May 22, 2006

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Hey Gang!

Thank God I married a geek. Not only is he cute, and nice to have around the house, he's endlessly useful. My mom always said that my sister and I shouldn't bother marrying a doctor and a lawyer. Instead, one of us should marry a plumber and the other a mechanic, and then she'd always know where to get one. I did the 21st Century equivalent, and married a guy with a degree in computer engineering!

As you'll read below, I was internet-less for a while there - and then yesterday afternoon, when I was finally writing the 'zine, my computer decided to crash, and the Webmaster, aka That Nice Boy I Married, had to spend all evening running scans, updating my operating system, and all sorts of other stuff I don't understand.

So here it is, finally! Read on!


Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:44 PM

Dana Gets Some Time To Read

Sorry this newsletter has been so long in coming. I went out of town to visit family the weekend of the 5th - 7th , and so didn't write that weekend. I came home to the train-wreck that was Insight Broadband's switch-over to a whole new "backbone" - which I believe means that they shifted everything over to new hardware systems - servers and the like. It was an infuriating mess. My email malfunctioned for a few days, followed by five days of no internet service whatsoever. And since we have internet phone service 'round here, we had no phones, either! (Thank God for cell service. They were the only working phones in the house.)

With no internet service, I not only couldn't email, I couldn't do research at the USDA Nutrient Database, or Pubmed, or any of my other usual online haunts. I was out of business for a week, and when my service came back up, I had to get two columns written to make up for my impromptu week off. (If I'm going to have a week off, I'd like a little more warning next time. I could have gone camping or something.)

There was a benefit, though. Without the internet to work with, and more to the point, to distract me, I got a lot of reading done. Indeed, I read my way through three-count-'em-three books on carb-restricted nutrition. I read The Glycemic Load Diet, by Rob Thompson, MD, The No-Grain Diet, by Dr. Joseph Mercola, and Breaking The Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, by Elaine Gottschall. All three books have things to recommend them, and they all have one important theme in common. I thought I'd give you an over view of each.

Of the three, the one I'd most recommend is The Glycemic Load Diet. I have long believed that the coming great wave of dietary recommendations (assuming that there isn't some huge conspiracy to give us all bad dietary advice, thus maintaining and enlarging the market for pharmaceuticals) will be based on the concept of glycemic load.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the glycemic load was devised to make the glycemic index useful in the real world. The glycemic index is the measurement of how rapidly a given carbohydrate food is absorbed, and therefore how fast and hard it spikes blood sugar. In general, a fast, sharp rise in blood sugar triggers a big insulin release (and all the hormonal mischief it causes) and a big blood sugar crash, bringing fatigue, irritability, and cravings for more carbs.

The problem with the glycemic index is that the tests use 50 grams of carbohydrate worth of the food being tested. On a practical level, that means they test a plateful of spaghetti, but a truckload of cucumbers! It doesn't take into account how food is eaten in the real world, and makes foods seem damaging that really aren't.

Take carrots. Carrots have a high glycemic index for a vegetable - around 50. But do you know how many carrots you'd have to eat to get fifty grams of carbohydrate? More than fifty of those little baby carrots! I like carrots, but that's a bit much. Accordingly, I feel free to use a carrot in a soup, or shredded in my coleslaw, or even munch one now and then as a snack.

That's where the concept of the glycemic load comes in. The glycemic load is defined as the glycemic index times the actual number of grams of carbohydrate eaten. Ten or below is a low glycemic load, 11-20 is medium, and anything over 20 is high.

(Let me state here that generally people put a decimal point in front of that glycemic index number. If you don't, then you have to go with 100 or below being a low glycemic load, etc. I point this out because the nice doctor who wrote The Glycemic Load Diet is one of the ones who leaves out the decimal.)

Five baby carrots - about what I'd eat off a relish tray - have 4 grams of carbohydrate. Multiply 4 x .50 and you get a glycemic load of 2 - very low.

But if you look at, say, oatmeal, you'll see something interesting. It has a glycemic index that's about the same as carrots. But a one-cup serving of cooked oatmeal has 25 grams of carbohydrate, for a glycemic load of 12.5. That's a big difference.

The point that Dr. Thompson makes in the The Glycemic Load Diet is that once you understand glycemic load, carbohydrate foods naturally divide themselves into two groups: starches and refined sugars, and everything else. It's the concentration of carbohydrates in the starches, and the artificial concentration of refined sugars, that makes them a problem. (Fruit juice has to be considered a "refined sugar" too, since the fiber is removed.)

Accordingly, Dr. Thompson feels that for most people, simply avoiding the concentrated carbohydrate foods, while eating vegetables, fruits, and the like freely, is sufficient dietary restriction to cause weight loss and improve health. I think that for the vast majority of carb intolerant folks, he's right.

Dr. Thompson also has some interesting things to say about exercise and insulin resistance. He feels that low intensity exercise - ideally walking - is best for improving insulin utilization. He also says that the effect only lasts roughly 48 hours, making a walk at least every other day a necessity.

The Glycemic Load Diet makes huge sense, is simple to understand and implement, and is very reader-friendly. I would recommend it to anyone.

I confess to being a little put out by Dr. Joseph Mercola's book The No-Grain Diet, and for kind of a silly reason: Mercola makes the common error of using the term "simple carbohydrates" to mean "refined carbohydrates," and "complex carbohydrates" to mean "unrefined carbohydrates." With all due respect, he's wrong. Simple carbohydrates are sugars, whether they're found in an apple or a can of Coke. Complex carbohydrates are starches, whether from brown rice or Wonderbread. The misuse of these terms is a pet peeve of mine, and when Dr. Mercola, a man I respect, makes this error, it sets my teeth on edge.

I'd be less likely to recommend The No-Grain Diet than The Glycemic Load Diet. The diet has lots of "levels," largely based on how pure and hard-core and restrictive you want to be, and makes everything far more complicated than it needs to be.

Dr. Mercola insists on organic everything, raw-milk cheeses, and grass-fed meat. I think all of these are fine things - I have grass-fed beef, raw-milk cheese, and organic lettuce in my kitchen this moment. But I think the important thing is to get people off of concentrated carbs - that alone will make a huge difference in health, whether you're eating organic or not. Too, I know that many people simply can't afford to buy all organic food, and I'd hate for them to think they can't make great strides with simple carb restriction, because they can.

Dr. Mercola also seems to be anti-pork and anti-shellfish, while I consider both to be excellent foods. Pork, in particular, has gotten a bad rap it doesn't deserve; it's not only a great protein, but one of the best sources of potassium, thiamine, and niacin. Unless you're keeping kosher, I see no reason to rule out these proteins.

(Dr. Mercola and I agree, however, that soy is not the Wonder Health Food of All Existence it's chalked up to be.)

I confess to also being put off a bit by something Dr. Mercola calls EFT, or "Emotional Freedom Technique." EFT consists of tapping yourself on various acupuncture points while repeating affirmations, like "Even though I crave this donut, I deeply and completely accept myself." He claims it will help you program yourself past any cravings or emotional ties to food. I suppose it could be so. I never really needed such a thing; I just needed to know what I had to eat to feel good, and that was enough for me. If you troubled by cravings and emotional ties to food, I suppose EFT couldn't hurt, and might help. I found it off-putting-ly New Age-y.

Those criticisms aside, I'm certain that The No-Grain Diet is a healthy one. I think it would very much appeal to folks approaching the idea of carb restriction from a history of being health-food types, and those who really like to do everything all the way.

Breaking The Vicious Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall, BA, M.Sc., is very different from The No-Grain Diet and The Glycemic Load Diet . It is not about weight loss, and does not recommend overall carbohydrate restriction. Instead, it outlines a program of restriction of specific carbohydrates as a way of treating intestinal disorders such as Crohn's Disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and celiac. The current edition also includes the rather remarkable information that some parents have seen dramatic improvement in the condition of their autistic children by the use of the same diet.

Breaking the Vicious Cycle describes the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Quite simply, the diet bans any carbohydrate larger than a single sugar molecule - glucose or fructose. These monosaccharides are the very simplest carbohydrates, and need no digestion to be absorbed. The theory is that those with irritable bowel disorders have difficulty digesting and absorbing any carbohydrate more complex than these, and that instead they fuel fermentation and bacterial growth in the gut. (The autism connection is theorized to arise from toxins formed in the gut by the bacterial overgrowth. I was unaware, but apparently a lot of autistic children also have bowel trouble.)

Therefore, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet bans all starches and most dairy. (Some cheeses, and homemade yogurt, incubated long enough to be sure all the lactose is broken down, are allowed.) It also bans the vast majority of processed foods, even those that have very little carbohydrate, because to those with these bowel problems, even a tiny bit of starchy filler can be a setback.

Please note: This means that many foods that are commonly used by low carb dieters would also be banned - low carb breads and tortillas, polyol (sugar alcohol) sweeteners, the inulin (fructooligosaccharides) that is often mixed with stevia extract, all would be off limits. Indeed, Gottschall states that saccharine is the only artificial sweetener allowed, though I'm unsure why. I'm quite certain that Splenda, with its maltodextrin bulking agent, would be a problem.

However, while table sugar is banned, honey - just as high in sugar - is allowed on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet because it is made up of simple sugars, while table sugar is a disaccharide - two sugar molecules linked together. Some fruit juices are allowed as well, so long as you are certain they have no additives.

If you or a family member suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, or you have autism in the family, Breaking the Vicious Cycle is very much worth reading. It's a complex diet, requiring virtually all foods to be made from scratch, but I'm sure that if you suffer from either of these problems it would be worth it and then some. You might get started at

Obviously, the purpose of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is very different from that of The No-Grain Diet and The Glycemic Load Diet. People with inflammatory bowel conditions have trouble keeping weight on, not taking it off! Still, I find it fascinating that restricting carbohydrate intake has so many different beneficial effects.

I also find it telling that all three diets zero in on the same villain: Grains. More generally, a diet based on starches. We're having whole grains pushed at us from every side, we're being told they're not only beneficial, but essential to good health. I didn't believe it before. These books just reinforced that disbelief.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:36 PM

Reader Review of The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook

The best yet...

I love Dana's previous cookbooks, so I had to buy this as soon as I saw it. I've never posted a review on amazon, but I love this book so much I had to. I spend evenings paging through it trying to decide which recipe to make next, out of all the delicious recipes. They are easy too. Some recipes even have a wide variety of ingredients, which I love. I am part of a CSA (community supported agriculture) and I get some of those ingredients in my weekly boxes (fennel, leeks, radicchio, etc).

I've made the Bran muffins, gyros, lime ginger yogurt fruit dip and they were all delicious. Next is Tequila-Lime Chicken Skillet.

Like another reviewer said, she also has great nutrional information in the beginning of the book.

I'd recommend this book to everyone!

S. Huebner, Westby, WI, May 2, 2006

Thanks! I'm so glad you like it. We don't have a program like that here in Bloomington, that I know of, but we have a great farmer's market, and I love it!

You can order The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook at Amazon.

Or you can pick up a copy at your local bookstore!

If you already have a copy, we'd love to have you review it, too.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:31 PM

Liquid Splenda

Several of you have written me, asking what's happened to, and do I know of a source of liquid Splenda? I don't know what happened to the website, but surmise they've gone out of business.

But I've scouted up a couple of sources for you!

Sweetzfree sells the stuff, but has a limited supply; they therefore have only a couple of "windows" per month when they allow orders. The 4-ounce bottle - the largest size - costs $64, but given that this is pure sucralose, and one drop equals a teaspoon and a half of sugar, that bottle should last you a long, long time.

Another possibility is FiberFit, a product that combines liquid sucralose, water, and soluble fiber. (I suspect that the fiber is in it so that they can call it a "supplement" instead of a sweetener. For some reason the manufacturers of sucralose (the sweetener in Splenda) aren't happy about the idea of the pure liquid being sold.) FiberFit is not as sweet as Sweetzfree's liquid sucralose - one teaspoon of FiberFit is the equivalent of about 8 teaspoons of sugar. That's still plenty sweet! You can get FiberFit through Netrition

Hope this helps!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:29 PM

I Catch Flak

I've mentioned Jimmy Moore, whose Livin' La Vida Low Carb blog I admire. He recently pointed out in the blog that the name of my column has been changed to Cook Well, Eat Well. He's disappointed that it's no longer specifically a low carb column. A reader at his blog has accused me of "selling out."

Writing is my job, it's true, and I have a mortgage to pay. But the column is a very small part of my income, and there are other things I could do to make money. The column, however, is a bully pulpit, a way to disseminate information through the mainstream media that otherwise might not be there, and a way to reach people who may not buy my books or even know this 'zine exists. But I can only do that if the newspapers carry the column, and if the readers read it. If changing the name of the column is what I need to do to get the chance to give people useful information about nutrition, I'm not ashamed to do that.

Jimmy was also kind enough to review the new cookbook, and he gave it a rave.

Thanks, Jimmy!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:24 PM

Reader Review of The Low-Carb Barbecue Book

Great BBQ and Grilling for Low Carbers

Dana Carpender has done it again with The Low-Carb Barbecue Book. I really have to say this is the book to have to create delicious, healthy summer foods!

Grilling is of course just about perfect low carb food - it involves fresh fish, fresh chicken, and lots of fresh vegetables. However, there are a few dishes in classic BBQ that are notoriously high carb, like potato salad and baked beans. Dana helps with everything.

There are of course the rubs and marinades, the instructions on grilling and BBQing (and how they differ). There are lots of great spice combos that can be helpful to new cooks, but are second-hand to experienced grillers.

Where the book really shines is in the side dishes and extras. The variety of mock-potato salad are great. There are various slaws and salads, plus a wide array of desserts.

The drinks section is fun but again, what low carb drinker doesn't know about mixing rum and diet coke? Is vodka plus sugar-free lemonade really worth a mention? I'd much rather have had those pages pointed at appetizers or more side dishes.

Still, summertime's parties and picnics will become much easier for low carbers who don't have to worry if something is OK to eat or not. By following the recipes in this book, you're sure to get a delicious dish that is truly low carb and healthy for you.

Highly recommended!

Lisa Shea, Massachusetts, June 4, 2004

Thanks,. Lisa!

The Low-Carb Barbecue Book

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:19 PM


Is it true that you can't have fruit on a low carbohydrate diet? Well, that's certainly a persistent rumor. But unlike many of the ideas going around about low carbohydrate dieting, this one has a more complicated answer than "yes" or "no." The truth is that fruit varies a great deal in sugar content. Some fruits really are too high carb for us to eat often or in any quantity, while others can fit neatly into a low carbohydrate diet - can even be eaten daily, if you like.

I'm pleased to inform you that one of your very best bets on a low carb diet is currently in season, and will be plentiful, cheap, and wonderful all summer: Cantaloupe!

A 1/8th-of-a-melon wedge of cantaloupe has 5.6 grams of carbohydrate, with 0.6 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of just 5 grams - that can fit into anyone's low carb day, even if you're doing a 20-gram-per-day induction. Better yet, cantaloupe is darned nutritious, with 184 mgs. of potassium, 2334 I.U.s of vitamin A, 14 mcgs. of folate, and 25.3 mgs. vitamin C in that same wedge.

What about honeydew? Honeydew is higher in potassium than cantaloupe, with 285 mg., and it also wins in the folate sweepstakes, with 24 mcg. But honeydew's cool green loses out to cantaloupe's rich orange when it comes to vitamin A - honeydew has only 62 I.Us. Most importantly for us, honeydew is considerably higher in carbohydrate, with 11.4 grams in 1/8 of a melon, and 1 gram of fiber, for a usable carb count of 10.4 grams. Still, it's a pretty good carb-bargain, if you've got room in your daily count.

Watermelon is a possibility, too. Because whole watermelons are so much bigger than cantaloupe or honeydew, a portion is considerably less than 1/8 melon! We'll go with 1 cup, diced: 11.5 grams of carbohydrate, with 0.6 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of just under 11 grams. 170 mgs. potassium, 865 I.U.s vitamin A, and just 12 mgs. vitamin C. If you're having a slice at a barbecue, I'd make it a small one, but you certainly don't have to forego the watermelon altogether.

Still, cantaloupe is the clear winner in the low carb stakes. You can enjoy a simple wedge of cantaloupe as-is, of course. But consider some other possibilities:

* Dice up 1/2 cup of cantaloupe and combine it with 3/4 cup cottage cheese for a quick, cool, summery breakfast, with 12 grams of usable carbohydrate, 24 grams of protein, 407 mgs. potassium, 125 mgs. calcium, 2661 I.U.s of vitamin A, 33 mgs of vitamin C, and 180 calories.

* Toss balls of cantaloupe and honeydew with lime juice and freshly grated ginger root for a light, elegant dessert.

* Combine diced cantaloupe with blueberries (10.5 grams of carbohydrate and 1.7 grams fiber per 1/2 cup), add a little Splenda and a few fresh mint leaves, for a pretty dessert with more beneficial phytochemicals than most anything you can think of.

* Cut a cantaloupe in half, scoop out the seeds, and fill the resulting hollow with sugar-free lime gelatin (0 grams carbohydrate.) Chill for several hours, then cut in wedges, for a fun end to a cookout.

* Peel thin wedges of cantaloupe and wrap each one in a thin slice of prosciutto, for a classic Italian appetizer. If you like, you can wrap chunks of cantaloupe in small squares of proscuitto, and spear each one on a toothpick, for an easy summer hors d'oeuvre.

You can even put cantaloupe in your salad! This salad is not only beautiful, tasty, nutritious, and low carb, but each serving has more potassium than two bananas!

Summer Treat Spinach Salad

2 pounds raw spinach
1 ripe avocado
1/4 cantaloupe
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
2 scallions, sliced
Vinaigrette dressing, bottled or homemade (I like Paul Newman's Olive Oil and Vinegar.)

Wash the spinach very well, and dry. (Or you can just buy bagged, triple-washed spinach!) Tear up big leaves. Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and the peel, and cut in chunks. You can also peel and chunk the cantaloupe, or, if you want to be fancy, you can use a melon baller. Add to the spinach, along with the alfalfa sprouts and the scallion. Toss with the vinaigrette right before serving. Serves 6. 11 grams of carbohydrate per serving, with 5 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 6 grams. 5 grams of protein.

(Reprinted from 500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender (2002 Fair Winds Press) by permission of the publisher.)

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:16 PM

Cooking Low Carb: Aladdin Salad

I first had this fantastic salad at the Aladdin Restaurant in San Diego It was easy to duplicate, and way too good to leave out! If you're ever in San Diego, I highly recommend that you go to the Aladdin, by the way. I'm going there for Memorial Day Weekend, and I just may visit the Aladdin again.

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Salt and pepper
8 cups romaine, broken up
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup thinly sliced sweet red onion
1/3 cup bottled balsamic vinaigrette - I like Paul Newman's
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup shelled pistachios (look for these at Mediterranean or Middle Eastern groceries, or at a health food store with a good bulk section.)
1 medium ripe tomato

Preheat your electric tabletop grill, while you salt and pepper your chicken lightly. Throw it on the grill, and set a timer for 6 minutes or so.

While the chicken's cooking, assemble the romaine, cilantro, and onion in a large salad bowl, pour on the dressing, and toss it well. Pile this mixture on two serving plates. Scatter the feta and pistachios over the greens.

When your chicken is done, slice it, and divide it between the two salads. Slice your tomato into eighths, and arrange four slices around each salad, then serve.

2 large servings, each with 18 grams of carbohydrate and 7 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 11 grams. 40 grams protein, 1333 mgs potassium, and 320 mgs calcium!

(Reprinted with permission from 15 Minute Low Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender, copyright 2003 Fair Winds Press)

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:10 PM