Hidden veggies can help you slim

A little deceit in the kitchen can achieve a great deal of good for your family's health, says DietDoc. Join the "fat-resistance" by hiding veggies in your favourite dishes.

A recent Reuters Health report titled "Hidden veggies effective strategy to reduce energy in adults" is an inspiration to slimmers. According to this report, researchers at Pennsylvania State university used "stealth vegetables" to dilute the kilocalorie content of dishes like carrot bread, macaroni and cheese or chicken-and-rice casserole. The hidden veggies reduced the energy content of these dishes substantially by as much as 360 kcal per day. Translated into weight loss, a reduction of 360 kcal per day in energy intake can produce a loss of 500g of body fat in about 10 days. Most slimmers would be delighted to shed half a kilogram of fat so painlessly.

Pennsylvania State Study

In this ground-breaking study, researchers recruited 20 men and 21 women who agreed to eat at a laboratory once a week for 3 weeks. At the laboratory the experimental subjects were served the foods listed above which had been diluted with "stealth vegetables" by up to 25% vegetable puree per weight. The participants were allowed to eat as much carrot bread, macaroni and cheese, or chicken-and-rice casserole as they liked together with other tasty side-dishes like bread rolls, strawberry yoghurt, broccoli and green beans, depending on the meal.

While the subjects tucked into their meals, cooks in the laboratory kitchen were adding steamed and pureed vegetables like cauliflower, squash or carrots, to the standard dishes at the rate of 15% to 25% per weight.

The participants did not seem to be put off by the taste of the altered foods, thus reducing their energy intake by about 360 kcal (1512 kJ) per day. 

Double health benefits

Not only did the use of these "stealth veggies" reduce the energy intake of the subjects, it also provided them with improved intakes of a variety of nutrients that are found in fruits and vegetables. We all know that we should have "5-A-Day", but many individuals don’t ever eat this quantity of fruit and/or vegetables, so by including them in a hidden form, you can obtain a double nutrient benefit.

According to Dr Richard Mattes, Professor of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University in Indiana, “Americans don’t seem eager to embrace healthy diets. The very premise of the latest study - covert feeding to encourage better eating- underscores the resistance.” He added that “It’s interesting that we have to go to such extents to get people to consume more vegetables” (Marcus, 2011). Many South Africans unfortunately have the same attitude to eating more fruit and vegetables, which makes this study very applicable to our situation.

How to use ‘Stealth Vegetables’ at home

If you are interested in losing weight effortlessly or getting that difficult member of your family to shed kgs without him/them (it is usually husbands or children I hear about who don’t want to lose weight or eat veggies) even knowing, try using "stealth veggies" to achieve your goal.

You can use most standard recipes, such as chicken or beef stew, mince, fishcake, bread or cake recipes. Make your standard recipe. In the meanwhile cook veggies like squashes, pumpkin, butternut, carrots, cauliflower or cabbage and puree them in a blender. Add half a cup of pureed veggies to your stews, mince or even cakes, but remember to rather use veggies with a strong flavour like cabbage or cauliflower with meats, and veggies that have a less prominent flavour, like carrots or pumpkin, in cakes.

If your nearest and dearest comment on the flavour, you know you are overdoing the added veggies, but don’t mention them, just pass it off as “A new spice” or "A new recipe”, because once you have given the game away, the veggies will no longer be your secret to helping yourself and your family to lose weight or up your intake of protective nutrients.

Stretching tight budgets

We are all feeling the pinch of the economic downturn at present, but it dawned on me that we can use "stealth veggies" to stretch our tight food budgets and still reap the benefits of good health. Usually protein foods like meat, fish, cheese, and other dairy products are more expensive than vegetables and fruits in season. If you add pureed, cooked veggies to all your protein dishes and pureed fruit to yoghurt then you can make these more expensive foods go further.

In addition to adding fruits and vegetables, you can also add cooked, minced or pureed legumes (dry canned or cooked beans, peas, lentils or soya) to most protein dishes or substitute a legume dish (e.g. lentil patties) for a meat or fish dish to make your money go further. The benefit of adding legumes to these dishes is that you will dilute the energy and fat contents, increase the dietary fibre, vitamins and mineral contents, and lower the glycaemic index (GI) of the meal even further.

So turn your kitchen into an arsenal to fight overweight and poor eating habits, by using "stealth vegetables" or legumes in as many dishes as possible. The GI Foundation has a number of excellent recipe books available to help you conjure up low-GI dishes. Visit their website and order a Low-GI recipe book to inspire you to use veggies and legumes to their best advantage.

A little deceit in the kitchen can achieve a great deal of good for your family’s health. Join the "fat-resistance" by using stealth veggies!

- (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, March 2011)

(References: Adam Marcus (2011. Hidden veggies effective strategy to reduce energy in adults. Reuters Health, 3 March 2011.)
Any questions? Ask DietDoc

Read more:
Fruit and veggies: super foods
Top 10 super foods
5-a-day for better health

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