One of the most frustrating things about learning to live a low-fat lifestyle is that you have no way of knowing which low-fat foods are good and which are not. We have discovered that many times when they take the fat out of a food product they increase the sweetness (I suppose they think to compensate). I can't count the number of bottles of salad dressings, etc., we have purchased that were grossly sweet and were promptly thrown away. The following are some of our "food discoveries" and some assessments we have made on when to use a low-fat version vs. the full-fat version.

Learn to drink non-fat milk. This one was a hard one for me since I had strong memories of my childhood when my mother made us drink non-fat milk made from powder. YUCK! But, since I drink a lot of milk, I knew that this would be an important one. And, surprisingly, after a week or so, I stopped noticing the difference. As a matter of fact, recently at a Music Festival I ordered milk, not thinking about it, and I was given whole milk. I couldn't drink it, it gagged me!

Use low-fat mayonnaise. Best Foods/Helmans Low-Fat Mayonnaise has 1 gram of fat per tablespoon. It is fine on sandwiches and mixed with strong tasting foods like tuna. A trick I learned was to mix equal parts low-fat mayonnaise with drained non-fat or low-fat yogurt. This really cuts the fat content of the mayonnaise and makes an excellent substitute for high fat mayonnaise in potato salad and other mayonnaise based salads.

Salad Dressings. Most of the creamy salad dressings, like ranch and blue cheese, can be successfully made with low-fat mayonnaise and non-fat sour cream. The only problem with them is that they do not hold well. I make just enough for one salad by using part of the dry ingredient from the packet and an approximate amount of the other ingredients. Oil and vinegar based salad dressings can be successful with half the oil called for in the recipe, using an equal amount of water for the oil you leave out, and then adding a small amount of sugar to compensate for the vinegar (taste as you add it). There are also some very good bottled salad dressings on the market (see product recommendations).

Balsamic Vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is a great salad dressing, all by itself. It is also great sprinkled on ripe tomatoes with shreds of basil on top.

Sour Cream. If we eat a dish where sour cream is an important taste ingredient (i.e. topping black beans), or in cooking, we use low-fat sour cream. If the sour cream is just an element (i.e. on a burrito), or an ingredient in non-cooked food, we use non-fat sour cream. Non-fat sour cream breaks down in cooking and essentially becomes water. Non-fat sour cream works well in dips if you mix it with equal parts drained yogurt. The yogurt gives the sour cream more texture.

Yogurt. Non-fat yogurt can become an essential ingredient in a low-fat lifestyle. Drained yogurt it is great for potato toppings, as a substitute for sour cream and as a "cheese" product. We purchased a "yogurt strainer", a V shaped object with fine mesh holes, that works great. We put the strainer over a 2 cup measuring cup, dump in the yogurt, and put in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours (for lightly drained yogurt), or over night (for yogurt cheese). Just be sure that you purchase yogurt made without gelatin. Yogurt with gelatin will not drain!

Roasted Garlic. We really missed butter on french bread when we first started living a low-fat lifestyle. Then I discovered that roasted garlic spread on french bread was just as good, if not better. And, when you have a few extra fat grams to spare and you want to really treat yourself, also spread on a dab of fresh goat cheese!

Low Fat Cheese. We find that most of the low fat cheeses (anywhere from 2.5-5 grams of fat per ounce) are an acceptable substitute for their high-fat counterparts. They work well in cooking and they melt well.

Non-Fat Cheese. We use non-fat cheeses when the cheese is a non-cooked ingredient in the recipe such as on burritos, etc. I usually buy it already shredded because I find trying to shred the stuff frustrating. It is like rubber!

Soft Cheeses. Soft cheeses like blue, gorgonzola, feta, etc. have less fat per ounce than hard cheeses (usually about 6-7 grams vs. 10 grams), and they generally are stronger tasting. We use these cheeses as taste accents because a little goes a long way. A favorite potato topping is 1/2 cup non-fat sour cream, 1/2 cup non or low-fat cottage cheese and about an ounce of gorgonzola blended in the blender. That makes about 1/2 cup topping each for two people, tastes great and is only about 3-4 grams of fat per serving.

Parmesan/Romano Cheeses. The hard grating cheeses again, are lower in fat, and because of their strong flavor go much further. A tablespoon of parmesan cheese is only about 2 grams of fat and adds a great taste boost to many foods.

Eat more vegetarian meals. Unless you use a lot of oil or load them up with cheese or cream sauces, it is very hard to make vegetarian meals anything other than low-fat!

Eggs. One egg contains 5 grams of fat. I have found that in most recipes that call for whole eggs, you can substitute an equal amount of egg whites (i.e. 1 egg usually equals about 2 egg whites). You can also use egg whites when a recipe calls for "egg substitute", since "egg substitute" is simply egg whites with some stabilizers and coloring in them! I have also found that when I really crave scrambled eggs, combining two egg whites with one whole egg produces scrambled eggs with very little taste difference.

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