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Bean Cookies? Okra Fudge?

Low-fat substitutes can still mean tasty holiday baked goods

SUNDAY, Dec. 23, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If Santa is lucky this year, maybe he'll find bean-laden cookies, pawpaw muffins, okra brownies or tofu fudge left for him at the fireplace by good little girls and boys.

They'd be the kids who are up on the newest substitutes available to lower fat and cholesterol levels in popular holiday goodies so Santa can reduce that belly, as well as his risk of Type II diabetes and other serious health conditions.

Kim Galeaz, a registered dietitian from Indianapolis and consultant to the American Dry Bean Board, is among those who tout making as many substitutions for artery-hardening fats as possible in holiday baking. And her substitute of choice is, no surprise, beans.

"Beans of all types can be pureed in the blender and used in place of traditional fats such as butter or oil in many Christmas recipes," she says. "In muffins and cookies, beans work particularly well and don't affect the taste, texture or appearance of the final product."

"I bake a delicious crispy chickpea cookie using a can of beans to replace half the fat," she adds. "This makes a tremendous difference in the fat content of each cookie. Although it's hard to get rid of all the fat in goodies, it just makes sense to get rid of as much as you can."

Joelle Romanchik-Cerpovicz, an associate professor of nutrition and food science at Georgia Southern University, is working on perfecting a similar use for okra in chocolate brownies.

A couple of years ago, Romanchik-Cerpovicz began experimenting with okra exudates -- that oily-looking substance the vegetable gives off when it's boiled -- as a substitute for butter in making the popular chewy dessert. The result was a virtually fat-free treat -- it contains less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, a huge improvement over the 6.6 grams of fat in a typical brownie, she says.

The Georgia Southern students who served as her experimental tasters liked them too, rating their color, smell, texture, moistness, flavor and aftertaste as acceptable.

Not surprisingly, however, many of the students did give higher scores to the much higher-fat, traditional brownie. This prompted the professor to continue her research, but it does gives her faith she's on the right track.

"This could be a very significant finding for people concerned about the risks of high fat foods," Romanchik-Cerpovicz says. "If people keep an open mind, I believe they can get used to fat-free products. They're not going to taste exactly the same, but they can be tasty and satisfying -- and much, much healthier."

Idaho State University professor and registered dietitian Linda Rankin agrees.

Rankin has been successful in substituting pureed tofu for butter in fudge.

"In a 9-by-13 inch pan of the candy, my research team has been able to remove one-and-a-half sticks of butter," she says. "That's a lot of fat."

Idaho students who sampled Rankin's creations had much the same reaction as Romanchik-Cerpovicz's -- the tofu fudge was acceptable, but the dangerous, buttery fudge got the higher rating. Which neither surprised nor disappointed Rankin. "The team is pleased the fudge passed every taste test," she says. "It shows we're on the right track."

Rankin notes that tofu has other merits as well. "In addition to replacing the fat in the fudge, soy bean-based tofu adds calcium and protein to this dessert. Both have important nutritional benefits," she says.

As do pawpaws for that matter.

Pawpaws are mango-like fruits that grow in eastern North America. They taste like a mango mated with a banana. Melanie Dufrin, an assistant professor of human and consumer sciences at Ohio State University, has recently succeeded in substituting pureed pawpaw for the vegetable oil in muffin recipes.

Her student guinea pigs actually rated muffins made with pawpaw as better-tasting than traditional muffins.

"I believe people might consciously chose a low-fat product if we can make it taste as good -- or even almost as good -- as a full-fat product," Dufrin says. "Certainly the pawpaw muffins don't sacrifice taste when they lose their fat content. That's very promising."

Galeaz says the quest for good-tasting fat substitutes isn't new. Prunes and apple sauce, she says, have been used by fat-conscious cooks for decades. What is new, she adds, is that the demand for reduced-fat foods is growing.

"The increase in diabetes and heart conditions is putting the spotlight on the need to cut out as much unnecessary fat from the American diet as possible," she says. "Fat is an important part of a balanced diet, but the increase in obesity and its associated health conditions mean that we consume far, far too much of it. Whenever beans, apple sauce, prunes or some other substitute is used, they can make an important difference."

What to Do: To learn more about fat-free and low-fat baking with substitutes, visit the American Dry Bean Board Web site, or the How Stuff Works site.

SOURCES: Interviews with Kim Galeaz, R.D., Indianapolis, consultant to the American Dry Bean Board; Linda Rankin, Ph.D., Idaho State University professor and registered dietitian; Joelle Romanchik-Cerpovicz, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and food science, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro; Melanie Dufrin, Ph.D., assistant professor of human and consumer sciences, Ohio State University, Columbus
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