.

                But, having been that person who gained weight, a lot of it, but still ate like crap, there could be all kinds of other stuff going on there that you don't know about....emotionally, psychologically. I'm a smart person too, but I made a couple years' worth of really bad food choices due to some other issues in my life, and that piled on 50+ pounds.

                In regards to the OP, many people were taught for a very long time that "fat is bad"... so they always eat low fat everything. My mother eats margarine instead of butter, because it's lower in fat (although not that much lower)... never mind all the other weird chemical crap that's in margarine vs butter. For people who are learning to eat healthy, getting out of that "must eat low fat" frame of mind is really hard, when that's what they were taught for so many years. I recently added in full fat foods back into my meal plans, as I'm trying to maintain my weight and found it difficult... I kept losing. So, those extra few calories that I get from full fat vs low/no fat add up over the course of the day and help me get up to the calorie intake I need. One thing I never gave up though was full fat cheese... low/no fat cheeses are one of the more disgusting things available...blech!

                But, if you're on a 1200 calorie diet, which many people who are trying to lose weight are, even 25 calories can make a difference when figuring out what to eat. 25 calories here and there adds up.

                1. re: juliejulez

                  < My mother eats margarine instead of butter, because it's lower in fat>

                  Just to clarify. I am pretty sure the whole margarine vs butter diet was not about lower fat, but lower cholesterol intake.


                  The reason is that butter is from animal fat which has cholesterol. Vegetable oils do not have cholesterol, but they are liquid at room temperature. So how can we make vegetable oils to have the same feel and taste as butter? To make vegetable oils more like butter (solid), they undergo hydrogenization and become what we call margarine. The fat is still there in the margarine, but the idea is that cholesterol is not there.

                  Margarine got a bad reputation due to the transfat content, and we now are fairly certain that transfat is worse than dietary cholesterol for coronary heart diseases. That being said, many modern margarine brand you can buy in the store do not have transfat anymore.

                  Cholesterol intake is a very different topic than fat intake. Just so everyone is on the same page. Fat free sour cream is not like margarine. Fat free sour cream is more like fat free milk. Nothing is added.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Sorry, you are correct, it is not lower in fat, but in cholesterol, and saturated fat. Either way, she doesn't have an issue with cholesterol so I don't see any reason for her to use margarine. But, that's what she's been using for years (she's in her 60s) and is definitely still in the "low fat" is better mentality. But I'm also someone who likes to use whole non-processed ingredients as much as possible...heck I'd make my own butter if I had the time :) I only made the switch to low fat stuff when I was trying to lose weight, and when you're only "allowed" 1200-1500 calories a day, every little calorie counts.

                    Also certain low-fat items are not even lower in calories. I noticed it lately with Graham Crackers. The low-fat version of graham crackers has 2 grams of fat per serving, but 140 calories. The regular version has 3 grams of fat, but 130 calories. I just buy the regular kind... 1 gram of fat is not worth it to eat the cardboard that is low-fat graham crackers... the regular ones are cardboardy enough (compared to homemade).

                    1. re: juliejulez

                      this is referred to in some articles as "the Snackwell effect" -- after the Snackwell cookies that made the most of the low-fat craze in the early 90s.

                      Yes, they were low-fat -- but they had more sugar and calories than the "regular" versions of the same cookies!

                      (and so people began to *gain* wait while speed-eating Snackwells, feeling oh-so-righteous because they were FAT FREE)

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Didn't Snackwells come out in the '80s? I associate them with a friend I met in 1983 who was always on some diet or other -- still is.

                      2. re: juliejulez

                        <she doesn't have an issue with cholesterol so I don't see any reason for her to use margarine>

                        Probably not. I think you are correct that she should probably switch back to butter.

                        <But I'm also someone who likes to use whole non-processed ingredients as much as possible>


                        <Also certain low-fat items are not even lower in calories>

                        Absolutely agree. I think it is important to look at the big picture, and understand where we are and where we are going. I agree with sunshine (below). Sometime we have to not simply look at "fat free". Some fat-free foods have more sugar. Is that better? Well, it depends. For most people, it is probably better to have slightly higher fat, then higher sugar. For others like people who have high cholesterol, it may be better to reduce saturate fat intake even if the sugar is more.

                  2. re: Howard_2

                    Why not just enjoy your meal and let your dining companion enjoy his without being so judgemental?

                  3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Another consideration is the fact that fat in your gut slows down digestion and hunger. So eating some fat may in the long(er) run cut down on the calories you consume.

                    1. re: Howard_2

                      <fat in your gut slows down digestion >

                      I think you mean "gastric emptying". I am in the health related research -- just for disclosure.

                      Agree if we are only talking about straight calories -- straight energy intake, but everyone has a different diet plan. I personally have no health issue, and would follow your suggested routine (simply eat less). However, for people who have health issues like high cholesterol level, then it is a different story.

                  4. I completely agree with you. And many doctors, dieticians, chefs/cookbook authors do as well.

                    What I've been told personally from reputable sources as well as read? That while some "reduced fat" products can be "okay", the "fat-free" stuff is horrible & in some cases close to poison. Ever look at the ingredient list on this stuff? I'd rather have the fat thank you very much, & the vast majority of health professionals agree.

                    Unless you're sucking down copious amounts of sour cream, mayo, butter, etc., etc. on a daily basis, I don't see anything wrong with using the real thing. But then, I'm a HUGE disciple of the "Everything in Moderation" crowd.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Bacardi1

                      <What I've been told personally from reputable sources as well as read? That while some "reduced fat" products can be "okay", the "fat-free" stuff is horrible & in some cases close to poison.>

                      We are talking about nonfat diary, like nonfat sour cream and nonfat milk. Can you explain to us or cite reputable sources which explain nonfat milk being close to poison? I am in the research community for years, and have never heard of this claim.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Right. Nonfat milk has the fat removed but doesn't have anything added (although some reduced fat milk has milk solids added to give it more body). It's not poison.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          No, it isn't poison, but when you remove the fat you raise the percentage of sugar in the milk, so you are ingesting more sugar and also aren't consuming the fat that would normally slow down the sugar uptake.

                      2. re: Bacardi1

                        Did you know that there is a zero calorie alfredo sauce, mayonaise, peanut spread? Walden Farms makes all types of zero calorie products. Scary.... no?


                        1. re: Vidute

                          Have you tried any of them? God awful stuff

                          1. re: foodieX2

                            back when i was stupid. and, yes, horrible!

                          2. re: Vidute

                            Are they by chance selling empty jars?

                            1. re: sandylc

                              at least the air in the jars would be natural and tasty. :)

                        2. Figuring 60 calories per T of regular sour cream, and perhaps 10 calories per T of reduced-fat sour cream, that means that using the reduced calorie sour cream saves a whopping 25 calories! Total. And all that substitution costs is taste.....

                          25 calories here, another 25 calories over there ... and before you know it, you've saved yourself 100 to 200 calories. Which, for some people, is a midday snack.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            200 calories from a 2000 calorie a day diet is a 10% reduction - so it can make a difference.

                            I personally agree that fat-free things like sour cream and yoghurt are pretty gross - I'd rather do without than substitute.

                            And I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around fat free mayonaise. Mayo, in its classic form, is mainly egg yolk and *oil*. Fat free mayo, therefore, must be some sort of chemical concoction that vaguely re-creates the texture of real mayo, without actually using its main ingredient. Same with fat free cream cheese.

                            I think that's where the 'poison' part comes from, up thread. Skim milk is milk with the fat removed - that's pretty benign. Fat free yoghurt/sour cream/cream cheese/butter, however, aren't simply a matter of taking away the fat - they have to put a whole lot of other stuff back in to try to re-produce the original food.


                            I just did some searching, and this is an ingredient list for a fat free mayo (this is a US listing, so in order of the quantity of the ingredients)

                            Water,Corn Syrup,Distilled White Vinegar,Modified Corn Starch,Sugar,Egg Yolks,Salt,Cellulose Gel,Lactic Acid,Cellulose Gum,Titanium Dioxide,Xanthan Gum,Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate As Preservatives,Whey Protein Concentrate (Milk),Mustard Flour,Natural Flavors,Whey (Milk),Lemon Juice Concentrate,Cottonseed Oil,Soybean Oil,Soy Lecithin,Mono And Diglycerides,Tocopherol (Antioxidant),Calcium Disodium Edta Added To Protect Flavor, Spices,Turmeric,Corn Maltodextrin,Gum Arabic,Extractives Of Paprika,Sodium Ascorbate,Beta Carotene. Contains Egg,Milk,Soybeans.

                            and the list for a 'real' mayo

                            Soybean Oil, Water, Egg Yolk, Distilled Vinegar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, salt, spices, calcium Disodium. natural Flavors.

                            (When I make mayo at home, the ingredients are

                            Oil, egg yolk, lemon juice, water, salt)

                            So when you do fat free, you're basically swapping oil for corn syrup, and adding a bunch of other stuff for texture/flavour. Interestingly, it's not really fat free, as oil is listed as an ingredient for the fat free version, but far enough down the ingredient list that it doesn't count.

                            For fat free cream cheese, the lists are

                            Cultured Skim Milk Solids*, Cultured Skim Milk, Calcium Caseinate*, Salt, Sugar*, Titanium Dioxide (Color)*, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Stabilizers (Carob Bean And/Or Xanthan And/Or Guar Gums And/Or Carrageenan)**, Potassium Sorbate And Calcium Propionate (As Preservatives)*, Corn Syrup Solids*, Modified Food Starch*, Enzymes, Vitmain A Palmitate. *Ingredient Not In Regular Cream Cheese. **Ingredient In Excess Of Amount Allowed In Regular Cream Cheese.

                            And for regular

                            Pasteurized Nonfat Milk And Milkfat, Cheese Culture, Salt, Stabilizers (Xanthan And/Or Carob Bean And/Or Guar Gums).

                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                              Isn't fat-free yoghurt just made with skimmed milk?

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                My understanding is that fat free yogurt has all kinds of artificial stabilizers, etc. to make it seem more "creamy"...


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Fat free yogurt doesn't HAVE to have additives, but it often does. Most of the better Greek yogurts don't, though. I make my own yogurt at home using whatever milk I have around (often skim) and I don't add anything to it other than starter culture. The thing that I hate about store-bought yogurt is how much SUGAR they add to it - it's basically impossible to find any fruit-flavored yogurt that isn't also chock full of sugar. I make my own and add my own fruit compotes to it, lightly sweetened with Sweetzfree.

                                2. re: greedygirl

                                  I happen to have some fat-free Yoplait yogurt here with me at work, in the "lemon cream pie" flavor. I don't even like yogurt that much at all, and can't stomach full fat versions (texture) and I hate drinking milk, so I'm left w/ this to get some more calcium in my diet. Anyway, here's the ingredient list:

                                  Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat milk, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate added to maintain Freshness, Acesulfame Potassium, Colored with Turmeric Extract, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.

                                  I also have some Cascade Fresh brand fat free yogurt in "key lime" flavor. It's 20 more calories than the Yoplait, and I can't stand the texture of this brand, it's too much like regular yogurt. But, here's the ingredients list:

                                  Grade A Pasteurized Nonfat milk, fruit juice concentrate, limes, tapioca, pectin, natural flavor, active cultures.

                                  So, not all fat free yogurts have all the chemical ingredients like Dairy Queen mentioned, but at least for me, I can definitely tell the difference. The Yoplait with the stuff to make it "creamy" is palatable for me, whereas the kind without is not.

                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                    I only ever buy plain Greek-style yoghurt. The lower-fat version is made with semi-skimmed milk. The 0% version (which I don't buy because I prefer full-fat or reduced fat versions) is made with skimmed millk. It's the flavoured stuff that has loads of additives, including a ton of sugar.

                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                      +1 I don't see any additives on my 0% fat Greek yogurt.

                                    2. re: juliejulez

                                      "so I'm left w/ this to get some more calcium in my diet."
                                      You actually have other choices to get calcium into your diet.

                                      Try leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, sardines, almonds, and other things.

                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                        juliejulez, firstly, "natural flavors" are not natural (it's a legal labelling thing). Next, why buy all of the sweetened, flavored things? Why not plain Greek yogurt (no yoplait - get a good brand) at the fat level of your choice, and add your own toppings; maybe berries and honey?