February 9, 2004
Hospital offers tips to get the lard out of Southern cooking
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—At a time when nutritionists are urging people to eat more veggies, Southerners would seem to have an edge.
Local blue plate specials feature plenty of greens and butterbeans, and what Southerner doesn’t start the New Year with a bowl of black-eyed peas for good luck?
Of course, those peas are usually paired with fatback, and therein lies the problem.
Traditional Southern cooking contributes to many of the health woes plaguing Mississippians, said Linda Peddicord, a licensed and registered dietitian for Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson.
“We’re tops in the nation in obesity and deaths from heart disease, and if you take a look at what’s on our supper tables, you can see why,” Peddicord said. “Southern diets are often high in fat and salt, which can put on the pounds and raise your blood pressure.”
Many times, it’s not the food itself, but the way it’s cooked, that’s the problem, Peddicord said. “We eat a lot of healthy foods like greens, but we mess it up for ourselves by adding bacon fat.”
Janice McGee, director of Methodist’s Stroke Program, grew up cooking soul food for her 11 younger siblings and she said fatty pork products were a staple of the cuisine.
But years as a registered nurse taught her to change her ways. She said she didn’t want to wind up like many of her patients, suffering the devastating effects of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure.
“I tend to use no fat now and I can’t even tolerate it,” McGee said. “My 20-year-old son Jeffrey was raised on vegetables and healthy meals.”
McGee said her son now eats everything from spinach to broccoli to Brussels sprouts, but she can’t say the same for her siblings. They still prefer her old soul food recipes to healthier fare. “Now they think I can’t cook.”
While many people associate a healthy diet with bland food, Methodist chef Fernando Coleman says you can lose the salt and fat without sacrificing flavor.
“There are plenty of tasty options to add to the pot that are a lot healthier than ham hocks,” he said.
Here are his suggestions for more sensible Southern cooking:
- Add low-sodium beef, chicken or vegetable base to your vegetables instead of bacon or ham hocks. “These days you can find a variety of low-salt and low-fat broths and bouillon cubes on the soup aisle,” he said.
- Give veggies a kick with a couple of drops of liquid smoke or by adding chopped lean ham or turkey necks. Sauteed onions, garlic and celery also make a great flavor enhancer.
- Get out your spice rack and experiment. Coleman recommends using fresh or dried herbs and seasonings or sprinkling in salt substitutes such as Mrs. Dash.
- Forget the deep-fat fryer. “Instead, dip foods such as catfish in an egg wash, coat with seasoned bread crumbs, spray with a light vegetable oil and ‘fry’ the fish in the oven,” Coleman said.
- Find substitutes for fat. Make sauces with flour and low-fat milk rather than heavy cream and use fruit purees and applesauce to replace butter or lard in baked goods.