01/13/2014 05:37 EST | Updated 03/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Healthy eating advocate Rose Reisman offers nutritious recipes, tips in new book

TORONTO - Rose Reisman says people are not only often in denial about how much weight they need to lose, but they also don't know how to change their ways to shed the pounds.

"They stop eating. They skip meals and they try to do a little bit of starvation, which never works," she said. "People still don't really understand how to change their lifestyle."

In "The Best of Rose Reisman: 20 Years of Healthy Recipes" (Whitecap Books), the nutritional consultant focuses on recipes using healthy ingredients along with tips on how to cut excess fat, sugar and sodium. She also discusses the detriments of processed foods and how they can contribute to food addiction.

While those who opt to starve themselves will lose weight, once they resume their normal eating habits they'll start packing on the pounds again, said Reisman, who does menu consulting for Pickle Barrel and Glow restaurants.

"It's like when you get the flu or food poisoning. You feel great because you've lost five pounds. You haven't eaten anything in those days, but then what do you do? You eat like there's no tomorrow. It doesn't stay with you and then you gain that weight back quite quickly. So I'm telling people you've got to start from scratch."

Reisman, who has a personal gourmet and catering business, offers her own healthy take on foods that are trendy or restaurant mainstays in her new book.

Of the 265 recipes listed, 30 per cent are new and came from observing cultural trends. For example, many ingredients in Thai and Korean food could only be obtained in specialty stores 15 years ago — now they're widely available in local supermarkets, she said. The remaining recipes were also updated, and include everything from breakfast dishes to decadent desserts.

For those looking to lose weight in a healthy manner, Reisman has some key recommendations —including the importance of eating a healthy breakfast. The morning meal can be as simple as a piece of whole-wheat bread, peanut butter and banana and some yogurt or milk.

"That's four food groups right there and that's going to sustain you longer than a bowl of Cheerios. And then at lunch, people don't nearly eat enough for lunch because they try to save up for dinner."

Reisman also recommended toting snacks of more than one food group and eating every two to three hours. An apple and nuts, cheese with whole-grain crackers or a whole-wheat cracker with a little peanut butter and banana are some possible options.

Reisman, 60, is the first to admit it's not easy to reverse eating habits. Her first book, written in the late 1980s, focused on high-fat desserts.

"I was running three, four, five miles a day and I was slim and I really thought, 'Hey, this is pretty good. I can eat desserts and I can eat all this cream stuff, and I used to make my own ice cream every day in the summer ...."

Her days of carefree eating came to a crashing halt when a routine medical visit revealed her cholesterol level was that of someone twice her age. "Everybody in my family has genetic heart disease, diabetes type 2, cholesterol and obesity, so it wasn't looking that positive.

"So turning it around was really a whole new world to me and I wasn't positive about it at first. I thought it would be all about deprivation. I really learned otherwise."

Refusing to give up dressings or sacrifice her sweet tooth, Reisman learned how to cook differently and has worked since then through books, blogs and TV and radio appearances to educate others.

"It wasn't like having a small little piece of rich dessert. Could I make a dessert where I could have a decent-sized piece and just know I wasn't adding chemical sweeteners to it? It was really a trajectory of trying to learn a whole new other skill of cooking.

"What was harder for me is I really was enjoying what I was doing, but I still had the passion when I looked at that other food. It was an addiction."

Reisman said she used to drive to a movie theatre midday to pick up a large size of popcorn to nosh for the rest of the day, believing it was a healthy snack. Now she knows that it clocks in at just under 2,000 calories.

"I was consuming my entire calorie intake, just thinking that was decent, and I wasn't even getting butter on it. So when I started understanding that myself, I went, 'Oh, my God, I could have a piece of chicken and a grain or a pasta or a salad and even a small piece of cake for way less calories than that.'"

She says it took several years until she could look at the foods she formerly ate without longing. "I can't believe I used to love them, but it takes a long time to get to that point."

Unless a dish is totally dependent on brie cheese or butter, Reisman said she's able to reduce the calories by up to 50 per cent with her modified cooking approach.

To add flavour she may develop a flavourful salsa to accompany a meat or fish dish to satisfy the desire for sodium and fat. She never deep-fries but instead sautees with a misting of vegetable spray. For cakes or desserts, she decreases the amount of oil or butter and makes up the difference with crushed pineapple, pureed dates, light sour cream, light yogurt or Greek yogurt.

Reisman likes to highlight recipes with nuts for a crunchy texture and burst of flavour. While nuts are healthy, people tend to eat too many of them, which is why she'll opt to include a smattering of them in a dish, such as a pistachio-crusted French toast or a cashew-crusted tilapia.

"If you can understand the principles, you'll know how to look at any recipe you have in the past and make it healthier."