What is a low-fat recipe, really?

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So there I was in the produce aisle searching for arugula to try that Pappardelle with Baby Spinach Arugula, Herbs and Ricotta recipe I posted about when my friend Michaela called.

“Why is this a good lo-co recipe?” she asked.  “Where is the nutritional info?  I didn’t see that in your post?  Can you add that?”  (Michaela writes historical fiction for teens – so she’s a stickler for details!  But we love her anyway.)

I stammered something to the effect of, “Well, um, it’s a Cooking Light recipe… so… um…”

And then I peered more carefully at the recipe.  Bucking usual Cooking Light norms, this recipe calls for whole-milk ricotta rather than a skim/reduced fat version.  And though I nearly always replace full-fat with lower fat, I didn’t in this recipe, as that felt risky – the ricotta mixed with hot pasta water is the entire sauce.  Plus, I felt sure that the folks at Cooking Light would have tried a reduced fat ricotta when they were testing it, and if it was good, it would have been in the recipe.

So why is a recipe with a full-fat ricotta okay as a low-fat / lo-co option?  (Or worse, maybe it’s not?)

Further inspection made me feel better – this recipe has 11.6 grams of fat and 329 calories – so only 4% of calories from fat.  And I didn’t need my calculator to see that 4% is far lower than the ‘no more than 30% calories from fat’ rule of thumb.  Woot.

But wait – it has 14 mg of cholesterol.  Is that OK?

ARGH.  It’s hard enough to plan lo-co dinners at all.  If I now need to analyze the nutritional content of every recipe I consider, you know I’ll abandon cooking altogether and end up dining at Wendy’s all the time.  With a Phish Food chaser.

So I jammed the recipe into my back pocket.  Questions be dammed: this recipe is from Cooking Light and I’m going with it.  Into the cart went the full fat ricotta this recipe calls for, as well as the arugula a few recipe reviewers suggested.

And I am happy to report that this recipe was fantastic the 2nd time around, with baby arugula instead of baby spinach and these other modifications:

  • The ‘pour the pasta water over the spinach/arugula’ suggestion was brilliant.  This cooked (blanched?) it just enough to take the edge off but still taste fresh.
  • I eliminated the dill as I just really don’t like it – and didn’t miss it at all.  Might try substituting other fresh herbs next time I make this
  • After adjusting to a finer grind on my pepper mill, it was fine, pun intended. (Of course I didn’t measure it, so have no idea if the ‘1/2 tsp’ is a good amount – I leave that to your personal taste & judgment.)

And here’s a bonus: my 16-year-old son actually ATE and LIKED this dish.  Not only that, the LIE ACTUALLY WORKED!  He bought that the arugula was an herb and actually ate some, though did leave a smattering at the bottom of his pasta bowl claiming it was too ‘leafy’ for him.  But overall, he actually liked it!

Another bonus – it is GREAT as a leftover for lunch.   So I highly recommend the Cooking Light Pappardelle with Baby Spinach (or Arugula), Herbs and Ricotta recipe.

For you data hounds out there (Michaela, that means you) here is the nutritional info per serving for this recipe – it’s also printed on the recipe itself but here goes: Calories: 329, Fat: 11.6g, Saturated fat: 3.6g, Monounsaturated fat: 6.1g, Polyunsaturated fat: 1.1g, Protein: 12.2g, Carbohydrate: 45.5g, Fiber: 2.9g, Cholesterol: 14mg, Iron: 2.9mg, Sodium: 373mg, Calcium: 118mg.

And if you really want to know more about nutritional info, check out the Cleveland Clinic’s Nutrition-Cholesterol Guidelines.  These guidelines lay out the % of total calories recommended for each type of nutritional element. Pasted below is a summary chart, but this web page has a lot of useful (albeit somewhat overwhelming) info.

And hey – look at that – turns out I can 100% confirm that this IS a great lo-co recipe:  it’s easy, fast, delicious AND has just 14 mg of cholesterol.  Which, looking at the chart below, is just 7% of the 200 mg total per day recommended in the chart below.  Totally lo-co.

And best of all, that leaves room for a Phish Food dessert, don’t you think?

Nutrient For a 1,800-calorie diet
Saturated fat, <7% of calories 14 grams or less per day
Polyunsaturated fat, up to 10% of calories Up to 20 grams per day
Monounsaturated fat, up to 20% of calories Up to 40 grams per day
Total fat, 25% to 35% of calories Between 50 and 70 grams per day
Carbohydrate, 50% to 60% of calories Between 225 and 270 grams per day
Protein, about 15% of calories Around 67 grams per day
Cholesterol Less than 200 milligrams per day
Fiber 20-30 grams per day with a focus on viscous (soluble) fiber

2 thoughts on “What is a low-fat recipe, really?

  1. Good post!! Very helpful!

    Even though I am NOT a data hound by any stretch of the imagination, it is interesting to look at the nutritional info. It is fairly low in carbs, which is what I always look at in a recipe. And I imagine that the ricotta slows down the absorption of the sugar in the pasta, which is also a good thing.

    But what I was most impressed with was the fact that your teenaged son ate it. I may just have to try it. Last night I made pierogies for dinner and my teenager tortured his with his fork (and left them on the plate) and then helped himself later on to Chips A Hoy cookies when I wasn’t looking . So I am desperate for more recipes on your blog that are family friendly. In other words, can you please share more of the lo-co things that everyone in the family likes?

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