Tips for Enjoying Southern Cooking on a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet

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Warren Price Photography, istockphoto

Fried chicken, candied yams, veggies flavored with a variety of seasonings, buttered rolls – cuisine in the southern United States is characterized by a lot flavorful dishes. Unfortunately, some of the common staples found in Southern cuisine is also laden in saturated fat, which can affect your cholesterol if you regularly include these foods in your diet. You can preserve the flavor in many of your favorite Southern foods without significantly sacrificing on taste.

These healthy tips will show you how to modify your favorite Southern dishes to make them more cholesterol-friendly.

Say “No” to Fried Foods

Southern cuisine has its fair share of healthy dishes – but it is also notorious for deep frying some of its foods, too. Deep frying foods can introduce trans fats into your diet – which has been linked to contributing to heart disease. The good news is that you can still enjoy the crispness of your favorite fried foods without introducing additional fat to your diet with a few healthy cooking techniques:

  • Coat your lean meats and vegetables in whole grain bread crumbs before placing in the oven to roast
  • Instead of using bread crumbs to add crispness, coat your pieces of lean meat with whole grain cornflakes or oatmeal before baking in the oven. 
  • Lightly brush the tops of your foods with olive or canola oil before placing in the oven to add a light crispness to them.
  • Some foods – such as vegetables or whole grain breads - will crisp beautifully in the oven or on the grill without adding anything to them.

Making Your Main Courses Healthier

Many popular Southern main courses and side dishes are chock-full whole grains, vegetables, proteins and fruit.  However, some of the ingredients that you add to these foods during the preparation process may increase the fat and sugar content in the dish when you are cooking them.

Here are some healthy tips for preparing some of your favorite staples in Southern cooking:

  • Some meats used in Southern cooking, such as beef or pork, can be high in saturated fat. In order to cut the amount of fat introduced into the meal, try substituting a leaner protein – such as chicken, turkey, or even a soybean-based product. If beef or pork are desired, make sure that you select leaner portions and cut away any excess fat before you cook them.
  • Many gravies are made from the fat drippings that come from the meat you are cooking, which is a source of saturated fat. Minimize your consumption of these, if possible. Alternatively, you can place the gravy in a separate dish on the side – instead of drenching your foods in them.
  • Instead of using white bread to make your dressing, use whole grain bread. This will reduce the amount of refined sugars introduced into your diet and increase your fiber intake.
  • When preparing your foods, minimize – or completely cut out – butter. You can substitute a small amount of phytosterol spread or oil, such as vegetable oil, to cook with, if needed.
  • Fruit and sweet potatoes are low in saturated fat and are chock-full of fiber. Instead of peppering this sweet food with more sugar, there are several alternatives you can use that will not add calories to the dish. For instance, you can add healthy spices, such as cinnamon, or fruit. You can also combine these with other fruit pieces to bring out their sweetness.
  • "Creaming" your veggies, or adding sour or heavy creams to your vegetables, is a cooking technique that is used to add thickness to the dish.  Unfortunately, you are also adding saturated fat to these otherwise healthy foods. If you want to add a little richness to your veggies – without adding a significant amount of fat, you can add low-fat varieties of cream, a dollop of Greek yogurt, or a pat of phytosterol-rich spread.
  • Do experiment with your favorite spices. Spices such as pepper, paprika, sage, and rosemary will liven up your dish without adding calories or fat to your vegetables.

There are many ways to experiment. 

Watch Your Portion Sizes

Southern-inspired cuisine incorporates a variety of delicious foods – so not only will you encounter a lot of choices, you will also have a lot of food heaped on your plate. While it’s nice to try many of your favorite foods, you should not go overboard with consuming everything in one meal.

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