If you think your favorite recipes require unhealthy ingredients, you may find you are just reaching for these items out of habit.

            Getting rid of the white flour, white sugar, and hydrogenated fats in recipes challenges many health oriented people; now there is a television show called “Recipe Rehab” which does just that.  It usually consists of a family hooked on some kind of junk food they think they could never give up.  The two chefs compete to see which one can rehabilitate the recipe making it a healthful food the family will like as well as the original.

        If you think your favorite recipes require unhealthy ingredients, you may find you are just reaching for these items out of habit.  Chefs Vikki Krinsky and Richard Rosendale can teach us a thing or two about rehabbing recipes.  If you and your family have a problem giving up some special food, perhaps you would like to try some rehabbing tricks.

             You can get creative in getting the white sugar out of a recipe.  Chef Richard says he tries to keep an eye on his kids’ sugar intake and replaces unhealthy, refined sugars with natural sources like agave nectar, honey, and maple syrup.  On a personal note, I like fruit as sweetener.  Ripe bananas are good and dried figs, soaked and blended well in a blender can sweeten baked products.  The liquids need to be reduced.  I prefer fruits to the sweeteners because they contain vitamins, minerals and lots of fiber.  One advantage of honey, besides it not being processed with chemicals like white sugar, it is twice as sweet as sugar; you only have to use half as much to obtain similar sweetness.  Stevia can also be used in many recipes, especially lemonade, and herbal teas.  If using stevia, only use a drop to begin because it is very sweet and if you use too much you ruin whatever you are adding it to.  You can always add more but you can’t take it out if you get too much.

            You can replace cream with cashews.  Instead of adding heavy cream to thicken soups, sauces and gravies, use raw unsalted cashews.  Simply soak them in warm water for 20 minutes, put into a blender with enough water to cover them, and blend until smooth.  Use equal amounts of “cashew cream” to replace cream in recipes.  Cashews are a great thickening agent and you will get a dose of heart-healthy fats.

I would only use this one if I was unable to get good fertile eggs from locally grown healthy chickens. Unlike mass marketed eggs, I believe good eggs are healthful.  However, if you are vegan, or for any reason want to do away with eggs in a recipe, Chef Vikki swaps chicken eggs for “chia eggs”.  Chia seeds are very healthy containing lots of omega-3 fatty acids and other good things.  Simply mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water until fluffy for each egg in the recipe.   .

            Avocados have gained attention as one of the healthiest foods on earth.  One health enthusiastic doctor said if he could have only one vegetable, he would choose avocados.  They are super nutritious and contain the best quality fats. "If you think fat is the enemy, think again," says Chef Richard. His simple advice: “Replace the unhealthy, saturated fats with healthy plant-based sources. Swapping avocado for the lard, butter, or shortening will add the same creamy texture and a dose of heart-healthy, monounsaturated fats to your baked goods.”

            If you are a fan of chocolate, in brownies or cake, you may be able to have your cake and still have your health.  The trick is to cut out the refined white flour, which is nothing but empty calories and devoid of nutrition.  Chef Richard recommends using black beans for the base of chocolate desserts instead of the flour.  It is a sneaky way to add fiber and protein, and still get a gooey, fudge-like consistency.  When baking, swap out 1 cup of flour for 1 cup black beans that have been pureed in a blender (about a 15 ounce can).

            Greek yogurt has almost the same texture and flavor as sour cream.  In dishes that call for a dollop, use Greek yogurt and you will slash the fat and calories in half and add a protein boost to favorite recipes.  Personally, I like it on baked sweet potatoes.

            Looking for new ways to add more avocados? If you like chocolate pudding, the following recipe would be a great substitute for the instant stuff. 


 Combine in a food processor or blender:  2 avocados, 1 ripe banana, ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ cup dates, pitted, soaked in water for a few hours and drained, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.  Combine all ingredients in processor until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Transfer to a bowl or individual serving bowls and chill for several hours before serving.


(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)