If January has one word, it’s this: diet. Ambitious, resolute people everywhere are vowing to diet and lose weight in 2014. One cannot argue with any attempts to be healthier, but there are smart ways to improve your cooking at home without compromising taste and satisfaction. The better way to look at diet is through the lens of nutrition and my favorite nutritionist and native southerner, Carolyn O’Neil, has gifted us with an entire cookbook dedicated to the notion of nutritional southern cooking: The Slim Down South Cookbook.
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O’Neil has been writing about food for TV, radio and print for more than 30 years. Some of you might know her as the “Lady in the Refrigerator” nutrition advisor on Alton Brown’s Food Network program, Good Eats. She’s also made a James Beard award-winning name for herself as one of CNN’s original food and health reporters. O’Neil knows her food, more importantly she knows nutrition.
Her new cookbook shares excellent tips on best practices in the kitchen–such as using egg substitute and low-fat milk to prepare corn muffins (which, she notes, are a great source of antioxidants). O’Neil also weaves in useful tips on low-fat cooking methods and strategies for preventing cravings. During an interview in Atlanta, O’Neil shared some of her thoughts on southern food’s undeserved fatty reputation and what home cooks can do to make 2014 a year of good taste and nutrition.
Why does southern food have such a fattening reputation?
Well, you can’t hide the fact that the rate of obesity is way too high in the South. I think that Southern foods such as fried chicken, biscuits, and sweet tea get much of the blame for causing obesity. But, traditionally the South is quite agrarian and real Southern plates are piled high with farm-fresh vegetables grown in family gardens. Keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with indulging a little. People who lose weight and keep it off learn to enjoy little indulgences as one of the successful strategies for life-long weight management.
Where do southerners rank in terms of obesity?
Actually the Midwest ranks higher than us now! But, that doesn’t mean celebrating with another piece of pie. In the past the South was one of the fattest regions in the country, but more recent research is showing that the nation as a whole is becoming more overweight.
Is it really possible to eat a southern styled diet and stay slim?
You bet your biscuits! Here are the four SLIM strategies to eating Southern foods. Just think SLIM: Savor the South (maximize your plate with Southern foods that offer nutritional benefits- pecans, greens, beans, peaches, okra), Linger Longer (take time to eat mindfully, it’s more satisfying), Indulge (satisfy your cravings with petite portions of indulgent foods so they don’t return with a vengeance), and Make it Happen (use Southern grit and grace to stay the course, lace up those running shoes and say no thank you to a second slice of pie).
What are some ingredients every home cook should have on hand for healthy cooking?
Healthy oils such as canola and olive oil, spices such as crushed red pepper (to add bold flavors without any fat), vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned), and sea salt in a salt grinder to add just the right touch without overdoing it.
Is there a Most Healthy Southern Food? Collards?
Yes, any of the traditional greens such as collards and turnip greens. Southern beans and peas are also great sources of nutrition: crowder peas, black-eyed peas, zipper peas, butter beans, green beans, etc. And, let’s not forget the beautiful seafood from the Gulf or coastal waters.
Try: greens and beans risotto, blackberry lemon buttermilk sorbet, shrimp boil skewers, grilled watermelon with blue cheese.