Monday, February 18, 2013

Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking: 101 Delicious Recipes for Lowering Blood Pressure, Losing Weight and Feeling Great

Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking: 101 Delicious Recipes for Lowering Blood Pressure, Losing Weight and Feeling Great
Author: Andrea Lynn
Publisher: Ulysses Press (2012)

Few foods can garner as much accolade and criticism as humble salt. Found in all colours of the rainbow, grinds from melt-on-the-tongue flakes to miniscule diamonds to crunch-in-the-teeth rocks, salt is the chef’s right hand seasoning. For all it’s wonderful flavour-enhancing properties, though, salt has the unfortunate side effect of raising blood pressure – a condition that can create heart problems over time – and thus has become the nemesis of the nutritionist. So what of the health conscious, flavour loving consumer? Must they sacrifice the taste of a well seasoned steak or pasta sauce, give up their cheese and eschew their soup? Or do they resign themselves to a lifetime of Avapro, Micardis and Diamox? Andrea Lynn thinks you can have all the flavour with minimal salt, and sets out to prove it in her book Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking: 101 Delicious Recipes for Lowering Blood Pressure, Losing Weight and Feeling Great.

The DASH diet is recommended because of it’s emphasis on fresh, whole foods and portion control. The basics of the diet are simple, and essentially follow the “official” Food Guides out there – making this way of eating one that most modern people should be following anyway. Where the DASH diet sticks out as a “name” is it’s limits on salt – not a problem with those used to mostly whole foods (since they don’t come pre-seasoned), but as processed foods are laden with both salt and sugar the reduction might come as a shock for others. Lynn does not eliminate salt in her cooking, by any means, nor does she eschew the use of canned products (though she does stress “low-sodium” varieties when they’re available). This practical, and in some cases streamlined, approach to cooking allows many of the recipes in Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking to fit perfectly into weeknight dinners.

Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking opens with a brief introduction to the nutritional basis of heart healthy eating, including portion control and food group servings. Recipes are categorized into Appetizers and Snacks, Salads and Soups, Sides, Pasta, Poultry, Meat, Fish and Shellfish, Vegetarian and Desserts. This is a commendable array, though I do with more variety was shown with the vegetarian features, including more vegan options, and less emphasis was placed on meaty mains. While I have nothing against eating meat, I do believe from a health and ecological perspective that a diet of mostly plant based meals is beneficial. There is also a somewhat depressing lack of desserts and sweets in Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking. While I realize the bake-shoppe is less likely to be the home of excess salt (in terms of home baking at least, given that packaged bread is the #1 source of sodium in our diet), I do know that many people who are required to follow a heart-health plan develop a sweet tooth and are always on the lookout for options that fit with their doctor’s guidelines.
Tofu-Cheese-Spinach Filling
While a couple recipes in this book piqued my interest immediately, I decided to make Lynn’s recipe for Spinach Stuffed Shells (p. 62) first. What I liked about this recipe was that it contained mashed tofu in place of some of the cheese, much like a lasagne recipe I make. I did find a few adjustments necessary to make it applicable for our groceries and tastes, not to mention our budget. Around here, the jumbo pasta shells only come in 9 oz (not 12 oz) boxes, and while it’s called for in the book, I have never seen a whole-grain variety in either Canada or the USA. My family is not a huge fan of the fresh mozzarella called for in Lynn’s recipe, as it lacks any distinct flavour on its own and I felt that both the taste and texture of it combined with the tofu  would just be too much blandness. While I can appreciate the fact that fresh cheese is generally lower in sodium, when it comes to eating healthfully taste matters most. I opted for a blend of goat cheeses instead, which are lower in sodium and easier for the digestive tract to handle than their cow-milk counterparts while imparting a world of complex flavour. I also chose to add fresh garlic, which enormously added to the dish and was fresher and healthier than the granulated variety.

Spinach Stuffed ShellsI love the colourful pictures in Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking, though unfortunately some of them look nothing like the actual finished product. The Tofu Chocolate Pudding (p. 129) looks fantastic in it’s photo, but the actual pudding is lost in a sea of broken Oreos (which coincidentally have 7% of the RDA of sodium in a measly 4 cookie serving). The pudding itself, when made in my household, was not as elegantly rich brown either, though that could be a difference in chocolates. I haven’t attempted the Banana Bread (p. 133), but the picture looks like the recipe should contain molasses or another darkening agent other than maple syrup as its crumb appears to be rather dark.

Spinach Stuffed ShellsPhoto nit-picking aside, the recipes taste alright. But in no way will they come off as being the same as your “usual” fare – which can wreak havoc when cooking for children or picky adults. A few tweaks and mid-recipe taste-tests will greatly improve the reader’s experience and I encourage them to use fresh ingredients over canned or dried to get the most flavour and health benefits from the recipes. If you’re stuck for healthy meal ideas, this book is a good ace in your pocket, but more than anything this book’s nutrition information should spark the reader to begin modifying their own favourites and indulging in the DASH Diet lifestyle long before hypertension becomes an issue.

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