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updated: 2/8/2011 6:46 PM

Not all oils good for baking

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(Q.) Can I substitute olive or canola oil for butter in recipes to avoid saturated fat?

(A.) These oils can easily be substituted in sauteing or seasoning; for baking there are a few caveats.

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The good news is that by using olive or canola oil instead of butter you can cut the cholesterol-raising saturated fat content of your food; if you replace salted butter, sodium will drop slightly, too.

An easy and delicious substitution is using olive oil to saute vegetables or in preparing potatoes or rice. Olive and canola oil can also be used in place of butter in baking, but make sure you use the extra light type of olive oil to avoid an "olive" flavor where you don't want it.

When substituting oil for butter in baking, use one-fourth less than the recipe requires. For example, if a recipe calls for a quarter-cup of butter (four tablespoons), use three tablespoons of oil.

Some people report that even with this adjustment in amount, cookies or cakes come out with a heavier and less desirable texture when made with oil; cutting back on other liquids may help. Other options for baking recipes that call for butter are to use tub margarine (not spread), use the butter but reduce the amount by one-fourth to one-third, or use some pureed banana or applesauce for part of the butter.

Piecrust and other pastry can be made with oil, but the flaky texture most people seek is usually not possible. Since the butter-laden crust is usually not the only less-nutritious thing about these dishes, some people might prefer to save them for rare occasions and then make them with butter.

Remember that although olive and canola oil make a healthy substitute for butter, all fats are significant sources of calories. So unless you need lots of extra calories, don't let that "halo effect" of olive and canola as healthy choices lead you to use large amounts.

(Q.) Should I be paying attention to the glycemic index (GI) of food?

(A.) A food's glycemic index (GI) refers to its effect on blood sugars shortly after it is eaten.

Higher GI foods are digested relatively quickly and usually contain either less fiber or less fat, both of which slow down how quickly the body absorbs carbohydrates. These foods tend to raise blood sugars more, which can then lead to a greater increase in insulin levels.

Studies do show that eating mainly foods with a low GI can reduce blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. But according to the American Diabetes Association, studies also show that the total amount of carbohydrate in food, in general, is a stronger predictor of blood glucose response than the GI. Study results are less clear when glycemic index is applied to long-term weight loss.

For both blood sugar level reduction and weight loss, glycemic index is more likely to be significant when it is combined with other methods (like portion control) to keep calories at an appropriate level and with exercise. So at this point, if you have Type 2 diabetes, it may help to pay attention to your foods' glycemic index in addition to following the basic components of healthy eating.

The good news is that by choosing foods that are recommended for a healthful diet -- high-fiber vegetables, whole grains and beans -- and limiting consumption of sweets and refined grains, you may already be selecting mostly low GI foods.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn more about the group and its New American Plate program at aicr.org.

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