Low Carbohydrate, Low Calorie Pasta

My favorite boss and fellow foodie got me what I believe is the greatest kitchen gadget of all time (lots of hyperboles there): the Spiral Slicer, made by Chef Joyce Chen. This magical thing device essentially can turn any cylindrical vegetable (e.g. zucchini, squash, carrots, cucumbers, etc.) into ribbons or spaghetti. The spiral slicer takes cooking time out of the equation and will save valuable time. Plus, keeping the vegetables raw helps preserve nutrients that can be lost during the cooking process.

It is incredibly easy to use, too (and so is clean up). Just cut your veggie into smaller — no more than 3″ long — pieces, place in the center of the device, put the lid on and turn the lever at the top. Here are some visuals to give you a better idea of how it works:

spiral_slicer

 

vegetable_spaghetti

I would love to show you a picture of the finished product, but since I ate it all while taste testing, AKA stuffing my face, I’ll tell you about it instead.

Mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil into the “spaghetti,” add sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese (NO GREEN TUBES — use the good kind!), fresh basil, crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste. You can also add in chicken, fish or steak — or garbanzo beans for a vegetarian option — to amp up the protein and satiating factor of the dish.

I’ve also tried it with teriyaki sauce and ginger, topped with grilled salmon, but the sun-dried tomato creation was my favorite.

Regardless, vegetable-based “pasta” is low in carbohydrates and calories, high in fiber and other nutrients and a great new way to get your daily vegetables.

 

What other non-traditional “pastas” have you tried?

 

Quinoa Power Breakfast: Gluten, Dairy and Egg-Free

Quinoa is often praised by dietitians and other health professionals as a super-food. While I find the term “super-food” a little gimmicky, it is mostly true in the case of quinoa. A grain, quinoa (pronounced KENN-wah) is a good source of both fiber (with more than 5 grams/cup) AND protein (more than 8 grams/cup). While we know that whole grains, like quinoa, generally contain fiber, we don’t always get that one-two punch of fiber and protein.

The best part? Quinoa’s amino acid profile is considered complete, meaning it doesn’t lack an amino acid like many other grain products do. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins for our body. Our body can make ten of the 20 amino acids we need to make proteins in our bodies, but the other ten — considered essential amino acids — must be supplied by the foods we eat. Most plant sources of protein don’t provide all of the essential amino acids, so it’s even more impressive that quinoa does.

I find that most people view quinoa as a savory food, often mixed with veggies and beans (and meat/poultry too) to create a quinoa salad. Think about it, though, quinoa is really just a bland-tasting grain when you get down to it. Thus, you can use it in sweeter preparations as well. Alas, Breakfast Quinoa! It’s a terrific option for when you have leftover quinoa from the night before (assuming you didn’t use broth or savory herbs to make it). Just mix with whatever fruit and nuts you have on hand, plus some cinnamon or other sweeter spices. It’s more filling than oatmeal, because it contains more protein and fiber (the satiety dynamic duo, if you will). Check out my delicious Banana Coconut Quinoa below!

Banana Coconut Power Breakfast Quinoa:

Breakfast_Quinoa

Ingredients:

  • One cup quinoa, cooked (1/2 cup dry)
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp organic virgin coconut oil
  • sprinkle of cinnamon (about 1/4 tsp)

Directions:

Cook quinoa according to package directions or heat up leftover quinoa. Stir in coconut oil when hot, then top with sliced banana, sunflower seeds and cinnamon.

 

 

Food Psychology: Trick Your Brain and Body to Eat Less

Food psychology is a complex topic, but can really be connected with the majority of our eating behaviors. Like plate size, for example, which has steadily increased over time. Could that factor into Americans’ expanding waistlines? Or monstrous portions at restaurants, at which we eat more often than we used to (home cooked meals, people – it’s not that hard!). I highly suggest checking out Dr. Brian Wansink’s website, and his various studies on food psychology and how the smallest tweaks (plate color, plate size, environmental cues, color contrast and many others) can greatly affect the amount of food that you eat.

I could go on and on about Brian Wansink and other food psychologists/researchers, but let’s face it, you really only want to know how to cheat the system. AKA you want to know how put all the research and tactics to use. Now, this is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good start. Let me know if you have other “food cheats.” I always love hearing about them!

1. SERVE EVERYTHING OPEN-FACED

Which looks bigger? This open-faced omelet….

Open-Faced Omelet

Open-Faced Omelet

Or the classic folded-over omelet?

Folded-Over Omelet

Folded-Over Omelet

By the way, both of the above are sweet omelets. The open-faced one has apples and walnuts baked in (with cinnamon sprinkled on top) and the folded-over one has pumpkin puree in the inside and on top (plus cinnamon sprinkle).

The open-faced rule goes for sandwiches, tacos/quesadillas/other tortilla-containing foods, gyros, etc.

2. ADD LOTS OF VEGETABLES. NOW ADD EVEN MORE.

Vegetables contain water (provides volume) and fiber for very few calories, meaning they will fill you up, not out. Try replacing some of your pasta with vegetables. Or add sauteed veggies to pizzas. Or grain dishes (i.e. quinoa, cous cous, brown rice with added veggies). Veggies also provide gobs of vitamins and minerals. And if you’re like most people, you’re not getting enough of those nutrients. Oh, and you’re probably not drinking enough water. Veggies help with that too.

3. USE SMALLER PLATES AND BOWLS.

Picture this scenario…You have a small plate overflowing with food. Now take that same amount of food and put it on a large (what we think of as normal) sized plate. Hmm…which looks like more food? Obviously the overflowing plate seems like more food, and thus your brain can be tricked into thinking that it’s getting a nice giant portion. And to really drive home the vegetable point, if your smaller plate was mostly loaded with veggies, you’d be even better off.

The same goes for bowls. A serving of cereal, for example, is usually 1 cup. However, most of our “cereal bowls” fit 2+ cups of cereal. If you’re not accounting for that, you’re getting hundreds of extra calories daily.

Cup size can undergo a similar phenomenon. Try using taller, thinner glasses as opposed to short, fat, highball-type glasses. You will feel like you’re drinking more in the tall, thin glass and will subsequently feel more satisfied.

4. ADD COLOR!

Having a “rainbow of color,” so to speak, adds visual interest to your meal and also makes the food look more appetizing. Also, the color of food often translates to the nutrients found in that food. For example, anthocyanins are antioxidants that provide the deep purples, blues and reds found in foods like berries, red cabbage and eggplant. Beta-carotene, which contributes to eye health and immunity, among other things, is what gives carrots and sweet potatoes their deep orange hue.

A or B??

A.

Thanksgiving_Turkey_Saute

B.

salmon_mediterranean

See?? Color makes the food look significantly more appetizing. And generally translates to more/a greater variety of nutrients.

5. DRINK WHILE YOU EAT.

Drinking water between bites not only helps you slow down, it also helps you eat less. Water acts as volume and thus fills your stomach up, tricking your stomach into feeling fuller. Broth-based soups have a similar effect, which is why you hear nutrition/health/weight loss experts suggest eating brothy soup before your meal. Basically anything that adds volume to your belly but doesn’t contribute major calories is a plus.

6. DID I MISS ANY??

Perhaps cutting your food into smaller pieces — gives you more bites of the food, but you’re still eating the same amount.

Or: always eat from a plate. Or bowl. Eating straight from the bag or original container makes it hard to keep track of how much you’ve eaten. For example, the chips and salsa provided as an “appetizer” at Mexican restaurants. I don’t know about all of you, but I could polish off a whole basket, mainly because I’m not keeping track of how many chips I’m eating (if I realized that I’d eaten 4 cups, 60 chips or some other concrete amount, I would probably not eat so many).

Smoothie Time

What’s delicious and refreshing, takes one minute to make, has hidden veggies and brings all the boys to the yard?

SMOOTHIES!

Banana Berry Smoothie.

Banana Berry Smoothie…and Flowers!

Okay so technically, milkshakes bring the boys to the yard…but that’s neither here nor there.

I absolutely love smoothies for several reasons:

  1. They’re an extremely quick supplement to a meal or even a meal replacement. To make it a meal replacement, add oats and about 1 Tbsp peanut or almond butter (to make the calories more appropriate).
    • Having a smoothie in place of one meal/day is a great way to stay on track with your weight loss goals.
  2. You can throw whatever you have on hand into the smoothie.
  3. They are extremely nutritious, when made with the right ingredients.

In my mind, smoothies must include two main ingredients: fruit and dairy (milk or yogurt). However, there are ways to take your smoothie to the next level, nutrition-wise. Since smoothies tend to be either a post-workout snack or a part of my dinner, I always add protein powder. Some of my favorites include:

  • Swanson Whey (Vanilla flavor – it’s more versatile): 90 calories and 20 grams of protein. That’s pretty unbeatable. Plus, I like this one because it is less sweet than other varieties. Also comes in a grass-fed version.
  • Tera’s Whey (Plain or Vanilla – the Vanilla is pretty sweet so I like the Plain better): midwest-based (read: local), sustainable practices and fair animal treatment, no growth hormones, grass-fed (plain flavor) and just a nice high-quality, small batch product. 110 calories and 22 grams protein per serving.
  • Designer Whey (French Vanilla flavor): made with Stevia (more natural sweetener) and contains 18 grams of protein per scoop (for 100 calories). Because of the Stevia, this one is a little sweet, which is good or bad depending on your taste. I think it’s nice for masking veggies and other more bitter ingredients.

Besides the protein powder, I like to sneak in a little kale, which is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a good source of calcium and potassium. If you don’t have kale, spinach works well too.

**Tip: make a habit of keeping frozen fruit on hand. I use the frozen fruit in place of ice to keep things cold/frozen without diluting the flavor.

So, when you put the whole smoothie together, it looks something like this:

Banana Berry Smoothie with Kale

Banana Berry Smoothie with Kale

Fruit: about 1 cup total. I used a frozen mixed berry blend and about 1/3 of a frozen banana.

Kale: about 1/2 cup (make sure it’s rinsed)

Milk: about 1 cup

Protein Powder: 1 scoop

Other: splash of vanilla extract and sprinkle of cinnamon

Alternate smoothie ideas (you can add 1/2 cup of kale to any of these):

  • Banana oatmeal: 1 frozen banana (add ice if using fresh banana), 1/4 cup oats, 1 cup milk, protein powder and cinnamon.
  • Berry almond: 1 cup frozen berries, 1 cup milk, protein powder, almond extract.
  • Pumpkin: 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, 1 cup milk, protein powder, sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and ice.
  • Banana mango: 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1 cup milk, protein powder.