Making simple substitutions can reduce sugar, fat and calories in favorite dessert recipes

3 Tips For The Perfect Pumpkin Pie

This blog was written as a guest post for The Skinny on Low Cal site. You can access the original post here.

I know, I know, you’ve heard enough already about how to make your holiday pumpkin pie a little healthier. But if I can have your attention for just a few minutes longer I want to wrap up all of the great advice about how to shave some calories, trim the fat, and knock down the added sugar in this seasonal dessert in just three – yes that’s 1-2-3 – simple tips.

Are you ready? Here goes!


The standard pastry dough lining a 9 inch pie plate is made from 1 ¼ cups of flour, half a stick or butter (or other fat), plus a little water. It delivers a whopping 975 calories and 46 grams of fat to that pie before you put anything into it! That’s works out to more than 120 crust calories per slice and nearly 6 grams of fat if you get eight equal servings out of it.

You can put a big dent in those numbers by using a spring form pan and replacing the pastry crust with a crumb crust made with crushed low fat graham crackers, a sugar substitute, and a little heart-healthy oil and yogurt to replace the butter, lard or shortening.

For a 10” spring form pan you’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon canola, peanut or walnut oil
  • ¼ teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger (optional)
  • 1 ¼ cups low fat graham cracker crumbs (about 8 full sheets)
  • your favorite sugar substitute equal to 2 tablespoons sugar



Pumpkin pie filling is nothing more than a pumpkin custard. It sets up so well you don’t really need a crust because it will conform to the shape of the pan you bake it in. But since I’ve already dealt with the crust, I want to focus on how to make the filling less filling.

By making smart substitutions for the sugar, milk, and eggs you add to the pureed pumpkin, you can drop the fat, sugar and caloric content without changing the flavor or texture one bit. Here’s all you need to do for a recipe that calls for 2 cups of pumpkin (or a 15 ounce can of pure pumpkin puree).

Mix pumpkin puree with:

  • 12 ounce can fat free evaporated milk (undiluted)
  • 2 whole large eggs (or ½ cup refrigerated egg product like Eggbeaters®)
  • your favorite sugar substitute equivalent to ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ginger, and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg OR 1 ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or maple extract

Stir everything together until thoroughly combined, pour into prepared crust and bake at 350 degrees 50-60 minutes or until the center is set.

Savings per pie: 820 calories, 6 grams fat, 150 grams sugar


There’s no need to forgo the traditional dollop of whipped topping on that slice of pumpkin pie, but you do have options on how heavy the cream must be to make it. While there are plenty of fat free versions already whipped up for us in the store, if you choose to make your own, here are some tips to help you lighten your load.

Instead of 1 cup of heavy whipping cream use:

  • ¾ cup canned evaporated 2% milk, chilled
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
  • your favorite sugar substitute equal to 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • nutmeg for garnish (optional)

Chill the bowl and beaters in the freezer for 15 minutes before mixing. Combine all ingredients except nutmeg in the chilled bowl and beat with an electric hand or standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment starting at low speed and gradually progressing to high as soft peaks start to form. Continue beating until peaks hold their shape when beaters are lifted from bowl, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately as it will lose volume at room temperature, or you can make dollops on a waxed paper lined tray and store them in freezer until needed. Garnish with nutmeg.

Savings per batch (about 2 cups): 470 calories, 63 grams fat

Wishing you all a happy, healthy holiday!

Registered dietitian and nutrition expert Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN has more than 30 years of experience counseling patients and teaching at the university level. She is also the author of two books on nutrition. Follow her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her other posts here.

Marsala Chai fills kitchen with scent of holiday spices

Simmer Some Holiday Spices in Masala Chai

This blog was written as a guest post for The Skinny on Low Cal site. You can access the original post here.

The biggest competition on Thanksgiving Day doesn’t happen on a football field for me. Instead it’s a battle between the spices taking over my kitchen. The heady bouquet of sage and thyme takes an early lead in the day, but the intoxicating aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg always wins when it’s over.

Now I’ve discovered a way to surround myself with that scent all year long by making Masala Chai!

“Chai” is Hindi word for tea and “masala” chai is simply spiced tea. Traditional recipes for this ancient Indian brew are made by a process called decoction. It involves gently simmering loose black tea, assorted whole spices and a sweetening agent in a mixture of milk and water, then straining it before serving.

Popular versions available today include pre-seasoned tea bags that can be steeped in hot water so you can add the milk and a sweetener of your choice. Chai can also be purchased as a dry instant mix or liquid concentrate to prepare as iced tea or a shake. And when you’re in your favorite coffee shop you can even find chai latte made with steamed milk.

If you’re ready to try making Masala Chia at home there are endless ways to create your own signature version. The type of tea and spices you use will deliver that inviting fragrance and zesty flavor (especially if using pepper and ginger), while your choice of sweetener and milk will enhance the flavor and control the calories.

TEA – loose or bagged: black, green, white, oolong or pu-erh tea from Camellia sinensis plant; flavored tea such as Earl Grey or jasmine; herbal infusion teas such as rooibos or chamomile

SPICES – whole or ground: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, ginger (dried or fresh), peppercorns, star anise

MILK – whole, reduced-fat, low-fat or fat-free: fresh cow’s milk, powdered milk, canned evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk (replaces milk and sweetener), soymilk, almond milk

SWEETENERS – powdered, granulated or syrup: white or brown sugar, honey, molasses, date sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, agave syrup, no- and low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame, stevia, sucralose


Serving Size- 2 cups


1 cup water
1 cup fat-free milk
2 teaspoons loose tea leaves or 1 tea bag
1-2 teaspoons spices: ¼ tsp. cinnamon + ¼ tsp. clove + ¼ tsp. nutmeg + 2 black peppercorns + 1 thin slice fresh ginger
1 packet low calorie sweetener, equal to 2 teaspoons sugar


1. Combine water, milk, spices and sweetener in a pot and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until just below a boil. Be careful not to boil the milk.
2. Turn off heat, cover and let simmer 2 minutes.
3. Pour through strainer into individual tea cups or teapot to serve.

TIPS: Stainless steel or nonstick pots work best for even heating. Keep heat at medium-high so milk doesn’t burn. A combination of fresh and dried spices can be used. Strain immediately for best flavor. Refrigerate unused portion.

Registered dietitian and nutrition expert Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN has more than 30 years of experience counseling patients and teaching at the university level. She is also the author of two books on nutrition. Follow her on Twitter @EverydayRD

Pancakes can be part of a healthy diet when made with the right ingredients and paired with the right side dishes

Making a Place for Pancakes in Your Diet

This blog was written as a guest post for The Skinny on Low Cal site. You can access the original post here.

The way we judge foods is a lot like the way we judge people – by the company they keep. Pancakes are a great example of that. They are a really good-for-you food made of flour, milk and eggs in their most basic version, but they’re often viewed in a negative way by dieters. My theory is it’s because they frequently hang out with a big dollop of butter and are surrounded by super-sweet syrup. Sometimes they can even be found snuggled up against several strips of fatty bacon. How can anyone’s reputation survive that?

If you’ve removed pancakes from your diet it may be for the wrong reason. It’s time to give them a chance to return with the right makeover.

While it is unknown when or where batter was poured onto a hot stone slab to make the first pancake, the idea quickly caught on and has been replicated in cuisines around the world. They are enjoyed as both a sweet and a savory part of the meal, for breakfast or dinner, flat or leavened and stacked or stuffed. The varieties are as limitless as the cooks who make them since all you have to do to create a new recipe is change the type of flour or grain used, add some signature spices or extracts and top them with an original syrup or sauce. Mistaking the almond extract for vanilla was all it took for me to invent my now famous toasted almond pancakes with Amaretto syrup!

The nutritional value of a plate of pancakes also varies right along with the recipe and the number of pancakes made per batch. That means they don’t all have the same caloric content, either. Fortunately, even if you’re making them from a mix you still have control over some of the ingredients added to it and can make smaller pancakes to help reduce the calories.

Some simple substitutions to cut calories in your favorite pancake recipe include using:

  • fat-free milk instead of whole milk
  • egg substitute instead of whole eggs
  • sugar substitute instead of sugar
  • applesauce instead of some of the oil
  • sugar-free syrup instead of regular
  • light soft spread instead of butter

To help you become reacquainted with this popular food loved by kids and adults alike, try this foolproof recipe for Apple Pancakes. I’d love to know how you liked them and what else you’re pairing up with your pancakes to help improve their reputation!

Registered dietitian and nutrition expert Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN has more than 30 years of experience counseling patients and teaching at the university level. She is also the author of two books on nutrition. Follow her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her other posts here.

creating chocolate flavored milk in a laboratory

Debate Over Ingredients in Milk Served at Schools

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


Misinformation about the labeling of flavored milk has been in the news lately, and that’s not good. There are always people ready to attack the food industry no matter what they do, but if they suspect a drink for children is being altered in some way – especially the ingredients in milk – it really gets them up in arms.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had to count to ten and wait for the facts to seep in before we reacted to headline news?

Who Decides What’s in Our Food?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a “standard of identity” for 300 “common and usual” foods and beverages. These are legal definitions that specify the minimum and maximum ingredient requirements for any product sold under a specific name, such as “strawberry jam,” the optional ingredients that may be used in that food and those that are prohibited, as well as processing specifications.

These standards were developed to protect consumers from the problem of inconsistent quality when different food items are sold under the same name. With standards of identity in place, all manufacturers must include a certain amount of strawberries, by weight, in their strawberry jam or call it something else.

The standards also provide a means of penalizing companies that try to sell adulterated products, and they protect us from the economic fraud that can occur when strawberry jam is made with more strawberry gelatin than strawberries.

These standards have even been used to help improve the nutritional value of foods.

So far so good.

What Are the Ingredient’s in Milk?

The standard of identity for “milk” defines the percent solids it must contain (8 ¼ ) and fat (not less than 3 ¼ for whole milk), the amount of vitamins A and D that can be added, and that it must be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized.

The optional ingredients include natural and artificial flavoring, color additives, emulsifiers, stabilizers and nutritive sweeteners. The list of allowed nutritive sweeteners is long, but includes beet or cane sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar (in paste or sirup form), molasses (other than blackstrap), high fructose corn sirup, fructose, fructose sirup, maltose, dried malt extract, honey and maple sugar.

When one of those optional sweeteners is used in “flavored milk,” it does not have to be named on the front label. Consumers must check the ingredient list to see which one was used. That is, if they realize flavored milk is sweetened.

The uproar over the possible use of sugar substitutes in flavored milk suggests many consumers don’t realize this popular drink for children already contains added sugar.

The Proposed Change in Labeling Flavored Milk

Sugar substitutes are not on the list of allowed optional ingredients in the standard of identity for milk, so their use would require a front of package declaration. The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation want to change that. They proposed an amendment to the standard of identity for milk that would allow the use low calorie sugar substitutes in place of the added sugars in flavored milk without having to identify the milk as “reduced calorie” or “lower sugar.”

The dairy industry believes this would make a lower calorie option available to children without having the stigma of a “diet” claim on the front of the container, which seems to matter to kids on the lunch line. They also claim it will help deal with the problem of overweight and obesity in kids, which now affects 30 percent of them.

All sweeteners would still be named on the ingredient list, and all would be FDA approved sweeteners that are safe for children and adults alike.

Facts About Flavored Milk Now Served in Schools

  • Contains the same 9 essential nutrients as white milk
  • Provides only 3% of the added sugars in the diets of children
  • Contains an average of 39 more calories than white milk
  • Contributes to better quality diets in school-aged children without increasing the total fat or added sugar in their diets
  • Increases milk consumption at school

Do you think the problem of childhood obesity can be helped by offering more lower calorie products on school menus?

Switching to diet drinks is not enough to produce weight loss

Aspartame: Weight Loss Friend or Foe?

This blog was written as a guest post for Yahoo!Shine. You can read the original post here.

In the wake of today’s growing obesity epidemic, beverages made with low-and no-calorie sweeteners are a valuable tool. They help people to enjoy sweet tasting foods and beverages without too many calories and help manage weight. Since obesity is caused, in part, by excess calories, using these sweeteners just makes sense. Unfortunately, not everyone advocates for their use.

Despite all evidence in favor of sugar substitutes, there have been repeated challenges regarding their safety, which leave many people wondering if they’re a healthy option. Recent coverage of an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) study prematurely portrayed aspartame as harmful, and is a perfect example of media raising unnecessary alarm. As a registered dietitian and specialist in weight management, I’d like to lay these concerns to rest.

First, the facts: Aspartame was approved for use as a table-top sweetener by the Food and Drug Administration more than three decades ago. It then received approval for use in carbonated beverages and other food categories. It has also been approved as a food ingredient by regulatory agencies in more than 100 other countries and used by millions of people living with diabetes or simply trying to control their weight.

The recent AJCN aspartame study tried to link the sweetener to cancer, but like so many other studies, failed to find a connection. After promoting the study, the researchers retracted their findings and noted the results were so inconsistent they may have simply been due to chance. That is not what the media initially reported, however, causing alarm and confusion for many.

This time the reaction to the misinformation was swift. In less than 24 hours, Harvard and the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, where the study was conducted, apologized for promoting this flawed research. Other scientists also took a stand, such as Dr. Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic, who asserted, “Promoting a study that its own authors agree is not definite, not conclusive and not useful for the public is not in the best interests of public health.”

After 30 years of widespread use, we know that aspartame is safe. It is one of the most thoroughly investigated ingredients in the world with more than 200 scientific studies conducted in both laboratory animals and in humans confirming its safety. It’s time to focus our attention on how low calorie sweeteners can help people control their weight instead of repeatedly raising fear about their use.

The best way to protect your health and maintain a healthy weight is the same now as it ever was – eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. And if you’re doing that, then there’s no reason not to enjoy a beverage with sugar substitutes, too.

Robyn Flipse is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist who consults for food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola, McNeil Nutritionals, and General Mills.

New research shows good results when diet drinks are part of overall healthy diet

Can Diet Drinks Be Part of Healthy Diet?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you read the blog here.


Links between the consumption of diet drinks and health problems have been reported in the past, but no smoking gun has ever been found. Now researchers have uncovered the secret weapon. Eating a healthy diet, with or without diet drinks, lowers the risk for chronic disease.

Does this come as a surprise to you? It certainly doesn’t to me. I have always professed that no single food or ingredient, including diet beverages, is responsible for obesity or the diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer that go with it.

Here’s what the latest study found.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at the dietary patterns of more than 4000 Americans who were between the ages of 18 and 30 when the study began in the mid-1980s. Subjects were classified as having a “Prudent” diet made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, fish, nuts and seeds or a “Western” diet with higher intakes of fast food, processed food, meat, poultry, pizza, sugar, and snacks.

Over the course of 20 years, 827 participants in the study developed metabolic syndrome. After considering other risk factors, such as body weight and level of exercise, the researchers evaluated the relationship between the use of diet beverages and the two dietary patterns and the risk of metabolic syndrome. This is what they found.

Those who ate a:

  • Prudent diet with no diet drinks had the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Prudent diet with diet drinks had a slightly higher risk (2%) of metabolic syndrome
  • Western diet with diet soda had the highest risk of metabolic syndrome

The researchers concluded that their study was observational and does not prove diet drinks have a negative effect on health. But there’s another way to look at the results. Those eating a Prudent diet were more likely to consume diet drinks than those eating a Western diet, which suggests a strong link between diet drinks and healthier diets.

How would you rate your diet over the past 20 years?