As a weight loss surgery postop, you have things you look for in a recipe--like high protein content and low carb counts. You also have things you try to avoid--like sugar and high fat content. There are many ways to modify recipes in order to make them more WLS friendly. I hear so many people say "I'm no cook!" or "I'm not very creative." It can be pretty simple to change up an old favorite to make it a healthier choice. Here's a few tips I've gathered:
1) Add protein!
You can boost the protein content of a recipe by adding protein powder. When baking, you can replace flour with protein powder. When cooking other things, you can stir protein powder in to the liquid in the recipe as long as the temperature will not defeat the purpose. For example, adding protein powder to something that will be brought to a boil or simmered for a very long time is of no value as this will make the protein powder ineffective and can cause it to be grainy and just downright nasty at times. But, in cold recipes such as puddings, yogurts, things with cream and milk, etc, you can stir protein powder into the liquid before you add it to the recipe. Quite often the flavors of the dish will prevent the protein from being noticed!
2) Reduce Fat
The first thing to look at with fats are, of course, your meats. Choosing leaner cuts of meat can reduce fat and cholesterol. But, you can also try using other meats--such as turkey and chicken versions of things in place of beef or pork varieties. For example, turkey bacon, turkey pepperoni, and turkey sausage have much less fat than their "regular" counterparts. Try using ground chicken or ground turkey in place of ground beef. In many recipes you will not notice the difference in taste, but the calorie and fat differences can amaze you!
When baking, you can sometimes delete an ingredient from a recipe to reduce fats. You can also use a lesser amount--simply cut the amount in half. But, most often you'll have to replace it with a more suitable item. For example, you could replace lard with a healthy vegetable oil such as canola or olive oil. You might substitute unsweetened applesauce for all or part of the fat in a recipe. You can sometimes find a fruit based fat-replacer in the baking aisle of your grocery store.
You can also help reduce the fat content of a recipe by using low-fat, reduced-fat, and fat-free ingredients. But, please remember that a certain amount of fat is necessary in everyone's diet in order to keep your skin, hair and nails healthy! And, don't forget to read the labels on these lower fat, reduced fat and fat free items as sometimes the fat is replaced with sugary contents and they truly are not a healthier option.
3) Reduce cholesterol
Many WLS postops began their journey with high-cholesterol and have been battling that for a while. As the weight comes off, the blood cholesterol tends to improve, but it can't hurt to watch the cholesterol in the food you are eating. One great way to reduce cholesterol is eating leaner cuts of meat. We eat less of something, so why not buy a better cut of meat and savor the flavor! Or, try substituting ground turkey or chicken for ground beef or ground pork. Reducing fats, particularly saturated and trans fats is the first step. Another suggested way to cut cholesterol is to use an egg substitute such as Egg Beaters when cooking with eggs. Adding an omega-3 supplement (often fish oil) to your diet is also supposed to help reduce your cholesterol as can adding fiber (see fiber further down in this entry).
4) Reduce sugar
Reducing sugar can make a recipe more tolerable to the WLS postop as well as reduces calories in a recipe. You can do this in many ways. No one way works for ALL persons because we have different tastes and different things we tolerate. For those who simply wish to replace sugar and have no issues with sugar alcohols, replace the sugar in a recipe cup-for-cup with the Splenda granulated product that is sold in a bag. Walmart and Krogers both have a generic/store brand of this item available now. The Splenda in a bag (granulated) is NOT the same as the Splenda in the little packets as it has been "bulked" up so that it works in this cup-for-cup way. There is also a Splenda/sugar blend that can be used if you prefer, but it does not remove all the sugar from a recipe and is not going to reduce the calories as much as most prefer. If you do not care for Splenda, there are several other sugar replacement products on the market now--Equal, Sugar Twin, Sweet & Low, etc. Many of these have a baking version as well. If you can not tolerate sugar alcohols and are forced to use real sugar, you can often reduce the quantity of sugar and enhance the flavor by adding spices such as cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg and/or vanilla or almond flavoring.
A note regarding BROWN sugar--Splenda has a brown sugar version that is simply a mixture of Splenda and real brown sugar. It reduces, but does not eliminate the sugar in a recipe. And, it is expensive--$4.99 on average for a bag that is equivalent to 2 pounds of brown sugar (usually about $1.69 for the real brown sugar). You can make your own Splenda/brown sugar mixture by mixing equal amounts of Splenda granulated (the Splenda in a bag) and light or dark brown sugar. Mix 1 cup of brown sugar to 1 cup of Splenda and stir in an airtight container.
5) Add fiber!
Fiber is very important in EVERYONE'S diet--whether they've had WLS or not... It is recommended that you women eat 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day and men eat 30 to 38 grams of fiber per day in order to maintain regular bowel movements. As a WLS postop, it is hard to get this amount of fiber into your diet on a regular basis because we focus so greatly on getting in our protein each day. The further out you are, the easier it gets (for some) because you are able to eat a more varied diet as you eat a bit more food in a day's time. But, if you focus as much on the fiber as you do on the protein, it can help.
Fiber supplements are available in a wide array of options. There are fiber pills and capsules you can take. There are fiber powders you can stir into beverages and foods and even add when baking or cooking. BUT, too much of a good thing is not always better. It is possible that using more than necessary can actually cause constipation instead of helping keep you regular. It can be a delicate balance. For that reason, many WLS postops prefer to add fiber to their diet via real food. Good fiber choices are found in many forms! Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are your biggest fiber sources. A list of high fiber foods with rankings can be found here. An article on fiber from the Mayo Clinic can be found here.
6) Change how something is prepared
Sometimes the WAY something is cooked is as much to blame as the ingredients themselves. For example, a piece of chicken might be a perfectly healthy food choice. However, baking it with seasonings is a better option than flouring and frying it. Instead of frying, consider grilling, baking, boiling, broiling, steaming, or braising something. Instead of basting something with the fats/drippings, try using fruit/vegetable juice, wine, or vegetable broth. Instead of adding oil or fat to a skillet, consider using a non-stick pan or spraying the pan with a non-stick spray.
Another thing to consider is using less pre-packaged ingredients and replace them with fresh foods. Pre-packaged foods often have higher sodium, fat, and calories than their fresh food counterparts. And, the nutrients can be diminished in the packing process. The vitamin content in fresh veggies is better than that in canned items AND they just plain taste better!
7) Watch portion sizes
Many WLS postops admit that portion sizes as a preop were a big issue for them. "It wasn't WHAT I ate, but rather how much..." is a common quote. I know that I never really had any "trigger" or "binge" foods, but when I ate, I ate too much. It doesn't matter what you change, alter or delete from a recipe if you still eat too much of it. I often tell my hubby (who is overweight and a type 2 diabetic) that he can eat anything--in moderation. This is true after WLS as well. You can usually eat anything, but must do so in moderation, Even postops who dump from sugars and/or fats can usually eat those things in moderation. Therefore portion sizes are key! Portion sizes are also an important element in eating only till satiated, and not till you are overfull or make your self sick. Measure your food. Learn what a true portion is. This alone can be an eye opening experience! When you measure out what a package or recipe tells you is ONE PORTION, it is often MUCH less than you had previously imagined! Portion control is the #1 key to long-term management and maintenance of weight loss. You don't belong to the "clean plate club" anymore! Just because something is on your plate does not mean you have to finish it! Starving children in China will not be better off because you ate it all! If you are eating out, ask for a to-go box to take home the rest. If you are at home, put it away for later. Click HERE for an article from the AARP on portion control.
I often tell someone that I had this surgery in order to be "normal." What is normal? Well, to most folks, normal is just a setting on a clothes dryer! But, in this instance, "normal" is truly "what everyone else does." Normal people eat what they want, when they want. So, if I want chocolate, I eat chocolate. But, I eat a heck of a lot less of it than I did as a preop! If I want a muffin, I eat a muffin, but it has added protein and fiber! If I want steak, I eat steak. I pretty much eat what I want, but I am careful to watch my portion sizes and I prepare those foods as healthfully as possible. For these reasons, I don't eat out very often and when I do, I order what I want from the menu with no expectation of discounts due to my choice to have WLS. They didn't charge me more when I was fat! I order what I want and ask for a to-go box for the leftovers. Restaurant leftovers make great lunches! When I have a craving for something, I go ahead and eat it. I do not wait and wait till I want it so badly I could eat a whole plate or package of whatever it is. I am much more in control of what I eat this way. Everyone is different. Some postops choose to never, EVER again eat some foods. This could be because they feel it is not a healthy choice OR it might be because it was a food that they binged on before surgery. For me, no food is off limits (unless it makes me sick), but I am the one in control now, not the food!