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Health, Heart and Soul

Allaire W | 1/6/2014, 9:30 a.m.
Inventive and smart ways to keep the soul in your food while incorporating heart-healthy methods into your cooking.
Soul food

It's no secret that if you were brought up on soul food, it's hard to make the switch to bland selections. After all, soul food is exactly that -- good for the soul. But what about your heart? Soul food dishes usually contain lots of fat, a high caloric and sodium content. These factors can be hard on your heart, but there are ways to create delicious alternatives without diminishing the taste of your food.

You can still enjoy the richness of soul food in healthier versions. All it takes is a little planning to start protecting your heart, health and soul.

Here are a couple of ideas:

Go fresh

Fresh vegetables are very good for you and keep the processed versions out of your system. Grow a garden or try the fresh market and roadside vegetable stands. Using fresh herbs will give you great flavor without using salt. You'll be surprised how much of a difference it will make.

Switch up your meat

Every good soul food cook knows that greens and other vegetables don't taste the same without a little meat for flavoring. Use a leaner version to keep the fat out of the dish. You can also substitute meat with stock flavoring to add that extra zing to your dish. A little experimentation can really go a long way.

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Grill chicken

Use the oven or grill it

Most of the time, soul food involves frying in some way. You can achieve the same flavors and results when you bake and oven fry your items instead. This is healthier than frying in oil. Grilling is a great subsitute as well.

Greens, greens and more greens

Greens are a main staple in soul food cooking. The richness of collard greens, turnip greens and cabbage can't be denied. Start incorporating greens into dishes like casseroles and use broth instead of meat for flavoring. Steaming your greens is also a healthy alternative that tastes just as good.

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Sweet potatoes

Use sweet potatoes in a variety of ways

Everyone loves candied yams, but you can create this dish without the syrup and so much sugar. You can also mash or roast them with great results.

Use natural beans

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Green beans

The natural versions are always healthier. One of the keys to getting the most flavor out of natural beans is to soak them overnight. This will help them cook better, while providing all the nutrients you need. Instead of using salt pork or ham, use a small amount of bacon or even broth for a good substitute.

Seek out recipes that can show you how to use the foods you love but in healthier ways. Gumbos, casseroles with grits, and even lighter versions of rice like Jasmine and Basmati can make a huge difference. It's your heart and your health -- protect them while preserving your soul. Food, that is.