As New Year’s resolution season approaches, many of us are thinking about food and our health. And luckily, we’ve got an early start from Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H., and his co-authors at the Mayo Clinic, who have just finished a new edition of The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat Well. Enjoy life. Lose Weight (on the shelves in 2010).

For more than 100 years, millions of people from all walks of life have found answers at the Mayo Clinic, the first and largest integrated, not-for-profit group practice in the world. As the clinic’s manifesto explains, “Doctors from every medical specialty work together at Mayo to care for patients, joined by common systems and a philosophy that the needs of the patient come first. ”

Over 3,600 physicians and scientists and 50,000 allied staff work at Mayo’s sites in Rochester, Minn., Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Collectively, Mayo Clinic treats more than 500,000 patients a year. Mayo Clinic works with many insurance companies, does not require a physician referral in most cases and is an in-network provider for millions of people. Expect a review of the book shortly; in the meantime, the excerpt below, from Dr. Hensrud, can get us all started.

Healthy cooking doesn’t mean you have to become a gourmet chef or invest in special cookware. Simply use standard cooking methods to prepare foods in healthy ways. You can also adapt familiar recipes by substituting other ingredients for fat, sugar and salt.

Use these methods: These best capture the flavor and retain the nutrients in your food, without adding too much fat or salt.

• Baking. Besides breads and desserts, you can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, and vegetable and fruit pieces of the same size. Place food in a pan or dish (covered or uncovered) and bake. You may need to baste the food with broth, low-fat marinade or juice to keep the food from drying out.

• Braising. Braising involves browning the meat or poultry first in a pan on top of the stove, and then slowly cooking it covered with a small amount of liquid, such as water or broth. In some recipes, the cooking liquid is used afterward to form a flavorful, nutrient-rich sauce.

• Grilling and broiling. Both grilling and broiling expose fairly thin pieces of food to direct heat and allow fat to drip away from the food. If you’re grilling outdoors, place smaller items, such as chopped vegetables, in a long-handled grill basket or on foil to prevent pieces from slipping through the rack. To broil indoors, place food on a broiler rack below a heat element.

• Poaching. To poach foods, in a covered pan gently simmer ingredients in water or a flavorful liquid, such as broth, vinegar or juice, until cooked through and tender. For stove-top poaching, choose an appropriate-sized covered pan and use a minimum amount of liquid.

• Roasting. Roasting uses an oven’s dry heat at high temperatures to cook the food on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. For poultry, seafood and meat, place a rack inside the roasting pan so that the fat can drip away during cooking.

• Sautéing. Sautéing quickly cooks small or thin pieces of food. If you choose a good-quality nonstick pan, you can cook food without using fat. Depending on the recipe, use low-sodium broth, cooking spray, water or wine in place of oil or butter.

• Steaming. One of the simplest cooking techniques to master is steaming food in a perforated basket suspended above simmering liquid. If you use a flavorful liquid or add herbs to the water, you’ll flavor the food as it cooks.

• Stir-frying. Stir-frying quickly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food while they’re rapidly stirred in a wok or large nonstick frying pan. You need only a small amount of oil or cooking spray for this cooking method.

Find new ways to add flavor.

Instead of salt or butter, you can enhance foods with a variety of herbs, spices and low-fat condiments. Be creative.

Poach fish in low-fat broth or wine and fresh herbs. Top a broiled chicken breast with fresh salsa. Make meats more flavorful with low-fat marinades or spices — bay leaf, chili powder, dry mustard, garlic, ginger, green pepper, sage, marjoram, onion, oregano, pepper or thyme.

To bring out the sweetness in baked goods, use a bit more vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg.

Adapting recipes: If the recipe calls for….

Butter, oil, margarine or shortening:

• For sandwiches, substitute tomato slices, catsup or mustard.

• For stove-top cooking, sauté food in broth or small amounts of healthy oil like olive, canola or peanut, or use non-stick spray.

• In marinades, substitute diluted fruit juice, wine or balsamic vinegar.

• In cakes or bars, replace half the fat or oil with the same amount of applesauce, prune puree or commercial fat substitute.

• To avoid dense, soggy or flat baked goods,  substitute oil for butter or shortening, or substitute diet, whipped or tub-style margarine for regular margarine.

  • Meat: Keep it lean. In soup, chili or stir-fry, replace most of the meat with beans or vegetables. As an entrée, keep it to no more than the size of a deck of cards; load up on vegetables.
  • Whole milk (regular or evaporated): Fat free or 1% milk, or evaporated skim milk.
  • Whole egg (yolk and white): 1/4 cup egg substitute or 2 egg whites for breakfast or in baked goods.
  • Sour cream + cream cheese: Use fat-free, low-fat or light varieties in dips, spreads, salad dressings and toppings. (Fat-free, low-fat and light varieties do not work well for baking.)
  • Sugar: In most baked goods, you can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half without affecting texture or taste, but use no less than 1/4 cup of sugar for every cup of flour to keep items moist.
  • White flour: Replace half or more of white flour with whole grain pastry or regular flour.
  • Salt: Use herbs (1 tbsp. fresh = 1 tsp. dried = 1/4 tsp. powder). Add toward the end of cooking and use sparingly — you can always add more. Salt is required when baking yeast-leavened items. Otherwise, you may reduce salt by half in cookies and bars. Not needed when boiling pasta.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat Well. Enjoy life. Lose Weight, by the weight-loss experts at Mayo Clinic and Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H. Dr. Hensrud is chair of the Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine and a consultant in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. He is also an associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at the clinic’s College of Medicine. A specialist in nutrition and weight management, Dr. Hensrud advises individuals on how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. He conducts research in weight management, and he writes and lectures widely on nutrition-related topics.

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