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  • Writer's pictureDr. Francis Battisti & Dr. Helen Battisti

The Zone - Volume 123

Some of the traditional recipes are downright scary!

In last week’s, The Zone 122, we talked about the upcoming holidays happening between now and the first of next year. The foods we use to celebrate this time of year can be special and you may have been handed recipes from your parents, grandparents and even great grandparents.

In the 1990’s, the favored dietary regime was high carbohydrate and low fat. We learned about Olestra, the artificial fat used in products like Pringle potato chips and we went to work modifying some of our traditional holiday recipes. We used applesauce in place of fat, reduced the amounts of butter and cream that we used and even tried using Cool Whip in place of real whipped cream.

Well, times have changed, as they always do, and we learned the hard way that most of the traditional recipes that we tried to modify didn’t taste all that great. In fact, many of us got pushback from family and friends and encouraged us to bring back the original recipes that mean so much to them!

Still, even in the presence of the Keto diet, for most people foods such as butter, gravy, sauces and sugar sit on the so-called “bad” food list. We say the “so-called” list because we are not sure just who makes up these lists!

Let’s take a closer look at these “bad” foods and see just what they do in our recipes and why our foods taste so different when we modify.

Sugar – There is a bond between sugar and water that allows the sugar to lock in moisture so that items such as cakes, muffins, brownies, and frostings don't dry out as fast. Of course, it also adds favor, color and works as a preservative. We will mention, however, that usually we can cut the sugar in the recipe by 25% - 50% without changing the product but you and your family and friends will best determine that.

Fats – There are many types of fats and some are solid and some are liquid. Each fat brings a different component to the recipe it is in. Some of the primary functions of fats include working as an emulsifier, a leavening agent, a moistening agent, adds flavor and satiety and its creaming ability which helps make a product lighter. It is really hard to modify the fats in the recipes.

Proteins – While usually not on the “bad” list, we thought we would add them because they too are so important to the quality of a product. There are many functions of protein in our recipes. Proteins condition the dough, provide structure to the product and serve to control the moisture. One of the main proteins found in baking is gluten. This protein is the root problem behind Celiac disease because many people cannot digest it. Talk to anyone with Celiac disease and they most certainly will tell you the gluten free breads, pizza crusts, etc. are very dry and don’t hold together well.

When it comes to holiday celebratory foods, and especially if they are the ones that have been handed down through the generations, you may want to think twice about modifying. If you are concerned that they may not be very healthy and contain way too many calories, then just cut the recipe in half so that there isn’t as much of it to eat!

There are many other ingredients in our recipes and each has a role in the final product. For more information about the “why” ingredients are what they are and in the amounts they are in a recipe, here is a great website we came across that really gets into the fun facts about the science of baking and cooking.


Key Takeaways

  • Trying to modify traditional holiday recipes can be challenging.

  • There are very good reasons why every ingredient is in the recipe.

  • Some recipes just can’t be successfully modified.

Best Practices

  • Be sure to ask family and friends before changing a holiday menu.

  • If you are concerned about the ingredients or calories in a recipe then just make half the amounts.

  • Enjoy the traditional foods. They only come around once a year!

Things to Limit

  • Eating too many store bought sweets at the holidays.

  • Being inactive during this time of year. Being active can help us maintain our weight.

  • Thinking there are “bad” foods or ingredients.


Quote of the Week

“The stove is the shrine where I convene with my ancestors.”

~Adam Ragusea


In summary, checking with family and friends as to what their favorites are can help you decide which recipes to make. In our house, we have served a sweet potato casserole that is made with sweet potatoes, butter, brown sugar and marshmallows ever since we were children. Personally, we don’t really like it and over the years it seems that less people are eating it and we have a lot left over even after the next day warm-ups. This year we thought we would skip making it until our granddaughter informed us it was one of her favorites! Ok, that is staying on the menu and demonstrates why it is so important to check in with people before changing a holiday menu.

Be well,

The paraDocs

Check our Welcome Greeting on YouTube

The paraDocs are Dr. Francis L. Battisti, PhD, Psychotherapist, Distinguished Psychology Professor and former Executive V.P and Chief Academic Officer and Dr. Helen E. Battisti PhD, RDN, CDN, Chief Nutrition Officer, at SpNOD, Health Promotion Specialist, Research and Clinical Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and former Assistant Professor.

We have developed "The ZONE", because that is exactly where you want to be during this pandemic. A place of focused attention to doing exactly what needs to be done to get you to where you need to be. The purpose of The Zone is to provide a nationally distributed weekly mental-health and nutrition tip-sheet during times of change.

If you would like to get copies of The ZONE that you may have missed or if you know someone that would like to start receiving The ZONE, please signup today... It's free and you can unsubscribe anytime.

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