Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Figuring Recipe Calories

It's very nice when you have a recipe that also gives the calories and nutrition information for the item. But if you substitute anything in the recipe, say 2% milk for whole fat, or an egg white substitute for a whole egg, then it behooves you to figure the recipe on your own, because the total calorie count will change.

A friend asked me how I arrived at the 400 calories per slice of the cake mentioned in my previous blog entry, "Calorie Creep." It takes some effort but once you get used to it, it's really not hard at all. And I like being as certain as I can, how much something is going to 'cost' me in my daily calorie count.

One time, just before popping a new recipe for jam bars into the oven, I realized I had left something out. The recipe called for white and brown sugar. I accidentally left out a 1/2 C of the white sugar! Having made the effort thus far, I baked them anyway and to my surprise, they tasted great. It didn't need that much sugar after all. (I have found that many recipes don't need as much as they often call for.) Because I had already figured the recipe's calories before even considering making it, I was able to easily subtract the white sugar from the total calories.

You can do this, too. Here's how. The Bundt cake my friend brought to last weekend's gathering contains just 5 ingredients: Betty Crocker cake mix, canned frosting, eggs, oil, and chopped pecans. I took the information on the cake mix nutrition label where it tells not only how many calories each serving contains, but also how many servings you should get out of the whole box. Cake mixes also include the calorie count for just the dry mix, before you add the eggs and oil. In this case, the dry mix of Betty Crocker Butter Pecan cake mix was 170 calories per serving at 12 servings. Multiply the 170 by 12 and you get the calories for the entire box of dry cake mix: 2040. I did the same thing with the canned frosting. It was 150 calories per serving at 12 servings. it came to 1800 calories. A large egg, which most recipes call for instead of medium or small, is 70 calories. This recipe calls for 4. Four times 70 is 280. The recipe calls for 3/4 C of oil. There are 12 tablespoons in 3/4 of a cup. One tablespoon of oil equals 120 calories. Yes, it's a lot. That comes to 1440 calories. And finally, a 1/4 C of pecans is about 210 calories. (I got this figure off the nutrition label of a bag of pecans.) The recipe calls for a whole cup for a total of 840 calories.

Now, add all these numbers up and you get a grand total of 6400 calories for the entire cake. Divide that amount by the number of servings you slice the cake in: 10, 12, or 16. (Remember, a serving is one slice.) You'll have the number of calories per slice. At just 10 servings, each one is 640 calories. At it's smallest 16 servings, it's 400.

The good thing about figuring recipes on your own, is that you can then control those numbers a bit by changing some things. For this particular Bundt cake, there is nothing you can do about the cake mix and canned frosting, those are 'fixed' items that need to be there. But you could substitute the oil with unsweetened applesauce, a common substitute for helping make baked items 'lite' these days. The ratio is 1 to 1, that is, if the recipe calls for 3/4 C of oil, use 3/4 C of applesauce. Use unsweetened so you don't add more sugar to the recipe. The oil isn't sweet, neither should be the applesauce. And you save 1359 calories by using applesauce! So at 16 servings, each cake slice is 315 calories instead of 400. Many cooks also use egg white substitute to lighten recipes that call for eggs. I have to admit, I don't think I would bother with that in this recipe, since it wouldn't end up trimming much in the long run, and you might end up sacrificing flavor. I prefer having smaller portions of great tasting food, instead of huge portions of things that taste like cardboard.

By arming ourselves with good information and equipment: calorie counting books that contain the numbers on numerous foods, checking the nutrition labels, having the kitchen scale handy and a proper set of measuring cups and spoons, we take responsibility and most importantly power over what we eat. And isn't that better than blaming manufacturers for what we can actually control?

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