Sidney Fry
December 25, 2015

More than ever, consumers want to know the truth about how producers in the food industry create the products they sell. Now it's our turn to pull back the curtain on our recipes.

At Cooking Light, our team of food editors, experienced cooks, and dietitians builds recipes with whole foods and whole grains, and bigger portions of plants and seafood than meat. We emphasize oil-based fats more than saturated, and we promote a balanced diet low in processed foods and added sugars.

Whenever we call for ingredients that are high in saturated fat (think butter), sodium (soy sauce), or both (bacon), we use them in small amounts as flavor-boosting solutions in quicker-cooking dishes rather than the focal point of the plate. Our no-no list is short: We don't cook with any products containing artificial sweeteners or trans fats, aka partially hydrogenated oils.

Most important, each recipe must deliver the same pleasures—all the creaminess, crunch, richness, comfort, and satisfaction—as its heavier counterpart. Recipes are retested in the Cooking Light Kitchen if they fall short of delivering these joys, and we constantly reevaluate them to see if the nutrition would allow for, say, a sprinkle of Parmesan, a dash of kosher salt, or a splash of olive oil to help meet our high standards for taste.

Each recipe that comes through the Cooking Light Kitchen is evaluated visually, too, to ensure that we're providing a satisfying, realistic portion (no one-bite brownies here) that fulfills its role as part of a balanced plate. Per person, we consider the following when portioning.

ALCOHOL1 drink per day for women, 2 for men. A drink is defined as 1.5 ounces liquor, 5 ounces wine, or 12 ounces beer.

THE PROTEINOur aim is to shift the focus of the plate to more plant-based proteins. See our More Plants, Less Meat recipe makeovers.

SEAFOOD5 ounces cooked. Try to eat twice per week.

BEEF AND PORK3 ounces cooked

CHICKEN4 1/2 ounces cooked breast; 3 ounces cooked thigh (based on supermarket portions)

SAUSAGE & BACONUsed in small amounts, to boost flavor

THE GRAINSPreferably whole, to fill a quarter of the plate (about 1/2 cup)

THE FRUITS & VEGGIESThese should fill half your plate. Our servings start at 1/2 cup; more is encouraged.

Cooking Light recipes adhere to a rigorous set of nutrition guidelines that govern calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar based on various recipe categories. The numbers in each category are derived from the most recent set of USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

- Calories: 1,600-2,000 calories per day. We break this down into three meals that range from 350 to 550 calories, plus two (100- to 150-calorie) snacks.- Sodium: Less than 2,300mg per day.- Saturated Fat: Less than 20g per day.- Sugars: Less than 38g added sugars per day (as recommended by the American Heart Association).

A word about sugars: Starting with our January/February issue, we're listing sugars with each recipe, and we are taking our stats a step further by calculating and including estimated added sugars (those added during processing).

Why should you care? Naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruit and dairy, contain essential vitamins, minerals, protein, water, and fiber—nutrients that boost health and keep us full. But added sugars have little to no added benefit, only empty calories, of which the average American consumes 350 a day—the equivalent of 88g. The cumulative effect of these added calories has been linked to heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes.

Why list them now? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g (that's only 100 calories, or about 6 teaspoons) of added sugars a day for women, and 38g (146 calories, or about 9 teaspoons) for men, roughly the same amount as in half a 20-ounce bottle of soda. One caveat: The FDA doesn't yet require food manufacturers to list added sugars, only total sugars, so it's impossible to know how much of a food's sugar is added and how much occurs naturally.

We expect the USDA to set new nutrition standards this year, so we're proactively setting our guidelines for added sugars to 38g now.

As cooks, we know a little bit of indulgence can be part of a balanced diet, and we value the role sugar—in moderation—plays in a healthy kitchen: It has the unique ability to balance acidity, add texture to baked goods, and preserve foods. Lowering sugar intake becomes easier when you control the amount you use in your kitchen. Our new nutrition stats will help you do just that.

As we wait for the FDA to require added-sugar totals for manufactured foods, here's a guide to help you identify where added sugars tend to hide.

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