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The No Percent Solution

June 24, 1993

Here's an example of how a recipe can appear healthier than it really is. Julee Rosso's recipe for Raspberry Muffins, with 2 full cups of sugar, has 18.25% of its calories derived from fat. (That number comes from The Times' independent analysis; Rosso's analysis puts the figure at 17%.) That's not bad for a fresh-baked sweet. The problem is that these muffins are really sweet, too sweet for most tasters in The Times Test Kitchen. And at 182 calories per muffin, they're not exactly low-cal.

We tried the recipe with just 1/2 cup of sugar and kept everything else the same. Suddenly, the percentage of calories from fat went up to 28.5%. Does this mean the high-sugar muffin is nutritionally preferable? Not really. The calories in our lower-sugar muffin went down significantly, to 117 calories. And the actual amount of fat grams remained exactly the same : 4 grams.

This is one reason the nutritional analyses that accompany recipes in The Times Food Section do not include percentage of calories from fat. The USDA recommends that a person's overall diet should not include more than 30% of its calories from fat. But applied to a single recipe, the figure can be misleading. The recipe that really changed our minds: raw zucchini with lemon. The only ingredients are zucchini, olive oil and lemon juice, but when analyzed it appears to be a nutritional disaster--97% of its calories come from fat. To get the salad down to the recommended 30% figure, you'd have to eat 7 slices of bread with the zucchini--that's 500 extra calories.

RASPBERRY MUFFINS 1/2 cup nonfat yogurt 1/2 cup nonfat cottage cheese 2 cups or 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup canola oil 1 teaspoon minced lemon zest 1 egg 2 lightly beaten egg whites 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 2 cups flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 pint raspberries

Place yogurt and cottage cheese in blender and blend until smooth. (Mixture may be blended by hand. Do not use food processor.) Set aside.

Cream sugar, oil and lemon zest. Add egg and egg whites and mix completely. (Save 2 egg yolks for another use.) Add yogurt-cottage cheese mixture and combine well. Add vanilla and lemon juice and combine.

Slowly add flour and baking powder, stirring until completely blended.

When batter is smooth, add raspberries and gently mix until berries are somewhat blended. Do not overmix or break up berries.

Place paper cups in muffin tin. Fill cups 3/4 full with batter. Place in oven and bake at 350 degrees 25 minutes, or until wood pick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean. Makes 18 muffins.

Each muffin, made with 2 cups sugar, contains about: 182 calories; 111 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 35 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.56 grams fiber; 18.25% calories from fat.

Each muffin, made with 1/2 cup sugar, contains about: 117 calories; 111 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.62 grams fiber; 28.5% calories from fat.

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