We’ve improved the dietary profiles of three readers’ favorites.

By Kathy Kitchens Downie, RD
December 10, 2008
Credit: Randy Mayor

The Reader: Lucy Kaiser, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, registered nurse

The Story: An avid baker, Kaiser was immediately intrigued by this pumpkin bread recipe made with honey-flavored beer. She often prepares quick breads to pack in lunches, and this recipe, with its combination of mildly sweet pumpkin, flaxseed, and warm spices, became an instant favorite.

The Dilemma: With one cup canola oil, three cups sugar, and four eggs, each hearty slice contained a hefty 240 calories and 10 grams of fat. Although only one gram of fat was saturated, the total fat was nearly one-sixth of the daily amount recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) for a 2,000-calorie diet, and the calories were high for a quick bread.

The Solution: First we reduced the amount of oil by one-third, which shaved nearly 25 calories and three grams of fat per slice. We replaced two eggs with egg substitute, halving the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. Incorporating one teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves) with the original amount of cinnamon enhanced the delicate pumpkin taste. With less fat to mellow such potent flavors, we cut three tablespoons of assertive flaxseed.

The Feedback: Kaiser thinks the lightened version is every bit as good as the original. She also notes the bread is pleasantly moist and has a “well-balanced” flavor with the revised spice combination. 

Before | After
Calories per serving
241 | 194
10.2g | 6.5g
Percent of total calories
38 percent | 30 percent 


The Reader: Ilene Spector, Upperco, Maryland, food and travel journalist

The Story: Spector wanted to try the delicious casserole of wild rice layered with sautéed oysters when she saw a television culinary star prepare it. However, she knew the recipe’s liberal additions of cream and butter would not help her reach personal goals “to live longer and feel better.” She requested our Test Kitchens’ help to create a healthier version with the original’s indulgent taste and less saturated fat.

The Dilemma: Loaded with one cup half-and-half, a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, and more than two-thirds cup butter, this recipe packed a whopping 16 grams of fat (almost nine grams of artery-clogging saturated fat) and 227 calories into each serving. What’s more, several salty ingredients, including the soup and garlic salt, contributed to the nearly 700 milligrams of sodium per serving, or almost one-third the daily maximum amount recommended by the AHA for a 2,000-calorie diet.

The Solution: We decreased the half-and-half to one-half cup and added extra fat-free, less- sodium beef broth to provide enough liquid for the casserole. We also reduced the amount of butter to a mere three tablespoons. These changes shaved seven grams of fat (five grams saturated) and cut about 70 calories per serving. In addition, replacing the condensed soup with a reduced-fat, less-sodium version shaves one additional gram of fat and a few calories. More importantly, this modification also eliminates 68 milligrams of sodium per serving. Omitting the garlic salt cut another 40 milligrams of sodium per serving. To enhance flavor in the cream sauce, we added sautéed fresh shallots and garlic to the half-and-half. Lastly, a little fine sea salt replaced table salt. This sea salt has as much sodium as table salt, but its more complex flavor better suits the oysters.

The Feedback: “Everyone who tasted it loved it,” says Spector. She also notes that the dish is “pricey but worth it, especially for entertaining.” For the most luxurious effect, she recommends splurging on the larger, “select” oysters.

Before | After
Calories per serving
227 | 146
15.6g | 6.4g
Percent of total calories
61 percent | 39 percent 


The Reader: Rose Shorter, Salt Lake City, physician

The Story: Shorter never liked sweet potatoes, but she became a fan after tasting a casserole of buttery mashed sweet potatoes with a sugary pecan crust. A fellow member of her Working Mothers supper club brought the dish to a meeting and gave Shorter the recipe. Since she encourages healthy eating habits among her patients, Shorter knew sweet potatoes offered healthful nutrients, but she felt “the benefits of eating them were lost in the number of calories and saturated fat in this recipe.” So she turned to us to salvage it.

The Dilemma: The generous three-quarters cup butter, one cup pecans, and two cups sugar that made this casserole so addictive also contributed most of the 289 calories and 14 grams of fat in each serving. This included six saturated fat grams, more than one-third the daily amount allotted by the AHA for a 2,000-calorie diet.

The Solution: We reduced the butter to five tablespoons and the pecans by one-half. These changes alone trimmed nearly 50 calories and seven grams (2.6 grams saturated) of fat per serving. Since sweet potatoes have natural sugars, we removed more than 1/2 cup of sugar (along with a few extra calories) from the recipe. We added low-fat evaporated milk to the mashed sweet potatoes to create a smooth, creamy texture. A little salt balanced the sweetness of the topping, and we broiled the dish briefly to enhance the pecans’ flavor and slightly caramelize the sugar for a nice crust.

The Feedback: “The women in my supper club, my husband, and I think the lightened version is superior,” Shorter reports. The sweet potatoes had a fluffier texture and their flavor was more pronounced, she says. Shorter is happy this revamped favorite can now stay on the menu.

Before | After
Calories per serving
289 | 258
14.2g | 9.2g
Percent of total calories
44 percent | 32 percent