Low-Carb Solutions: Holiday Appetizers
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
‘Tis the season of party platters brimming with an assortment of tempting guilty pleasures that beg us to try just one bite. After all, how much glycemic damage can one little fudge-caramel square, butter cookie or cheesy bruschetta wedge do? And then another and another and maybe just one more…the slide is steep and quick – pretty soon it’s January and you’ve gained 8 pounds! It’s a very challenging time of year to watch carb intake. Best advice is to fight fire with fire, or rather, with veggies dressed in their holiday best to provide a few glycemic-friendly options in a sea of carb-laden serving trays!
Firstly, to be clear, I am not suggesting that either of the appetizer recipes presented here can ever replace the pure decadence of a fudge-caramel. In fact, the key to a successful low-carb diet discipline is not to try to replicate the foods that you miss, but rather to develop a palate for food groups and dishes that do not use empty carbs and calories to satisfy a craving for those same empty carbs and calories. It’s a true culinary hamster wheel that goes nowhere.
The pot-luck tradition that appears on many invitations during the holiday season (i.e. “bring a favorite dish or app”) certainly helps one avoid being trapped in a room of tempting, but forbidden, foods. Being able to bring your own healthy contribution to the fare at least guarantees that you won’t go hungry or be tempted to stray off the glycemic path! Here are two easy, quick, very low-carb favorite party appetizers that I can attest have given those tempting platters of high carbs a bit of culinary competition. And, like the competition, I dare you to stop at just one bite! Enjoy the season, without regrets after!
Zucchini Cheese Bites
Serving size: Make 24 pieces
1 cup Red Bell Pepper
(approx. 2 whole peppers), grated
1 Red Fresno Chile Pepper
(optional, for little spicy heat), grated
2 cups Zucchini
(approx. 2 medium size), grated
½ cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
½ cup Fresh Cilantro
Melissa’s Organic “My Grinder” Garlic & Herb Sea Salt
, to taste
Combine zucchini, egg, cheese, cilantro and My Grinder seasoning in a mixing bowl.
Spray a mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. Divide the mixture into the mini muffin pan cups, filling to the top of each cup.
Bake at 400° for 15-18 minutes until golden brown around the edges.
Champagne Cucumber Santa Hats
Serving: makes 24 pieces
, peeled and sliced medium think – 24 slices total
4 ounces Champagne
12 each Mini San Marzano Tomatoes
8 ounces Whipped Plain Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature
1 Tablespoon Mayonnaise
4 Tablespoons Ranch seasoning mix (1 one-ounce packet, plus part of a second packet)
Fresh Thyme Sprigs
Peel and slice cucumbers in medium thick pieces and then immerse the slices in champagne for 1 hour.
Slice the mini tomatoes in half, crosswise.
Mix ranch seasoning, whipped cream cheese, and mayonnaise until smooth in a bowl. Put the cream cheese mixture in a plastic bag and cut a small triangle off a corner.
Squeeze the mixture on top of a sliced cucumber, add a tomato half cut side down, refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow cheese to firm up again, then garnish with thyme springs before serving.