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Top tips for holiday cooking


“Healthy” and “holiday cooking” mix about as well as oil and water, but last Thursday the staff at Piedmont Mountainside Medical Hospital busted open that oxymoron with tips for a sugar-free, sodium-free yuletide meal perfect for diabetics or others with dietary restrictions.

The sounds and smell of cooking rosemary and garlic permeated the hospital cafeteria, where Chef “Sam,” along with a hospital dietician, physician and a local pharmacist were on site to demonstrate cooking and field questions from the room of Dinner and Discussion participants.


Questions from the audience were by and large related to sugar and sugar substitutes, but the conversation did deviate at times, resulting in tips that any cook, even those with no dietary restrictions, can benefit from.

Here are our favorite pointers  from the presentation and handout:

•Survey the food table before you take any food. Don’t waste calories on something you don’t really like.

•Eat your calories instead of drinking them. Stick to lower calorie drinks.

•Watch portion sizes. It’s okay not to fill your plate.

•Cooked pasta will stay good at least seven days in the fridge.

•If you don’t have a diet that restricts you from eating wheat, such as people with kidney problems or gluten intolerance, Chef Sam says always choose whole-wheat pasta for an instantly healthier dish.

•Don’t spend a fortune on colored sugar for your cookies or other confections. All you have to do is add one drop of food coloring per cup of sugar and shake together in a Ziploc bag.

•Oregano is a chef’s secret ingredient. Add it to soups, stews, Cole slaw or sauces to bring out the flavor of other ingredients.

•If you can’t or choose not to add sugar or salt to your sauces, try adding a whole or ground carrot to take out some of the acidity from the tomatoes.

•Mrs. Dash is a salt-free seasoning made from dried herbs, spices and vegetables. Chef Sam highly recommends the spice and used Mrs. Dash to season his Thanksgiving turkey over salt-based seasonings.

•Opened spices stored at room temperature will only last four months, but storing them in the freezer will lengthen their shelf life by years, especially if they remain sealed.

•Never store spices above the stove. The heat will make them lose flavor quicker.

•Sea salt is no better for you than regular salt, the dietician said, who noted that sea salt is less potent, which means you may use more.

•Frozen cake will last one year if sealed tightly.

•Following a question about the health benefits of Splenda, the dietician said she has yet to come across anything negative. Splenda is sugar that is chemically altered with chlorine to make it unabsorbable, and the dietician said she is not certain at this time what the long-term effects of chlorine are on the body. She did note there has been controversy about use of artificial sweeteners efficacy in promoting weight loss.

•Stevia (which is also marketed under the name Truvia) is a plant and is safer than Splenda, although not as sweet, according to the dietician.                                   

•Raw sugar and honey are not any healthier than regular sugar, the dietician said.


•Chef Sam says the slower you bake cakes or cook meat the better. Moisture is lost in the cooking process if cooked at a high heat.

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