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EAT TO YOUR HEART'S CONTENT

The advice to cut down on fat is by no means new. Over the past couple of decades, cooks have been discovering how to make good-for-you food that pleases the palate and is heart-healthy.

The fifth edition of the American Heart Association Cookbook (Times Books, $25) comes 18 years after the first edition and reflects some of that knowledge.

Although warnings about diet and health have grown louder and stronger, the advice is not dramatically different. Cut fat, especially saturated fat, to less than 30 percent of calories, eat more fruit, vegetables and grains. Eat a variety of foods.

"There are changes in styles of food, more emphasis on vegetarian," said the book's editor, Mary Winston. "People have less time to cook, so we did recipes with that in mind."

There also are more low-fat products available in supermarkets, she said.

"And we know more about making lower-fat food taste better than we did 18 years ago," Winston said. "We want people to understand that to eat in this way, you don't have to be a martyr. It is enjoyable."

The AHA's new edition contains hundreds of new recipes. There's also a guide to adapting favorite recipes, with a sample lasagne that is reduced from 679 calories and 41 grams of fat a serving to 326 calories and 8 grams of fat a serving.

The American Heart Association Cookbook is intended to be used every day, but if you wanted healthful fancy food for a party or a Valentine's Day dinner, where could you turn? Certainly not a hospital dining room, right?

But proof that healthy food does not mean deprivation is available at Chez Eddy, a restaurant that opened in 1981 at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. Every dish meets the AHA dietary guidelines.

"I have eaten there several times. It's an excellent restaurant," said Winston.

Chez Eddy, where a three-course dinner runs $25 to $30, relies on fresh ingredients, herbs and low-fat sauces _ and an imagination. Owned by the hospital, it is open to the public and patronized as well by patients, their families and hospital staff, said restaurant manager Helen Roe.

The photographs in The Chez Eddy Living Heart Cookbook (Simon & Schuster, $25) will convince anyone that this is not punishment food: crab royal with champagne vinaigrette, chicken montero with spicy corn relish, grilled Thai chicken salad, or broiled swordfish with pineapple salsa.

The AHA book has clear and concise explanations of the basic nutrients and the effects of diet on coronary heart disease, some cancers and other diseases. It also explains how to apply the association's dietary guidelines at the supermarket and how to read food labels.

Soup can be a wonderful diet food, satisfying and interesting, with endless potential for variety. The AHA includes several recipes using a great trick to give low-fat soups added heft: Some of the vegetables and liquid, sometimes with rice, are pureed to give the impression of a cream soup.

Among those are a creamy asparagus soup and a cabbage soup.

Salads often are a trap, for while greens and vegetables are full of vitamins and short on calories, bacon bits, fried croutons, olives and fatty dressings are trouble. One way out is to stop using commercial dressings: The AHA cookbook includes more than 20 dressings that are easy to make and range in calories from 3 to 92 a tablespoon.

There are plenty of fish recipes, and a month's worth of poultry dinners, but meat and desserts _ apple and pumpkin pies, pineapple cheesecake and oatmeal carrot cookies _ also are part of the book.

It's a relief that there can be so many interesting recipes in a book designed to reduce fat and salt. Take some care, however, because not every recipe is low-fat or low-salt, particularly for people on highly restricted diets.

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