May 22, 2006

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

April 26, 2006

Burning Your Own Energy

As I write this, it's a glorious Sunday late-afternoon in April. I'm wearing old yoga pants, a cheap tank top, and a bandana wrapped around my forehead as a sweat band. I've spent much of the afternoon out in my new yard, mowing our very considerable expanse of lawn.

"Very considerable" is defined here as roughly two and a half to three acres. We mow it with your standard walk-behind mower - not a lawn tractor; not even a self-propelled mower, but one we have to use muscle to push. That's how we mowed our previous yard, with roughly an acre of lawn. This time of year mowing is a near-constant task - the grass is growing fast in Southern Indiana!

I steadfastly refuse to get a ride-on mower. Why on earth would I spend over a grand for the equipment, plus pay for a whole lot of extra gasoline, just to encourage us to get less exercise? Yet this is what Americans have been increasingly doing for the past few decades - burning gasoline instead of their own energy.

When we moved in last fall, I did a lot of raking - if you think a lawn this big grows a lot of grass, you should see how many leaves it can accumulate! We don't own a leaf blower. Again, I'd have to spend a bunch of money on the equipment, and then on gasoline - all to the purpose of getting less exercise.

I did, however, decide to buy a leaf-sweeper. I went to four stores before I found one made to be walked behind and pushed by hand, instead of to be towed by a garden tractor. The help at the stores looked at me kind of funny when I asked for the people-powered variety. After all, doesn't everyone prefer to burn gas rather than their own energy?

Back in my early twenties I had a habit of walking uptown in the evening to hang out at the only bar in town. I figured that I burned off some of the wine by walking, and anyway, I'd never have to concern myself with driving under the influence.

When people found out I'd walked to the bar you'd have thought I'd said I flapped my wings and flew! "You - WALKED?!" Shock! Surprise! Near disbelief! Simply unheard of!

How far was it? About a mile and a quarter. I found myself thinking of Pa Ingalls in Little Town on the Prairie, saying of the family's new claim in South Dakota, "It's only four miles from town - just a nice walk."

Yet I've read that the average American now fires up the car rather than walk as far as the length of a football field. It bemuses me to think how many gallons of gas we burn up circling parking lots, rather than simply parking in the first spot we see and walking a few hundred feet. My sister, who has recently joined Weight Watchers (she's been counting points and doing low carb simultaneously - ie, eating low carb points - and has lost nearly twenty pounds) reports seeing people driving around the lot looking for the spot closest to the Weight Watchers meeting. More ironic it would be hard to get.

What does this have to do with low carb diets, other than the obvious connection between exercise and weight loss? A couple of things.

First of all, exercise has been demonstrated to improve insulin sensitivity. There's every reason to think that the dramatic decrease in exercise over the past century is a co- factor, along with the massive increase in the consumption of junk carbs, for the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other carb intolerance diseases. Trying to improve your body's carbohydrate metabolism and reduce your risk of disease by diet alone is kind of like trying to push a wheel barrow while holding only one handle - it's a whole lot harder than it ought to be, and you're just not going to get very far.

Secondly, one of the most common complaints about a low carb diet is that meat and vegetables are more expensive than pasta, rice, and potatoes. This is true, though I have long held that food that makes you fat, hungry, and sick wouldn't be cheap if they were giving it away. Few investments will yield you the impressive results that money spend on good food will, and I don't just mean in looking and feeling better. I'm talking finances. Improved health means less money spent on increasingly pricey pharmaceuticals, lower rates for health and life insurance, fewer sick days, less time and gas and co-payments spent on trips to the doctor, not to mention the money saved on buying new, larger clothes every year or so.

But to add to those savings, the money spent on decent food can, to some extent, be made up by spending less money on gas, and using our own energy to do things instead. As the price of gas goes up, this strategy will become more and more economically effective.

It goes beyond money saved on gas, though. You can skip buying all kinds of pricey equipment, too. I certainly spend less on garden equipment than people who use tractors and leaf blowers!

For that matter, if you could walk to work and back, for a total of say an hour to an hour and a half a day walking, you'd not only save on gas, you could drop any expensive gym membership you might be paying for. Around here we're talking $20 a month for most gyms. Or you could skip buying that treadmill. Oh, and let's not forget the reduced wear-and-tear on your car.

Don't have the time to walk to work? How about the time you're spending at the gym?

I realize not everyone can walk (or bike) to work; some people simply have too long a commute, while others have no safe route. But is there some other way you could burn your own energy, instead of gas? Maybe when you're running a half-a-dozen errands within six or eight blocks of each other you could park the car and walk to all those places. Maybe you could get off the bus or train a stop or two early, and walk the extra distance - some places, this maneuver will save you money on your fare. Maybe you could just vow to never move your car for any trip shorter than a quarter-mile, unless you have to haul something heavy, or the weather is truly foul. And of course, keep your eye out for household and garden chores where you can use muscle instead of motors.

Get your kids in on the act. Before the lawn tractor became a suburban fixture, kids mowed the lawn, raked the leaves, weeded the flower beds, along side the grown ups. My family used to giggle at the folks next door, who had four-count'em-four strapping teenaged sons, yet paid a landscaping service to mow their lawn. Seemed silly to us. Yes, your kids may whine about yard work. Big deal. Aren't they always telling you "I'm bored" anyway?

Kids used to walk or bike everywhere, too. I walked or rode my bike to elementary school and back, a little over a half-mile either way, not only morning and afternoon, but home for lunch and back. That's over two miles of walking or biking, five days a week, all through the school year. (Not uphill both ways, just one way. But yeah, I walked in the rain and snow.) I wanted to go to a friend's house? . I wanted to go into town? (For you young folks, "going downtown" is the archaic version of "hanging out at the mall.") I wanted to go to Friday Night Rec at the Y? I I wanted to go to the village pool to meet pals? I walked or rode my bike.

Are you thinking "But the world was safer then?" Actually it wasn't, at least here in the US. Crime rates were rising sharply in the 1960s, and especially the 1970s, but have fallen since the 1990s. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, crimes against children have dropped since 1993. And the US Department of Justice says that specifically, sexual crimes against children dropped 40% between 1992 and 2000.

What has increased is media coverage of this sort of crime. Twenty four hour national news coverage has made the world seem like a much more dangerous place than it was in my childhood, when in reality, the US has actually become safer. Sadly, the greatest crime danger to kids (outside of their families, but that needn't concern us for the purpose of this discussion) comes from people who disguise themselves as "helping adults" - scout masters, coaches, babysitters, that sort of thing - rather than from strangers who might grab kids on the street. Not saying it doesn't ever, ever happen, but it's very rare. Child predators mostly try to find a position where they can "groom" children over weeks or months.

In the meanwhile, there is not just a risk, but a full-blown epidemic of obesity and diabetes among the same children who are being protected against the "dangers" they might encounter while walking and biking. We're protecting children right into diminished lives and early graves.

You may live where the roads aren't safe enough for your kids to walk or bike to school. I live in such a neighborhood; biking to the nearest school/shopping area/subdivisions - only a few miles - involves a mile stretch along a country highway with a narrow shoulder. (That's why out here we need big lawns for exercise instead.)

But in areas that allow for walking or biking, I'd love to see a renaissance of kids getting places under their own steam. The more of them are out there, the safer it will be. And wouldn't it be nice to free up all that time you spend playing chauffeur? And all that money you're spending on gas?

How about getting some family time walking or biking? Walk or bike to the park together for a picnic and an afternoon of playing in the sunshine, or to the grocery store or convenience store for a dozen eggs or the Sunday paper. Walk to church (you could bike, but most Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes aren't conducive to biking.) Beats sitting in front of the tube together.

In short, I challenge you to think of creative ways you could be burning calories instead of gas.

It's at least worth thinking about.

Maybe while you're mowing the lawn.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:16 PM

April 18, 2006

Honey, We're Helping Kill The Kids

I haven't written a rant in a while, but I feel one coming on...

Do any of you watch TLC (The Learning Channel?) I'm a big fan of the makeover show What Not To Wear. Last Friday during the show, they announced that the new show Honey We're Killing the Kids would be on afterward. It had been heavily advertised as a show that would show parents of junk-food-junkie kids just exactly what their indulgence was doing to their children, and help them make the changes needed. Sounded right up my alley, so I stayed put after watching Stacy and Clinton.

And ended up turning off the television in disgust halfway through.

The family presented certainly needed change. The parents were seriously overweight, as was the oldest son. Meals were mostly carry-out or packaged food; the kids were getting 60% of their calories from commercial deep fried stuff, aka Festival of Bad Carbs and Hydrogenated Fats. They ate unlimited sugary garbage like "Brownie Bites." The children watched unlimited television and played unlimited video games. All three were unruly, defiant, and rude. No one in the family got any exercise. There was certainly room for improvement.

But did they actually try to give this family workable solutions? Oh, heck, no. This is reality television. It's not about helping people, it's about creating on-camera conflict.

So what did they give these three boys who had, up until now, been eating fast food and packaged junk, for their first healthy supper? Tofu and bok choy stir fry.

We won't even talk about whether estrogen-laden soy foods are a good idea for boys approaching puberty. Could they have possibly come up with a meal more calculated to make the kids go "Eeeeew!"? Could anything have been more unfamiliar, more "weird" to them? Hard to think of anything, isn't it?

Off the top of my head I can think of a half-a-dozen menus that would have been more acceptable, and still have been a huge nutritional step up for this family: Roasted chicken, green beans, and a small serving of brown rice. Individual pizzas made on low carb or whole wheat tortillas, with no-sugar-added pizza sauce and mozzarella, plus a big crisp salad on the side. Homemade chili, made with a combo of ground round and ground turkey, with plenty of tomatoes in it for veggies, and a side of baby carrots and ranch dip. A protein and vegetable-rich soup - chicken minestrone, or vegetable beef, perhaps. A chicken stir fry, with vegetables the kids recognized - peppers, perhaps - instead of tofu and bok choy. Flank steak, with faux-po (cauliflower and potatoes pureed together to dilute the carbs) and sliced ripe tomatoes. Protein-and-fiber enriched pasta, with plenty of meatballs, no-sugar-added sauce, and cheese, again with a salad.

Oh, there still might have been some whining for fries, but I'd bet none of these menus would have inspired the understandably extreme reaction of that tofu-and-bok-choy stir fry, and all of them would have been a huge nutritional step up for this whole family.

For breakfast, they gave the kids plain oatmeal. Plain oat meal. Again, ignoring the fact that oatmeal is a lousy source of the protein these kids needed to help them control their appetites all day, who eats plain oatmeal? I've never known anyone who didn't add something - brown sugar, or honey, or raisins, or sugar and cinnamon, plus, of course, milk or cream. Plain oatmeal is the stuff of Dickensian orphanages.

How about a smoothie made with plain yogurt, each kid's favorite fruit, some vanilla whey protein, sweetened with Splenda or stevia/FOS blend? Or that same yogurt, with sweetener and vanilla, layered in a parfait with fresh fruit and toasted nuts? Or whole grain/low carb toast, with natural peanut butter and low-sugar jelly? Or a couple of string cheese sticks? Or, heck, good old eggs and bacon? Again, any of these would have been far better nutritionally than cold cereal, toaster pastries, and donuts, and would have kept the kids full and satisfied far longer than that plain oatmeal. And they would have been far, far more acceptable to the kids.

But nooooo. Reality television needs conflict. So they had to make the changes as unpleasant as they possibly could. How else would they get the children to scream and curse and threaten to run away from home?

Then there was the "Junk Trunk" - the family went through the cabinets together, searching out all the processed, sugary, carby junk food. But did they throw it away? Oh, no. That would have been too easy. They piled it in a trunk in the kitchen, and left it there where the kids could see it and be tempted by it. After all, they had to teach the kids to "deal with temptation!" Then they trained a hidden camera on the Junk Trunk, and when the youngest boy, inevitably, succumbed to temptation (having been fed a diet of tofu, bok choy, and plain oatmeal,) they harangued him into tears on camera. It was downright sadistic.

Couldn't they have thrown the junk away, and given the boys reasonably nutritious treats - peanuts, or home-popped popcorn (microwave popcorn has hydrogenated oils - and is ridiculously expensive, to boot. But popped in good fats, popcorn would have been a reasonably healthy choice for kids, who can tolerate more carbs than adults.) Why not sugar-free fruit pops, or frozen bananas-on-sticks?

And it wasn't just the food. They sent the boys to a fancy restaurant for an etiquette lesson. Just eating real food, with forks and knives off of plates instead of out of wrappers, at the table instead of in front of the television, all while making conversation instead of staring at the tube or yelling, would have been, again, a big step up for this gang. There was absolutely no purpose to a crash course in what fork to use.

The whole thing was nauseating and infuriating. And for me, the worst part was that they made it look so hard and so painful and so unpleasant. I could just hear millions of people across America thinking, "So much for that. I mean, sure, our kids are fat and unhealthy - hell, we're fat and unhealthy! But there's no way I could go through that. And I'm not eating tofu!"

In short, a show that gives the impression of being about facilitating healthy change for families has, in my opinion, set back the cause it professes to espouse. That's sad.

And onions to nutritionist Dr. Lisa Hark for apparently pushing a low fat diet, low in animal foods. It's increasingly clear that there's no value to a low fat diet (although there's huge value to avoiding bad fats - hydrogenates and highly processed, polyunsaturated vegetable oils.) There's also increasing doubt that soy foods like tofu are fit for human consumption, much less healthier than the animal foods that have been the backbone of human nutrition since prehistoric times. And oatmeal, despite the good publicity, isn't some magical health food. There was no good nutritional purpose in pushing the foods she did.

I've rarely been so profoundly disappointed. What a huge disservice to TLC's viewers.

Folks, it just doesn't have to be that hard. I have no children of my own, but I certainly know plenty of children. My niece and nephew - 5 and 7, respectively - stayed with me recently, and happily ate grilled chicken, low carb whole grain toast, raw carrots, apples, pepper strips, even raw spinach - all foods they're familiar with, because it's what they get at home. When I made them a Sunday morning breakfast of sugar-free smoothies, made with milk, vanilla whey protein powder, sugar-free vanilla syrup, a small scoop of Breyer's Carb Smart vanilla ice cream, and a little guar for thickness, Henry said I'd "sent his tastebuds to Paradise." (The kid has a precocious way with words.)

Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting James, Elizabeth, and William Hoffman, the three children of my sister's best-friend-since-Girl-Scouts, Debbie Hoffman, who brought her brood to visit us at the Jersey Shore. They were smart, nice, well-behaved kids, with very broad tastes in food. Why? Their father is a professional chef, and from the time they were out of high chairs, they were simply expected to eat whatever the grown ups were eating for dinner. No special "kiddy food." They were matter-of-fact about it, and seemed to think it was silly for any family to act otherwise, and that other kids were missing out on the good stuff.

Of course, these families started early. Changing gears later on will be harder, I have no illusions about that. But it certainly doesn't have to be anything like as hard as the dorks at TLC deliberately made it. And on one thing we can all agree: Teaching your children to eat a diet of healthy real food is a gift they deserve, and that you can't afford not to give them.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:19 PM

April 08, 2006

Making the Most of Cheap Eggs

It's egg season! We tend to forget, because of battery egg farming techniques, that eggs really are a seasonal food - kept in natural lighting conditions, hens lay far fewer eggs in the winter, and more in the spring and summer. That's why eggs are associated with Easter: They've been a symbol of spring since - well, forever.

Between the increased egg yield, and grocery stores running specials for folks planning to dye eggs, eggs are dirt-cheap these days. Right this very minute, a dozen large eggs are on sale at my local Kroger for 66c. (A month or so back, Marsh had medium eggs - common in the early spring - 3 cartons for a buck! I bought 18 cartons!)

With prices like this, it's a great time to eat eggs, not just for breakfast, but lunch, dinner, and even for snacks. Eggs are endlessly versatile, not only lending themselves to a wide variety of flavors, but letting you create a number of different textures, too. For these reasons, I never get tired of eggs. (As I write this, I have a cheese omelet sitting happily in my tum.)

Yet years of anti-egg propaganda have left many people afraid of eggs. Indeed, unlimited egg consumption is one of the things that the anti-low-carb forces brandish as a weapon against us - "All those eggs! You'll give yourself high cholesterol! You'll get heart disease!"

It's important that you know that the whole cholesterol theory of heart disease causation is in question. A number of other factors appear to be far more important, with systemic inflammation being at the top of the list. (It's also important for you to know that low cholesterol is dangerous. Total cholesterol under 170 is associated with increased mortality, especially from cancer, stroke, and - believe it or not - violence and suicide. After all, your brain is very rich in cholesterol.)

We need cholesterol. It's essential for every cell in our bodies. Cholesterol insulates nerve fibers, maintains cell walls, produces vitamin D, various hormones, and digestive juices. If we eat less cholesterol, we make it in our liver. If we eat more, we make less. It's a clever natural balance.

Too, in most of the world, cholesterol as high as 225-240 is considered normal. Maybe I'm a whack-job conspiracy nut, but I suspect that American standards for cholesterol keep getting adjusted downward to create a market for cholesterol-lowering drugs. That's just me, though.

But do eggs jack up your blood cholesterol levels? No doubt eggs contain cholesterol - about 200 mgs apiece. But there's little evidence that eating cholesterol increases coronary risk. A 1994 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine looked at 12 men and 12 women, each eating 2 eggs per day for 6 weeks. Their total cholesterol did rise by 4% - but their HDL (good) cholesterol rose by 10% - meaning that their coronary risk had decreased. In an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at the Framingham study - the biggest, longest lasting study of heart disease to date. They found no relationship between egg consumption and coronary disease. And The Journal of Nutrition ran an article a couple of years back showing that even men who had an abnormally strong response to dietary cholesterol stayed within National Cholesterol Education Program Guidelines when adding 640 mgs of egg cholesterol per day to their diets. That's three eggs a day - coincidentally, the number I eat most days. If three eggs a day doesn't negatively affect even those who have an abnormally strong response to dietary cholesterol, what the heck is anyone worrying about?

But what do eggs contain aside from cholesterol? All sorts of fabulous things. Eggs are a terrific source of protein, of course, with 6 or 7 grams each, depending on their size. Indeed, egg protein is of such good quality that it's the standard against which all other proteins are measured. Eggs do contain a little carbohydrate; about a half a gram apiece. You'll get somewhere between 65 and 75 calories.

Just one egg will give you 19% of your iodine, 13% of your riboflavin, 10% of the antioxidant mineral selenium, and 8% of your vitamin A (and that's preformed A, which is much more easily absorbed and used than the provitamin A in vegetables.) You'll get 7% of your B12, 5% of your folacin, 4% of your iron, 3% of your B6, copper, and zinc, 2% of your calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Eggs are a terrific source of sulphur, which makes your nails and hair strong and healthy (and grow faster!) Sulphur also makes your connective tissue strong and flexible, and is used by your liver in the process of removing toxins from your body.

Eggs are also one of the few natural dietary sources of vitamin D. I say "natural" because of course the vitamin D in milk has been added artificially, not that that's a bad thing. Mostly we're supposed to make vitamin D in our own bodies, by exposing our skin to the sun. But in this sun-phobic day and age, many people don't set foot out the door without slathering on sunscreen. This makes dietary sources of D all the more important. (Please, if you're a constant sunscreen user, take vitamin D supplements, too.)

But it doesn't stop there! Eggs supply phosphatidyl choline, which is an important structural component of brain and nerve tissue. Too, your body can use phosphatidyl choline to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, important for memory. A study published in the journal Brain Research found, "The administration of phosphatidylcholine to mice with dementia improved memory..." Interestingly enough, phosphatidyl choline, aka lecithin (say "less-a-thin") also lowers blood cholesterol levels.

Eggs are also a source of the omega-3 fat DHA, which is the main structural component of brain tissue. This makes eggs an especially good bet for women who are pregnant, and for small children who are still building brain tissue.

You'll also get lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that fight macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, because of the egg yolk's fats, the carotenoids in egg yolks are better absorbed than those from plant sources, such as carrots and spinach.

Which leads us to an interesting fact: Most of the really fabulous nutritional components of eggs - the DHA, the phosphatidyl choline, much of the vitamins (including the A and D), the carotenoids - are in the yolk. Yes, the yolk. The part that you've been told to throw away "for your health."

Please, please, do not fall for egg white omelets and nasty "99% real egg" egg replacers. Eat eggs. Real eggs. The whites and the rich, delicious, nutritious yolks.

"Okay, okay!" you're thinking. "So eggs are good for me. And cheap. And low carb. But how many fried or scrambled eggs can I eat? Sheesh!" Tons of ways!

* Plain old hard boiled eggs (we just call 'em "boilies") are one of our favorite snacks. Just one egg will kill hunger for a few hours.

* Chop up some of those hard boiled eggs, and toss 'em with bagged salad and bottled dressing for a fast nutritious lunch. Add some cubed leftover ham, too, if you like. (Hmmm. Now who'd have leftover ham and boiled eggs around?)

* Two words: Egg salad! I like to wrap mine in lettuce leaves to eat it. Lower carb than bread, of course, and also more nutritious. Think of the potassium and folacin!

* Deviled/stuffed eggs are universally popular. You can vary them lots of ways - I've made them curried, with deviled ham, with mashed smoked salmon, with avocado, with Cajun seasoning - you name it. You'll be the most popular person at the party.

* Quiche turns eggs into dinner. You can make yours crustless, if you like, but I make mine with an almond/Parmesan crust.

* Eggs Florentine make a good fast supper. Just cream some chopped spinach in your big skillet, then make hollows in it with the back of a spoon. Break an egg into each hollow, turn the burner to low, cover the pan, and let simmer till the eggs are set to your liking. (My favorite creamed spinach recipe: a 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, drained; 1 clove garlic, crushed, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Combine and simmer for 5 - 10 minutes.

* Poaching eggs in salsa or tomato sauce works wonderfully well. Eggs poached in Creole Sauce is one of my very favorite breakfasts.

* Wrap scrambled eggs in a low carb tortilla for a breakfast (or lunch, or supper) burrito. I'd throw in melted Monterey Jack (just put shredded cheese on the tortilla and give it 30-45 seconds on 6 or 7 power in your microwave), sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, and some salsa. Maybe even sour cream! Yum.

* Surely I've made the point here long since that the omelet is the ultimate in fresh, tasty, nutritious fast food. Get a good non-stick pan, and make an omelet any time you want real food, fast!

* Roughly sixty-million different combinations of veggies, meat, and cheese can be added to scrambled eggs. You've figured out mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, ham, sausage, onions, all that stuff. Maybe you've tried asparagus - asparagus with mushrooms, a scallion or two, plus a little dill is wonderful in scrambled eggs. But here's a really exotic combo. This is actually more vegetables than eggs, and very filling, but feel free to add another egg if you like:

Indonesian Scrambled Eggs with Vegetables

1/4 medium onion -- sliced thin
1 hot red chili pepper -- seeded and minced (for a milder version, use an Anaheim or Poblano pepper)
1/4 small head of cabbage -- shredded
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons coconut oil -- or peanut oil
1/2 clove garlic -- minced

Cut up your vegetables and have them ready. Spray your big, heavy skillet with non-stick cooking spray. Put it over medium-high heat, and add the onions -- you want to fry them, stirring often, until they're actually starting to brown. Add the chile pepper, garlic and cabbage. Saute with the onion for a minute, then add a tablespoon of water, turn the burner to medium low, and cover the skillet for about 3-4 minutes.

While that's happening, beat up your eggs with the turmeric and soy sauce. When the cabbage is just tender-crisp, pour in the beaten eggs and scramble till set. Serve immediately.

2 servings, each with: 184 Calories; 12g Fat; 11g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 8 grams usable carb.

(Reprinted with permission from The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook, by Dana Carpender, 2006 Fair Winds Press.)

* Don't forget about baked custard! It makes a highly nutritious dessert, but it's a nice make-ahead breakfast, too. The main ingredients of custard are eggs and milk, and you may use milk if you can tolerate the lactose carbs. (Milk has 12 grams of carbohydrate per cup, but lactose is a low-impact carb.) Or you can substitute half-and-half, heavy cream, or a heavy cream/water blend, depending on how rich you want your custard to be. Of course you can also use Carb Countdown Dairy Beverage if it's still available in your area. I've adapted lots of custard recipes from regular cookbooks, using Splenda, and they've all worked out.

* Eggs combine with cottage cheese to make terrific baked casserole dishes that are nutritious nearly beyond belief. I started playing with this idea for The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook, and really got carried away. The basic proportions are 6 eggs beaten with 1 cup cottage cheese. Season this as you like (include a 1/4 teaspoon salt), spread half the mixture in an 8x8 Pyrex baking pan, top with a filling that coordinates with your seasonings, add the rest of the egg/cottage cheese mixture, and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. I've used cumin and oregano in the egg mixture, and layered it with chunky salsa and shredded Monterey Jack. I've also seasoned the egg mixture with thyme and marjoram, and layered it with sauteed mushrooms, onions and asparagus, plus shredded Gruyere. Let your imagination soar.

* One other point: People are now very scared of raw eggs, and I've even seen warnings about eating fried or poached eggs where the yolks are still runny. Personally, I think this is overdone hysteria. It is estimated that just 1 out of every 16,000 uncracked, properly refrigerated eggs is actually contaminated with salmonella. Seeing as I eat roughly 1,000 eggs per year, that's one contaminated egg every 16 years. What are the chances that it will be the one I use raw in Caesar salad dressing or mayonnaise, make into an eggnog smoothy for my husband, or simply undercook a bit? I've got bigger things to worry about.

So go stock up on eggs while they're cheap, for fast, healthy, low carb, budget friendly meals any time of day.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:10 PM

March 15, 2006

Low Carb Products Update

A few issues back, I addressed the Sad Death of Ketatoes, a low carb product I had found useful enough to incorporate into several recipes. But there are other products that have either gone off the market, or become harder to find, and I get questions about them.

Indeed, when I was halfway through writing this article, I got this email:

Hi Dana,

I'm new to your website for forgive me if my question was answered some time ago.

First off I bought all your books and as far as I'm concerned you certainly know your low carb business. I've tried all the plans out there regarding low-carb and none work except atkins or a modified version of his. I love you comments, observations and commonsense approach and not to mention fantastic recipes and ideas. Thank you and keep it coming.

No for my question, after reading through back archives of your newsletter you mentioned some low carb products, After going to the store and looking up on some of the web sites you mention to purchase these I was told they were out of business. For example everyone raved about Keto tortilla chips, (out of business) The bakery back in Illinois where they sell low carb bread at 3 grams a slice (I went to the web site and I could not find a link to purchase their low carb bread).

If you could be so kind and mention in a future newsletter an updated consensus of what is still out there as far as superior low carb products particularly bread and tortilla chips. I feel

Mission makes a great low carb tortilla at 5 net grams for the small size and 7 net grams for the large size. Seeing these three items are pretty much all you need. And yes I'm putting my two cents in about Dreamfield Pasta - yes once or twice a week is great as long as you eat a good portion of protein and some fat along with it (not hard to do with a sauce) I have a

great recipe I'll share later on that one.

Again thanks for all your hard work and research for not being a doctor you sure no what the heck your talking about.

Mary Sawyer

Las Vegas, NV

So here you go, Mary! And the rest of you, too, of course:

* Carb Countdown Reduced Carb Dairy Beverage: Carb Countdown "milk" is still being made, though the juices and yogurt have been discontinued. Here in Bloomington, Indiana, Marsh grocery stores still carry it (or at least they do here on the east side.) If you can't get Carb Countdown, it's because your local grocery stores have stopped carrying it. Your best bet is to ask Hood Dairies if anyone in your region carries the stuff:

* Juice products: As mentioned, Carb Countdown juices are gone, which is a shame; I really liked them. (And my sister is seriously mourning the loss of their Pink Grapefruit variety.) Minute Maid has a line of "light" no sugar juice beverages; they run about 4 grams a serving. I haven't tried them, but they're widely distributed.

* No-sugar-added ketchup: For a while there I had three brands of no-sugar-added ketchup in the house, but two of them have gone off the market. I can only buy Heinz One-Carb Ketchup anymore. Doesn't worry me; I made my own ketchup for years, I can do it again - and will, since the Heinz One-Carb is a little pricey for me.

* No-sugar-added barbecue sauce: I can't find this in my grocery store anymore. I can make really good low carb barbecue sauce at home, though, so I don't sweat it. If you want to buy a bottled sauce - they're handy -- Stubb's brand has some sugar, but is much lower carb than most of the commercial sauces - 5 grams per 2 tablespoon serving, as opposed to 12 grams for Heinz and 14 grams for KC Masterpiece. Good, too. I keep a bottle of Stubb's Original on hand.

* Low carb ice cream: I can still get these, though some brands have re-labeled as "no sugar added" rather than "low carb." Edy's/Dreyer's is my favorite, though the Breyer's is good, too. Do yourself a favor and skip ice cream that's both sugar free and low fat. Yuck.

* Low carb bread: Speaking of low carb bread, availability has become hit or miss. Pepperidge Farm still lists their Carb Style bread and rolls - quite good -- on their website. Brownberry makes low carb bread in whole wheat and 7 grain varieties; I can get it locally at Kroger. What your local grocery stocks may well be different. I've seen other brands - Aunt Millie's was making a low carb version for a while - but often they include hydrogenated vegetable oil, something I refuse to eat, and I've seen high fructose corn syrup, too. READ THE LABEL! I've said it before, my favorite low carb bread comes from Natural Ovens of Manitowoc, and bless their hearts, they ship.

* Low carb tortillas: Every grocery store and health food store in Bloomington Indiana has these, and many have more than one brand. However, I've heard from readers who are having a hard time finding them. Keep in mind that low carb tortillas keep for at least a few months if unopened, so you can stock up when you do find them, or if you order them.

* Low carb bagels: Haven't seen these in the stores for a while. But then, I was unimpressed with Atkins Bagels anyway. They were too squishy. However, here's an all-bagel website that sells a reduced carb bagel. There's good news and bad news about these bagels. The good news is that since they're made by Jewish folks in New York who specialize in bagels, I'd be willing to bet they've got an authentic taste and texture. The bad news is that I called the company and their "low carb" bagels have 21 net carbs per bagel, or 10.5 per half. That's too much for many of us. It is, however, considerably lower than the 56 grams of carb in the average medium-sized "regular" bagel.

Interestingly, Natural Ovens makes a "Golden Grain" bagel that also has 21 grams of net carb, they just don't label it "low carb." So that's an option as well.

I'd call either of these bagels a treat food, not a staple.

* Ketocrumbs: Gone with the Keto company, I'm afraid. If you can get low carb bread near you, it's a simple matter to dry some out in a slow oven, then run it through your blender or food processor to get low carb crumbs. For that matter, this is a fine thing to do with any low carb bread that goes stale or gets freezer burned. If you really, really low carb crumbs, grind a bag of pork rinds in your food processor! Keep pork rind crumbs in the fridge. Either way, if you want Italian seasoned crumbs (similar to Progresso) mix 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, and 1/4 teaspoon Splenda with each cup of crumbs.

* Sugar free chocolate: My poll indicated that sugar free candy, overall, wasn't popular, but sugar free chocolate was. I'm pleased to report I still see it everywhere - my local Marsh grocery store carries Sorbee sugar free chocolate bars in both milk and dark chocolate, and I see sugar free Reese's peanut butter cups and Russell Stover's sugar free candies in big drug stores. For more exalted chocolate - I'm hooked on Guylian's sugar free, from Belgium - look in gourmet stores (I get mine at Sahara Mart, here in Bloomington), or go online. And remember - most good chocolate shops carry at least a few varieties of sugar free chocolates.

* Low-carb pasta: Atkins and Keto pasta are gone, and I won't miss them. I never liked the soy pastas; the texture was off. Dreamfield's is still available, but not everyone's carrying it. When I see it, I stock up, since pasta doesn't go bad. The venerable Mueller's noodle company now has a reduced carb macaroni that's quite good. My local grocery stores stock this. I consider both Dreamfield's and Mueller's low carb pastas to be too carb-y for staples - they're occasional treats. I eat them less than once a month.

There are other brands of low carb pasta available online.

( I've been reading a lot about shiritaki noodles recently. These are Asian noodles made from konjac (a root) fiber, and have virtually no usable carbs. Apparently they have no flavor, but a good texture, and simply take on the flavor of the sauce you serve them with. I'm looking for a local source, and will report in a future 'zine.)

* Low carb cold cereal: For a little while both Total and Special K cereals were available in low carb/high protein versions. I don't see them in the stores anymore, and I've seen low carb Special K at Big Lots, a sure sign that it's been discontinued. No big loss; they both sucked anyway, and had objectionable ingredients. All Bran is high enough in fiber that it can fit into a low carb diet, and All Bran Extra Fiber is even better. But exciting? Not really.

Keto Crisp is gone with the Keto company, of course, and a darned shame it is; I had a couple of really good recipes that used it. If I find another source of soy crisps, I'll let you know. If you're a Grape Nuts fan, there's a soy cereal called Nutlettes available online that's pretty similar. I don't like to eat a lot of soy, however.

There are low carb granolas available online, too. I make my own granola, so I haven't tried these.

* Low carb chips: I can't find these locally anymore, and some brands are gone for good - Atkins protein chips and Keto tortilla chips, for instance. Trader Joe's still carries their "Joe's Lows" low carb corn-soy-and-flax chips, which I like a lot. I called the Indianapolis Trader Joe's, and they say the chips are a good seller, and there are no plans to discontinue them. So if you have a Trader Joe's near you, you're set. If not, you may have to order chips on line - R.W. Garcia's are good.

Don't forget Just the Cheese Chips - little rounds of real cheese baked until crunchy, from the Specialty Cheese company. Very tasty, very crunchy, zippo carbs, plenty of protein, plenty of calcium. If you can't find them locally, they're worth ordering online. You can get them direct, but you'll have to buy a lot. The low carb etailers all have them, though.

(Not a chip, but let me also recommend Specialty Cheese Company's Frying Cheese - cheese that gets hot and melty inside, and brown and crunchy outside, without melting away into a little puddle. Incredibly good. Buy it if you see it. Order it from the company if you don't. SO great!)

* Low carb soups: The only low carb soups I ever saw in my grocery store were from Progresso. They're still listed on the Progresso website; whether your grocer carries them is another question. Some of them contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, so I can't recommend them anyway.

You'll notice a couple of running themes in this article: One is that many of these products are still being made, but many grocery stores have stopped carrying them. This is a genuine problem, especially in smaller towns. You could try getting together with other local low carbers, and petitioning the largest local grocery store to carry a reasonable selection of low carb stuff. You'll have to make a compelling case, however, that there will be enough sales to make it worth their while. Grocery stores operate on razor-thin profit margins, and genuinely cannot afford to stock stuff that doesn't sell reasonably well, especially stuff that goes bad or stale, like breads.

You might also find a store that is willing to special order stuff for you if you're willing to buy a case at a time. Again, go in with low carb friends and split a case or two of your favorite products.

The other running theme is that you can still order low carb products online. Us long-time low carbers are used to this - it's where we got our low carb stuff back before the low carb explosion of 2003-2004. The great thing about the low carb etailers is that they're not dependent on a geographical region for their customer base, so they can afford to carry a wide range of specialty products. Indeed, if you haven't shopped the low carb etailers I think you'll be surprised the range of stuff available.

My favorite etailer is Carb Smart - Andrew DiMino, the owner, is a pal of mine, and is a long-time low carber himself; he's been in the low carb etail biz since long before the boom. Andrew has a big selection, gives good service, and keeps his prices reasonable.

Netrition is another site that's been around for quite a while. They handle more than just low carb stuff - a lot of vitamins and the like - but they have a good selection of low carb specialty products.

Low Carb Nexus has a good rep.

I haven't done business with Lo Carb Diner, but they've been around a while, a good sign that they're serving their clientele well.

And finally, in a triumph for all of us mourning the death of Ketatoes: I found Dixie Diners Carb Counters Instant Mashers at several of the etailers. Looks to be substantially similar to Ketatoes. I'll get a hold of some, try it in my recipes that called for Ketatoes, and let you know.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:24 PM

March 07, 2006

Whole Grains

Have you noticed? Officialdom and the food processors are pushing whole grains. I mean really pushing them. Five or six years ago, ads for things like bagels and oatmeal crowed "full of healthy complex carbohydrates!" The buzzword for the supposedly post-Atkins era is "whole grain" - you know, 'cause they're good carbs. Sugary, highly processed cereal is being sold with "Contains whole grains!" Highly processed crackers full of bad fats are being pushed as "made with whole grains!"

I find the whole thing sourly funny. I've been a Junior Nutrition Buff since 1978 - long enough to remember when insisting on whole grains instead of refined, "enriched" garbage earned one the epithet "food faddist." For years and years and years the government and registered dieticians insisted that enriched grain products were just as good as whole grains. Menu plans for Joliffe's "Prudent Diet," Weight Watchers, or the like would list, "Bread, enriched or whole wheat," the implication being there was no difference.

Heck, back in the 1940s (a tad before my time,) the federal government, in the form of the FCC, tried to force Dr. Carleton Fredericks off the radio for having the temerity to state that whole wheat bread was more nutritious than white bread.

When the big Food Pyramid push started, we were told to eat 6-11 servings of grains a day. The word "whole" was not mentioned. Dutifully, we chowed down on pasta salad with fat free dressing. I don't have to tell you that a whole lot of us ended up fat, tired, and even sick as a result.

Then came the Low Carb Revolution, and millions of us discovered that cutting grains out entirely vastly improved our health. It was looking grim for the Food Pyramid and its government creators and backers, not to mention the manufacturers of grain-based food products, from bread to crackers to cold cereal. (Never forget that processed grain products are among the most profitable products in your grocery store. Just how much do you think the grain in that box of corn flakes is worth?)

All of a sudden, the epiphany! It wasn't just grains that were good, it was whole grains. Studies showed that people who ate whole grain were healthier than people who didn't! Whole grains were good carbs! That must mean that the more whole grains people eat, the healthier they'll be!

Do you detect a certain sarcasm in my tone? It's all so obviously flawed, and to my admittedly jaundiced eye, it all seems aimed at us - a way to get the low carb heretics back into the balanced diet fold.

Shall I spell it out? Refined grains - white flour and everything made from it - white rice, corn starch, and the like - are nutritional garbage. All the vitamins and minerals are removed. Since your body needs vitamins and minerals to process food, these "foods" actually go into your body and suck nutrition out.

(Yes, yes, they're "enriched." You know what that means? They take out over thirty nutrients we've identified so far, and put back five. Usually in synthetic form. Often in lesser quantity than they were present in the first place. "Enriched" is a joke. Worse, it's a lie.)

Refined grain products are also stripped of fiber. This makes them digest and absorb faster, increasing their blood sugar impact - their glycemic index. This is why squishy white bread has a glycemic index higher than an equivalent quantity of table sugar. So do most cold cereals. So refined grains not only suck vitamins and minerals out of your body, they also cause big blood sugar swings and massive insulin release, with all the medical problems that follow.

By comparison, whole grain products have their naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, and fiber left in. While many of these products are highly processed, and have a high glycemic index, at least they're contributing some nutrients, rather than stripping them out of your body.

And some - but nowhere near all - of the less processed whole grain products have a lower glycemic index than refined grain products. Brown rice is gentler on blood sugar than white rice. Whole wheat pasta has a lower glycemic index than white pasta. Coarse-ground, dense whole grain bread absorbs slower than fluffy cheap white bread. This translates into lower insulin levels, and reduce risk of the diseases that come with hyperinsulinemia.

Is it any surprise that people who eat a less-harmful-to-somewhat nourishing food (depending on the individual's carbohydrate tolerance) are healthier than people who eat a highly damaging "food" that actually removes nutrients from the body? Extrapolating from this to "whole grains are essential to human health" and "the more whole grains you eat, the better" is a jump worthy of the Olympics.

I have to go back to my personal experience: Before I went low carb in 1995, I ate lots of whole grains. I hadn't bought a loaf of white bread in 18 years. I ate only whole grain cereals. I used only brown rice. I used whole grain flours for baking, and even for thickening gravy. And I got up to 190 pounds at 5'2", with borderline-high blood pressure, and nasty mood and energy swings. As far as my body is concerned, whole grains are not health food.

What about the vitamins and minerals in whole grains? I don't know of a one that can't be found in other, lower carb sources. Let's do a rundown:

B Vitamins - whole grains are a pretty good source of thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), pantothenate (B5) and pyrodoxine (B6). But checking the old standby, The Vitamin Bible, we find that:

* B1 is also supplied by peanuts, lean pork, "organic meats" (though I know of no reason why standard grocery store meats wouldn't be a source as well,) and "most vegetables."

* B3 is also supplied by liver, lean meat (pork is especially rich,) kidney (don't laugh - I like kidneys!), fish, eggs, white meat poultry, peanuts and avocados.

* B5 is also supplied by meat (it's the first source listed!), kidney, liver, heart, green vegetables, chicken, and nuts.

* B6 is also supplied by liver, kidney, cantaloupe, cabbage, eggs, peanuts, and walnuts.

For the other B vitamins, B2 and B12, whole grains aren't listed as a source. (Indeed, B12 is only found in animal foods.)

Looks like we can get plenty of B vitamins without whole grains.

Whole grains contain folic acid or folacin, but so do leafy vegetables, carrots, liver, egg yolks, cantaloupe, apricots, and avocados.

Whole grains are a source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant. But so are nuts and seeds, brussels sprouts, leafy greens, spinach (which last I checked was a leafy green) and eggs. So we're good.

How about minerals? Whole grains are a source of magnesium, but so are nuts and seeds, and green vegetables. Grains have some zinc, but meat, seafood, eggs, and seeds do too. They contribute some selenium, but so do seafood, kidney, liver, onions, broccoli, and tomatoes.

Whole grains contain fiber, of course. But are they an outstanding source? Hardly. Eat two slices of 7 grain bread, say in a turkey sandwich, and you'll get 3 grams of fiber, out of 24 grams of carbohydrate, and 131 calories.

If, instead, you cut up that turkey into a salad with 3 cups of shredded romaine, you'll get the same amount of fiber, but only 4.6 grams of total carb, and 24 calories. Throw in a half-a-cup of cherry tomatoes, and you'll add another gram of fiber, only 2.9 grams of total carb, and 13 calories. Looks like you can afford some berries for dessert, doesn't it? Add a cup of halved strawberries, for another 3 grams of fiber, 11.7 grams total carb, and a big 49 calories. Our low carb lunch has 7 grams of fiber, 19.2 grams total carb, 12.2 grams usable carb - and 45 fewer calories than the sandwich. (Of course, we haven't factored for salad dressing, but then the sandwich would have had some mayonnaise, now wouldn't it?)

One cup of cooked brown rice has 46 grams of carbohydrate, of which only 3 grams are fiber. It also has 218 calories, not an inconsiderable amount. A similar serving of "cauli-rice" - cauliflower that's shredded in your food processor and cooked lightly - has 5 grams of carbohydrate with 2 grams of fiber, and only 24 calories.

Low carb vegetables, fruits, and nuts and seeds are far superior to whole grains as sources of fiber. And low carb baked goods, should you care to eat them, are invariably fiber-enriched - the La Tortilla Factory low carb tortillas that are a staple around my house have 8 grams of fiber apiece!

There simply is no nutrient in whole grains that cannot be found in low carb sources - and not in weird, obscure low carb sources, but in the common foods that make up the bulk of our diet.

On the flip side, grains are among the most allergenic foods; many people are allergic to wheat and corn in particular. Gluten, the grain protein that makes bread dough stretchy, is implicated in a growing number of health problems. Some researchers feel that long-chain carbohydrate molecules, as found in grains, cause or exacerbate illnesses as various as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's Disease, and autism. (See Breaking The Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall) Clearly, grains are not for everyone, insulin problems aside.

Too, there's the simple fact that grains were not a part of the human diet until the invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. We all come from hunter-gatherer ancestors. It's hard to see how a food that all human beings did without for countless millennia can be essential.

I don't mean to imply that you shouldn't eat some whole grains if your body can tolerate the carbs, and you don't have allergies or gluten intolerance. I keep good, whole grain low carb bread in the freezer (from Natural Ovens of Manitowoc; best low carb bread I've found - and no, they don't pay me, though they've occasionally sent me free bread.) I mix some cooked wild rice or other grains with my cauli-rice on special occasions. I sometimes add a handful of barley to a pot of soup - barley has the lowest glycemic index of any grain, and adds a really nice texture and flavor. And along with those low carb tortillas, Wasa Fiber Rye and Finn Crisp have found a permanent place in my kitchen.

Just don't let the advertisers, food processors, and the dieticians and doctors who are still demonizing fat convince you that whole grains are essential to your health. They're not.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:53 PM

Important Health FYI

You'll recall that several issues back I wrote about Seasonal Affective Disorder, a problem I have dealt with for many years. This year, however, it seemed particularly vicious. I found myself having trouble dragging myself out of bed before noon. I caught two colds in six weeks time. I couldn't think clearly or concentrate. I was tired all time. The slightest exercise made me ache to the point of needing muscle relaxants. I gained weight - enough so my jeans were tight - even though I wasn't eating any more than usual. I had constant headaches that were unmoved by aspirin or ibuprofen. I was depressed to the point of weeping frequently, when anyone who knows me can tell you I'm not a weepy person. My sex drive dried up - this, when I'm married to a man I adore, and who inspires other women to sidle up to me at parties and murmur, "Your husband is cute!"

I began to wonder if there was something more wrong with me. I wondered about a systemic yeast infection, since I'd taken two rounds of antibiotics in the past year. I worried I might have fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue, or even Epstein-Barr virus. Finally I saw my doctor. (I would have gone sooner, but she was on vacation.)

Bless her, she took me seriously. All too often, doctors look at a middle-aged woman with my symptoms and simply label her "neurotic." But Dr. Florini listened, agreed there was a genuine problem, and said, "Even though you may feel better when April rolls around, that's eight weeks. I don't like to leave you like this. We could try a low dose of an anti-depressant, or we could bump up your thyroid medication a little." When we discovered my body temperature was 97.1, it became clear that thyroid was the thing to try.

So she increased my dose of Armour Thyroid (natural desiccated thyroid,) and sure enough, I quickly started feeling more like myself.

As a result, I've been reading a lot about thyroid problems, and I thought it vital I give you a heads-up. After all, if your thyroid is low, all your attempts to lose weight and become healthy and energetic will be in vain. Here, from Mary Shomon's excellent site at, is a list of hypothyroid symptoms:

____I am gaining weight inappropriately

____ I'm unable to lose weight with diet/exercise

____ I am constipated, sometimes severely

____ I have hypothermia/low body temperature (I feel cold when others feel hot, I need extra sweaters, etc.)

____ I feel fatigued, exhausted

____ Feeling run down, sluggish, lethargic

____ My hair is coarse and dry, breaking, brittle, falling out

____ My skin is coarse, dry, scaly, and thick

____ I have a hoarse or gravely voice

____ I have puffiness and swelling around the eyes and face

____ I have pains, aches in joints, hands and feet

____ I have developed carpal-tunnel syndrome, or it's getting worse

____ I am having irregular menstrual cycles (longer, or heavier, or more frequent)

____ I am having trouble conceiving a baby

____ I feel depressed

____ I feel restless

____ My moods change easily

____ I have feelings of worthlessness

____ I have difficulty concentrating

____ I have more feelings of sadness

____ I seem to be losing interest in normal daily activities

____ I'm more forgetful lately

Mary also lists the following additional symptoms, which have been reported more frequently in people with hypothyroidism:

____ My hair is falling out

____ I can't seem to remember things

____ I have no sex drive

____ I am getting more frequent infections, that last longer

____ I'm snoring more lately

____ I have/may have sleep apnea

____ I feel shortness of breath and tightness in the chest

____ I feel the need to yawn to get oxygen

____ My eyes feel gritty and dry

____ My eyes feel sensitive to light

____ My eyes get jumpy/tics in eyes, which makes me dizzy/vertigo and have headaches

____ I have strange feelings in neck or throat

____ I have tinnitus (ringing in ears)

____ I get recurrent sinus infections

____ I have vertigo

____ I feel some lightheadedness

____ I have severe menstrual cramps

Add to this one more symptom: Low body temperature. Mine sometimes ran as low as 96.4 during the day. Think about that: That's 2.4 degrees below normal. If my temperature were 2.4 degrees above normal, I'd have a fever of 101, and any doctor on the planet would take it seriously. I can tell you from unpleasant experience that a swing in the other direction can make you feel just as wretched, whether it alarms your doctor or not.

Be aware that it is estimated that millions of people in the US alone suffer from undiagnosed thyroid problems, and that possibly as much as 15% of those who have been diagnosed with depression are actually hypothyroid. Know, too, that thyroid tests are notoriously inaccurate, and that medical opinions on the meanings of those tests, and what constitutes a "normal" range, are changing. For example, just this year the "normal" value of the commonly used TSH test was changed from 0.5-5, to 0.3-3. Since higher values indicated hypothyroidism, that means that everyone who had a TSH between 3 and 5 and was told they were "normal" is now officially hypothyroid!

If you have a number of these symptoms, I urge you to visit Mary's websites and learn more:

In particular, if your doctor refuses to take the possibility of thyroid problems seriously, avail yourself of Mary's "Top Thyroid Doctors" list. It's the only list of its kind on the internet, and you can access it free. (Dr. Florini is on it, though I didn't know that till after she'd increased my dosage.)

I also highly recommend Mary Shomon's wonderful book Living Well With Hypothyroidism

Take a look, too, at The Thyroid Diet - Mary's hip to carb control, and agrees with me that there's no one dietary approach that's right for everyone - you have to try things and see what works for you.

Mary and I spent a good hour and a half on the phone recently. I liked her very much, and I hope to work with her on a joint project of some kind in the future. Please, take advantage of her knowledge and experience.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:48 PM

February 06, 2006

A High Fat Diet?

I've been asked, "Your recipes use a lot of high-fat ingredients. Are you just substituting fat for carbohydrate?" I have to ruthlessly suppress my natural wise-acre tendencies to resist responding, "You say that like it's a bad thing."

No piece of advice has been repeated more often in the past couple of decades than "limit fats to 30% of calories or less." In particular, we were told that this would help us stay slim, but we were also told that limiting fats would prevent heart disease, cancer, and a host of other ills. So it may shock you to know that there simply was never much in the way of scientific data to back up that 30% figure.

Worse, telling people to limit fats to 30% of calories or less discouraged people from eating some excellent foods - for example, nuts and seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, all of which have been shown to reduce your risk of disease. It also fails to distinguish between truly horrible fats, like the over-processed, over-heated, hydrogenated oils used to make cheap restaurant fried foods, and truly excellent fats, like fresh butter, coconut oil, fresh lard, and extra virgin olive oil.

(To air a pet peeve, I frequently see objection to a low carb diet phrased, "Any diet that omits a whole food group is a fad diet." Ignoring entirely the fact that a low carb diet is exactly what the name says - low carb, not no carb - where were these people when we were being pushed to eat a low fat diet? And where do they stand on veganism, which really does omit a whole huge category of foods?)

Often I do, indeed, replace carb calories with fat calories, especially in baking, where I tend to use ground nuts - a high-fat ingredient - to replace flour. By doing this I not only make the baked goods more filling, and prevent them from jacking blood sugar around, but I dramatically increase their nutritional value.

Let's take a hypothetical cookie recipe that includes:

1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter

(Note that this is not an actual cookie recipe - for real cookies, you'd need a few more ingredients! But these are the ingredients that matter to our comparison.)

Assuming this recipe makes 36 cookies (3 dozen), each will have 69 calories, with only 34% of those calories coming from fat. They'll have 11 grams of carbohydrate each, with no fiber. Each cookie will have just 1 gram of protein, and the vitamins the flour was "enriched" with - 4% of your daily requirement of thiamin, 2% of your riboflavin, 2% of your niacin, 2% of your iron - oh, plus 2% of your vitamin A, from the butter.

Let me make my usual substitutions. Now our hypothetical cookies will contain:

1 cup Splenda
1 cup homemade almond meal (made with the brown skins still on the almonds, for the fiber and minerals)
1 cup vanilla whey protein powder
1/2 cup butter

Once again, let's assume 36 cookies. The calorie count per cookie actually drops a tiny bit, to 67 calories apiece, with 58% of those calories coming from fat - a big jump. Each cookie will have 2 grams of carbohydrate, a tiny bit of fiber, and 5 grams of protein.

But all of a sudden, each cookie also has 24% of your B6, 22% of your riboflavin, 21% each of your thiamin and B12, 10% of your zinc, 4% of your calcium, 2% of your vitamin A, 1% of your iron, and 1% of your potassium.

Would anyone like to argue that the lower fat cookies are better for you? I didn't think so.

But there's something else to look at when we talk about low carb being a "high fat diet," and that's ratios. What do I mean?

There are only three sources of calories - energy - in the human diet: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. (Okay, four. Alcohol has calories. But we earnestly hope you're not replacing all of your carbohydrate calories with alcohol!)

This means that if you cut out carbohydrates, by definition a greater percentage of your diet will consist of protein and, yes, fat.

For a long time, the government and other authorities have been advocating getting no more than 30% of your calories from fat, no more than 15% of your calories from protein, and between 55 and 65% of your calories from carbohydrate. If you are eating 2500 calories per day, and following these guidelines, you'll get no more than 750 calories from fat. Since fat has 9 calories per gram, this means you'd get about 83 grams of fat per day.

But say that by eating 50% of your calories from fat, 30% from protein, and 20% from carbohydrates ( making sure they're nutritious, low impact carbs,) you are so much less hungry you spontaneously eat 700 fewer calories per day, for a total of 1800 calories? You'll be eating 90 grams of fat per day, or just 7 more grams than you did on your "low fat" diet. That's a difference of just a half a tablespoon of olive oil per day.

In this example, the diet would be fairly high in fat as a percentage, but not particularly high in total fat intake.

I've been keeping track of my diet recently - consciousness is a powerful tool - and I can tell you that I average 58% of my calories from fat. Since I'm eating an average of 1858 calories per day, that means I'm getting 120 grams of fat, or 37 grams more than our hypothetical low fat dieter. That's a difference of a couple of teaspoons of butter, a couple of teaspoons of olive or coconut oil, and a handful of nuts. Somehow that doesn't strike me as dire.

Your protein intake is essential - you need at least a half a gram of protein for each pound of body weight, every day. More protein - up to about twice that - seems to limit hunger and improve metabolism. (And if you're eating a very low carb, ketogenic diet, extra protein is essential. Your body will use it to make what little glucose your body actually needs.) So if you weigh 150 pounds, you need a minimum of 75 grams of protein per day, and 100 to 125 grams per day is quite reasonable. At 4 calories per gram, that will account for 400 to 500 calories per day.

The rest of your calories will be distributed between fats and carbohydrates. These two foods are what your body uses for energy. (Remember that "energy" and "calories" are the same thing. )

Even the lowest carbohydrate diets, like the two-week Atkins Induction, contain at least 20 grams of non-fiber carb per day, and most of us will eat a few more - I find 30-50 grams a day is about right for my body. Those carb grams are where your fruits and vegetables come in, so you don't want to cut them out completely. No-carb is a bad idea.

So if your protein intake is fixed, and so is your carbohydrate intake, it is the fat fraction of your diet that can be expanded and contracted to adjust your calorie intake. If you get less of your fuel from carbohydrates, you'll need to get more of your fuel from fats. If you eat less fat, you'll need more carbohydrate.

(And no, you shouldn't just eat lean protein, with no fat and no carbohydrate. As pioneers who sometimes had nothing to eat but very lean game like rabbit found out, an all-protein diet will make you sick.)

I suppose it's theoretically possible for someone to construct their low carb diet around nothing but fat, but it doesn't seem likely - who wants to sit down to a nice glass of olive oil? Dr. Atkins recommended a short-term fat fast - a few days of a 90% fat diet - for the metabolically resistant. However, the fat fast limited calories to just 1000 per day. That would limit the dieter to 100 grams of fat per day - just 17 grams more than our theoretical low fat dieter.

In short, any diet that limits carbohydrate will be a diet with a relatively high fat percentage. That's just the way ratios work.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:45 PM

January 30, 2006

The Sad Death of Ketatoes, and How To Cope With It

As long-time readers are aware, I was never a huge fan of low carb specialty products. I spent a lot of time urging folks to base their diet on meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds - real, unprocessed food - and to use the low carb specialty products cautiously, as a treat, or to deal with cravings.

Still, there were a few products that made their way into my kitchen regularly, and one of them was Ketatoes. For those of you who never encountered them, Ketatoes were the low carb equivalent of instant mashed potatoes, and came in several flavors - sour cream and chive, bacon and cheddar, that sort of thing.

The regular, plain Ketatoes were the ones I used, but I never used them according to package directions - which were basically, "Mix with hot water, add butter, salt and pepper," very much like regular instant potatoes. Prepared this way, I found Ketatoes had an odd, slimy, gummy texture, probably due to the high oat fiber content.

What I used Ketatoes mix for instead was to add a potato-y flavor to that old low carb standby "Fauxtatoes," aka Pureed Cauliflower. Adding f Ketatoes mix to pureed cauliflower yielded a dish that was remarkably like mashed potatoes in both texture and flavor, but still with far fewer carbs. I called this The Ultimate Fauxtatoes, and came up with many variations.

From there, I branched out to using Ketatoes mix to add a potato flavor to things like Irish Stew and UnPotato Soup. These recipes were very successful. As a result, several recipes using Ketatoes mix wound up in 500 More Low-Carb Recipes and in 200 Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes.

So imagine my dismay when, between the time those books went to the printer and when they hit the bookstores, I learned that Ketatoes mix had gone off the market. Argh. Argh squared. I have rarely been so frustrated.

In the intervening year I've spent a little time trying to come up with an alternative. One, of course, is to simply make traditional Fauxtatoes, as we have for years - they're tasty in their own right, and absolutely dirt low in carbs. And Cream of Cauliflower Soup, like the one in 500 Low-Carb Recipes, is awfully good too. But my Irish Stew recipe just isn't the same without a potato flavor in it. And my mashed-potato-loving husband had come to really love having his Fauxtatoes have a genuinely potato-y flavor.

Thus arose Faux-Po. Faux-Po is very simple: Using my microwave (as I always do to steam vegetables) I cook half a big head of cauliflower with about 6 ounces of actual potato - that's about half a medium-sized potato. When they're both tender, I use my hand blender to puree them together. (If you don't have a hand blender, you could use a regular blender or your food processor's S-blade.) To this I add butter, salt and pepper for basic Faux-Po. Assuming that this is 4 servings, each will have about 8 grams of carbohydrate, with 1 gram of fiber, for a usable carb count of 7 grams. This is actually a lower carb count than The Ultimate Fauxtatoes recipe as it appears in 500 More Low-Carb Recipes.

You can of course vary Faux-Po just as you could The Ultimate Fauxatoes - add a little sour cream or buttermilk, plus minced green onions, or blend in a chipotle pepper and some shredded cheddar. With a steak, Balsamic Faux-Po is nice - along with the butter and salt, add a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, and give the whole thing a little extra shot of pepper.

This ratio - a half a big head of cauliflower to 6 ounces of potato - works well for Cream of Cauliflower and Potato Soup, too. Heat a little butter, oil, or bacon grease in a big saucepan, and saute a diced onion, and maybe some celery, until it's soft. Then add the cauliflower and potato, cubed, along with chicken broth. Simmer until the cauliflower and potato are soft. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and puree in your blender or food processor (or just puree everything in the pot if you have a hand-blender.) Add browned ham cubes or sliced smoked sausage, simmer for another twenty minutes or so, salt and pepper to taste, and you've got pure ambrosia for a cold, nasty night.

My original decarbed Irish Stew called for layering chopped cauliflower, diced turnips, a sprinkle of Ketatoes mix, cubed lamb, and salt and pepper, repeating the layers till you had a Dutch oven-full. Then you added water to barely cover, and simmered it very slowly for several hours. Eventually a little more Ketatoes mix was added to the gravy while thickening it with our usual guar or xanthan gum.

Now instead I grate one baking potato, and put a thin layer of grated potato over the more substantial layers of cauliflower and turnip. In the long, slow simmering, the potato mostly dissolves, imparting a potato-y flavor to the whole stew. (This is why you need a baking potato rather than a boiling potato, like red potatoes - the mealier baking potatoes are more likely to break down, which is what you want. A russet or an Idaho baker is about right.)

I haven't reworked every recipe that formerly used Ketatoes, but I expect that this sort of adaptation will work with all of them. The important figure to keep in mind is that each 6 ounces of potato will add 31 grams of total carb with 3 grams of fiber to the total recipe. That's 28 grams of usable carb - that's the number you want to divide by the number of servings to figure out how many extra grams of carb you'll be getting.

Now let's hope they don't stop making low carb tortillas. I have a hunch that would be a much harder problem to solve.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:15 PM

January 23, 2006

Surviving Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sick and tired of winter yet? I am. And when I say “sick and tired” I mean sick and tired! I, like many other folks, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – fatigue and depression caused by the lack of sunlight during the winter months.

It’s been particularly fierce for me this year, because we’ve had a warm but gray winter here in Southern Indiana. I like the warm, but the gray part has me ready to weep. I’m sure that winter used to involve frigid but brilliantly clear days, the sun sparkling off the snow with near-blinding intensity. Instead we’ve had a long run of days in the 40s and 50s, damp, with heavily overcast skies. Okay, so I like not shoveling snow. But I’d trade the warmth for some sun!

Why am I bringing up Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Because one of the common symptoms is serious carb cravings, and that’s of special concern to us.

Let’s look at all the symptoms of SAD. They include:

  • regularly occurring symptoms of depression (excessive eating and sleeping, weight gain) during the fall or winter months.
  • full remission from depression occur in the spring and summer months.
  • symptoms have occurred in the past two years, with no nonseasonal depression episodes.
  • seasonal episodes substantially outnumber nonseasonal depression episodes.
  • a craving for sugary and/or starchy foods.
  • Fatigue, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.
You begin to wonder if bears have the right idea – just sleep all winter.

Oddly enough, I have all of these except the craving for sugary and/or starchy foods. I attribute this to having been low carb for so long that my brain just doesn’t run on that track anymore. But the reason for carb cravings during Seasonal Affective Disorder is simple, and it’s the same reason you may get carb cravings in any stressful or depressing situation – carbs cause a rush of serotonin in the brain, and serotonin makes you feel more cheerful. (As many of you no doubt are aware, antidepressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.)

So here you are, full of good intentions after the New Year – and faced with biochemically driven carbohydrate cravings. What can you do?

The standard treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder is light therapy, also called phototherapy, using a full-spectrum light box that gives off 10,000 lux. Please don’t ask me to define a “lux.” I looked it up, and the explanation went into “lumens per meter squared.” Which would be useful if I knew how much a lumen is, but I don’t. Just know that this is a considerably more intense light than you’ll get from your average light bulb.

Anyway, a couple of hours exposure to a light box – for instance, putting one on your desk first thing in the day as you work – is the most commonly recommended treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am seriously considering investing in a light box. However, after some shopping around on the internet, the least expensive one I can find, called the HappyLite, runs $170. This is considerably cheaper than the $350 the local medical supply store wanted.

Still, I just bought a new house, and the budget’s stretched pretty thin right now. So I did a little poking around for cheaper measures that would still be effective.

Cheapest, and good for us in numerous ways, is to take a walk outside on any day that’s not utterly frigid or stormy. As I mentioned, here in Southern Indiana our winter’s been quite mild, but depressingly gray – not really inviting weather for a hike to the end of the road and back. I keep reminding myself that even on the grayest day I’ll get more full-spectrum light during a 45 minute walk than I would from any electronic device, and walking in itself is an antidepressant.
Not to mention an aid to weight control and general health. Score!

Of course, I work at home, on my own time, which gives me the freedom to walk out the door in the middle of the day. But if you’re having serious mid-winter blues, I urge you to get outside for at least a little while any day the weather’s not ridiculously harsh, even if you just go walk around the parking lot at work for 15 minutes during your lunch break.

A search on the PubMed database turned up a very interesting study of the effects of vitamin D supplementation on SAD. Vitamin D is, of course, the vitamin/hormone that is created in your skin during exposure to sunlight. It makes all kinds of sense that SAD would be caused, at least in part, by low vitamin D levels.

Sure enough, in this clinical study, subjects who had Seasonal Affective Disorder and were given a single whopping dose of vitamin D – 100,000 IUs – were found to have improved significantly on all “outcome measures” – all the tests that the researchers were using to quantify their depression and fatigue. Excitingly, the subjects given vitamin D improved far more than those who were given the standard phototherapy.

I read this study when my SAD was really at a low point – getting out of bed was an exercise in will, and focusing on writing was near-impossible. As soon as I read about the vitamin D study, I ran to my health food store and bought a bottle of 1000 IU vitamin D capsules. I swallowed five of them as soon as I got home, and another three that evening. I felt noticeably better by the end of the day, and with continued doses of 3000 to 4000 IUs of vitamin D per day, I have been improving ever since. Okay, so I’m still longing for spring. But at least I can get up in the morning, and get some work done during the day. That’s a big improvement, and I’m grateful for it.

(Worried about overdose? Don’t be. It’s estimated that a scantily-clad (ie, bathing suit-wearing) white person spending five to ten minutes in the summer sun will create at least 4000 or so units of vitamin D. Taking a few thousand IUs of fish oil D per day during the winter will not create an overdose.

Speaking of which: Black folks create far less vitamin D in their skin than white folks do, which is why the rates of rickets – weak bones from vitamin D deficiency – have long been higher in black folks in northern regions than they are in white folks in the same regions. I urge my black readers to take vitamin D supplements year ‘round, and to give them to their children.

Too, there is growing evidence that our national obsession with sun screen is causing more health problems than it prevents, because of reduced vitamin D formation. Some researchers are now claiming that for every case of skin cancer we prevent we are causing ten cases of breast, prostate, and colon cancer.)

Interestingly, there are very few food sources of vitamin D, which is why I referred to it as a hormone earlier. It appears that we were not meant, for the very most part, to get our vitamin D from food, but rather by creating it in our bodies from regular exposure to the sun.

Milk and other dairy products contain vitamin D, but only because synthetic D has been added to them; these are not sources of vitamin D in their natural state. Oily fish like sardines, mackerel, tuna, and salmon have some D, as do egg yolks, mushrooms, and liver. You’ll notice something interesting about these few food sources of vitamin D: They’re all low carb. If you’re fond of chicken livers – I love them – sauteing some mushrooms and onions with some chicken livers, then pouring in beaten eggs and scrambling the whole thing together would be about as high-D a meal as I can think of. (Now I’m making myself hungry!)

The very best source of vitamin D is fish liver oil, which is why people from far northern climes have taken cod liver oil for centuries – what with getting so little sun half the year, they learned that they were healthier, and their children grew better, if they took that magical fish liver oil every day. This is a very smart idea, and I take cod liver oil all year ‘round, both for its vitamin content, and for its healthy EPAs. The 1000 IU capsules I’ve been adding to my cod liver oil are also from fish liver oil, but they’re more concentrated.

Some doctors prescribe antidepressant drugs for SAD, to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Most antidepressants fall into the class of SSRIs – Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors. What this means is that they slow the removal of serotonin from the teeny gaps between brain cells (known as synapses) so that the effects of the serotonin are felt more.

Instead, I’ve been taking 5-hydroxytryptophan, also known as 5-HTP. Extracted from an African seed, this supplement is the immediate chemical precursor to serotonin, so taking it actually increases levels of serotonin available in the brain. Be aware that 5-HTP is still being studied and is controversial; it’s up to you whether you want to try it. However, do not try 5-HTP if you are already taking antidepressants. It’s a potentially bad combination.

You can increase your serotonin levels to a lesser degree by eating plenty of foods that are high in the amino acid tryptophan. High tryptophan, low carb foods include poultry, fish, cheese, avocados and nuts. Milk is also a good source; it’s not low carb – 12 grams of lactose per cup – but it is a low impact carb, so many of you should be able to tolerate it. Plain yogurt is another good high tryptophan food (flavored yogurt has tryptophan, but is loaded with sugar.) Add your favorite flavoring extracts and the sweetener of your choice.

Some people find that St. John’s Wort, which appears to have a similar action to the SSRI drugs, is helpful for SAD. If you try St. John’s Wort – and again, don’t combine it with pharmaceutical antidepressants – be aware that it increases your sensitivity to sunlight, making sunburn much more likely. Not a problem for most of us right now, but if you use a tanning bed or are going on a winter vacation, be careful.

(By the way, any of these approaches can be helpful in dealing with emotional carb craving in general.)

Of course, the ultimate treatment would be a two-week vacation in the Caribbean, but I can’t afford either the money or the time, can you? I have vowed, however, that if I have another best-seller, I’m buying myself a winter place in Mexico.

I hope this info helps my fellow SAD sufferers to shake their winter blues without a major carb binge. And here’s a cheerful thought: Groundhog Day (February 2) is just around the corner – and that’s halfway to spring!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:03 AM

January 15, 2006

Can You Low Carb Now That the Hoopla Has Died Down?

Last week I welcomed the low carb newbies, and tried to give them a good start with their new way of eating. Now I’d like to talk to some of you who have fallen off the wagon, but still subscribe to this ezine. (Let’s hear it for procrastination!)

My email tells me that some folks are faltering in their low carbing because it’s not the rage anymore. The media has been telling them that “low carb is dead.” Most of the highly processed low carb specialty products tanked in the marketplace, and are long gone. Worst of all, my latest cookbook, due out this spring, doesn’t have “low carb” in the title! (It’s The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook – and mostly I’ve cut calories by cutting out the junk carbs.) I’ve been accused of “abandoning low carbers.” I’ve been told I have a responsibility to “keep the movement alive.” A fair number of folks are afraid they can’t persist with their low carb plan if the mainstream isn’t with them.

Um, folks? I was eating a low carb diet for a good seven or eight years before the low carb explosion of 2003. When I started in 1995, not only were there no low carb specialty products, the vast majority of the world thought I was stone out of my mind. Fast food workers stared at me bewildered when I asked for “a Whopper, hold the bun.” Living in a college town, as I do, with a huge vegetarian population, many of them misheard my request as “a Whopper, hold the meat,” while others simply looked at me as if I’d ordered Roasted Puppy on a Stick and said, “What do you mean, hold the bun?” (What word didn’t you get?) Waiters in nice restaurants were polite, but puzzled.

Some friends expressed concern that I was ruining my health, while other simply didn’t get it, persistently mishearing “low carb” as “low fat.” (“Here, I brought you this sorbet. It’s low fat, so you can have it, right?”)

Public support was nowhere.

It never occurred to me to quit. You know why? Because it worked. Because the weight was coming off. Far, far more important, because I felt so good – better than I had in years and years. Because, miraculously, I wasn’t hungry all the time anymore. Because my energy and my moods were both at all-time highs.

So for those of you who have drifted back to eating carbs but are still reading Lowcarbezine!, I have a few questions you might ask yourself:

* Did low carb help me lose weight?
* Was my energy level better on my low carb diet?
* Did a low carb diet help with hunger and cravings?
* Did my health improve or deteriorate on my low carb diet?

If, upon reflection, you realize that low carb was working for you, I urge you to ignore the media, of which, I admit, I am one. I can tell you right now, that of the big reasons for all the “low carb is dead” stories, none have to do with low carb not being effective:

1) The people who look at a diet as something you go on for six weeks before your high school reunion, only to go off it again, are gone. The people who try every new diet that comes along for 3 weeks are gone. The people who are looking for something that will miraculously let them lose weight with no need to change their habits are gone. Those folks were never going to stick, anyway.

2) Since many, if not most, of you were wary of the low carb specialty products, and wisely did not make them a big part of your diet, there is very little advertising money out there encouraging the media to write pro-low-carb stories. Never underestimate the power of the advertising dollar.

3) Most importantly, the media, as a whole, have all the attention span of a hyperactive six year old who’s drunk a pitcher of Kool Aid. Low carb has to be dead, you see, because it’s not new and exciting and hot. No one is stunned and dazzled any more by the idea that you can actually lose weight eating steak. So of course it’s time for something else. That low carb is still healthy and effective has exactly zip to do with it.

Please, I urge you: Do not make your nutritional decisions based on what is currently fashionable or trendy. Ask yourself what works for you. Remember that all the evidence points to a low carb diet based on animal foods, vegetables, low sugar fruits, and nuts and seeds being the hereditary diet of human kind – what my nutritionist and radio host pal Martie Whittekin calls the “factory specified diet.” That’s about as far from a “fad diet” as you can get.

If low carb makes you well, if it’s good for your own personal body, that’s all that matters.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:05 PM

February 13, 2005

What Are Good Carbs?

We're hearing a lot these days about "good carbs," and there's no question that some carbohydrate foods are better than others. But what is a "good carb," really?

To me, there are two factors that determine whether a carb is good or bad. One is the blood sugar impact - does the food have a high or a low glycemic index? Will it spike your blood sugar, leading to a big insulin release, with its subsequent blood sugar crash with its familiar symptoms - irritability, fatigue, and gnawing hunger? Or will it be absorbed fairly slowly?

For about a decade, from the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s, we were told that "simple carbs are bad, complex carbs are good." There was, however, a lot of confusion as to what "simple" and "complex" carbs were. I've often seen these terms misused; a lot of writers use "simple carbs" to mean refined, process carbs, and "complex carbs" to mean unrefined, unprocessed carbs. That's actually incorrect. Simple carbohydrates are sugars, whether found in a can of Coke or in an apple. Complex carbohydrates are starches, whether found in a slice of squishy white bread, or in a bowl of homemade bean soup.

The reason for the push toward complex carbohydrates was the belief that starches were digested and absorbed more slowly than sugars, and therefore would have a more modest impact on blood sugar levels. This turns out to be simplistic. There are simple carb foods - most fruit, for example - that have a modest blood sugar impact, while there are starchy foods like potatoes that have a whopping high blood sugar impact.

Many things affect glycemic index. Fiber lowers glycemic index by physically slowing the absorption of the digestible carbohydrate. It sits like a sponge in your gut, time-releasing the carbohydrate into your system. For this reason, most fruit has a low glycemic index, while the index for juices is higher. Texture makes a difference - an apple will have a lower glycemic index than unsweetened applesauce, and dense, flat pita bread has a lower glycemic index than loaf bread. Coarsely ground flour has a higher glycemic index than unground grains, but a lower glycemic index than finely milled flour.

Cooking methods can make a difference - potatoes always have a very high glycemic index, but boiling them lowers it a bit, while baking them raises it. Processing makes a difference - simple steamed brown rice has a moderate glycemic index, while those styrofoam-y rice cakes, made from puffed brown rice, might as well be pure glucose. And eating low glycemic index foods like proteins and fats along with higher glycemic index foods will result in a blood sugar impact between the two. (This means that, contrary to popular food-combining diets, carbohydrate-rich foods will be easier on your blood sugar if eaten with a meal that includes protein and fat.)

The second factor we need to concern ourselves with is the nutrient density of the carbohydrate food - how many vitamins and minerals will it add to your day? How many antioxidants? Does it come with a substantial whack of protein, too? Maybe some healthy fats? Good carbohydrates offer plenty of nutritional value along with a modest blood sugar impact.

The very best carbohydrate foods are vegetables. I trust this doesn't come as a big surprise! For many of us, there would be no problem with eating 50 - 60 grams of carbohydrate per day, or even more - so long as we ate it all in the form of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, cabbage, sprouts, etc, etc, etc. I eat unlimited quantities of these foods, and most of you should be able to as well - it's hard to overeat on leaves!

Most fruit has a low glycemic index, and of course it contributes vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to our diet. Happily, many of the fruits highest in antioxidants are among those lowest in sugar - berries are little antioxidant powerhouses, and cantaloupe is wonderful as well. But there's no question that an apple or an orange, while higher in carbohydrate than, say, strawberries, falls into the "good carbs" category.

We don't tend to think of milk as a carb food, but it actually has 50% more carbohydrate than protein - 12 grams of carbohydrate, 8 grams of protein in a cup. That carbohydrate is in the form of lactose, aka milk sugar. If you're lactose intolerant, milk won't be a good carb for you, of course. But if you can consume lactose without problems, milk has a low glycemic index, and certainly makes a strong nutritional contribution to your diet - among other things, getting enough calcium seems to encourage healthy body weight, and of course we know about protein. Depending on the milk you get, the fat in it may also be a good source of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, a very healthy fat thought to prevent cancer and help burn fat.

(If you are lactose intolerant, I'm afraid the "Lactaid" milk has a considerably higher glycemic index than regular milk. You might try Carb Countdown carb-reduced milk instead, but then, of course, it won't be a carbohydrate food.)

Vegetables, fruits, and milk all have something else in common: They're high in water. This means that they're less concentrated than whole grains and beans. A six-and-a-half inch whole wheat pita has about 31 grams of usable carb. A half a cup of hummus (chick pea dip) has about 20 grams of usable carb. A whole head of romaine lettuce has only about 17 grams of usable carb, 1 cup of milk, as mentioned, has 12 grams, and a navel orange has about 14 grams of usable carb. Clearly, the more concentrated your sources of carbohydrate, the smaller your portions will need to be. Personally, I'd usually rather have a great big huge pile of salad than one slice of bread, but there are moments when one slice of 100% whole grain rye toast is just exactly what I want. So let's move on to the more concentrated carb foods.

Legumes - dried beans, split peas, lentils, chick peas, and the like - all have a low glycemic index and substantial nutritional value. If you like them, a cup of split pea, lentil, or bean soup would be a good carb - just watch your portions.

While potatoes have a high glycemic index, sweet potatoes are somewhat lower, and offer far more nutritional value. Better yet, true yams have an even lower impact. Yes, these are two different foods, though the terms have often been used interchangeably. Please, no sweet potatoes or yams with Karo Syrup or marshmallows! But a small baked sweet potato or yam with a little butter, salt, and pepper would fall into the "good carbs" catagory.

How about whole grains? They're better than refined grains, there's no question about it; they have more fiber (some is more than none!) and a wider variety of vitamins and minerals. Still, to my mind, they're the least valuable and most problematic of the bunch. They are very dense in carbohydrate, so it's easy to overshoot your limit. They're also the source of a lot of allergies and food sensitivities.

I remain convinced that grains are completely inessential for human nutrition. They, along with legumes, have only been a significant part of the human diet for the roughly 10,000 years since humankind invented farming, and were virtually non-existent in hunter-gatherer diets people ate for 2 million years. Doesn't sound terribly essential to me.

However, I'm well-aware that grains are the carbohydrate that many people miss the most. I'm not entirely immune to their allure myself - at this moment I have low carb tortillas, low carb bread, and Finn Crisp rye crackers in the house. And I've been known to indulge in a slice of whole grain rye toast from time to time. So it's vitally important that we sort out the better from the worse, where whole grains are concerned.

Since processing increases blood sugar impact, virtually all cold cereals have a high glycemic index, even whole grain, unsweetened varieties like Cheerios. They're a poor choice. (The exception is the spaghetti-shaped bran cereals like All-Bran, which have a low blood sugar impact - all that fiber!) As mentioned, whole wheat pita will have a lower glycemic index than whole wheat loaf bread. Whole wheat pasta and brown rice have moderate glycemic indices, but they're both higher than barley, which is the lowest-impact whole grain there is. Dense, coarse-grained bread has a lower impact than softer breads. Whole grain rye bread - a favorite of mine - has a lower impact that whole wheat bread.

Many people think of oatmeal as the best of all possible grains. It's true that old fashioned rolled oats have a moderate glycemic index, but "steel cut" oats, traditional in Scotland, have a lower impact. They also take longer to cook! If you want to try them, but are in a hurry in the morning, try this: Scald a Thermos with boiling water, to pre-heat it. Then combine steel cut oats and boiling water in the Thermos, using the proportions listed on the label. Cover, and let sit overnight. You'll have cooked oatmeal when you get up. Eat some protein with it, will you? You don't want to be hungry by 10:00.

Quick cooking oats have a higher glycemic index than rolled oats - more processing, remember? - and instant oatmeal is the worst of all. Further, it nearly always has sugar added, and sometimes hydrogenated vegetable oil. These cannot be considered "good carbs."

Another grain I give in to at least once or twice every summer is sweet corn. It has a moderate impact, and comes in conveniently limited portions!

There are low glycemic index foods that don't have much nutritional value - for instance, Snickers bars have a fairly low impact for a candy bar; so do Peanut M&Ms. Both fall short in the vitamins-and-minerals department. Conversely, those highly advertised "diet shakes" have a bunch of vitamins added, but the carbs in them are of the cheapest and most damaging kind.

Along with blood sugar impact and nutrient density, it's important to keep an eye on the actual number of grams of carbohydrate in a portion. Your total carb intake still matters. For example, the South Beach Diet allows 1/2 cup of oatmeal one day, then two days later you get 1 slice of whole grain toast - hardly an orgy of whole grains. I worry that all this talk about "good carbohydrates" will lead people to believe that all they need to do is switch from white bread to whole wheat, and white rice to brown, and everything will be fine. If you're carbohydrate intolerant, this is unlikely to work. Before I went low carb, I hadn't bought white bread or white rice in almost twenty years - it was a steady diet of whole grains that got me up to 190 pounds at 5'2", and drove my nagging, constant hunger.

I can't tell you how many grams of carbohydrate you can eat each day and still lose weight. That's something you'll have to work out for yourself, through trial and error. I know that I have to stay under 60 grams of non-fiber carbs per day, regardless of how good the source, or my weight starts to creep up - but that's me. It's entirely possible that your limit is 100 grams per day - or that it's 20. Only experimentation can tell you that. Pay attention to your body, and remember that if you're hungry again within 90 minutes of eating any particular carb food, it's probably not for you.

For reference purposes, here's a link to the most extensive list of glycemic indices on the 'net: Also includes glycemic load, which is wonderful. Keep in mind if a particular food you're interested in isn't here, a quick google on "glycemic index" will turn up other lists.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 12:55 PM

December 03, 2004

Dana's Health Update

Since I’ve been out here for five years claiming that a low carb diet, complete with red meat, eggs, cheese, butter, and cream, is, for many if not most of us, an exceedingly healthy one, I feel it is incumbent upon me to maintain transparency regarding my own health. If I’ve got some awful condition that might be linked to my diet, you have a right to know.

Well, I got a bunch of tests recently. I applied for life insurance, and not surprisingly, they wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to keel over in the next six months. So they sent a nice lady to my house, who sucked blood out of my arm, made me pee in a jar, even hooked me up to an EKG. I asked for a copy of the results, and here they are.

You’ll notice that not only are the results good, they’re remarkably good. I’d have a hard time getting much healthier. Certainly there’s no indication that nine years of low carbing has hurt my health, damaged my liver or kidneys, jacked up my blood fats, or anything of that sort.

Of course, this is merely anecdotal evidence, and the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” What’s most important to you are your tests, not mine; my body may be different from yours. Not only that, but I should mention that along with my low carb/high fat/protein-and-vegetable-rich diet, I consume a handful of nutritional supplements every day, including a multiple vitamin and mineral, a bunch of antioxidants, fish oil (EPA), and lots of calcium and magnesium. I also exercise regularly. It’s impossible to know how much of my good health is due to which factor.

However, I think we can pretty much rule out the notion that my diet is killing me.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 02:47 PM

October 06, 2004

Geez, I Had No Idea

I recently went to the first annual Carb Aware Conference and Expo, where along with picking up the Consumer's Choice Award for Best Cookbook for 500 Low-Carb Recipes (and many thanks to all who voted for me) (Here's the Amazon link: )

I met some really great people. There were doctors, scientists, writers, manufacturers of low carb specialty products, low carb merchants, all sorts of folks - and overwhelmingly, the attitude was not "How do we cash in on low carb?" but rather "How can we best serve the low carb community, alleviate confusion, and come up with labeling of products that really means something, and protects the low carb consumer?" I was proud to be among them, and I will be working with the Carbohydrate Awareness Counsel in the future. (I also think all of you should join as consumer members. Visit .)

However, I had startling thing happen - I met Lora Ruffner, who runs the very popular website Low Carb Luxury ( and has her own online magazine, and she told me that there was a rumor going around the low carb internet community that she and I had had a fight, and were feuding. Since Lora and I had never even met, and had exchanged no more than a few emails, this, shall we say, came as news to me.

So for any of you who may have heard this rumor, no, Lora Ruffner and I are not fighting, I like her very well, I think her website rocks (I voted for her for best low carb website), and I'd like to work with her in the future.

And would the gossips please find something else to talk about?

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:50 PM

Questionnaire: Specialty Products

Speaking of the Carbohydrate Awareness Council and our efforts to set some sort of standards for low carb specialty foods: We need more information about the low carb community's use of low carb specialty products. So I've come up with an informal questionnaire. You can help us in our efforts to serve you if you'd go to and spend three minutes answering a few questions. You don't even need to give us your email address; no way will participating in this questionnaire result in spam showing up in your mailbox.


Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:39 PM

So, What Should I Write?

I've been kicking around ideas for future cookbooks with my editor, and I'd love to know how many of you would be interested in Low Carb, Low Cal, High Taste, and how many of you would be interested in The Good Fat/Good Carb Cookbook. Email me at and let me know!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:28 PM

August 03, 2004

On The Road Again

Owing to, er, overwhelming circumstances, I have traveled far more in the past 18 months than I have traveled in pretty much the whole rest of my life put together. And I'm here to tell you one simple thing about being on the road: It's no excuse for eating junk.

You hear this pretty commonly: "I'm on the road all the time, and it's so hard to eat healthy." Bah. Excuses. I have been in a bunch of airports - Indianapolis, O'Hare, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Diego, La Guardia, LAX, Dallas - and every single one of them has had food that will fit your low carbohydrate diet.

Main dish salads are ubiquitous; they're available at practically every fast food kiosk. They may not be gourmet, but they're fresh and low carb, give you a fast dose of protein and vegetables, and are easy to carry onto a plane if you're in a hurry. You can also find burgers and dogs without the buns, of course, and often other things as well - I saw a smoothies place at the Philadelphia airport the other day that offered a couple of low carb choices, complete with added protein powder. Diet soda, coffee, and tea are easy to find. My favorite, unsweetened, unflavored iced tea, is a little harder; too many places only have sweetened tea on tap, or the bottled, flavored stuff. Still, I can always find a caffeine fix without ruining my diet.

You certainly can't count on the airlines to feed you these days, and when they do it's often Festival of Junk Carbs. Every now and then I get a tiny packet of peanuts, but other than that it's pretzels on short flights, or a sandwich, chips, and cookies on cross-country flights (in this situation I generally eat the protein out of the sandwich, and discard everything else.) Too, sometimes you have to make a connection with no time to grab food. This is why I never travel without a snack in my carry-on bag - I always have a protein bar, or nuts or pumpkin seeds, and often both. These can make all the difference. Please, don't head out for a trip without "friendly" food, or you'll be prey to the first Cinnabon you see as you get off the plane.

Remember, folks: It's one thing to decide to have an Indulgence because you're on vacation, and at a special restaurant. It's something else entirely to eat lousy airport food because "I'm on the road, how can I eat healthy?" Especially if you travel as much as I do!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:54 PM

Low Carb and Fertility Continued

Last issue I wrote about a study that showed that mice and cows fed a high protein diet experienced fertility problems. I pointed out that mice and cows are herbivores whose hereditary diet did not include animal products, making the application of this finding to people wildly speculative at best. I also pointed out that carbohydrate intolerance in the form of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a very common cause of infertility, and that for many women a low carbohydrate diet enhances fertility.

I got some incredible mail in response to that article! Here are a few of the coolest stories I've read since starting this journal, and I've read some truly wonderful stories!

Hi Dana

Just a quick note: I was told nearly 20 years ago that I couldn't become pregnant without fertility drugs due to hormone problems (I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Last year, I went on the Atkins diet. Today I have a beautiful 4 month old daughter. Coincidence? Maybe, but I doubt it. It's not likely that I became pregnant due to losing weight either. I was a size 5 for many of those childless years.

~ Leann Daniels

I just wanted to add to your anecdotal evidence that low-carbing does not lead to fertility problems. I was diagnosed with PCOS in 1998. I got married in 1989 and went off the pill in 1990. I went to doctors off and on about my infertility problems for years - I never ovulated. I got as far as

almost having an IUI but we had to stop the injectible drugs as I was at risk of ovarian hyperstimulation. I didn't go back to the clinic after that as I felt like a lab rat and it was costly and stressful.

When I turned 40 I had a serious talk with my husband and we decided to give up trying to have a baby. I started doing some research on my own into PCOS and discovered that low-carbing was supposed to help women with PCOS maintain or regain their health. Someone at work lost a whole bunch of weight by low-carbing too and she had a 3 page photocopy of a woman's magazine article that she was following. It looked too good to be true - I mean who had ever been on a diet where you could have butter? I love butter and meat, so I thought the diet didn't look too bad. I bought Dr. Atkin's New Diet Revolution, read it, and decided that I liked what he had to say and would give low-carbing a try.

I swear, withing 36 hours I felt less bloated in my abdomen and had more energy. I added more exercise and some supplements to my life. I really craved sweet stuff at first and found myself downing lots of diet jello and diet pop - and I never drank much pop before, but I managed to kick that habit too. I lost 7 pounds on induction and for the next few months I stayed at about 60 carbs a day. I lost about 15 pounds and could have lost a few more, but I think I was afraid of the sucess that I was having and didn't want to push my luck! I did have the occasional beer, so when I gained a pound or two I'd just cut back on the carbs again until I lost them.

It was amazing. I wasn't hungry and I wasn't thinking about food all the time and 7 months after I started I had 2 periods in 2 months after years of having 3-4 every 12 months. Low-carbing was getting my endocrine system back on track. Then it was winter and I started to feel sick and tired and bloated again and I craved carbs like mad. I thought maybe I had SAD on top of a big cold and then I figured it was menopause or (on bad days) ovarian cancer.

I finally went to the doctor, told her my symptoms, got a strange look from her and was told to undo my pants and get up on the examining table. She took one look at me and told me I was pregnant - probably 4-5 months. She pulled out her Doppler, rubbed some gel on my tummy and we heard a heartbeat. Twenty weeks later I had a healthy baby girl. I did get gestational diabetes, and the diet I was put on had way more carbs than I was used to eating, but the dietician I saw stressed healthy unrefined carbs and said I didn't have to eat the highest number of servings. (The GD diet doesn't take into account low-glycemic foods and is really designed for the average North American who eats too much junk food, so I suppose they don't want to make things too complicated and scary - though I wish they'd have different levels so people who are concerned about something could get more help.)

My daughter only breastfed for 4 months as I didn't have much milk and had to supplement with formula. She decided that the bottle was much easier. I was disappointed, but started low-carbing that day. A month later I had a period. A month after that I was pregnant again. So now I am 42 and 31 weeks pregnant with my second child. I've had GD from the start, and I'm really watching my carb intake, so the baby is gaining weight, but I'm not huge and I'm certainly not in ketosis. I wish I had known the connection between low-carbing and PCOS years ago, but I'm glad I finally made the connection myself. If this baby is a boy we are naming him Robert in honor of Dr. Atkins.

Sorry this is long, but low-carbing gave me 2 pregnancies after 12+ years of infertility, so it's a topic close to my heart.

Dana Carswell

Dear Dana,

I know you are busy, but I had to respond to the article about fertility and low carb eating. My husband and I had trouble conceiving for the first 17 years of our marriage, and the two children that we had were "with help"...HSGs, a laparoscopy, some fertility shots, AI, etc...After

I was on low carb for a year (and lost 70 pounds) I turned up pregnant...just out of the blue...not even trying. What a neat surprise!

Love your books and the ezine,

Angela Krempl

These stories are SO COOL! Leanne, Dana, Angela, you have my heartiest congratulations, and I know that Lowcarbezine! readers everywhere join me in rejoicing.

Also, re the effect of a low carb diet on other species, Dale Lover writes:

I have to respond to this because I also saw the study. I have 5 dogs of my own and am part of a large group of dog owners who feed their dogs raw and communicate regularly on a number of email lists. There are disputes on the diet for dogs as well, but most of us feed a diet similar to the hunter diet which is also very much like Atkins. The diet is primarily raw meaty bones, muscle and organ meats, green vegetables and some feed summer squash and zucchini in the veggie meat mush, eggs (I give only yolks) and yogurt. The only grain they ever get is a sprinkling of wheat germ and the whole wheat flour in the salmon treats I bake for them. My point is that dogs eating this diet, which is also similar to what they eat in the wild, have no difficulty getting pregnant and the puppies are marvelously healthy. Anyway, that is what made me skeptical of the results of this study, in addition to the general the sniping of many in the scientific community at the success of the low carb diet and the studies that show that weight can be lost without sacrificing health. It is as though anyone who can poke holes in the low carb theory and success will be considered a hero and there are some stretching science beyond the limit in an attempt to do so.

I, too, feed my dogs what is often referred to as the BARF diet (Bones And Raw Food) and they're thriving. They're both neutered, so I have no idea what the effect on fertility might be, but they're fit and energetic, with shiny eyes and coats, and none of the dental problems common in dogs these days. Indeed, when my vet asked me, "Have you heard about low carbohydrate diets for dogs and cats?" I responded, "Doc, I'm way ahead of you!"

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:40 PM

Dopey "Low-Carb" (HAH!) Product of the Week

Y'know those inserts in the Sunday paper? The ones that are nothing but coupons? I found the most hilarious attempt at wooing the low carb market in there the other day.

It seems that Auntie Anne's, a chain of mall stores selling fresh-baked soft pretzels, is coming after us with their new "Smart Bites" for those, as they say, "counting carbs." Smart Bites are little nuggets of pretzel, served in a cup, and each nugget has "just" 1 net carb.

Of course, you can make anything look low carb if you just divide it up into small enough pieces. Heck, Coca-Cola has less than 2 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon! Doesn't change the fact that it has 40 grams per can. That cup contains about fifteen Smart Bites, so you're going to be counting quite a few carbs. If my elementary school arithmetic is holding up, that's 15 grams of usable carbohydrate per serving, or roughly the level I try to stick to in a meal, fercryinoutloud. It sure doesn't qualify Auntie Anne's Smart Bites as low carb.

Furthermore, despite having "more protein and fiber" than Auntie Anne's regular pretzels, I'm betting that Smart Bites derive most of their usable carbs from refined white flour, also spelled j-u-n-k.

Are Auntie Anne's Smart Bites an improvement over their regular pretzels? Apparently they are - but then, an Original Pretzel will run you 69 grams of usable carb, and a "Glazin' Raisin" Pretzel has a whopping 103 grams of usable carb, so there is a lot of room for improvement. Smart Bites are in the same category as the C2, Pepsi Edge, and "reduced sugar" cereals I wrote about last issue - still full of garbage, just less of it.

I'd like to point out here that for about the same usable carb count as a cup of Auntie Anne's Smart Bites you could eat a medium apple, a medium ear of corn on the cob, a slice-and-a-half of Natural Ovens Sunny Millet Bread, or any number of other foods which would be far more nutritious and satisfy your hunger far longer. If you really have an extra 15 grams to blow, Auntie Anne's Smart Bites are not your best choice by a long shot.

I know I hammer on this issue, but I worry that new low carbers will figure that they can just replace all that high carb processed junk with reduced carb processed junk, and they'll lose weight and improve their health. For most people this is simply untrue; most people have to drop below 50 grams of non-fiber carbs per day to lose weight, and many have to drop even lower than that, unless they couple carb reduction with pretty strict calorie counting. Too, I hear frequently from people who tell me that the day they started adding a lot of reduced carb "treats" to their diet was the day their weight loss stopped. "When you plateau, lose the treats" is a very good rule to live by.

I strongly suspect that a low carbohydrate diet based on processed stuff will not deliver anything like the health benefits of a low carb diet based on real food. Carbohydrates from vegetables, fruit, and nuts and seeds come with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Carbohydrates from processed low carb junk do not. Too, hunger is not solely a response to needing calories from food. You can also feel hungry because your body is craving nutrients it isn't getting. Processed stuff can't fill that hunger.

Please, folks, eat real food. Real food, real food, real food. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, vegetables, low sugar fruits are what a low carb diet is about, not chee-zee junk food that still contain enough carbs for a whole meal. If once or twice a year (NOT once or twice a week) you're really craving a hot pretzel, Smart Bites are better than a Glazin' Raisin or Original Pretzel. Other than that, they have no place in a healthy low carb diet.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:37 PM

July 18, 2004


A bunch of people have asked me how I feel about the new C2 from Coca-Cola - Coke with half the sugar. My immediate reaction is, "They might as well advertise "Made with half the cyanide." This feeling, by the way, extends to Pepsi Edge, and the newly-minted lower-sugar versions of Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, too - they're garbage. That they're somewhat less egregious garbage doesn't change the fact that they're garbage.

I fear that people will decide that these reduced sugar products will be a green light not only to consume this refined, carb-y, nutritionless garbage, but a license to plow through even more of it than they may have eaten/drunk of the full-sugar counterparts. This is exactly what happened with fat-free processed foods - people decided that since Snackwells sandwich cookies were low fat, they could eat a whole package at a sitting. The result was not weight loss and improved health.

I'm unwilling to say that a can of Coke with "only" 5 teaspoons of sugar is "better" than Coke with 10 teaspoons of sugar. "Slightly less hideous" is about as far as I'm willing to go.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 03:06 PM

The Low Carb Health Benefit Even Detractors Can't Deny

For years and years, mainstream health authorities have been denying that sugar is detrimental to health. The only proven ill-effect of sugar, they insist, is that it rots your teeth.

Of this there is no doubt. In his seminal work Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Weston Price, DDS, documented over and over and over again the ravages sugar and other refined foods brought to the teeth of "primitive" people all over the world as they first came in contact with such trash. In dozens of photographs Price showed the gleaming white, even, strong teeth of people who had always lived on their native whole foods diet (whatever that native whole foods diet might be,) and the nightmarishly bad teeth that within mere years of sugar, white flour, and other rubbish (Oh, I'm sorry, I meant "foods of civilization") being introduced. Today, not even the biggest apologist for sugar suggests that it's not bad for your oral health.

However, this is generally admitted in a dismissive tone, as in, "Oh, the only bad thing about sugar is it causes cavities." I think that a substance that can destroy the single hardest part of your body is sort of scary right there. But the sugar pushers aren't telling you the whole story.

You see, rotten teeth and bad gums can make the rest of you sick. How sick? Really sick.

First, the worse your teeth are, the more your nutrition will suffer. This is a common problem among the elderly - many have trouble chewing their food, and therefore don't eat enough, especially of foods like vegetables and meat, which are highly nutritious, but take a good deal of chewing. Malnutrition can, of course, lead to dozens of diseases, from scurvy to osteoporosis - both of which, ironically, can cause you to lose more teeth.

But did you know that gum disease can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke? The danger lies in having a long-standing infection in your mouth. The bacteria invade the bloodstream, and can attack your arteries. Too, much heart disease research is now focusing not on blood fractions like cholesterol and triglycerides, but on inflammation, and gum disease is, by definition, an inflammation.

Oral infections also can interfere with pregnancy, increasing your risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Research has shown that women with periodontal disease may be up to seven times more likely to deliver a premature low-birth weight baby. While the risk increases with the severity of the disease, even women with minimal signs of the disease are still at risk for low-birth weight babies. I've been seeing public service advertising recently regarding premature birth; apparently the rate has increased 27% since 1981. I find myself wondering sadly how many families could have been spared this harrowing experience simply by shunning the foods that rot their teeth and gums.

Diabetics have extra trouble with gum disease, apparently because of a weaker immune response. But research suggests that the relationship goes both ways. Periodontal disease may make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Studies indicate that blood sugar stays higher, longer, in diabetics with gum disease. The result is a greater risk for diabetic complications.

Other than regular brushing and flossing, what is the recommended protocol for treating gum disease? Reduce carbohydrate intake, which in turn lessens plaque formation. This is absolutely standard medical wisdom, with not even a hint of controversy. As a little bonus, you'll find - perhaps you've found already - that by reducing plaque-forming foods, your breath will be fresher. Nothing ferments more rapidly in your mouth than sugar, and the residue it leaves is stinky indeed. (Which, by the way, makes sugary breath mints a product that sells itself. Eat a sugary mint to freshen your breath, and you'll need another 20 minutes later.)

Of course, there is a great deal of research backing up the dramatic health benefits of stable blood sugar, controlled insulin levels, and, of course, weight loss. But people who are still stuck in "Oh my God, you're eating meat and fat! You'll die of a heart attack!" mode tend not to be open to that evidence. That quitting carbs improves oral health, on the other hand, is inarguable, and the health effects of that improvement are turning out to be profound.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 03:04 PM

Low Carb Fertility Problems?

New Scientist Magazine reports this month that a recent study indicates that high protein diets reduce fertility. They suggest that women trying to conceive not remain on the Atkins diet. Do you need to pay heed?

Hey, I am not a doctor, nor even a medical researcher, nor do I play one or the other on television. However, there are some things I think you need to keep in mind:

* First, and most important, the study in question, done at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, was not a human study, but rather was done on mice and cows. In these two species, a high protein diet reduced the chances of an embryo emplanting in the uterine wall. Neither mice nor cows are species with a hunter-gatherer history; I find it a stretch to assume that a high protein diet would have the same affect on humans as on these animals. Which leads us to the fact that...

* The problem which leads to reduced fertility in mice and cows on a high protein diet is an increase in metabolic ammonium in the reproductive tract. Jeff Volek from the University of Connecticut at Storrs reports that ammonium levels do not increase in humans on the Atkins diet, which raises the question of whether ammonium levels increase in the reproductive tract. There is no evidence that it does.

* Studies of paleoanthropological evidence combined with studies of the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes indicate that the hereditary diet of human kind for the most part consists of about 50% animal products, plus vegetables, fruit in season, nuts and seeds, and other plant matter - but not grains or beans (and of course, not sugar!) This would, of course, be a high protein diet. It seems unlikely that a diet that impaired human fertility would have lead to our being the most successful species on the planet.

* A very common cause of infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome. How common? An estimated 70% of infertility problems stemming from ovulation difficulties come from PCOS. It is accepted that PCOS stems from hyperinsulinemia - carbohydrate intolerance - and a low carbohydrate diet is the first line of treatment. Indeed, I have heard from women with PCOS for whom a low carbohydrate diet was sufficient treatment to allow them to get pregnant.

* It's also important to remember that insulin-based illnesses are common during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects between 3-6% of pregnant women. Preeclampsia is also related to insulin levels, and is more common in obese women with insulin resistance. I find it doubtful that a diet high in carbohydrates during pregnancy is a good idea for anyone with a weight problem or insulin resistance.

In short, I am unconvinced that this is a big problem, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

If you are trying to get pregnant, and your doctor has determined that you have a problem with a fertilized egg implanting, or you're simply concerned, remember this: A low carbohydrate diet is not necessarily synonymous with a high protein diet. There is no reason why you can't eat 65 grams or so of protein a day - about 10-12 ounces of meat, eggs, or cheese - and make up the rest of your diet with low carb vegetables and healthy fats. Eat less meat and more avocados, healthy oils, olives, and nuts and seeds, to make up the rest of your calories. You could also look at some of the diets based on the glycemic index; I include one in How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds, but there are plenty of g-index diets out there.

I just hope that the coverage of this story doesn't convince women that they'd do better to eat cold cereal, white bread, and pasta when trying to conceive than they would to eat meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and plenty of salads. That would be a dreadful mistake.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 03:02 PM

May 23, 2004

What About "Good Carbs"?

Now that I've finally turned in 500 More Low-Carb Recipes, I've had a teeny bit of free time, and I've started taking a look at The South Beach Diet and the new The Hamptons Diet. I have not read both books through yet, so I will not offer a final opinion, but I will say this about the "good carbs" they both recommend:

If I add even good carbs - coarse ground rye bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice - back to my diet on any regular basis, I start to gain weight. Indeed, before I went low carb, most of the foods I was eating on my low fat/high carb diet were at least reasonably good carbs - 100% whole grain bread, beans and lentils, brown rice, Cheerios, fruit. I did eat white flour pasta, and potatoes, but with the notable exception of low fat ice cream with Hershey's syrup ("now, as always, a fat free food") I was not eating a lot of highly processed sugary stuff - no Pop Tarts, no Oreos, no Wonder Bread, and I haven't had a sugared soda since I was 11 or 12 years old.

Yet eating carbs that were at least relatively "good" still got me up to 190 pounds at 5'2", with nasty energy swings and borderline-high blood pressure.

What I've seen so far of South Beach and the Hamptons (are we talking nutrition, or real estate?) indicates that they are somewhat narrower in their definition of "good carbs" - my Cheerios would not have made the cut, for example, nor would the potatoes or the white flour pasta. This is just as well, since it turns out that these carbs pack a serious blood sugar wallop. However I have, since going low carb almost nine years ago, tried adding some of these "good carbs" back to my diet - most notably 100% whole grain rye bread, which I adore, and which has a low glycemic index. I'm afraid I found that if I had a slice a day, I started to gain weight, so now I simply don't buy the stuff. (Nor do I bother much with low carb specialty bread, either homemade or purchased. For the most part, I simply don't eat bread, and truth to tell, I don't much miss it.)

For that matter, when I was doing blood sugar tests trying to find out if "carb blockers" work, I discovered that one cup of brown rice was enough to drive my blood sugar into the diabetic range. That's a bigger serving than these diets recommend, and I was eating it without the protein and fat that would have moderated its effect on my blood sugar, but it still was a pretty clear demonstration to me that brown rice is not my friend.

I find that I do best if I simply keep my usable (non-fiber) carb intake under 50 grams a day, and I try to keep it lower than that most days. (I also keep a mild eye on calories.) I get the vast majority of those carbs from vegetables, a little fruit, nuts and seeds, seasonings, some dairy products, and the malto-dextrin filler in Splenda. Given the need to keep my carb count so low, I simply have no interest in supplanting, say, 15 grams of carbohydrate worth of vegetables with 15 grams of carbohydrate worth of whole wheat pasta - I'd rather have a huge salad than a teeny portion of noodles. I don't really see the point, nutritionally speaking, since I have yet to find a single vitamin or mineral available in grains and the like that I can't get from lower carb sources.

That, however, is me, and one of the tenets of my low carb writing has been that people differ quite a lot. I do know people who have done quite well on a diet that includes some of the good (ie, low glycemic impact) carbs, and I even included a diet that uses such carbs in How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds - I call it The Careful Carb Diet. (Maybe I should have called it the Bloomington Diet?) I do not mean to voice a blanket objection to diets that do include modest portions of these foods. If you're on South Beach or the Hamptons diet and you're doing well, God bless, and stick with it! I just wanted you to be aware that "good carbs" aren't good for everybody. There are some of you who are going to do far better if you simply stay away from grains and the like pretty much forever, and there are going to be some of you who can tolerate them only every so often, and then only in tiny doses.

There's no substitute for paying attention to your own body.

I also wanted you to be aware that there is no compelling nutritional reason that you need to eat those "good carbs." Every vitamin and mineral found in them can be found in lower carb sources, if that's what your body prefers.

I promise to read both books thoroughly, and report back soon.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:06 PM

Okay, So It's an Old Story

But then, I've been dilatory lately, haven't I?

Back in April, CNN carried a story about a couple on Atkins induction who were booted from a buffet-style restaurant after going back for a twelfth serving of roast beef - the employee carving the beef was concerned about having enough for the other customers. The couple had assumed the restaurant was all-you-can-eat, but the manager insisted it wasn't. When the couple demanded a refund, the police were called, and they were removed from the premises.

I'm not going to get into the legal issues involved, except to say that it seems to me that anyone who has had eleven servings of roast beef at buffet prices can't claim they haven't gotten their money's worth. No, it's those twelve servings that concern me.

Excuse me? Twelve servings of roast beef? I know that Atkins doesn't specify quantities at all, but that doesn't mean you're supposed to do your level best to eat until you explode, like Mr. Creosote in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Two servings? Three? Completely understandable. But twelve? It seems to me these folks were being a tad compulsive.

So let me point out two things: First of all, Doc Atkins, while not prescribing specific portion sizes, said that people should eat when they are hungry, eat enough to not feel hungry anymore, and then stop until they are hungry again. He did not say that so long as you were eating very low carb you should feel free to eat yourself loop-legged, nor did he say that a low carb diet was license to stuff yourself to the point where most people would puke. Indeed, one of the great triumphs of the Atkins nutritional approach - and indeed, of low carbohydrate diets in general - is that for most of us, if we're very careful with our carbs, and pay attention to actual hunger, we find that we can trust our appetites, often for the first time in our lives. But nobody eats twelve servings of roast beef in response to actual hunger pangs. Once you're past serving two or three, we're talking entertainment or compulsion.

Secondly - and I've said this before, but it's such a pervasive myth that I need to say it again and again - It is not true that so long as you eat a very low carbohydrate diet you can eat an unlimited number of calories and still lose weight. The clinical studies indicate that you can, indeed, eat more calories than you could on a carb-containing diet and still lose weight - most people should have no trouble losing somewhere in the 1800 - 2500 calorie per day range, which is easily enough calories to feel comfortable. Some people will be able to eat more than that, and I have one friend who lost weight in the 4000-5000 calorie per day range - but then, he started at 450 pounds.

However, I know of no one who can eat 10,000 calories per day and lose weight, no matter how deep in ketosis they are. And most people are going to need, as I mentioned, to ride in the 1800-2500 calorie per day range. Which, if you eat in response to actual hunger, rather than for entertainment, or because the food is simply there, should be easy.

Oh, and I hope they had at least a salad or some green beans with that roast beef. Even on Induction you're supposed to be eating vegetables, you know.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:03 PM

Important Splenda Info

There's no question why Splenda has taken over the artificial sweetener market in a big way - it simply tastes better than anything else out there. However, my email shows that there is some confusion about it. Here's one query I got:

I was in a low-carb chat room and the management of the chat room flashes low-carb info. across the screen occasionally... Like drink lots of water and stuff like that. They send one that says that something like "one cup of Splenda contains 40+ carbs...." Can this be right??? If someone makes homemade Kool Aid with Splenda, then they are just drinking empty carbs. (I have a friend who does that although personally I like the water where I live)


Clint McHann

No, Clint, the 40 grams per cup figure for granular Splenda is not correct. However, there are 24 grams of carbohydrate in a cup of Splenda, which is enough to pay attention to. Why, then, does the Splenda package say that Splenda has 0 carbs per serving (not to mention 0 calories?) Because a "serving" is just 1 teaspoon, and contains roughly 0.5 grams of carbohydrate. The federal government of the USA allows food processors to round down any carb count of 0.5 grams per serving or less to "0 grams." Voila, a "carb-free" product!

However, what is carb-free in theory is not carb-free in practice, and that 0.5 grams per teaspoon figure means that 1 tablespoon has 1.5 grams, and 1 cup (16 tablespoons) has 24 grams. That's 1/8 the carbohydrate of sugar - a big improvement. However, that carbohydrate comes in the form of the maltodextrin used to bulk the unbelievably sweet sucralose till it's the same sweetness as sugar - and maltodextrin is a high impact carb with no nutritional value.

(This is as good a place as any to point out that Splenda's claims of being "calorie free" also rest on the same legalism. 24 grams of carbohydrate per cup means 96 calories per cup - not a lot compared to sugar, but enough that it will influence the final calorie count of desserts and other things made with quantities of Splenda.)

It's important to realize that "granular Splenda" - the stuff sold in bulk, by the box or the "baker's bag" - is bulked considerably more than the stuff in the packets. The stuff in the packets is considerably sweeter, and has a lower carb count. Sadly, I can't find a hard figure on exactly how much carb is in the little packets, but it's definitely less than the granular Splenda. How to convert Splenda granular to the packets? I've only used the granular, so I didn't know, but here's an email I received:

Dana -

I have used the Splenda packets in cooking - but for baked goods, the bulk of the baking bag of Splenda is much better. For drink mixes like Kool-Aid and homemade lemonade - 16 packets of Splenda is about the sweetness equivalent of one cup of sugar.

Stacey Brock

Very helpful info, Stacey. Thank you! (Note to self: Buy Splenda packets...)

Why bulk Splenda at all? Why not just let us all have the liquid sucralose being used by the food processors? Because pure sucralose is seriously sweet - reportedly 600 times as sweet as sugar. That's an impractical degree of sweetness for home use. To sweeten a cup of coffee, you'd have to dip a pinhead in the pure sucralose, then use it to stir with, and even then you might get too much.

However, there's nothing keeping McNeil Nutritionals (the US manufacturer/distributor of Splenda for the home market) from giving us liquid sucralose diluted with water to a usable strength. After all, liquid saccharine was in widespread use for years, and is still available - it is generally diluted to the point where a few drops equal the sweetness of a teaspoon of sugar, which is an easy level of sweetness to control. A product like this wouldn't work well for baked goods like cookies, because it would be hard to distribute evenly through the dough. But in moister products, like cheesecakes and muffins, it would be simple to stir a liquid sucralose product into the other liquid ingredients, and we could shave a good couple of grams off of a serving.

And of course for use in liquids, such as coffee, tea, or lemonade, liquid Splenda would be preferable.

So why won't McNeil give us liquid Splenda? Your guess is as good as mine, but it's really starting to annoy me. There have been a few companies that have sold a low carb "syrup concentrate" that consisted simply of liquid sucralose diluted with water to a usable strength, but they come and go, apparently because McNeil is uncooperative. The only liquid sucralose product I know that has been on the market consistently for at least a few years is Fiberfit, which is marketed as a fiber supplement instead of a sweetener. You can find it here: I have used Fiberfit, and I think it's quite good.

However, it would be very nice if we could all purchase liquid Splenda in our grocery stores, along with the granular and the packets. I have talked to a representative of McNeil, and they claim there's not enough demand for liquid Splenda. I find this difficult to believe, since I know that many of my readers have called McNeil in the past to say how much they'd like to be able to purchase such a product, but perhaps the message still hasn't gotten through. So I urge you to call McNeil at 1-800-7-SPLENDA, and tell them that WE WANT CARB-FREE LIQUID SPLENDA! Heck, pass the number around to your low carbing friends who don't get this ezine. Post it on bulletin boards. Call them weekly. Deluge their switchboard with requests for liquid Splenda.

Perhaps if we annoy them enough, they'll get the message.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:00 PM

Product Reviews: Total and Special K

My local grocery store now has reduced carb versions of two popular cold cereals - Total and Special K. Though I don't miss cereal in general, there is one permutation of cereal that is on my "seriously missed food" list: Wheaties with sliced peaches. Don't ask me why, it's just one of those things - Wheaties with sliced peaches (and during my I'll-eat-whole-grains-but-not-sugar phase, Nutrigrain Wheat Flakes with sliced peaches) has always been among my very favorite things to eat. Weird thing to be passionate about, huh? But there it is.

Anyway, I know a lot of people do miss cold cereal, so I thought in incumbent on me to give these a try.

Accordingly, I bought the low carb Total first. I confess, the original Total is not a cereal I ever paid much attention to back in my cereal eating days. I figured it was just Wheaties with some vitamins sprayed on it, and since I took my vitamins every day, what was the point of spending the extra money on extra-fortified cereal? So I cannot tell you how low carb Total compares to original Total.

I can tell you, however, that it is not much like Wheaties. In this, I was quite disappointed. The flakes are very crisp - too crisp to really seem like cereal; they lack the delicacy of your standard cereal flake. Furthermore, low carb Total is very sweet. I realize that having shunned sugar for as long as I have has made my palate more sensitive to sweetness, but still, this was sweet enough that it almost seemed like a kiddie cereal to me. Low carb Total doesn't actually taste bad, mind you, but it wasn't what I was hoping for at all, and I wouldn't be likely to buy it again.

In the plus column for low carb Total is the fact that it doesn't have soy in it, and that it has enough protein that it doesn't cause serious rebound hunger or cravings for me - 13 grams if you eat the rated serving.

In the minus column is the fact that in order to keep that all important "net carb" number on the label artificially low, they've decided that a serving is just 3/4 cup. I know of no one who would consider 3/4 cup of cereal to be a bowlful, even a 1 cup serving seems a little skimpy - and a 1 cup serving would have about 11 grams of usable carbs, at least as General Mills calculates it. Considering that three eggs will give you 18-21 grams of protein, and just 1.5 grams of carbohydrate, I'd say this cereal is only for people who aren't seriously carb intolerant, and certainly isn't for people on any sort of Induction phase.

Also, low carb Total has sugar in it - indeed, it has more than one kind, including sugar, honey, and brown sugar syrup on the label, along with chicory root extract (a form of sugar alcohol or polyol) and maltitol. It seems like a bad idea to me to put sugar in a low carb cereal, and as for the sugar alcohols, they're enough reason not to eat this if you've got an interview, a presentation, a hot date, or any other event for which flatulence would be a disaster, on your schedule for the day.

How about low carb Special K, from Kellogg's? Again, my experience with original Special K is skimpy enough and long enough ago that I can't really make a comparison to that. However, I like this better than the low carb Total -- the texture is much more like "real" cereal, and it's nowhere near as sweet.

However, several of the same criticisms apply. Again, the serving size is listed as 3/4 cup to keep that "net carb" number low, but I found I had to eat over a cup to feel like I'd had a reasonable portion. Like low carb Total, low carb Special K has sugars of various kinds in it - the label lists sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and malt flavor, one right after the other. Further, low carb Special K is higher in carbohydrate and lower in protein than low carb Total - that 3/4 cup serving will give you 14 grams of carb and 5 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 9 grams - but just 10 grams of protein, or less than 2 eggs.

And Special K does contain soy, both soy grits and soy protein isolate. I am, as I have frequently noted before, iffy about soy. (If you want to know why I'm iffy about soy, go to the Lowcarbezine! archives at and take a look at the 4/11/2001 issue.) I would not eat low carbohydrate Special K regularly for this reason alone.

All told, I am unimpressed by the low carb cold cereal situation. Of the two, low carb Special K with peaches comes closer to my fond memories of wheat flakes with peaches, but not close enough, or low carb enough, for me to bother with it again.

Too, these are highly processed foods (as are their high carb counterparts,) and the only reason they have a decent vitamin and mineral count is because the vitamins are sprayed on at the factory. And they are even more expensive than standard cold cereal, which has long struck me as a conspiracy to charge $3.50 a box for 15c worth of grain.

In short, these two cereals exemplify a lot of what I find disturbing about many of the low carb specialty products flooding onto the market - they simply are not a substitute for real, unprocessed low carb foods - meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low sugar fruits. If you're tired of eggs, and want a quick, cool breakfast, better you should have some cottage cheese with a few strawberries or a little cantaloupe cut up in it, or some plain yogurt with sweetener and a little flavoring stirred in (and maybe those strawberries, as well.)

Even if you discover these cereals are to your liking, I can't recommend them as a regular part of your diet. Too high carb, too high in junk, too low in protein. Eat real food.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 03:58 PM

March 26, 2004

Low Fat Products Revisited

When one is as outspokenly opinionated as I, it is inevitable that sooner or later one will have the disconcerting experience of having to eat one's words (hoping that they're low carb.) That day has come. It is time for me to issue a revised opinion of some low fat products.

My opinion of low fat products was, for a very long time, scornful in the extreme. I still find many of them appallingly bad, and revoltingly full of sugar. Many of the fat free salad dressings, for instance, are little more than spicy corn syrup, and low fat ice creams generally add extra sugar to make up for the texture lost when the fat is removed. Regular mayonnaise has 0 grams of carb per cup, while light mayonnaise often has over 35 grams. Low fat frozen meals bulk up the volume by adding plenty of rice, noodles, or potatoes. Low fat sauces leave out the cream, but add a ton of cornstarch. And of course, much of the low fat stuff falls into the category of "nutritionless processed garbage" anyway - a category into which a distressing number of the new low carb specialty products also fit, I'm sorry to say.

Furthermore, I believe that getting the preponderance of my calories from fat - so long as it's unprocessed healthy fat - is actually good for me. Accordingly, I have long disdained low fat products.

I have changed my mind, though in a very limited fashion. I have found, upon further research, that there are some sorts of foods where removing the fat is not followed by adding corn syrup or corn starch, and accordingly, these products are lower in calories while remaining low in carbs. Since, carb counts being equal, eating somewhat fewer calories beats eating somewhat more calories, I see no reason not to use these products.

Which products? Reduced fat dairy products. I was shopping for cream cheese to make a cheese cake, a few months ago, and was startled to discover that the "lite" cream cheese actually had fractionally fewer carbs than the full fat stuff, and of course it was lower calorie, as well. I could see no reason not to choose the "lite" cream cheese, so I did, and my cheesecake was very nice, too.

So I took a look at reduced fat dairy products. Turns out that many, particularly cheese and sour cream, do not have objectionable ingredients added. (The exception is reduced fat grated Parmesan cheese, which has a bunch of junk added to it.) Furthermore, most of them have few, if any, more grams of carbohydrate per serving than the full fat varieties (some of which do have objectionable ingredients added.) Land O Lakes "light butter" is okay, too, if pricey.

Many of us have added yogurt back to our diets since The GO-Diet explained that most of the carbohydrate in the milk it's made from is actually converted into lactic acid by the yogurt bacteria. If you are a fan of yogurt - I am! - fat free yogurt has exactly the same carb count as low fat or full fat, and finding plain yogurt with no additives is easy. Ignore the 12 grams of carbohydrate listed on the yogurt label, and count 4 grams per cup.

Avoid fat-free processed dairy products - fat free 'half and half,' sour cream, cheese, and the like. Not only do these taste god-awful, but unlike the reduced fat products, they often have corn syrup and other junk added. And of course, there's never a substitute for reading labels!

I see no reason not to use reduced-fat sour cream and cheese. Many of us have learned that even on a low carbohydrate diet we can't eat unlimited calories and still lose weight. And while I will never advocate a low fat diet, fat is the fraction of our diet which is expandable and contractible.

What do I mean by that? Look at it this way. We eat a fairly fixed amount of protein - I know that I get between 100 - 125 grams per day. Since protein has 4 calories per gram, protein accounts for between 400 and 500 calories per day. I try to stay below 50 grams of carb per day, and usually end up below 40. Since carbs also have 4 calories per gram, that means that most days I'm getting no more than 160 calories per day from carbohydrate. 660 calories per day is nowhere near enough!

The rest of those calories are going to come from fat. I shoot for about 1800 calories per day, which means I need 1,140 calories from fat. Since fat has 9 calories per gram, that means I need roughly 125 grams of fat per day. That sounds like a lot, I know, but remember - just about all of our protein foods contain fat, too. A 6-ounce broiled hamburger has 28 grams of fat. An ounce of cheddar cheese has 9 grams of fat, and an egg has 5, so a two-egg cheese omelet will have about 19 grams of fat - and that's if you don't add any fat to the pan. You see how this can add up.

So if you, like me, have found that you can't eat unlimited calories on your low carb diet, fat is the fraction of your diet that you can change. Don't get me wrong - I am not advocating a low fat diet! I get just over 60% of my calories from fat, and it seems to do me nothing but good. Just saying that I'd rather keep an eye on my fat just a little, than cut out the protein and my few grams of carb. In that context, reduced fat dairy products make some sense.

Furthermore, as you'll read in the letters below, while most people see an improvement in their blood cholesterol levels on a low carbohydrate diet using unlimited saturated fat, not everyone does. Some people's high cholesterol seems to come solely from carb intolerance, while other people also are "saturated fat responders" and need to slant their low carb diets away from saturated fat, toward monounsaturates like olive oil, nuts, and avocados. For these people, too, reduced fat dairy products are a good idea.

Please, do not take this as a pronouncement that you should use reduced fat products. If you're doing fine on your low carb program using full-fat everything, hey, go to it. Just want you to know that reduced fat dairy is okay if you feel it will be useful for you.

(Just a final note: I trust you all know that lean cuts of meat are just as carb free as fatty ones, right? Again, if you're watching calories as well as carbs, or have found that you're a saturated fat responder, there's no reason not to eat ground round instead of the fattier ground beef, or skinless chicken breast instead of the stuff with skin.) (But I, for one, am not giving up my chicken skin. Yum.)

Posted by HoldTheToast at 05:35 PM

Why I Love My Job

On Saturday, January 24, 2004 9:24 PM David Musolf sent me this email:

Dana and/or Staff,

I have just been diagnosed with slightly high cholesterol (223), and extremely high triglycerides (over 800). I've been reading up on various diets to help without taking drugs. Most of the things I've read have lead me to a low-carb diet to help with the blood sugar and hopefully lower my triglycerides. My question is that many of the low carb diets don't necessarily address the low cholesterol side of things. In you 500 Low-Carb recipe book that I just bought, you use lots of butter, eggs, coconut oil etc. I thought these things would be bad for the cholesterol. I'm 40 years old, 6' 3" and 205 lbs and in pretty good shape. My goal isn't to lose weight (even though I've already lost 10 lbs), but to eat better to help my cholesterol and triglycerides. I want to make sure that your style of diet addresses this.

I responded:

Here's the deal:

Triglycerides almost invariably drop like a rock on a low carb diet -- indeed, that high triglyceride levels are carbohydrate-driven is not even controversial.

More controversial, but backed up by many clinical studies (including the Duke University study that got a lot of press last year) is the fact that most people also experience an improvement in their cholesterol levels on a low carb diet, even one that includes butter, red meat, cheese, and the like. HDL (good cholesterol) almost always comes up, and most people have a drop in total cholesterol at the same time. This is because high insulin levels (caused by eating lots of carbs) can cause the body to create lots of cholesterol.

However, there does appear to be a group of "saturated fat responders" -- people who, if they go on a low carb diet with lots of butter, cheese, cream, and fatty red meat, get an improvement in triglycerides and HDL, but also get a worsening of LDL.

The way to find out which group you are in, logically enough, is to try a low carb diet including the saturated fats, and then get your bloodwork done again in about two month's time. If all your numbers improve, hey, you've found your diet. If you find your tri's and HDL are better, but your LDL is also way up, you'll want to look instead at a low carb diet that emphasizes poultry and fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados (ie, monounsaturates) instead of saturated fats.

Of course, you can just go straight to the low carb diet that slants toward monounsaturates if you like.

As for eggs and coconut oil: Eggs were cleared long ago of the charge of raising blood cholesterol. It made sense on the surface that eating less cholesterol would lower blood cholesterol, but it doesn't work - all that happens is that your body makes more, and if you eat more, your body makes less. Eggs are not a good source of saturated fats, so that doesn't factor in.

Coconut oil, far from being dangerous, is emerging as one of the healthiest oils -- one of the reasons I have it in my kitchen. The tests that showed coconut oil raising cholesterol involved highly processed, hydrogenated coconut oil, not virgin coconut oil. I trust you're clear on hydrogenated oils and the trans fats they contain (think margarine and Crisco) being about the worst sort of saturated fat you can eat.

Anyway, I hope this helps!


This week, I got this post from Mr. Musolf:


I just wanted to give you a quick update. I just got my latest blood work back and the results are very encouraging.

total cholesterol 223 -> 198 (goal is under 200)

Trig. 823 -> 224 (goal is under 150)

LDL ??? -> 127 (goal is under 130)

HDL 20 -> 30 (goal is over 40)

body weight: 217 -> 198

All of this was accomplished since the first week of January. I've been following most of the guidelines in your cookbook and used a lot of the recipes. I think I'm on a good trend here and my doctor was very impressed. I'll probably go on a much lower dose of medication to get the HDL's up and the triglycerides down.

This is just another data point to back up your philosophy and I wanted to thank you for a great cookbook and good advice that has really worked for me.



Dave, you made my week. Thanks so much for writing and letting me know about your success! And thanks even more for letting me share it with my Lowcarbezine! readers. What a great story.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 05:22 PM

February 23, 2004

Dr. Fatkins?

On February 10th, the Wall Street Journal ran the story that Dr. Atkins's final medical records showed that he weighed 258 pounds when he died. The story also mentioned that Atkins had heart problems, and speculated that these two facts were evidence that Dr. Atkins's diet was dangerous. This has lead to ugly stories about "Dr. Fatkins" and the like, and some people deciding that a nutritional program that has manifestly improved their health is actually a threat. I think it is vitally important that Lowcarbezine! readers know the truth about this story - both about Atkins's condition when he died, and where the story came from.

It is true that Dr. Atkins weighed 258 pounds when he died. This does not, however, mean that Atkins was, as implied, obese. Dr. Atkins was a very public personality, appearing on television several times in his final year; had he been obese it would have been impossible to hide it. When he entered the hospital eight days before his death, having suffered a head injury from a slip-and-fall accident, he weighed only 195 pounds - hardly obese.

So how on earth did Dr. Atkins gain 63 pounds in just 8 days? Here's where his heart problems come in.

It is true that Dr. Atkins had heart problems; he had suffered a cardiac arrest just about a year before he died. However, his cardiac arrest was not caused by coronary artery disease. Rather, Dr. Atkins had a viral infection of his heart muscle, also known as viral cardiomyopathy, weakening his heart and causing congestive heart failure. When Atkins had his cardiac arrest, he was given an angiogram, and his coronary arteries were found to be normal.

It wasn't only Dr. Atkins's personal cardiologist, Patrick Fratellone, who said so. Dr. Clyde Yancy, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a member of the American Heart Association's national board of directors, said, "Despite the obvious irony, I believe there is a total disconnect between the cardiac arrest and the health approach he (Atkins) popularizes." Since the American Heart Association has long pushed a low fat diet, and been skeptical of the Atkins approach, I find Dr. Yancy's statement particularly compelling.

Cardiomyopathy causes water retention; indeed, edema is often the symptom that leads to a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. As Dr. Atkins lay unconscious, his body slowly failing, the intravenous fluids he was given collected, bloating his body mercilessly - and resulting in that final weight of 258 pounds. This is heart-rending and tragic, but it is not an indictment of Dr. Atkins's diet.

So why the ugly stories? To understand that, you need to know where the story came from.

Dr. Atkins's medical records were given to the press by the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. If this name sounds familiar, it may be because I wrote about them in December. ( ) To recap: Despite its name, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, 95% of whose members are not physicians, is an animal rights organization with deep and inextricable ties to People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - they get most of their funding from PETA, have shared offices with them, and Dr. Neal Barnard, the psychiatrist who is the director of the PCRM, is staff medical advisor to PETA.

Despite posing as a non-partisan organization concerned only with human health, Barnard and the PCRM are instead radical vegan activists. They have long done their best to denigrate the animal food-rich Atkins diet, and Dr. Atkins himself. An example: The PCRM solicited stories of people who had been harmed by the Atkins diet, then presented those stories as conclusive evidence that despite all of the clinical studies showing the Atkins diet to be safe and effective, it was actually terribly dangerous - with no evidence that the stories were true, that the "harm"was actually caused by the diet, or even that the people who wrote to them were following the Atkins diet as prescribed in Atkins's book. And of course, they didn't talk to the millions of people whose health has actually improved on Atkins or other low carbohydrate diets. This approach goes beyond unscientific to downright dishonest.

In this light, it is not surprising that the PCRM tried to spin Atkins's weight at death and viral heart disease into some sort of "Atkins was fat and had clogged arteries!" scandal, though it is surprising that the Wall Street Journal picked up such a scandal-rag type story. I'll never see the Journal in quite the same way again.

Where did the PCRM get Atkins's confidential medical records in the first place? Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the New York City office of the chief medical examiner, said the records were erroneously sent to Dr. Richard M. Fleming of the Fleming Heart and Health Institute in Omaha, Nebraska. Dr. Fleming is a member of the PCRM, and is currently promoting a book of his own, advocating a low fat, high carbohydrate, vegetarian diet. Having requested and obtained the medical records, Fleming saw fit to turn them over to his pals. Fleming claims he had no idea that the PCRM would go public with Atkins's medical records, but given the history of both the PCRM and PETA, such a statement marks Fleming as stupid, painfully naive, or disingenuous. You may take your pick.

I cannot begin to express how revolted I am by the PCRM's ghoulish behavior, but I cannot say I am surprised. After all, they're hand-in-glove with PETA, the organization that exploited Rudolph Giuliani's prostate cancer for their own political gain, handed out flyers on college campuses urging students to drink beer instead of milk, and asked Timothy McVeigh to become their poster boy from death row.

Since this story broke, a few people have said to me, "Well, if Dr. Atkins's diet didn't kill him, why hide his medical records? What's the big deal?" Ignoring entirely that Dr. Atkins and his family are entitled to the same confidentiality of medical records as you or I, the answer is two fold. First of all, Veronica Atkins, widowed less than a year, should not have been subjected to this sort of ugliness and pain; that she has been is nothing short of vicious. My heart goes out to Mrs. Atkins, and I sincerely hope she sues Dr. Fleming and the PCRM for everything they're worth. A win in court won't heal her grief, but it would go a long way to preventing this sort of behavior in the future.

Secondly, having seen the media feeding frenzy after Dr. Atkins's cardiac arrest, I can't blame Mrs. Atkins and the Atkins Center for not wanting to share Atkins's medical records with the press. They had already demonstrated that the facts about Dr. Atkins's heart problems needn't stand in the way of a juicy story, why expect them to care about truth over trumped-up scandal this time around?

I hope that you, as a low carb dieter, have not been taken in by this fear-mongering. Not only is there no reason to believe Dr. Atkins died from the effects of his low carbohydrate diet, there are several recent, well-conducted medical studies backing up everything Dr. Atkins claimed for his diet: That it was effective not only for weight loss without hunger, but for improving cholesterol and triglyceride numbers, too.

If you still have any lingering doubts, ask yourself: Am I more or less healthy since I started my low carbohydrate diet? Have I lost weight? Do I feel better? Do I have more energy? Does my blood work look good? Is my blood sugar stable? Because that, my friends, is the bottom line.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 07:01 PM

What About Low Carbers Short On Time and Money?

After my recent article regarding low carbing on a budget, I got a plaintive question from one reader - how was a low carb dieter with a tight schedule to save money? It's all well and good, she pointed out, to suggest that people do more prep work on their own, to save money, but where was everyone to find the time?

I, of course, work at home, so this has not been my problem. However, my friends and family are like everyone else, and of course I hear from my readers.

Many busy people on budgets, low carbers or not, depend heavily on their slow cookers - and indeed, I am working on a low carb slow cooker book, due out next winter. Slow cookers are an example of the most important time-crunch kitchen technique: Time-shifting. It's not that you don't have to cook, but you can shift your cooking to more convenient times, so that you don't have to scurry to get dinner on the table when you get home. Indeed, with a slow cooker you can cook dinner after dinner - that is, you can come home, eat whatever is in the slow cooker waiting, and then do your cooking, putting together your dinner for the next night, and getting it ready to slow-cook in the morning.

You can, however, time-shift in all sorts of ways. My sister Kim, who runs a killer schedule and makes do on a very tight budget, does a lot of time-shifting of her cooking, some of it with a slow cooker some without. Kim cooks on the weekends. Every Sunday she takes a few hours to make a double batch of soup, chili, or the like, and a double batch of some other entree. These, then, form the mainstay of her and her husband's dinners for the rest of the week. This is a time-honored technique, and still a good one.

If you like, you could also make a couple of "deli-style" salads - cole slaw, cucumber salad, bean salad, or the like - while your main dishes are cooking. These salads keep well for at least a few days, and let you put dinner on the table right away, with no work at all. If you want a hot vegetable, microwaving them is by far the fastest way to cook them, and preserves a lot of nutrients, too. Most frozen vegetables now come with microwave directions on the box or bag.

If you prefer tossed salads, consider making your own "bagged salad." Wash and dry salad greens and break them up, then stash them in zipper-lock bags in the fridge. This gives you the convenience of purchased bagged salad without the price.

Or you can ditch the salad all together. Instead, cut up peppers, celery, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and the like, and keep them on hand, again in those zipper-lock bags. This lets you put out vegetables and dip for the ravening hordes, to appease them while you take more than fifteen minutes to put supper together. Using vegetables and dip as a "put-off" this way also means that the family is confronting those vegetables when their hunger is the sharpest. This is a Very Good Thing.

Another great idea is to revive the Sunday roast. When I was a kid, some sort of roast - a big ol' hunk of protein, cooked simply in the oven - was the centerpiece of nearly every Sunday meal. Roasts are very easy - for the most part, you just stick them in the oven for the requisite period of time. And if you make a large roast, you'll then have pre-cooked meat on hand for the rest of the week. Of course, if you're on a budget you won't be roasting a prime rib of beef, but other roasts are often far cheaper. Again, I realize my local prices aren't representative of the whole country, but I have seen whole or half-hams for 99c a pound, leg of lamb is usually $2.99 a pound, and drops to $1.99 a few times a year, and turkey is economical all year round. Oh, and I got whole boneless pork loin on sale for $2.29 a pound just last week, not a bad price for lean, well trimmed meat with no bone.

Make leftovers of everything! Never roast just enough chicken or make enough meat loaf for one meal. Making a vegetable side dish you love? Make extra, for zapping in the microwave later in the week. Who needs frozen dinners? Indeed, you can buy Gladware plates with covers, that let you dish up a meal, cover it, freeze it, then put it directly in the microwave. Since these plates are washable and reusable, they're not much of an extravagance. If you've been frozen dinner dependent, this might be a useful path to follow.

In short, do your cooking when your schedule permits, so that you aren't stuck with playing short-order cook and/or depending on expensive pre-prepped convenience foods when you get home.

I suggest pressing the family into service to help. No child should grow up ignorant of basic cooking; that way lies junk food addiction. It's easy for me to make parenting suggestions, having no kids and all, but consider rotating sous-chef duty. If you give the child whose turn it is to help considerable say in what the next night's dinner will be, you may find them more interested than you thought.

Finally, I'd like to recommend a great book, The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn (that's pronounced "decision," as in "She made a decision to marry a man of Ukrainian ancestry.") A compilation of virtually all of the articles that went into Dacyczyn's ground-breaking newsletter, The Complete Tightwad Gazette is bursting with terrific ideas on how to pinch pennies in every possible way; I guarantee you will find at bare minimum a half a dozen money-stretching strategies that never occurred to you.

The book is also compulsively readable, and tons of fun. My only word of warning: Dacyczyn recommends cutting way down on meat intake, and eating lots of grains and legumes, to save money. Obviously, we won't be doing that. But even ignoring her dietary advice, there is plenty in The Gazette to help eke out even the toughest budget, and a good dose of creative bootstrap philosophy to keep you from feeling sorry for yourself while you do it. And the money you save on other things can go toward inexpensive cuts of meat, and low carb vegetables, and the like.

You can get The Complete Tightwad Gazette at , where you can also read many rave reviews. But I'd be untrue to the true spirit of the thing if I didn't recommend that you borrow it from your public library first! (Me, I renewed the first Tightwad book three times, and then decided I needed to buy. And I bought The Complete Tightwad Gazette at a used book sale! Amy would be proud.)

Posted by HoldTheToast at 06:55 PM

February 02, 2004

The Low Carb Brown Bag Lunch

With low carb chain restaurant menus proliferating like the spam in my inbox, the need to take your own low carb lunch to work is less pressing than it once was. It's still a fine idea, however - it's cheaper than eating out, of course, and brown bagging it also saves time for things that might be dearer to your heart, like a quick walk, a little shopping, a chapter of whatever you're currently reading, or maybe even an earlier quitting time. Furthermore, as the weather warms up (Please, God!!), a sack lunch will be your ticket to sitting in a local park in the sunshine for a few precious minutes, instead of waiting for a counter person or waiter to bring your food.

So here are some ideas for what to put in that brown paper bag:

* Hard boiled eggs or stuffed eggs. Stuffed eggs travel pretty well in a small snap-top container.

* Leftovers. If your office has a microwave for your use, lunches are the best way to use up leftovers before the family rebels.

* A slice of quiche. Make a quiche over the weekend, and take a slice for lunch every day. Traditionally, quiche is eaten at room temperature, so you don't even have to warm it up! If this idea appeals to you, it's good to know that Tupperware sells triangular "slice carriers" that will fit a slice of quiche perfectly.

* Tuna, egg, or chicken salad and fiber crackers. Or tuna salad, chicken, or egg salad without fiber crackers, for that matter. Even without refrigeration, these salads shouldn't go bad by lunchtime, unless your workspace is hellishly hot. But if you like, there are containers available with little cooler-packs in the lid - freeze the lid over night, fill the container with salad, screw the cold lid on, and presto: Refrigerated food.

* Bagged salad with tuna, cheese, diced ham, canned shrimp, boiled eggs, or other protein added. Stash a bottle of dressing in the break-room fridge, or buy the smallest size snap-top container, and fill it with dressing to bring along. Just don't toss your salad with its dressing hours before lunch - your salad will end up unappealingly soggy.

* Canned protein shakes. Atkins, Carb Solutions, and other low carb protein shakes in single serving cans are now available in many mainstream grocery stores, and even in mass-marketers like Kmart and WalMart. These make a quick and easy lunch, and are not only low carb, but generally low calorie as well. I weary quickly of drinking my meals; I like solid food. Furthermore, I have a bias in favor of stuff that's not this processed. But if you like these things, they're certainly an option.

* Nut and seed mix. This is more of a snack or nibble that is nutritious and filling enough that you may not need a full meal. Check out a good health food store for a variety of nut and seed mixes, but be sure to avoid those with carb-laden additions like raisins, date pieces, dried banana slices, yogurt coated nuts, and the like. It's also good to keep in mind that the wider the variety of nuts and seeds in the mix, the more nutritious it will be - and that pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are actually more nutritious than most nuts.

* Cut up vegetables with a high protein dip. This is a fast and easy lunch, and sort of fun to eat.

* Homemade low carb, high protein baked goods. The zucchini bread in the last issue, for instance, would make a fine lunch, especially if you spread it with a little cream cheese. For that matter, the Sunflower Parmesan Crackers from 500 Low-Carb Recipes with a dip or spread would make a nice lunch. There are more and more recipes for low carb baked goods out there - in 500 Low-Carb Recipes, and in others. There are also some low carb, high protein commercial baked goods hitting the market - they're certainly becoming more available where I live. However, these commercial products vary a lot in carb and protein count - many of them are so high carb I wouldn't consider them. Read the labels carefully - and pay close attention to the serving size!

* Stuffed celery. One of the nicest things to stuff it with is a half-and-half mixture of cream cheese and blue cheese, but use what you like - keeping in mind that there's a pretty strict limit to how much peanut butter you should eat (and that you should always buy natural peanut butter, not the processed kind with sugar and hydrogenated oils added!) Travel tip: Put equal-length pieces of stuffed celery stalk face-to-face before putting them in a bag or snap-top container, to avoid mess.

* Individually wrapped cheese chunks. There are bunches of these around - string cheese, Laughing Cow Cheese Bits, Baby Bels, all sorts of stuff. Easy to carry, easy to eat. Of course, there's no reason you can't just cut some hunks of cheese, and put them in a baggie. Cheaper, too.

* Along with your cheese, you could bring sliced deli meats - ham, turkey, roast beef, or what-have-you. Be wary, however, of things that are ground up and pressed back together - bologna, chicken loaf, that sort of thing. Too often, these have sugar or corn syrup and other carbs added. Read the labels! Be careful, too, about things like "honey ham." If you're buying your cold cuts at the deli counter, go at a fairly slow time if you can, so you don't feel pressured, and can ask the nice deli people to check labels for you.

* Frozen hot wings. If you have access to a freezer and a microwave at work, your possibilities increase tremendously! Frozen hot wings take only a few minutes to heat up, and they're very tasty.

* Frozen grilled fish fillets. Again, these take only a few minutes to heat up, and they come in a number of flavors - lemon pepper, garlic butter, Cajun blackened, etc. Look in the frozen fish case - and stay away from the breaded stuff!

* Cold shrimp with homemade low carb cocktail sauce or mustard and mayo combined. Cold cooked shrimp are neat and easy to eat. Buy 'em that way, or cook up a batch on Sunday, and stash them in the fridge for lunches during the week.

* Cottage cheese - plain, or with seasoning added. It's the old dieter's standby for a reason: It's low carb, low calorie, filling, inexpensive, and loaded with protein and calcium. Add some berries to your cottage cheese, if you like, or if you'd prefer something savory, you could add chives or sliced scallions, chopped radishes, grated carrot, minced green pepper, whatever you like - and maybe some seasoning salt. You can also buy cottage cheese in single-serving containers with peel-off tops, though I'd be more likely to just spoon some into a snap-top container.

* Plain yogurt, with artificial sweetener and your favorite flavoring extract added. While packaged flavored yogurt is too high carb for us, plain yogurt fits into a low carb diet just fine. As the authors of The GO-Diet pointed out, the 12 gram per serving carb count on plain yogurt is inaccurate. That's how much carbohydrate - lactose - was in the milk the yogurt was made from, but the yogurt bacteria turn most of that lactose into lactic acid, giving yogurt its characteristically tangy flavor. Count 4 grams per cup of plain yogurt, and you should be fine. Don't like it plain? Stir in a teaspoon of any flavoring extract you like - vanilla and lemon are our favorites around here - plus sweetener to taste. Again, yogurt travels well in a snap-top container.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 07:45 PM

The World Is a Very Big Place

Last issue I wrote about low carbing on a budget - and ended up getting scolded soundly by readers who said the prices I cited for various foods were far cheaper than they'd ever seen. It's true, I live in the midwest, where meat and egg prices, in particular, tend to be lower than on either coast, I'm guessing because the food doesn't have to be transported as far.

Still, it is my observation that every region has its bargains. My sister in San Diego, who envies the prices I get on steaks, makes me green when she tells me she's buying avocados at 99c for a half-dozen. And while you'll almost never see cheap seafood in the midwest (and if you do, you should avoid it!) those who live near either ocean are more likely to find occasional deals. (We in the midwest do get farm-raised catfish, however - which, I have been informed, isn't making it to New England. It's a shame; I regularly buy boneless catfish "nuggets" - pieces between one and two ounces each - for $1.99 a pound.)

So please, let me know what low carb bargains you've found in your own area! Obviously, transient sales are no help, but what's consistently not-too-pricey where you live? I can pass the word along.

I'll pass along one more money saver: If you have a freezer, and eat a lot of chicken, look in the Yellow Pages to see if you have a poultry processing plant near you. I started buying chicken backs in 50 pound lots from a local poultry processor, to feed to my dogs - and discovered that if I was willing to give freezer space to 50 pounds of chicken legs and thighs at a time, I could consistently get them for a price that was at or around the lowest sale prices the local markets gave. So when chicken doesn't go on sale for a while, that's what I do.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 07:44 PM

Has Atkins Changed?

The New York Times caused quite a flap recently by reporting that Atkins Nutritionals had recently issued guidelines, saying that Atkins dieters should get only 20% of their calories from saturated fats. They made this sound like a big change - as if the Atkins folks were back-pedaling on Dr. Atkins assertion that we could eat meat, eggs, and cheese freely, with no worry about saturated fat.

This, however, is simply not so. The Atkins dietary program remains unchanged. Here's the deal:

The average Atkins dieter will get roughly 60% of his or her calories from fat. But all foods with fat in them contain a combination of kinds of fat - saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. The notion that a steak, for instance, contains only saturated fat is bunk. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, 100 grams of sirloin steak contains 6.14 grams of saturated fat, 6.63 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat. In other words, less than half of the fat in that steak is saturated. Bacon, often seized on by low carb detractors as the ultimate in dietary insanity, also derives over half its fat from monounsaturates - one slice of cooked bacon contains 1.1 grams saturated fat, 1.48 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 0.36 grams polyunsaturated fats.

So less than half of the fat from the meat we eat is saturated. But we don't eat only red meat, do we? 100 grams of roasted chicken, eaten with the yummy, fatty skin, contains 3.79 grams of saturated fat, 5.34 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 2.97 grams of polyunsaturated fat. And 100 grams of farmed salmon contains 2.18 grams of saturated fat, with 3.87 grams of monounsaturates, and 3.93 grams of polyunsaturates.

Butter, too, is a mixture of saturates and unsaturates. One pat of butter contains 2.04 grams of saturated fat, 1.67 grams monounsaturated fat, and 0.143 grams polyunsaturated fat.

But these aren't the only high fat foods that Atkins encouraged, by any means. Olive oil may be used liberally on salads and in sauteing - and of course, olive oil is very high in monounsaturates: One tablespoon contains 9.97 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 1.35 grams of polyunsaturated fat, with just 1.8 grams of saturates. An ounce of pecan halves contains just 1.75 grams of saturated fat, but 11.57 grams of monounsaturates, and 6.13 grams of polyunsaturates.

I trust you get the picture: A person who is eating broadly of the many foods allowed on the Atkins diet, including not just red meat and butter, but poultry, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and the like, will not be getting a preponderance of his or her fat calories in the form of saturated fat. He or she will naturally be getting a balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, plus, of course, protein, and however many grams of carbohydrate they can consume without passing their personal critical carb level. Indeed, it's likely that without even trying, most Atkins dieters get somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% of their calories from saturated fat - which is, of course, where the New York Times figure came from.

No change, just a rearranging of old information to make it look new.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 07:37 PM

January 10, 2004

Low Carb On a Budget

I've written about this before, but it's been quite a while, and we've gained a whole slew of new readers since then, so I thought it was about time to address it again - especially since everyone's still trying to pay off the holiday credit card balance!

Many people are convinced that low carbing is terribly expensive. There is some truth to this, but less than many people think. I, by way of example, have been low carbing for over 8 years, and for many of those years we were fair-to-middlin' broke - I wasn't a best-selling author yet, and my husband was a grad student. I learned a few things about the economics of low carbing, and I hereby pass them on to you.

* First of all, the most common "budget stretcher foods" - white flour pasta, white rice, white bread, white sugar, hydrogenated shortening - are so nutritionally empty and damaging to the body that they wouldn't be cheap if they were given away. Potatoes are somewhat more nutritious, but still have a sky-high blood sugar impact. What could possibly be cheap about "food" that makes you tired, makes you gain weight, ruins your health, makes you cranky and depressed, rots your teeth, and just plain makes you hungrier? You must get over the notion that your old diet was cheap. You were just paying for it in other places, that's all.

* The staples of a low carb diet are animal protein - meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese - and low carb vegetables. These come in more and less expensive versions. Your body does not care whether your protein comes from $12 per pound lobster, or $1.99 per pound catfish, from $7.99 per pound rib eyes, or from 59c per pound chicken leg-and-thigh quarters. Both asparagus and cabbage are very low carb vegetables, but only one of them is cheap year round.

* Don't forget about eggs; they're not just for breakfast. Even if you're paying $1.25 per dozen for eggs, a two-egg portion comes to just over 20c. That's cheap for a lunch or dinner, even when you throw in enough cheese or other ingredients to turn those eggs into an omelet.

* Do your own prep work. Lettuce is cheaper than bagged salad, whole chickens are cheaper than boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You pay for everything that is done to your food before you buy it, so buy it unprepared.

* A deep freeze is a wonderful thing to have. If you're on a tight budget, you may think you can't afford one, but it's important to look at the long-term savings involved in buying sale meats in bulk, and in being able to keep leftovers for future use. I bought my freezer used, six or seven years back. It cost me $225, including delivery and a 3 day warranty, from a reputable local used appliance dealer. It's a Sears Coldspot, a good brand, and it hasn't given me a second's trouble. It's absolutely huge, too! One word of warning: Don't buy really old used appliances. Energy efficiency has improved tremendously over the past decade or so, and you don't want to be spending money on electricity that you could spend on food.

* Stop eating out! Even cheap fast food is cheaper at home, and you won't be tempted to sneak a few fries from someone else's bag.

* Which means taking lunch, of course. I'll cover bag lunches in the next Lowcarbezine!

* Don't get into the low carb specialty food habit. Low carb bread, bagels, chips, ice cream, pasta, etc, etc, etc, are flooding onto the market. Some of this stuff is pretty good, some of it is wretched, but almost all of it is very expensive, and exactly none of it is essential to a low carb diet. An occasional treat of sugar free chocolate or a low carb tortilla is all well and good, but if you start eating low carb bread and pasta and such as often as you ate the high carb variety, you'll go broke in no time. Furthermore, you're less likely to lose weight, because almost all of this stuff has more carbs than, say, a leftover chicken leg. Base your diet on inexpensive protein foods and vegetables, not highly processed specialty stuff.

* Shop around. In the same week, I have seen cauliflower at $1.89 per pound and $3.29 per pound, at different stores - that's a big difference. In particular, if you have one of those "all house brand" stores near you, these are terrific places to buy basic commodities like eggs, block cheese, butter, oil, bacon, canned tomatoes, tuna, vinegar, mayonnaise, etc, etc, etc, at low prices. I visit my local Save-a-Lot on a semi-regular basis to stock up on this stuff.

* Buy in bulk. If you can possibly find the freezer or pantry room for extras, buying stuff when it's offered as a loss-leader sale can save you a lot of money. Think of it as investing. So long as it's stuff you know for sure you'll consume, buying at, say 20% off the regular price is the same thing as making 20% on an investment - tax free.

* Cut corners wherever else you can, if that's what it takes to feed yourself and your family decent, nutritious food. Drive a used car, shop at yard sales and thrift stores, cancel your cable television and watch videos from the public library - whatever it takes. Food is the very stuff of life, and the quality of your life and your family's lives are directly dependent upon it. Once you have a roof over your head, no matter how humble, nothing else you can buy is more important.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:04 PM

Signs of the Times

The Low Carb Invasion is now complete. People no longer look at you funny when you tell them you're not eating carbs - instead, they say something like, "Oh, yeah, my dad (mom, sister, cousin, best friend, whatever) lost a ton of weight on that diet." Not only have we made The Food Network, as announced in my special notice Saturday, but suddenly people are catering to us everywhere you look!

* Both Ruby Tuesday's and TGI Friday's have new low carb menus.

* Subway is now offering their sandwiches as low carb lettuce wraps. (They've long offered an extensive line of salads.)

* McDonald's has a few great salads, with the choice of crispy (breaded) or grilled (low carb!) chicken.

* Hardee's and Carl's Jr. (owned by the same parent company) are now offering their burgers wrapped in lettuce, as an alternative to a bun. You also get a little cardboard envelope thingie, to make them neater to eat.

* My local grocery stores are nearly bursting with low carb specialty products - breads, bagels, Atkins mixes, sugar free chocolate,etc, etc, etc. The best selection is still found at stores like my beloved Sahara Mart, who really specialize in this stuff, but the proliferation of low carb products in grocery stores demonstrates the impact we're having!

* Furthermore, WalMart, America's biggest retail chain, is now carrying a fair selection of low carb specialty stuff, including a line of their own.

* Trader Joe's, a chain of health food/gourmet/international stores with remarkably good prices, now has a line of low carb and sugar-free products, although as of December 23rd, they still had not made it as far as the stores in the midwest. I deeply envy all of you who live near a Trader Joe's!

* Dedicated low carb specialty stores are popping up. Carb Smart, with whom we here at Hold the Toast Press have a long and felicitous relationship, was one of the first, and they've been growing by leaps and bounds. But I know that Greenwood, Indiana, just south of Indianapolis, now has a low carb specialty store, and reports are coming in from all over. One friend in Arizona even spotted a Low Carb Mall!

* And last but not least, my very own cookbook, 500 Low-Carb Recipes, was the #3 best-selling cookbook of 2003, not just among other low carb cookbooks, but among all cookbooks. That's a whole lot of people going low carb!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:01 PM

Mad Cow: Should You Be Worried?

The predictable and predicted event has finally occurred: A case of mad cow disease has been identified in the United States. Since the vast majority of low carbers are regular carnivores, it's an issue that concerns us perhaps even more than it does the general population. Just how worried should you be?

There's no question that mad cow, aka Bovine Spongiform Encephelopathy, is a horrendous disease, and not only is there no cure, there is none currently on the horizon. You get it and you die, and die horribly.

On the other hand, only one sick cow has been identified so far in the USA. This doesn't rule out the possibility that there are others, but there is not, so far as anyone can tell, anything even resembling an epidemic of mad cow disease in the United States.

More encouraging is the fact that even if a cow is infected, and that cow is slaughtered for food, most of the meat from that animal will be unaffected. The prion that causes mad cow disease infects neural (nerve) tissue, not muscle tissue. You have to actually consume neural tissue to become infected. Chucks, rib eyes, and sirloins are not likely to be a problem.

So where does the risk lie?

Obviously, if you eat the old delicacy of poached calves' brains with scrambled eggs, you're playing fast and loose. But I suspect it's a rare Lowcarbezine! reader who is eating brains deliberately.

A more realistic source of bovine neural tissue in the American diet is cheap ground beef. When a cow is slaughtered and butchered, the mostly stripped skeleton is put through machinery designed to "recover" every last scrap of meat, and those scraps are generally used for cheap hamburgers. The problem? The recovery machinery can sometimes break the spinal cord open, contaminating the hamburger with neural tissue. Assuming a healthy cow, this is no big deal. Assuming, however, a cow that carries the mad cow prion, we now have a serious problem.

If you're worried about mad cow, it therefore makes sense to quit eating cheap hamburger. This would include both most fast food burgers (although MacDonald's claims to only buy beef from cattle that have been tested) and cheap, pre-packaged grocery store hamburger. For good measure, you might also avoid cheap pre-formed frozen hamburger patties, and those sold in your really scary eateries, like, say, public school cafeterias.

This doesn't mean you have to quit eating ground beef altogether, of course. Ground chuck, ground round, or ground sirloin that have actually been ground in your grocery store should be safe, since they contain only the cuts of meat specified on the label. You could even buy a chuck or round roast and have the nice meat guys grind it to order. People don't make nearly enough use of the nice meat guys, who are generally helpful and knowledgeable (at least hereabouts) and have never once charged me for service, though I'm not promising it couldn't happen.

For that matter, grinding meat in a standard-size food processor is a snap - cut the meat in chunks, removing any gristle or sinew. Throw it in the processor with the S-blade in place, and pulse the thing until your meat is the texture you'd like. You can even grind in a little onion, garlic, or other seasoning in the process.

If you can afford it, another possibility is to buy only grass-fed, organically raised meat. The mad cow problem has only arisen because of the meat industry practice of feeding ground up animals, animal blood, and even animal waste, to cattle - who are, of course, herbivores by nature. Therefore, cattle that is raised outside the Big Meat Industry, and fed only on grass and the like, should be perfectly safe.

It's also a good idea to be careful about beef-based luncheon meats and sausages. Read the labels carefully, to avoid anything that might be tainted with neural tissue. In particular, be wary of "mechanically separated" meat. "You get what you pay for" is a pretty good rule of thumb - anything really cheap made of bits that are ground up and stuck back together probably contains things you don't want to think about, even if you're not working on avoiding mad cow disease.

Avoiding mad cow is the name of the game, by the way. Unlike germs that cause food poisoning, like salmonella and e. coli, the mad cow prion is not destroyed even by prolonged cooking.

Of course, there's nothing about a low carb diet that requires you to eat beef at all. You can low carb quite nicely on pork and lamb, poultry and fish, eggs, and cheese. You could even throw in the occasional rabbit or duck, both available through most large grocery stores. Still, most of us really like a good steak. It's good to know that most steaks are safe, although T-bones, being cut from right along the spine, often contain a little bit of spinal cord in the bone. Don't eat it! Personally, I'd rather have a rib-eye anyway. But if you're really leery of the whole thing, no one could fault you for skipping beef altogether.

Still, risk analysis is an important part of life, and it's good to know that fewer than 150 cases of mad cow in humans have been identified world wide. Your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and the other diseases of carbohydrate intolerance are infinitely greater than your risk of mad cow disease. Furthermore, your chances of dying of some other sort of food contamination, like the previously mentioned e. coli or salmonella, are far greater than your risk of mad cow. A deep breath and some level-headed looks at the options are a good idea. Panic is uncalled for.

One more thing: I have generally kept politics out of this journal, and indeed, out of all of my work, with the exception of food politics. This is one of those exceptions. It is important that Lowcarbezine! readers be aware of the truly scandalous state of US meat inspections, and the fact that the USDA is, at the moment, no more than a toothless paper tiger. The cattle ranching industry has fought USDA oversight with every weapon they could bring to bear, resulting in a "regulatory body" that has virtually no power to regulate, and "inspectors" who do almost no inspecting. A perfect example is the fact that only since the discovery of a case of mad cow in the United States has the USDA finally banned the sale of "downer cattle" - cattle who are ill or injured enough to be unable to stand - for meat. Obviously, a steer with a broken leg is an okay source of meat, but one that is sick enough to be unable to rise? It makes my skin crawl just to think about it.

Personally, I would be willing to pay a bit more for my beef (and for that matter, for all of my meat) to ensure that it was safe. If you feel the same, write, call or email your Senators and Representatives, and tell them that you want tough new regulations of the meat industry, and you want them now.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 07:53 PM

December 17, 2003

Party Survival Strategies

Been to a few parties yet? Planning to go to a few more? Ever get the feeling that everybody should count off, one-two-one-two, and all the twos have to give parties in February instead, to get us through the late winter?

Parties are great, but as we all know, they're generally Festivals of Nutritionally Questionable Food. Worse, they're full of folks whose notion of "holiday spirit" extends to saying things like, "Oh, c'mon! You've got to have cookies! It's the holidays!"

Argh. While I'm fine with the idea of taking an Indulgence Day (singular) for your Winter Holiday of Choice - Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Yule, whatever - extending the Indulgence concept to the entire several-week season is as bad an idea as you've ever had, unless you're really looking forward to shopping the post-holiday sales for larger sizes.

So how to get through a season of merry-making (or, since I'm admittedly a bit late with this, the rest of the season of merry-making) with your resolve and your waistline intact, without feeling deprived, or like a word-class wet blanket? Here, in no particular order, are some party survival strategies:

* If your social circle is like my social circle, it's standard for invitees to ask "Can I bring something?" Assuming it wouldn't be rude-rude-rude, do bring something to the party - and make it something low carb that will dazzle everyone! Great stuffed mushrooms, chicken wings, deviled eggs, cocktail meatballs, cold shrimp, a relish tray with a fabulous new dip - nobody is going to look at you cross-eyed and mutter, "Oh. Diet food." if you show up with something like this.

* No time to cook? Grab a few great cheeses, and a box of fiber crackers if you like. (Or you could just cut that cheese in chunks, and bring toothpicks!) For that matter, your local grocery store deli will no doubt have something that is low carb and party-worthy - a hot wing platter, a relish tray, a cheese-and-sausage platter, a cold shrimp platter.

* If you're pretty sure all the libations will be higher carb than you'd like, it's hard to see how anyone could object to your showing up with a couple of sixes of light beer, or a bottle or two of dry wine, except at the most formal sort of affair.

* Once you're at the party, grab one of those little cocktail plates, put your low carb hors d'oeuvres on it, and walk away from the food! Do not stand by the bowl of chips or the plate of little pastry-wrapped thingies. Distance is your friend. Anyway, you're supposed to be there to socialize, remember?

* Going to a party where bringing something would be out of the question? If you know your host or hostess well enough, you may have an inkling whether or not will be anything low carb on the menu (and considering how many people now eat this way, it would be a mistake not to have something!) If you're pretty sure that the menu will not be low carb-friendly, but you're determined to go anyway, eat before you go - at least a hard boiled egg or a chunk of cheese or two. Once you're there, eat whatever you can - the celery from the relish tray, the salad at dinner, the shrimp in the shrimp cocktail. Take small portions of what you shouldn't eat, if you want to be inconspicuous, and toy with it while making bright conversation. If anyone takes it upon him or herself to say, "You're not eating a thing!" they're the ones who are being rude, not you.

* If the soiree in question is at your house, heck, you could make the whole menu up of low carb foods and see if anyone even notices your low carb diet theme. At my sister's Christmas party this year, she served Chili Egg Puff and Ellen's Noodleless Lasagne, both make-ahead recipes from 500 Low Carb Recipes. She also had hot artichoke-Parmesan dip, again, from 500 Low-Carb Recipes, with both veggies and fiber crackers for dipping. It's hard to think of anyone being seriously put off by a menu like this!

* Feel you simply must have some sort of "normal" carb-y snacks at your party? Do yourself a favor and buy something other than your own personal kryptonite. For instance, I cannot resist potato chips, but don't care a thing about pretzels - so I'd buy pretzels. And if there are carb-y cookies at a party of mine, they're store-bought, not home-made, and are stuff that other people like, but that don't speak to me - sugar cookies with bright icing or sprinkles, pfefferneuse, gingerbread men, or something of that sort. Your likes and dislikes will be different from mine, of course, but the principle remains the same - buy the "normal" stuff that won't test your willpower.

* If your workplace is one big ongoing cookie exchange this time of year, bring something to work. Just a box of low carb, sugar free hot chocolate mix or a sugar free chocolate bar stashed in your desk drawer will help prevent that "everybody's eating chocolate but me" feeling. If you're moved to serious flights of holiday generosity, you could bring in a sugar-free, low-carb treat to share; trust me, everyone will thank you. And if you're the organizing type, you could even get all the office low carbers together for rotating low carb treat duty. One thought: If this is going to be going on for a couple of weeks, consider making some of those low carb treats of the hors d'oeuvre sort listed above. Even low carb, high protein sweets are not something we should be gorging on.

* It goes without saying that you're eating your low carb, high protein breakfast before going off to that cookie-filled office, right?

Have fun! And kiss somebody cute under the mistletoe for me!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:59 PM

Low Carb Christmas Presents

Got another low carber on your gift list? Here are some ideas for presents based on your mutual interest:

* Shameless Self Promotion Alert: If they don't have 500 Low Carb Recipes or 15 Minute Low Carb Recipes yet, you know what to get them! At the risk of invoking my publisher's wrath, I will tell you not to buy them How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds unless they've expressed an interest. "Merry Christmas, lose weight" is not a kind and loving message. Instead, when you get around to discussing your New Year's Resolutions, you can suggest How I Gave... as a great way to learn over a half-a-dozen different approaches to limiting carbs, losing weight, and improving your health.

500 Low-Carb Recipes:

15 Minute Low-Carb Recipes:

How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds!:

* I'm also of the firm opinion that every low carber needs Diana Lee's books, Baking Low Carb, and Bread and Breakfast: Baking Low Carb II. These are the only books I know that are devoted entirely to low carb baked goods. Sadly, Baking Low Carb is currently unavailable; it's in the process of being reprinted - you'll just have to buy it after Christmas. But in the meanwhile, buy a low carber you love the second book. They'll thank you for it.

Bread and Breakfast: Baking Low Carb II:

* If your favorite low carber has lost even one dress or pants size, clothes to show off that new shape are a terrific gift. I've known many folks who, having 3, 4, or more sizes to lose, hesitated to buy something new after those first 15 pounds came off - but would have welcomed something cute in that interim size as a great motivator.

* Since low carbers depend heavily on meat, fish, and poultry, gifts that help cook these things well are a good idea. I have Ron Popiel's Showtime Rotisserie, and am happy to report that it works just exactly as well as Ron says, and is a snap to clean up - all the parts that get dirty go in the dishwasher. For that matter, if your giftee doesn't have an electric tabletop grill, ala George Foreman, it's a great gift.

* How about a gift basket of pricey low carb treats? You could put together a baking basket with low carb mixes, a candy basket, a basket of great cheeses and sausages, or nuts and low carb chips. For that matter, you could let Carb Smart do it for you; they have a very nice Christmas basket - and a Kosher Variety Basket, too!

* For that matter, many of the fancy-food catalogues have stuff that will work. You could send smoked salmon, deluxe quality mixed nuts, a cheese and sausage package, or even frozen fillet mignon!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:55 PM

The Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine

Business travel sounds glamorous, but mostly results in watching television in hotel rooms at odd hours. As a result, I end up watching shows on the road that I generally don't catch at home - and I happened to catch not one, but two, appearances by Dr. Neil Barnard, the president of the Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine. Dr. Barnard was making the rounds of the chat shows to tell us all how terribly dangerous a low carb diet is, and how we'd all better become vegetarians - vegans, no less - post haste, or face dire consequences - heart disease, cancer, kidney damage, etc.

Doc Barnard must have been worrying a few people, because I got a couple of emails asking what I thought of what he had to say. Surely it will come as no surprise to you all that after eight years of the terrific health that has accompanied my low carb diet, I'm distinctly unworried about dire consequences, especially considering that I've recently had blood work showing that my cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, liver function, and kidney function are all just fine.

What may come as a surprise, however, is a little information about Dr. Neil Barnard and his committee:

* Dr. Barnard is, indeed, a physician - whose training is in psychiatry, not nutrition, cardiology, oncology, nephrology, or any of the specialties pertaining to the statements he's making. By contrast, the late Dr. Atkins, still Barnard's arch-nemesis from the grave, was an Ivy League educated cardiologist.

* The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine is a front group for the animal rights group PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Dr. Barnard is PETA's staff medical advisor. PETA is opposed to any human interference with animals, up to and including keeping pets. In short, Dr. Barnard's position apparently has as much, if not more, to do with moral convictions as it does with health issues. To give you an idea of how extreme Dr. Barnard's position on the subject of animal food is, here is a quote:

"To give a child animal products is a form of child abuse."

-- from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) president Neal Barnard's 1994 book, Food For Life

That's right. All of you who give your children milk to drink instead of soda or Kool-Aid, or a stick of string cheese instead of chips are abusing your kids, according to Dr. Barnard.

I am very much bothered by the fact that the television shows that had Dr. Barnard for a guest did not state up-front the fact that he has a moral and political axe to grind, and Dr. Barnard did not volunteer the information. This strikes me as dishonest. So does the fact that the PCRM does its level best to obscure the fact that it is an arm of PETA, and more concerned with the animal rights movement than with health.

Perhaps most interesting is the reaction of the American Medical Association. Admitting up front that the AMA was not a huge fan of Dr. Atkins, either, it is still illuminating to read their opinions of Dr. Barnard: and his committee:

"The AMA continues to marvel at how effectively a fringe organization of questionable repute continues to hoodwink the media with a series of questionable research that fails to enhance public health. Instead, it serves only to advance the agenda of activist groups interested in perverting medical science. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is an animal 'rights' organization, and, despite its title, represents less than .5 percent of the total U.S. physician population. Its founder, Dr. Neal Barnard, is also the scientific advisor to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an organization that supports and speaks for the terrorist organization knows as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)."

-- from a September, 1992 censure of PCRM issued by the American Medical Association

"The general approach used by PCRM takes selective data and quotations, often out of context … In response to a Resolution passed unanimously at the recent AMA House of Delegates meeting, the American Medical Association calls upon the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to immediately terminate the inappropriate and unethical tactics your organization uses to manipulate public opinion."

-- Letter to PCRM's Neal Barnard, from James Todd, executive vice president of the American Medical Association, July 26, 1990

Keeping in mind that the AMA is troubled mainly by Dr. Barnard's stance on medical testing, not nutrition, it is still clear that Dr. Barnard does not represent mainstream medical thinking in any way. Doc Atkins wasn't exactly mainstream, either, of course, but then, he openly admitted and discussed the fact that he was a maverick - and of course, in the past couple of years a great deal of mainstream medical research has emerged to support his work.

In short, folks, Dr. Barnard is not someone you want to pay a whole lot of attention to. Next time he appears on your television screen, consider switching over to Comedy Central instead. You'll probably learn more.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 09:34 PM

October 22, 2003

Low Fat Foods Revisited

I have long scorned low fat packaged foods, knowing that many of them simply replaced the fat with sugar and chemicals - fat free salad dressings, for instance, tend to be nothing but spicy corn syrup, and fat free ice cream usually has more sugar than the super-premium kind. And of course, many low fat products are just plain nasty.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Philadelphia Lite Cream Cheese actually has fractionally less carbohydrate than Philadelphia Regular Cream Cheese. I made this discovery when I went to buy cream cheese to try out a new cheesecake recipe (and a fine, fine recipe it turned out to be, by the way; see below!) and, in the spirit of inquiry that has long characterized my approach to food in general, and grocery shopping in particular, I read all of the cream and Neufchatel cheese boxes in the dairy case. (Neufchatel is, so far as I can tell, identical to lite cream cheese.) First, I learned that the store's own brand of cream cheese had 2 grams of carbohydrate per ounce, instead of 1 gram per ounce for the more expensive Philly, and the Neufchatel had the same. But the Philly Lite had "<1 g" of carbohydrate per ounce - not a big difference, but a difference nonetheless, and one in the lite cream cheese's favor.

So I bought the Philly Lite, and used it for my cheesecake, which was exceedingly yummy. I also used plain yogurt in place of the sour cream, after running the nutritional analysis and discovering that the substitution wouldn't add even 1 gram of carbohydrate per slice. I got a cheesecake with an excellent flavor and texture, with no more carbohydrate per serving than if I'd used the higher fat products. Further, the cheesecake ended up with 328 calories per slice instead of 407, or almost 20% fewer calories. Please note: This was not a low fat cheesecake! 73% of the calories in the cake came from fat. But it was, indeed, lower calorie than the full-fat version would have been, without being any higher carb.

It was a thought-provoking experience, to say the least.

Again, do not think I am advocating a low fat diet; I'm not. However, many low carbers have learned that they also need to keep an eye on calories, and in the context of a low carbohydrate diet, fat is the exandable-and-contractable fraction of our diet. What do I mean by that? Just this: We all have a certain number of grams a day of protein we must get - for most of us, that will be between 65 and 100 grams per day. Taking an intermediate figure, if your protein requirement for the day is 75 grams, at 4 calories per gram, that's just 300 calories that are going to come from protein. (This, of course, doesn't include any fat calories that come along with those protein calories.)

We also have a certain allotment of carbohydrate we ought to be getting every day, and most of us aren't willing to give up a single gram - nor should we, since those vegetables, fruits, nut and seeds, etc, bring a lot of variety to our diets, not to mention some vitamins and minerals, and all of our fiber. Say you can eat 40 grams a day of carbohydrate and still lose weight, that's another 160 calories (again omitting any fat that comes along with those grams of carbohydrate.) So we're up to 460 calories.

All of the rest of the calories in this hypothetical diet, whether you eat another 1000 or another 5000 calories per day - will come from fat. That's what I mean by fat being the expandable-and-contractable fraction of the diet - it's the part of the diet you can eat more or less of, at your discretion, depending on how many calories you want.

Using our example of 460 calories from protein and carbs combined, and a hypothetical limit of 1800 calories per day, that leaves 1340 calories that you'll need to get from fat. 74 percent of your calories would be coming from fat, hardly a low fat diet. Yet with fat being very calorically dense, and many of our favorite and most nutritious low carb foods being very high in healthy fats, and therefore calories, it's not difficult to overshoot the mark.

So here's what I think I'll do: I think that, over the next few months, I'll do some re-examination of reduced fat products, to see which ones - like most of the fat free dressings - are "filled" with extra carbs, and which reduce calories without adding a bunch of sugar to our daily carb count.

I will report back with data as I have it. I'll also let you know if it makes a difference in my own weight!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:36 PM

September 18, 2003

Menopause, Estrogen, and Body Fat

I recently got a really good question. Pamela Merritt writes:

One question I have that I really haven't found an answer to yet, is that many sources, including Dr. Atkins, mention women having trouble losing weight once they reach menopause, and in fact my mother found her low fat diet/exercise program was crashing and burning at this time (while low carb works. Go Mom!)

However, these same sources emphasize that birth control pills, and estrogen in general, cause weight loss problems.

How, when menopause means you are getting LESS estrogen, do women have trouble with weight gain at menopause?

Excellent question, and I believe I've found a credible answer. However, please keep in mind that I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television. That being said -

In her book Outsmarting the Midlife Fat Cell, Debra Waterhouse says that the stubbornness of fat in menopausal women does, indeed, have to do with dwindling estrogen levels. You see, it's not just that estrogen creates fat - fat also creates estrogen. You might call it a feedback loop. This ability of fat to create estrogen (and other hormones, as well) is why women who are a little overweight are far less likely to get osteoporosis than women who are underweight. It is also a reason why serious obesity is a risk factor for hormonal disorders.

Because fat is a source of hormones, when estrogen production by the ovaries starts to drop as we approach menopause, the body hoards fat to buffer the decrease in estrogen. Waterhouse claims that women who aren't painfully thin actually have fewer menopausal symptoms than really skinny women, for this very reason.

This means that our bodies are increasingly reluctant to give up their fat cells as we advance through perimenopause, and apparently supplemental estrogen doesn't encourage them to let go - it just increases fat deposition and holds water, just like it does during our menstrual cycles (or, for that matter, in farm animals fed synthetic estrogens to fatten them.)

Waterhouse doesn't have much of a solution for this, you understand; she just encourages women not to worry too much about it, and accept it as part of the aging process. This is probably good advice. That being said, she hasn't much looked at low carb dieting, and I certainly know women who have lost weight during the perimenopausal years by low carbing, even if they haven't become fashionably thin.

Waterhouse does recommend not dieting strenuously, which she says will diminish muscle mass. This is true of low calorie diets, but one of the great benefits of low carb diets is that they're muscle-sparing.

Waterhouse is actually strongly anti-diet, and states that there are no bad foods - I hope you're all clear on how I feel about that! For those of us who are carbohydrate intolerant, carbs, and especially high-impact carbs, are bad foods, on a purely physiological level. They make us ill, and just as importantly, they make us hungry. It's hard to understand how we're supposed to eat "normally" when we're eating food that is, for us, severely physically addictive. However, this book was written before low carb dieting gained much currency; I'm not surprised that Waterhouse was unaware of the problems that carbohydrates present for many of us.

Waterhouse also states that eating large quantities of anything, even dry salad, will trigger the body to store fat - that the physical fullness-to-the-stretching-point of the stomach tells the body that it needs to store fat. This may well be true; certainly there is some research backing the idea of eating frequent, small meals to lose weight. It couldn't hurt to try eating 5 or 6 low carb mini-meals per day, rather than 3 big meals.

Waterhouse also encourages exercise, and I don't know of a single health, fitness, or weight loss authority who would argue with that. Please keep in mind that adding some resistance exercise - most commonly spelled w-e-i-g-h-t-s - to your exercise program will not only help prevent the loss of muscle mass and the subsequent drop in metabolism, but will also help keep your bones strong. I have recently gone back to doing aerobic weightlifting videos from The Firm, and (one slightly achy elbow, and the occasional flare up of my bad leg not withstanding) am in increasingly good shape. There is simply nothing like resistance exercise.

Once you get past menopause you'll probably find weight control much easier. You'll notice that once menopause is well and truly over, the body seems to give up its hold on the fat cells; middle-aged women tend to be plump, but old women tend to be thin. Indeed, you may find, once menopause is over, that you need to keep your weight up; really skinny old ladies are more prone to osteoporosis, among other things, than women who are a little more substantial, although, of course, being seriously obese will always be dangerous.

So there you have it: Eat low carb, don't starve yourself, divide your food up into several mini-meals, never eating enough to feel really stuffed, get some exercise, particularly resistance exercise - and accept the fact that it's just gonna be tough to be really thin for a good decade or so.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:27 PM

More About Women and Middle Aged Weight Gain

After that first article you're thinking, "but all those people in Hollywood are still thin and glamorous and beautiful when they reach middle age."

Maybe. And maybe not.

However, keep in mind that these people have access to the best help - top-flight trainers, personal gyms, chefs who count every carb and every calorie. If you'd like to get an idea of what even young stars go through to look the way they do, see if you can catch "Rock Bodies: From Flab to Fab," currently running on VH1. The show tracks four women - definitely less than middle-aged - and the 12-week program of rock-star-like training and diet control they undergo to shape up. It becomes very clear that, even for youthful stars, looking like that is a nearly full-time job, requiring 3 to 4 hours of serious exercise a day, plus someone dispassionate to cook for them and measure every mouthful. Again, most of these aren't even middle-aged people!

Too, let us not forget that the vast majority of people who make it to Hollywood star status started out genetically gifted in the looks department. There is simply no amount of dieting, exercise, or even surgery that will make my waist anything less than painfully short. We all have to work with what we're given.

Still, consider Demi Moore. Looks fabulous, of course - but then, she recently had $25,000 worth of plastic surgery, including liposuction and a tummy tuck - and she certainly is one who started out genetically blessed. If we try to compare our middle-aged selves to Demi and her ilk, we're going to have totally unreasonable expectations.

Bless Jamie Lee Curtis. Known as "the body" in Hollywood in her twenties, Jamie is now in her forties (indeed, she and I will turn 45 just over a month apart this fall.) Last year Jamie Lee decided to come out regarding the work and the deception it takes to make over-forty celebs look skinny, young and glamorous. She openly talked about having "not great" thighs, a "soft little tummy," and "back fat," and revealed that it took 3 hours of professional makeup, hair, and wardrobe people working on her to get her ready for a single photo shoot.

Furthermore, Jamie Lee said that even after all that preliminary work, plus a really good photographer who can make anyone look their best, celebrity photos in magazines and such are airbrushed and retouched to make their subjects look younger, slimmer, and more glamorous.

In an amazingly courageous move, Curtis insisted on having her photo taken in her underwear, with no makeup, foundation garments, manicure, hair stylist, or anything, and being published unretouched. It was her hope, she said, that women would stop looking at the fake images of middle aged women that Hollywood was putting out, and hating themselves for not being a size 2 and buff in their forties and beyond. You can see Jamie Lee Curtis's ground-breaking honest photo here:

What's the point of this discussion about what it takes to make middle-aged - and even youthful - celebrities look skinny and perfect? Just this: I worry that you (and I, for that matter) will look at these impossible images, and become so unsatisfied with being a normal size and healthy, and give up our nutritional and exercise regimens in disgust - when in reality, by any reasonable standards, we're successful.

I have actually gotten the occasional email from women who have lamented, "Gee, I've lost 30 pounds, and my cholesterol and triglycerides and blood pressure are all better, and I have more energy, but I'm stuck at a size 12, so I guess this diet doesn't really work, and I'll quit." Makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

I guess I just want you to know what success looks like, especially once you're middle-aged - and for most of us, it ain't a size 2 with six-pack abs. Okay?

(Here's a link to my Images of Beauty Gallery - some of the un-anorexic women that, until quite recently, Hollywood acknowledged for the extraordinary beauties they were and are: )

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:22 PM

Dana's Blood Work Report

I needed a new prescription for my thyroid meds, and I hadn't had a check up in a couple of years. I didn't have time for the full deal, but my doctor insisted on blood work, which seemed like a good idea to me, so I went to see the nice Vampire Lady, and got blood sucked out and tested. I just thought you all would like to know how it came out, since you're 18,000 of my best friends and all.

After 8 solid years of low carbing, of eating red meat and eggs and cheese and butter with no restraint (and, of course, also eating poultry and some fish, monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocados, and plenty of low carb veggies), it's official: It will take a silver bullet through the heart to kill me.

Click to enlargeMy total cholesterol is 204. Oooooooooo, comes the cry, that's too high! No, it's not. The 200 cut off point for cholesterol insisted upon by the US medical establishment is arbitrary; indeed, in much of the world cholesterol up to 225 is considered totally normal and healthy. (Oddly enough, I was talking to a friend about this right after I got the blood work back from my doctor, and they told me their cholesterol had also come up a few points over 200 - and their doctor had said, "Don't worry about it; this is considered normal in most of the world.)

(Parenthetically, I'd like to point out here, for those of you who don't know yet, that total cholesterol under about 170 is associated with an increased risk of death. Your risk of heart disease drops, but your risk of other things, most notably cancer and hemorrhagic stroke, goes up - and keeps going up the lower your cholesterol gets. Since cancer is the "family disease," and in light of the recent, tragic death of my governor, Frank O'Bannon, from hemorrhagic stroke, I think I'll keep my cholesterol over 170, thanks.)

But my total cholesterol is really not too high in light of my other numbers: My HDL - "good cholesterol" - is 60, which is superb. And my triglycerides are at 40, which is astonishingly low.

The most important thing is the blood work ratios - the relationship of total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Let's look at those, shall we? It'll help you to interpret your blood work, when you get it done.

First is total cholesterol divided by HDL, and you want the number to be 4 or below. 204/60 = 3.4, comfortably below 4.

Next comes LDL ("bad" cholesterol) divided by HDL ("good" cholesterol). For men, a ratio of 3.55 gives average risk, anything lower is better; for women, 3.22 is average risk, again, with a lower number being better. My LDL is at 135. 135/60 = 2.25, or well under average risk.

Finally, the ratio many researchers are now considering the most important: triglycerides divided by HDL. This number needs to be 2 or below. Since my triglyceride number is only 2/3 of my HDL number, my ratio is, er, a bit below 2: 40/60 = 0.66666 (repeat forever) - unbelievably good.

In short, at this point my chances of actually dying of a heart attack are roughly the same as my chances of winning the Powerball, or being invited to the White House, struck by lightening, and abducted by aliens in the same day. Egg, meat, and cheese been very, very good to me.

For the record, they also tested my blood sugar and my kidney function. They didn't actually send me the numbers, just checked off the place on the form that said "normal". I'm assuming that this means that I still don't have that kidney damage that everyone tells me this diet will cause.

Anyway, since I hold myself up regularly as a low carb success story, I thought you ought to know: It's official. I'm healthy.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:12 PM

September 02, 2003

Ethnic Restaurants 101 Continued: Indian

Let's continue our virtual ethnic restaurant tour (and boy, do I wish I were getting to do this in real life!) Today we're going to look at an Indian restaurant menu.

I actually had some trouble finding an Indian menu from the US on line -- most of them are located in the UK. I didn't know if my American readers (most of them!) and I would understand all the British food terms, so I narrowed my search a little, and found this menu -- at, of all places: Call it up, and let's go!

Once again, I will remind you of the most important rules of restaurant ordering: Ask questions if you're not sure what's in a menu item, and don't be afraid to ask for your food the way you want it, within reason -- the sauce on the side, steamed vegetables in place of rice or potato, that sort of thing. Remember, the waiter has a job because of you and people like you. Be nice, be polite, tip well, but expect a reasonable degree of knowledge and service!

Okay, let's read a menu!

First the appetizers, or "starters" as they call them here. Most of these are not low carb, I'm afraid -- they either have potatoes, lentils, or chickpeas. The only item I'd be interested in here is the Tandoori Assorted -- three kinds of kabobs. However, I'd look over the rest of the menu before deciding I wanted this, because I might choose kabobs for my main course!

Indeed, looking at the next section, Tandoori Specialties, reinforces that notion. All of these are great for us! And what a choice -- chicken, fish, lamb, shrimp -- something for every low carber's tastes. Worried about the yogurt marinades? Don't be. As Drs. Goldberg and O'Mara pointed out in their book The Go-Diet, plain yogurt is actually considerably lower carb than the labels suggest. The 12 grams of carb per cup listed on the label (and in the food count books) is derived from the 12 grams of carbohydrate (lactose) in the milk the yogurt is made from. However, the yogurt bacteria convert that lactose to lactic acid, giving yogurt its characteristic tangy taste, and leaving only 4 grams of carb per cup. So feel free to choose Indian dishes that use yogurt as a marinade or sauce.

If you click to the next page, you'll find the curry dishes and the like. The menu doesn't say so, but it is likely that these curries are served on or with rice -- I'd ask that knowledgeable waiter. I'd also ask what the sauces are thickened with -- flour, or yogurt, or potatoes, or what?

Still, with the rice left out, or something low carb substituted for it, many of these look wonderful for us. You'll skip the Chicken Vindaloo, of course, because of the potatoes (and a shame it is; vindaloo dishes are characteristically very fiery, and I love hot food!) and the Chicken Dalwala, because of the lentils. I'd skip the Chicken Madras, too, because of the raisins -- unless the raisins are few and far between, they're likely to add a prohibitive quantity of sugar. Tomatoes are a borderline vegetable, so if I was trying to keep carbs seriously low, I might also skip the Chicken Tikka Masala and the Murgh Makhani -- but short of Induction, I'd probably feel free to order these.

Looking at the lamb dishes, I'm iffy about the Lamb Pasanda -- it sounds delicious, but I'd want to know how many cashews are added. Cashews are among the highest carb nuts. If I was having a splurge, however, I might choose this. Again, the Lamb Vindaloo has potatoes, and the Keema Aloo Mattar has both potatoes and peas -- right out. I'd also skip the Dal Gosht because of the lentils ("dal" means "lentils", by the way), and the Lamb Madras because of the raisins.

How about seafood? All of these dishes look fine to me except for the Prawn Vindaloo, with its (surprise!) potatoes. And once again, I'd skip the dishes with tomatoes if I was trying to keep the carbs seriously low.

Click to the next page!

Okay, the vegetarian specialties. There are a surprising number of these that are low-carb-friendly -- but then, a large percentage of the Indian population is vegetarian, so it's not surprising that they have a flourishing vegetarian cuisine. We'll skip the Dal, or lentils, but Bhindi Masala, made from okra and onions, would be okay if the portion isn't huge -- you might want to split an order, if you have two okra-lovers at the table. 1/2 cup of cooked okra contains 5.8 grams of carbohydrate, with 2 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 3.8 grams. Onions, of course, are a borderline vegetable -- higher carb than some, but lower than potatoes, corn, peas, and the like, and terribly nutritious and flavorful, of course.

Next in the vegetarian lineup is Sag Paneer, one of the most famous of Indian vegetable dishes. Made from soft cheese, spinach, and spices, this is a terrific low carb choice, and could even be a good main dish. The Paneer Makhani will be higher carb, because of the tomatoes, but shouldn't be too bad. Saag Mushroom -- spinach with mushrooms -- should be as low carb as a vegetable dish gets, since both mushrooms and spinach are very low carb vegetables. The next eight entries -- from Sag Aloo through Aloo Gohbi -- contain potatoes or legumes of one kind or another, and won't do. However, the next three dishes -- Navratan Korma, Sabji, and Vegetable Jalfrezi -- all simply say that they're made from "mixed vegetables." Time to ask questions again! Okra, cauliflower, spinach, eggplant, green beans -- all would be fine. But if there are potatoes, peas, or other starchy vegetables in there, you'll pass, right?

Let's walk right by the Rice Specialties; why tease ourselves?

Next comes "Side Orders", and couple of these are good for us. You'll skip the Pulao -- a rice dish -- but Raita is a yogurt-cucumber dish that should be fine, and refreshing if your main course is hotly spicy. And of course a salad is a fine thing!!

We click to the next page, and find that it's largely hopeless for us. Of course we're going to skip the breads and desserts! For that matter, many of the beverages will not do for us. A Lassi -- yogurt drink -- made salty, rather than sweet, might just fit in, but it doesn't appeal to me, and I'd rather have a completely carb-free beverage, saving my carbs for food I can chew! The Mango Lassi is sweet, of course, and so is the lemonade. You could, of course, have diet soda, but I'd probably prefer the Pelligrino or Calistoga sparkling waters. You know that good old Evian water is fine, right? Juices are right out because of the sugar. So, by the way, is Chai, a spiced tea -- it's virtually always sweetened. That leaves herbal tea, or darjeeling, plus coffee, all of which are fine.

This restaurant apparently doesn't serve alcohol. However, if your local Indian restaurant does, be aware that foodies the world over agree that beer goes far better with curries and the like than wine does -- have a Miller Lite or a Michelob Ultra.

So there you have it -- an Indian feast, with plenty of exotically seasoned meats, chicken, fish, and seafood, and ample low carb vegetable choices. And I'm hungry again!

We'll do this again soon!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:43 PM

Slim Fast Sales Way Down

Cue the Evil Laugh: Muahahahahahahahahaha!

Unilever, the humongous Anglo-Dutch conglomerate that makes Slim Fast shakes and bars, reports that sales of its sugary meal replacement products are way, way off -- and blames low carb dieting. Indeed, sales have dropped a reported 13% in the past year. Indeed, Unilever is unhappy enough about the performance of the Slim Fast line that they're slashing sales forecasts overall for 2003.

In the meanwhile, sales of Atkins products increased a whopping 95% between January and May this year. I'm not a big fan of basing one's low carb diet on specialty products -- I think we should all be focusing our diets on meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and vegetables -- but I'd sure rather see people drinking Atkins shakes than Slim Fast, which is simply loaded with sugar. How much sugar? The Dark Chocolate Fudge variety has 45 grams of carbohydrate in a can, 35 grams of which are pure sugar. That's over 8 teaspoons of sugar, or just two fewer than a can of Coke. Yes, the Slim Fast has vitamins added, but there's just no excuse for all that sugar. This is roughly the equivalent of a glass of chocolate milk and a vitamin pill.

Unilever does plan to fight back, by the way. How? By advertising how much "healthier" their products are than those "dangerous" low carb diets.

Yeah, right. Think it'll work?

Let me say that if I have play some small part in the torpedoing of Unilever's market for their sugar garbage posing as "healthy options," I'm proud. Proud, I tell you!!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:40 PM

If Yogurt's Okay, How About Lactaid Milk?

I get the most interesting questions!

For a while now, I've been trying to get the word out, both here and in my books, that plain yogurt is not as high in carbohydrate as the label and the food books lead us to believe. Why? Because -- as explained by Drs. Goldberg and O'Mara in The GO-Diet -- the labels and the food books list the 12 grams of carbohydrate -- all in the form of lactose -- that were in the milk the yogurt was made from, but don't take into account the fact that the yogurt bacteria break down most of the lactose, turning it into the lactic acid that gives yogurt its characteristic sour taste, and leaving only about 4 grams of carbohydrate per cup.

(Please, remember, this 4 grams per cup figure applies only to plain yogurt. Sweetened and flavored yogurts have sugar added, and are far higher carb. If you like sweetened, flavored yogurt, add the extract of your choice plus a little sweetener.)

Well, now I have a new question -- indeed, two readers have written me in the past few weeks, wanting an answer: Does this mean that milk that has been treated with Lactaid, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, and is marketed to folks who are lactose intolerant, is also okay for low carbers? I'm sorry to have to tell you that the answer is no.

Why not? Because Lactaid doesn't convert the lactose in milk to a non-sugary substance. Instead, it converts the lactose to simpler sugars. You see, lactose is what is called a "disaccharide" -- a sugar that is made up of two simpler sugars. Some people lose the ability to break down the bond between those two sugars as they age, and this is what causes lactose intolerance. Lactaid breaks down the bond, leaving the two simpler sugars behind.

Not only does this mean that Lactaid treated milk has as much carbohydrate as untreated milk, but the treatment causes the sugar in the milk to be absorbed more rapidly, increasing the glycemic index of the milk. Indeed, I have read of nutritional experiments regarding the effects of low glycemic foods versus high glycemic foods where Lactaid treated milk was used for precisely this reason.

So, no Lactaid treated milk for you. If you simply must have milk -- and there are certainly far worse things you could be drinking , drink it untreated. At least that way it's a low impact carb.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 04:32 PM

August 13, 2003

Ethnic Restaurants 101 Continued: Middle Eastern

Okay, we've done Italian and Mexican; today we're going to look at one of my favorite kinds of food -- Middle Eastern! Here's our menu, from Byblos restaurant in Tempe, Arizona: Call it up so you can go back and forth between this article and the menu, and we'll get going.

As always, remember: Ask questions! A well-informed waiter is your best ally; if you're not sure from reading the menu what goes into a particular dish, ask. And don't be afraid to request things the way you want them, within reason. Remember, you're paying them; any good restaurant should be happy to accommodate your dietary restrictions.

To the menu!

First the appetizers. Homos, sometimes spelled hummus, is out for Atkins types and other strict low carbers; it's made from chick peas (garbanzo beans) and is quite carby. However, it is a low impact carb, so if you're simply trying to stick to the lower glycemic index stuff, this may be for you. Moutabal (Babaghannouji) is made from eggplant, a very low carb vegetable, so the dip itself should be fine. If you can get them to serve it with celery sticks or the like, instead of pita bread, this could be a good choice.

Falafel is again made from chickpeas, and it's stuffed into a pita -- it's sort of the Middle East's vegetarian answer to the taco. Carby; pass it up. The vegetarian Dolmas are bound to have rice in the filling, so skip them, too.

Next we have Labneh -- a seasoned yogurt -- and Tzatziki, a wonderful sour cream-garlic-cucumber dip. Since the folks who wrote the GO-Diet turned up the fact that plain yogurt is much lower carb than we thought -- just 4 grams per cup -- I'd consider both of these good choices, except for the pita they're likely to be served with. Again, I'd ask for some vegetables for dipping, instead. (And for those of you just watching glycemic index, even white flour pita has a relatively low impact. I'd go easy, but a little shouldn't hurt. This does not apply to true low carbers, like Atkins dieters, however!! A low glycemic index carb is still a carb.)

After this comes Foul Moudamas, which says it's made from "lava beans."; I suspect this is a misprint, and they mean "fava beans,"; but either way, just about all legumes are high carb.

Byblos Marinated Chicken Wings is next in line, and I just love chicken wings! I'd ask what they're marinated with -- assuming it's not something sugary, these are among your best choices of appetizers.

Homos with Meat and & Pine (nuts) is out, because Homos is high carb. Kebbe has cracked wheat, so we'll pass that by as well. Next we have Arayess. Everything about this ground beef dish sounds fine except for the pita it's stuffed into. You could ask for it without the pita and eat it with a fork, or you could ask for some lettuce leaves to wrap it in instead.

Loubieh Bil Zeit is simply described as "A green bean delicacy, cooked vegetarian style."; Green beans are low carb, so this may be okay, but you'd want to inquire as to just exactly what cooking the beans vegetarian style entails.

I'm afraid the Spinach Pie is out, and too bad, too; this is one of the most popular Middle Eastern dishes. The lamb version of kibbe, like the beef version above, has cracked wheat, so we're not getting this either. But look what's next! Shrimp cocktail. This is another perfect low carb choice.

Finally we have pita cheese crisps -- do I have to tell you these are high carb?

Okay, moving along to the salads, one of our favorite sections of the menu! Tabboule is out, since the main ingredient is wheat. But look what comes next -- Fattouch, a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, onions, and parsley, marred only by some toasted bits of pita, which surely we can have them leave off. This would be a fabulous salad for us -- and would also make a great base for a meat dish that would otherwise be served in a pita, or over rice. The Yogurt Cucumber Salad would be fine, too; unusual and cooling with an order of shish kabab. And of course Greek Salad is a low carb classic -- and again, a wonderful base for a meat dish that would otherwise go in a pita or on a bed of rice.

Coming up: Seafood! There are some great selections here, though of course you'll ask for an extra salad instead of the potato or rice pilaf. My only complaint is that these fish selections are not notably Middle Eastern -- if you're looking for true ethnic flavor, I'd move on. Filet of Fish Meuniere is a classic, and wonderfully low carb, but it's actually French in origin. The Grilled Fish Fillet might have a more Middle Eastern flavor, depending on what the "special seasonings"; are. The Shrimp Provencal-Scampi would be lovely, but again is not notably Middle Eastern, and I'm pretty sure that the lemon-pepper on the Grilled Jumbo Shrimp is not authentically Middle Eastern, either. Still, all of these fish and seafood dishes will be fine for the diet.

The Vegetarian dishes are up next, and for the most part they're not for us. The only possible exception is the Vegetarian Moussaka. Look at the description: "Eggplant layered with a mixture of vegetables topped with a creamy cheese sauce and served with rice pilaf."; The rice pilaf is out, of course, but how about the rest? Eggplant is very low carb; we don't know what other vegetables are involved. I'd ask what goes in the cheese sauce, too -- if it's flour or cornstarch thickened, I probably wouldn't order this, but if there's no flour, and the vegetables involved are low carb, this might be okay.

Our Side Orders are up next. We have no clue whether the soup of the day is okay or not; you'll simply have to ask the waiter what's in it. But Feta and Olives is a killer low carb side dish, unbelievably flavorful, and very filling. The baked potato is out, no surprise there. But the garlic dip may or may not be okay, depending on what else is in it. If it has a yogurt or sour cream base, it's fine. If it's made from something like pureed chick peas, it's not. Assuming the dip itself is low carb, you'd certainly want to ask for vegetables to dip in it, instead of pita.

On to the Dinner Entrees! Again, they're all served with soup or salad, with a choice of potato or rice pilaf, with "garnish' and fresh baked bread. We'll be passing up the bread, and asking for extra salad in place of the potato or rice. But what shall our protein dish be?

Shish-Kebab! Now we're talking! I'd have it made with lamb, myself, but no reason not to have beef if you prefer it. Chunks of meat, broiled with vegetables -- you can't get a better low carb meal! Except maybe the Shish-Taouk, the next item on the menu -- cubes of marinated chicken breast, skewered and grilled with red peppers. This menu is really looking up!

Broiled Chicken sounds mighty plain, but almost everywhere in the Middle East the simple art of broiling a chicken has been raised to perfection. This would be one of my favorite picks.

Next comes the Byblos Mixed Grill, and again we're talking low carb heaven! A lamb kabob, a chicken kabob, and a "keufta"; kabob (sometimes spelled "kofta"; kabob.) What's a Keufta Kabob? Look down one item, and you'll see that it's a kabob made from ground meat -- most likely lamb, but possibly beef, or a combination -- mixed with onions, parsley, and spices, then formed on a skewer and broiled (not boiled!) One each of these delights sounds mighty good. (I may have to get up from this computer and get a snack; this menu is making me hungry!)

After the Keufta Kabob comes a sandwich version, the Keufta Khachkach -- it's the same Kabob, stuffed in a pita with tomato sauce, pine nuts, and mushrooms. Everything but the pita sounds good here; maybe you could order the whole thing on a salad?

I'm guessing the vast majority of you know what a gyros is -- a sandwich made from lamb that's been ground, mixed with seasonings, formed into a big cylinder, and roasted on a special machine made for the purpose, then cut off in long slices and stuffed into a pita with traditional toppings. I'm here to tell you that all of the innards of a gyros sandwich taste fabulous on top of a Greek Salad; this is my most common choice at a Greek restaurant, and it would be a good choice here, too.

Finally we come to Lamb Chops. I adore lamb chops, and they are, of course, carb-free. The mint jelly is not, however, and strikes me as a rather British touch. Still, lamb chops are very nice with no mint jelly at all. Go for it.

How about the House Specialties? The French Pepper Steak may not be Middle Eastern, but it is low carb. So are the Filet Mignon and the Sirloin. If steak is your pleasure, you'll have fun at Byblos. Me, I once again would be looking for something a little more exotic -- like maybe the Shawarma Chicken, which sounds great, and low carb. I'd skip the Beef Stroganoff; it's likely to have flour in the sauce, but the Escalope Cordon Bleu sounds fine.

Which brings us to the sandwiches. We're not going to be eating that pita, unless, again, you're simply trying to eat lower glycemic index carbs. And all of the fillings of these sandwiches are available elsewhere on the menu with no bread. Let's just skip the sandwiches.

Desserts? Yeah, right. Unless it's a very special occasion, deserving of an Indulgence, I trust you'll simply ignore these. With all the great meats and salads on this menu, plus a side of feta and olives, I'm betting you can get satisfactorily full before the end of this meal!

As with other restaurants, you'll want to drink water, coffee, tea (hot or iced), diet soda, or, if you want a drink, a light beer or dry wine. Beware of the Turkish Coffee and Mid-Eastern Tea; both are likely to be full of sugar.

And that's our Middle Eastern meal! Once again, we've found piles of delicious ethnic food that won't leave us sorry the next morning. We'll look at another menu next issue!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 05:06 PM

August 02, 2003

Ethnic Restaurants 101: Mexican

Last issue I walked you through an actual Italian restaurant menu, with ideas for what you might order in keeping with your low carb way of eating. This issue we're eating Mexican! Once again, I simply did a Google search under "Mexican restaurant menu" and picked one of the first few that came up. Take a look at the menu for Celia's Mexican Restaurant in Berkeley California:

What shall we have?

At the very top of the menu we see guacamole and chips. Guacamole is wonderful for us, but chips, of course, are not. I'd probably find some other way to eat guacamole, but if I was with folks who felt like ordering the guac-and-chips platter, I wouldn't be above eating some guac with a spoon.

None of the nachos will work for us, but again, if others at the table really wanted them, I'd feel free to peel off and eat the toppings, if I could avoid the beans. Indeed, I might request that they order the nachos without the beans, or order the seafood nachos, which don't come with beans anyway.

Ceviche is a Mexican classic, and it's low carb, low fat, low calorie, high protein - eat this stuff and you'll sprout a halo. It will also taste good. Technically, ceviche is uncooked, but the acid in the lemon juice (some recipes call for lime, instead) makes the fish just as firm as if it had been heated. Don't worry about it.

Skip the vegetarian entrees, they're all hopeless. Let's get fajitas, instead! Fajitas are my most common Mexican restaurant pick. I ignore the tortillas, and order an extra side of guacamole. I pile the guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa) right onto the hot skillet with the meat and vegetables, and eat the whole thing with a fork. Delicious and satisfying! On this menu you have an embarrassment of choices, too - steak, chicken, or prawn (shrimp) - or a combo! You will, of course, forgo the rice, beans, and potato wedges.

(If you'd like to be able to explain to a Mexican waiter why you're not eating tortillas, try, "Porque me hacen gorda y cansada" - "Because they make me fat and tired." Gentlemen, that's "gordo y cansado" for you. This answer has never failed to get a grin out of a curious waiter.)

The house specialties at Celia's are making me hungry just reading them! Steak Picado - chunks of rib eye sauted with vegetables in tomato sauce - will have a few extra carbs from the tomatoes, but should still be fine unless you're on Induction. The Steak ala Mexicana also looks great for us - steak with onion, avocado, and tomato slices. Again, dodge the rice and beans, and I'd be careful about that cole slaw. Cole slaw commonly has quite a lot of sugar in the dressing - if it tastes sweet, it's got sugar in it, period.

Chile Verde should also be all right. Salsa verde is made with tomatillos, which are lower carb than regular tomatoes. Do I have to say it again? No rice and beans for you.

With the Chile Colorado, I'd ask if it has beans in it, and also if it's tomato-based. If it has no beans, it should be okay, and if it has no tomatoes, it's probably a great choice.

Next we have "El Tampico" - a combination of steak and prawns (shrimp) sauteed with vegetables. Sounds promising; I'd make sure that none of the vegetables is corn or potatoes. If the veggies are low carb, this is a great choice.

The enchiladas won't do; let's skip on by. Carne asada is basically steak; skip the rice and beans and you'll be fine, but this doesn't strike me as the most exciting menu option. Carnitas are little cubes of cooked pork, and they're terrific, but again, a little plain without the rice and beans. Perhaps you could ask for them served on a salad, topped with guacamole - now that sounds like a meal.

We'll pass up the burrito.

Okay, we've come to Mariscos - seafood! Bet we find lots of possibilities here!

Wow, look the Cancun Platter! Prawns, chicken, and crab, all sauteed together with mushrooms and white wine, topped with cheese, and baked! Low carb fiesta! Go for it! The Camerones a la Ranchera - shrimp with mushrooms, onions, and peppers - would also be fine. Camerones al Mojo de Ajo is shrimp in garlic butter - sort of Mexican Scampi. Also a great choice. The Camerones a la Diabla - shrimp in hot sauce - is yet another great low carb dinner.

We'll by-pass the crab enchiladas - trust me, with all this great food you won't even miss them. Huachinango - fried red snapper - should be fine, but I'd ask to be sure it's not breaded. And right after it we find Ceviche again - but this time served on a tostada. You don't need that fried tortilla, but the other accompaniments look good - mayonnaise, lettuce, and picado sauce. Maybe worth having without the tortilla, huh?

Forget the Fish Burrito, that "giant flour tortilla" is not for you!

Next we have the traditional combo plates, and most of them we'll have to pass up. There are a couple of notable exceptions, though - you might order the huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs) without tortillas, and the chorizo (sausage) and huevos (eggs) will be great.

The large combos are hopeless; pass 'em up. Indeed, most of the rest of the menu is carb-y. The Spanish omelet sounds good, though.

Finally, we get to the North of the Border section. I have a feeling you're already clear on how to order your burger without the bun, skip the fries - but if that was what you wanted, you wouldn't be at a Mexican restaurant!

Celia's online menu doesn't give the beverage choices, but I'm assuming that, like most restaurants, they would have iced tea, diet cola, a light beer, a glass of dry wine, or, of course, water.

So, once again we've picked an ethnic restaurant at random, and found piles and piles of wonderful food that won't make us sorry in the morning. I hope you enjoyed it - and that you're beginning to realize that you're going to be able to eat well and keep your weight down, for the rest of your life! Remember, as always, your most important skills - the ability and willingness to ask questions, and to ask for your food the way you want it - without the rice and beans, with extra lettuce and guacamole, or whatever other reasonable alteration will give you a meal you love, with a carb count you can live with.

Next issue we'll try a Middle Eastern restaurant!

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:20 PM

Crunch Time!

Any other Janet Evanovich fans out there? I'm a huge fan of her Stephanie Plum series, and just finished the latest installment, To The Nines. (The series started with One For The Money, and has counted up.) For the uninitiated, these are furiously paced and truly hilarious mystery novels, starring Stephanie, a Jersey girl with big hair and an attitude, who works as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie, the bail bondsman. Highly recommended.

Where's the low carb connection? Stephanie's best friend and partner in bounty hunting is a wise-cracking ex-prostitute named Lula. Lula is a plus-sized black woman who is unafraid to be - and to dress - sexy. (I always picture Queen Latifah.) Lula's sporadic attempts to lose weight are a running gag. And in To The Nines, Lula goes low carb!

Of course, this being a Janet Evanovich novel, she goes low carb hilariously, carrying around pork chops in her purse, running to the corner deli for two pounds of bacon, and fighting the neighborhood dogs for it on the way back, carrying around a cooler full of meat in the car while on stakeouts (Steak-outs?), and worrying that her canine teeth are starting to grow. And, being Lula, she pretty rapidly gives up her diet altogether, although she loses 10 pounds eating vast quantities of meat before throwing in the towel. I was pleased that Evanovich didn't dismiss the idea that a low carb diet - however exaggerated for comic effect - can actually work. I find it very cool, too, that we've cracked the public consciousness to the point where we've been enshrined in pop culture.

What was it that finally drove the fictional Lula off of her low-carb diet? Well, aside from the all-too-familiar folly of going on a diet with the idea that the weight will drop off nearly overnight, and then the dieter can happily return to a life of french fries and donuts, the big problem Lula cited was a lack of crunch. She was craving an apple, a chip, anything that was crisp - and noted, sadly, that meat simply doesn't crunch.

Clearly, Evanovich has been paying attention - indeed, I wondered if she had tried a low carb diet herself. A lack of crunch is one of the things that low carbers regularly complain about. So, to keep your diet from going the way of Lula's, let's talk a little about what crunchy things we can have without scarfing down carbs:

* Pork rinds - Everybody's clear that pork rinds are low carb, right? Heck, these are perhaps the most-cited item by low carb diet detractors - "Oh, that's that diet where you eat lots of pork rinds, right?," with the implication that pork rinds are just one rung above cyanide on the food-value ladder. Actually, pork rinds are better for you than chips on just about any scale you'd like to use - they're not only higher in protein, they're lower in fat, too. No, really! An ounce of potato chips and an ounce of pork rinds have a nearly-identical calorie count - but the pork rinds have 1.5 grams of fat, while the potato chips have 9.8 grams of fat, plus, of course, 15 grams of carbohydrate. Far and away the biggest component of pork rinds is protein - 17 grams of protein in an ounce. And of course, most pork rinds are carb-free. (I have seen BBQ-flavored pork rinds that had 14 grams per bag, though, so the READ THE LABEL rule applies, even to pork rinds!)

Now, I was never a big pork rind fan; I have ever said that I reached my pork rind limit at about four. That was before some of the new, fabulous pork rind flavors hit the market! My three favorites are Salsa and Sour Cream, from Katiedid's Pork Rinds (I think of these as "Porkitos", because they remind me of Doritos), the Cheddar Cheese Crunchies from Gram's Gourmet that I reviewed a few issues back - these are a lot like Cheetos, and my husband is in love with them! - and Cinnamon and Splenda pork rinds, whether from Katiedid's or from Gram's Gourmet. Many low carb retailers and etailers carry Gram's Gourmet products; you can order Katiedid's pork rinds direct at I also have gotten emails from readers who have found microwaveable pork rinds in their grocery stores; they all claim these are very much better than your average pork rind - but for me, it's the flavors that make pork rinds interesting.

Idea: if you miss croutons on your salad, take a large sharp knife and dice some pork rinds.

* Chicken chips - you can't buy these, but they're easy to make if you have chicken skin on hand. (If you don't, and you like crispy chicken skin, you might ask the nice meat guy at the grocery store if he could get you some chicken skin - heaven knows they take it off enough chicken breasts.) Spread the chicken skin out flat on your broiler pan, and bake it at 375 for 10 or 15 minutes, or until it's golden and very crisp. Sprinkle with salt and eat like chips. Unbelievable!

* Fiber crackers - Bran-a-Crisp or Fiber Rich, they're virtually identical - basically just wheat bran stuck together. And they're crunchy for sure. Not very interesting by themselves, mind you, but crunchy.

However, fiber crackers get a lot more interesting when you put something on them. Butter and a little salt is nice, or brie. Spreading them with mayo, adding a few sliced scallions, and running them under the broiler or into the toaster oven till the mayonnaise sizzles is pretty tasty, too. They're wonderful with things like hot artichoke-parmesan dip! And me, I love them with liverwurst, but I understand that that's a harmless perversion of my own. Chopped liver or pate would be nice, too, and of course fiber crackers are a natural with tuna, egg, or chicken salad.

There was a time when it appeared from the nutrition labeling that fiber crackers were carb-free, once we subtracted out the fiber. However, it turned out that this was because of a difference between American nutrition labeling and European nutrition labeling: On European labels, fiber is not included in the total carb count the way that it is on American labels - so, by subtracting it from the total carb count, we actually subtracted it twice, yielding a falsely low carb count. Now the labels have been corrected, for Fiber Rich, at least, and we can get a true carb count.

According to my very own box of Fiber Rich Crackers, which I ran and got from the pantry (personal side note: I get a non-trivial amount of exercise writing this ezine, since my desk is at one end of the house, and my kitchen and pantry are at the other end...) a "serving" of Fiber Rich crackers contains 12 grams of carbohydrate and 5 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 7 grams. This, of course, begs the question, "How big is a serving?" The box says there are 8 servings in a box. Since a box contains 18 crackers, this gives us a serving of 2.25 crackers, or the sort of thing that makes me want to whack food processors upside the head. A little elementary math tells us that 2 crackers contain 6.2 grams of usable carbohydrate, and one cracker has 3.1 grams - but I'm figuring 3 is near enough for government work.

It's good to note that the high fiber count and the rye content means that those 3 grams are likely to have a very low blood sugar impact. Depending on how carb intolerant you are, you may be able to tolerate 3 or 4 at a time - or not. But they are nice, biggish crackers, and I find them to be a good "crunch" addition to the diet.

There's a recipe for fiber crackers in 500 Low-Carb Recipes. They're thinner, crisper, and lower carb than the commercial fiber crackers, if you want to take the time to make a batch.

There are some other low carb crackers on the market - I've had some from Cheeter's Diet Treats that were quite good. If you don't have a store near you that carries low carb specialty stuff - here in Bloomington, Indiana the source is a great Mediterranean/international/health food grocery store called Sahara Mart - check the low carb etailers to find a source.

*Psyllie Snax - These are the oddest entry in the low carb crunch list, but don't let that put you off. Psyllie Snax are a chip made out of psyllium fiber, the same sort of fiber found in Metamucil. Yeah, I know you're thinking, "Right. Laxative chips." And I'm sure if you ate a pile of these, they'd have that effect, as would any high-fiber food. But these are crispy and light, with a great texture, and they taste good. They look funny, but hey, with all their other virtues, surely you can get past that. Psyllie Snax come in four flavors: Onion with Sesame and Flax Seeds, Garlic Parmesan, Spicy Sesame, and "Psyllie Snaps," which have a sweet butter-and-spice flavor. If you're craving a chip-like snack, you owe it to yourself to at least try Psyllie Snax. Here's their website: , but some of the low carb etailers carry these, too.

* Nuts and seeds - One of the real shames of low fat diets was that they banned nuts and seeds, because of the high fat content. Nuts and seeds are not only tasty - and crunchy! - but remarkably healthful foods. Several medical studies have shown that nuts improve heart disease risk factors like LDL and HDL cholesterol, and demonstrate an association between eating nuts and a reduced incidence of heart disease.

However, it's important to keep in mind that nuts are not only not carb free, but are also very calorie-dense - and despite popular wishful belief, we cannot eat unlimited calories on a low carb diet and still lose weight. A "serving" of nuts is just one ounce, really quite a modest amount. You don't necessarily have to weigh or measure, but do keep in mind that a half a can of mixed nuts at a sitting is too much!

Here's a quick rundown on various kinds of nuts:

Brazil nuts: One ounce of Brazil nuts is roughly 6-8 nuts, and has 3.5 grams of carbohydrate, with 2.1 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 1.4 grams. 186 calories.

Almonds: One ounce of almonds is about 22 kernels, and has 5.5 grams of carbohydrate and 3.3 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 2.2 grams. 169 calories.

Cashews: Cashews are one of the higher carb nuts. 1 ounce, or about 18 cashews, has 8.5 grams of carb, with only 0.93 grams of fiber, or 7.6 grams of carb. 164 calories.

Hazelnuts or Filberts: 1 ounce of hazelnuts - my book doesn't give a quantity! - has 4.9 grams of carb, and 2.7 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 2.2 grams. 183 calories.

Macadamias: One ounce of macadamias is about 10-12 nuts, and has 3.8 grams of carbohydrate and 2.3 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 1.5 grams. 203 calories.

Pecans: One ounce of pecans is about 15 halves, and contains 3.7 grams of carbohydrate and 2.7 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of just 1 gram. My favorites, too! 203 calories.

Pistachios: One ounce of pistachios is 49 pistachios!! 7.6 grams of carbohydrate and 2.9 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 4.7 grams. 161 calories.

Walnuts: One ounce of walnuts is about 14 halves, and contains 3.9 grams of carb, and 1.9 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 2 grams. 185 calories.

Peanuts: Peanuts aren't really a nut, of course, but a legume. They have 6.1 grams of carb per ounce, though my book doesn't say how many that is. 2.3 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 3.8 grams. 165 calories.

Mixed Nuts With Peanuts: One ounce of mixed nuts with peanuts has 7.2 grams of carbohydrate, and 2.6 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 4.6 grams. 168 calories.

Mixed Nuts Without Peanuts: One ounce of mixed nuts with no peanuts has 6.3 grams of carbohydrate and 1.6 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 4.7 grams. 174 calories.

Sunflower Seeds: These are somewhat higher in carbohydrate than nuts, but they're also higher in minerals. A whole cup of shelled sunflower seed kernels - quite a lot! - contains 27 grams of carbohydrate, with 15 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 12 grams. 820 calories, so eat less than a cup! A truly great idea is to buy sunflower seeds in the shell. Having to crack each one separately before eating it slows you down to the point where it's nearly impossible to eat too much. The perfect low carb, high nutrition munchie food. I sneak them into the movies!

Pumpkin Seeds: Like sunflower seeds, these are higher in carbohydrate than some nuts, but also more nutritious. The zinc content make pumpkin seeds an especially good bet for men - zinc is good for the prostate. I'm crazy about pumpkin seeds, and buy them at convenience stores and truck stops all the time. Yum. One ounce of pumpkin seeds, or 142 kernels, contains 5 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of fiber, for a usable carb count of 4 grams. 153 calories. Again, buy your pumpkin seeds in the shell, and you'll have a natural brake on your consumption. If you're looking for pumpkin seeds at a convenience store or truck stop, be aware that David brand is lower carb than Planter's - but only if you eat the shells (as I sometimes do.) David's shells only have salt on them; Planter's have flour, as well. It adds a surprising quantity of carbs.

* Sunkist Almond Accents - I reviewed these back in May. These are sliced, toasted almonds in a bunch of great flavors, like Bacon Cheddar, Italian Parmesan, Ranch, and Roasted Garlic

Caesar. Really, really tasty, and crunchier than your standard almond. Worth seeking out - I find them in the produce department of my local grocery stores.

* Celery - There's a reason celery has always been the ultimate diet food - it's basically crunchy water. (No joke. In 100 grams of celery, 95 grams consists of water.) Low carb, low calorie, low everything. You could go through a whole bunch of celery without seriously blowing your carb count for the day - one large celery stalk has a big 2 grams of carbohydrate, and a gram of that is fiber, so 1 gram usable carb per big stalk, less in a small one. And only 9 calories. Now, I know some people don't like celery, or think of it as "rabbit food" but it sure is crunchy, and personally I'm very fond of it. Especially celery hearts, which I can simply devour with a little salt. If you feel like I do, you've found your best crunchy food.

* Crunchy Cheese - Didn't know that cheese can be crunchy? Oh, my, yes. You can fry a big handful of shredded cheese in a little oil, in a non-stick skillet, until it's golden on the bottom, then flip it carefully and fry the other side. Drain and eat for a crunchy treat that will drive all thoughts of Cheetos and Cheez-its out of your mind. You can also spray a microwaveable plate with non-stick spray, put that same handful of cheese on it, and microwave it on high - start with one minute, and go from there; one minute is about right in my microwave. The cheese will melt to cover the plate, and become crunchy as it cools.

Or you can buy Just the Cheese Chips, which are - as the name strongly implies - chips made nearly entirely from cheese, baked until quite satisfyingly crunchy. Why "nearly" entirely? Because they have interesting flavors added - herb and garlic, nacho cheese, that sort of thing. Worth seeking out. (These make terrific emergency food, by the way; I like to carry them while traveling. A few Just the Cheese Chips will kill my hunger for an hour or two, and they're easy to stash in a purse or carry-on bag.)

Crunchy cheese is high calorie, too, but for some reason I find myself far less likely to over-eat on it than I am on nuts - some combination of the strong flavor and the terrific filling-ness of cheese, I suppose. It is, of course, very nearly carb-free.

* Protein Chips - These are a specialty low carb item. They look like tortilla chips, but are made from protein powder. They're plenty crunchy, come in several flavors, and are quite low carb. They're my least favorite of the choices - not bad, but not good enough for me to bother seeking them out. However, if you're really craving chips, they're worth trying. I'd rather have Psyllie Snax, myself.

* Homemade Root Vegetable Chips - Okay, you won't do this unless you really like to cook, and own a deep fat fryer. But I just recently acquired a deep fat fryer (for a big $35 bucks, brand-new, in the box, from Goodwill. It pays to shop around.) so I thought I'd try making chips out of something other than potatoes. So I acquired a jicama and a couple of turnips, and made some chips. I peeled my off-brand root veggies, cut them in chunks that would fit in the feed chute of my food processor, and ran them through the slicing blade. Then I heated canola oil to 375 in my deep fat fryer, and fried me some odd-ball chips.

Both the jicama and the turnip took longer than potatoes would have to become browned and crisp - almost 15 minutes. Both failed to reach the same degree of perfect crispness that potatoes reach, although I suspect part of the reason may be that commercial potato chips are sliced considerably thinner than my slicing blade can do. But both turned out chips that were tasty, especially with a little seasoned salt. The jicama chips, in particular, had a nice, slightly sweet thing going on.

So if you're the sort who likes playing around in the kitchen, you might try this. You'll certainly get chips that are lower in carbohydrate than potato chips - a whole large jicama has 105 grams of carbohydrate, with 58 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 47 grams for the whole darned thing, and trust me, a whole jicama will make a lot of chips. (I just did the math. Jicama has roughly 1/3 the usable carbohydrate that potato does.) Turnip comes to roughly the same carb count - about 1/3 that of potato chips - but turnips are smaller than jicamas, so you'll get fewer chips. If you fry all the chips from 1 large turnip, the whole batch will have about 8.5 grams of usable carb in it. Not a free food, but an interesting thing to try should you have the equipment and a free hour.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 10:08 PM

November 17, 1999

Thought for the Week

Surely you know the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. This is a very important prayer for those of us seeking to improve our bodies.

On the one hand, I've heard people claim that since obese people don't necessarily eat more than slim ones, and the regain rate for diets is over 95%, changing your eating habits is useless, and you shouldn't even try. Nonsense! If what we ate had nothing to do with what we weigh, there wouldn't be varying obesity rates from state to state,, and between socio-economic classes, and people from other countries wouldn't start getting fat when they moved here and adopted our sugar-and-white-flour saturated diet. And the regain rate is largely attributable to people going on a diet with the idea that they will lose the weight and then go off the diet. If you go back to eating the way you used to eat, you *will* go back to weighing what you used to weigh, no question about it!

On the other hand, it's important to know what you can change through diet and exercise, and what you cannot. I have lost 50 pounds, and I'm edging into a size 10! But I seriously doubt I will ever fit into a size 6; I'm simply not built for it. I'm short and stocky, with a big ribcage and The World's Shortest Waist (Thanks, Dad! ;-D ) All the diet and exercise in the world will not make me a tall, delicate, willowy girl. If I told myself, "It's all useless, since I'll never look like Cindy Crawford", I could let myself get back up to 190 pounds very, very fast. Instead, I'm thrilled with what I *have* been able to change!

Be the best you you can be, work on what you *do* have control over, and don't worry about what you can't change.

Posted by HoldTheToast at 08:03 PM