TRIFECTA – What It Means To Us

According to many sources the usual use of the word “trifecta” refers to a horse race in which the bettor must predict which 3 horses will come in first, second, and third, and in the correct order predicted.  For my husband and me it refers to the top 3 “flavors” in seasoning foods – SALT, FAT, and SUGAR – but we have reversed the desire to place them at the top, instead inverting them to the lowest possible position in food preparation.   Granted, it is not possible to eliminate ALL SALT-FAT-SUGAR from foods (nor is it good for you) as there is usually some occurring naturally in nearly all foods. All we can do is to be aware of what is there and attempt to prevent or reduce use of any products that have added salt/sodium, “bad” or excess fats, and excess sugar AND to limit our direct use of these TRIFECTA items to recipes we make. This presents a HUGE, but NOT IMPOSSIBLE challenge.

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Depending on your medical problems or your family history of medical problems, you may wish to concentrate on SALT and not be too concerned about the levels of “healthy” fats and a little sugar.  However, you may be more concerned with the SUGAR intake due to Diabetes and only need to slightly reduce your salt/sodium and fat intake.  On the other hand your issue may be high cholesterol and you may be most interested in reduction of fats (remember, there ARE “good”  and “bad” fats).  OR YOU MAY WANT TO REDUCE ALL 3 AT ONCE! We do know that reductions in all 3 areas would benefit all of us and that a little excess ONCE IN A GREAT WHILE is usually not fatal but it is the daily, routine overuse of these 3 classes of foods that cause the problems.

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First, we will look at just one of the 3 “TARGETS” and glance at the implications of control.  The same principles can be applied to each of the others.  Looking at just the SALT/SODIUM aspect of this TRIFECTA, we can tell that the reduction of salt/sodium in cooking is a huge challenge.  It  means reading ALL labels and comparing just how much sodium is in foods.  (Keep in mind that you will also be watching for fat content and sugar content in foods as well).  For those of us who want, or NEED, to reduce sodium, that is the first of the offending items on which to check.  If it doesn’t fall below an acceptable level, then it is not used, either “as is” or as a major ingredient in the recipe.  (There are a couple of exceptions, i.e., use of small amounts of soy sauce, as there is just no other way to get that flavor, but you can use the low sodium version and reduce the amount by at least half.)

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Looking at canned foods, you’d best avoid them. As I mentioned on the “HOW IT STARTED” page, 1/2 cup of canned green beans contain 390 mg of sodium – a little more than 1/4 of the total you should have for the entire day!  If you do need to use them BUY “NO SALT ADDED” varieties. Better yet, for recipes calling for canned veggies (kidney beans, string/green beans, corn, etc.) you should use either frozen or fresh, cooked without salt, or in the case of beans, cook them from dried beans, no salt (if you use a pressure cooker this can be done more rapidly and in a batch large enough to freeze the excess in containers equal in volume to 1 can  or 2 cans).

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Having done this for SALT/SODIUM in the recipe or food you now need to apply the same diligent “search and apply” techniques to FAT and then to SUGAR.  You have to be aware of the recommended levels of each of these 3 items in the “TRIFECTA” and have as your goal achieving good “nutritional profiles” for each of your recipes.  The amounts you eat will obviously affect your totals for the meal and for the day.  If 1/2 cup of green beans has 390 mg sodium then eating only 1/2 cup of green beans at dinner would be nearly your max level of sodium for that meal.  Can you fill up by eating only 1/2 cup of green beans?  Or if that were the only thing you were eating, would you eat the whole can (1 1/2 cups)  which would equal 1170 mg of sodium.  That would leave you with only 340 mg sodium for the entire remainder of the day.

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Maybe here is the place to mention the different fats in our diets.  Which are safe or “good”?  Which are “bad”?  We have all heard the terms “polyunsaturated”, “monounsaturated”, “saturated”, and “trans fats”.  So which ones are the least harmful?  Are some beneficial?  Well, a quick judgment call is if it says “…unsaturated” it is better for your health (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated) than the saturated fats and trans fats which you should always avoid. There is one polyunsaturated fat that is actually GOOD for you!  Omega-3s are good for your heart!  So not all fat is bad.  When calculating the fat in a recipe you do need to keep in mind just WHAT fat is there, good or bad?  And if the fat comes from walnuts (Omega-3s) then although it adds calories, that fat (in moderation) is not detrimental!  For your own info you might want to check this out.  Mayo Clinic has some good info:  “Dietary Fats: Know which types to choose.”

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Becoming familiar with the products you use (pantry items, spices, fresh veggies), the recipes, and the cooking techniques will enable you to make healthy meals more quickly and easily without needing to check EVERY recipe independently for nutritional value.  You will know that it is within a safe level of reduced SALT-FAT-SUGAR, just by internalizing the principles of COOKING TO BEAT TRIFECTA.  You will be able to “TRIFECTIZE” your meals and yourself!

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For me, this process began as a challenge, just trying to solve the problem of cooking for the health of my husband.  I am NOT an expert on nutrition, I’m just a housewife trying to maintain my health and my husband’s health.  In the process I have done a lot of research and reading – and LOTS of cooking and improvising.  We still eat out but not very often – too much sodium in restaurant food.  Instead I work at trying new recipes, changing old ones, and improvising. Since I still work full time I tend to cook larger quantities of food so I don’t have to cook every night (fortunately, we both like left-overs).

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Becoming a happy, satisfied “TRIFECTAN” does not happen overnight.  It takes a little while getting used to having much less salt in your foods as well as reducing fat and sugar, but using ample amounts and varieties of spices will make the initial transition much less difficult.  Keep in mind that the National Salt Reduction Initiative has set a goal for restaurants and prepared foods to reduce the sodium in foods by 25%  over the next 5 years!  You can become accustomed to an even lower level in just a few months.  As you work at it you will find that YOU WILL ENJOY THE TRUE FLAVORS OF FOODS much more than those with added salt and when you DO go out to eat, when you come home, you will find yourself drinking LOTS of WATER to counteract the sodium intake that you are no longer use to.

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A word about substitutes for salt.  As a rule, salt substitutes do NOT taste very good.  Also they have some negative effects on health for some medical diagnoses (see the listing about salt substitutes under the “SPICES” section of the “INGREDIENTS” tab and check the hyper-links to the articles).   The best option is to use other seasonings like “Mrs. Dash” or generic versions of salt-free vegetable and spice seasonings.   I have found that adding chili to most foods masks the lack of salt nicely.  I keep a 4 inch  “shaker jar” of crushed dried red chili on my stove top and use it in most of my recipes (no, not the desserts!).   If you do not like spicy food you will find using just a small amount of chili will help tremendously in masking the lack of salt.  As you get accustomed to the “heat” you will find that chili has a great deal of flavor as well and you may find yourself adding a little more to your food. If you do not like chili you can gradually work it into your foods by starting with paprika and working up to chili powder then to crushed chili.   Also “ethnic” foods that are highly spiced are able to taste very good without salt, like Indian foods, Asian foods, and Mexican foods, but you need to make your own.   Be careful because prepared versions of all of these types of foods contain LOTS of sodium!

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There are many more techniques with details and notes that will be posted later about methods of cooking, storing, and seasoning the foods.  Also to be discussed will be the options for substitutions and reduced amounts of called-for ingredients in “non-Trifectan” recipes, and where and how to buy various products.

One Comment to “TRIFECTA – What It Means To Us”

  1. sorry to take so long to make a comment; seems I have been busy doing therapeutic exercises (G). You have done a very good job on this blog. Your explanations are very clear and concise, just what I like. I think your recipes are very good, except the one comment I made, which is easy to correct. I’m looking forward to more recipes. I know you are trying to cut down on meat, but isn’t there some controversy now on how much soy we should be eating? I guess you could ask that question about just about anything……..

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