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What Makes a Healthful Recipe?

All of my healthful recipes fit into the Modified DASH Diet that Dr. Mirkin recommends for total health (to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, control weight and prevent or control diabetes):

Up to 8 servings of WHOLE grains (serving size is 1/2 cup)
At least 5 Vegetables
At least 5 Fruits
Up to 3 servings of fat free dairy products
Seafood
Beans or legumes
Nuts and other seeds
Olive oil (optional)
No added sugars (especially if diabetic or trying to lose weight)

My healthful recipes are based on these ingredients. Beyond that, they must be--
1. Easy.
2. Delicious
3. Filling and satisfying.
If a new recipe doesn't meet those tests, out it goes.

Healthful ingredients. My recipes are meant to help everyone enjoy more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Diabetics and people who are trying to lose weight or lower cholesterol need to avoid refined grains, sugar and calorie-dense foods such as added fats, meat and eggs, so I don't use them. Here's what you'll find in my recipes:

1. Lots of vegetables and beans. The more, the better. These contribute lots of nutrients, fiber, color, texture and flavor with very few calories.

2. WHOLE grains. Many of my recipes include whole grains or are served over whole grains. For more information on whole grains and whole grain products see The Good Food Book.

3. Fruits . Combining fruits with other ingredients is particularly important for diabetics, who need to watch how high blood sugar rises after meals. Eating fruits (and root vegetables) with other foods slows the release of their sugars into the bloodstream.

4. Seeds and nuts. These are dense sources of calories, but also important sources of omega-3 fatty acids and rich in other nutrients. If weight control is a concern, watch the portion size.

5. Seafood. If you're a strict vegetarian, you will want to skip my recipes that include seafood. For the rest of us, deep water fish and shellfish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and many other nutrients.

6. Little or no added fats. Perhaps a drizzle of olive oil, but you won't see margarine, butter or other added fats in my recipes. I think everyone should avoid any food that contains partially hydrogenated oils ). Everyone except very active children and athletes should limit saturated fats. All oils are concentrated sources of calories, so if you are trying to lose weight or control cholesterol, they should be limited. The most healthful oils to use in salads or for low-temperature cooking (such as stir-frying) are olive oil or canola oil. Peanut oil, high in monounsaturated fat, is consdiered the best choice for high-temperature frying, but I don't recommend this except for very occasional lapses. Other vegetable oils are high in omega-6's and low in omega 3's.

7. Flavored liquids in place of plain water. See About Stock and Bouillon in the Recipe section.

8. Salt. My recipes almost never list salt as an ingredient, but I use a brand of bouillon that includes salt. This is your personal choice. I find the salted bouillon essential to make whole grains palatable. If you are restricting salt because you are concerned about blood pressure, read Salt is Not the Culprit. If you exercise intensely, particularly in hot weather, you need to replace salt.

9. No added sugars. A few of my recipes include a little sugar as an ingredient, but generally I try to use fruit where sweetness is needed. Artificial sweeteners are acceptable, but realize that they may increase your appetite .

10. No meat or chicken; limited fat-free dairy products.

11. Lots of herbs and spices. Experiment with these to add flavor to suit your taste. I like spicy foods! Herbs and spices are concentrated sources of phytochemicals that you may not get from your usual array of fruits and vegetables.

DASH Diet

Checked 9/13/12

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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