Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: The Tortilla Salad Bowl
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:
I was at a local restaurant for lunch recently and was served a chicken salad on a very large plate containing an equally large flour tortilla baked into the shape of a ridged bowl encircled by a colorful mix of baby lettuces and a few slices of avocado. A very pretty plate of mostly fresh, healthy ingredients with the exception of the baked container that, for a person who needs to count his carbs, I had to “eat around,” though its contents were delicious. It may have been a creative presentation, but the health benefits of the fresh salad would have been completely negated if I had also eaten the bowl, which was made of empty calories and an over-the-top glycemic score!
- 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.
Flour tortillas, especially those made in the U.S., have no nutritional value. They are traditionally made from white flour, salt, water and lard. The fat used to make them is usually hydrogenated. Hydrogenated fats are unnatural fats that are detrimental to your health. Hydrogenation is the forced chemical addition of hydrogen into omega-6 polyunsaturated oils to make them hard at room temperatures, primarily as a cheaper and less perishable substitute for butter in bread products. One 12-inch flour tortilla, which is the most common size manufactured, has 356 calories, 9 grams of “bad” fat and 59 grams of carbs. More importantly, the GI and GL scores for a flour tortilla are 100 and 107, respectively! Served with my otherwise healthy lunch, it was a bowl that bites back, glycemicly!
So how about using a corn tortilla for the bowl? The glycemic scores are slightly better, 74 and 87, for the same size tortilla; however those scores also represents a radical spike in blood sugar as the body converts corn starch to sugar very quickly i.e. the GL score of 87. The next day I decided to make my own chicken salad presentation the “right” way. While the lowest glycemic-friendly bowl for home-made chicken salad would be a real ceramic bowl, I decided instead to promote the role of the avocado from a mere garnish to my delivery vehicle of choice. Besides, an avocado certainly tastes better than common tableware and the fruit comes packed with nutritional benefits compared to a tortilla of empty calories.
Avocados are a great source of folate, a vitamin especially important for pregnant women. Other vitamins in avocados include vitamins E, C, B6 and potassium. These vitamins help bolster the immune system and metabolic functions in adults. Additionally, vitamin B6 is critical for fetal brain development during pregnancy. The plant sterols in avocados can lower cholesterol and antioxidants in avocados may even contribute to cancer prevention.
For carb-counters, avocados contain so few carbohydrates that the fruit does not even qualify for an official glycemic index value. According to several accredited studies, there just are not enough carbohydrates in an avocado to measure the fruit's official glycemic index. Even eating a large number of avocados does not cause a spike in blood sugar. Where do I sign up for such a delicious study! By the way, I also sprinkled the avocado halves generously with Melissa’s Lime Juice just to add a little more tang to the overall flavor profile. Though I added the juice mostly because lime is a personal favorite, it also prevents the avocado from discoloring if you are going to prepare this dish a few hours ahead of time for, say, expected luncheon guests.
As for the chicken salad part of this recipe, I used my favorite ingredients; though everyone has personal preferences -- so this part of the recipe should really be based on individual preferences. Still, I highly recommend combining those preferences with the smoky-spicy heat of the Chipotle Lime Sauce! You can regulate the heat of this sauce, up or down, by the amount of reconstituted dried chipotle pepper used. I used just one small pepper, which will give the dish just a mildly pleasant hint of heat that is laced into each bite. Step this up a notch with additional peppers and/or not scrapping the inside of each too thoroughly. Enjoy carb-lessly!
Chipotle Chicken Salad Stuffed Avocadoes
Serves: 2 or 4
Ingredients: Chicken Filling
1 cup Cooked Chicken, cubed
⅓ cup Roma Tomatoes, rough chopped
⅓ cup Chipotle Lime Sauce (see recipe below)
2 large Avocados, halved, seed removed, peeled
Ingredients: Chipotle Lime Sauce
⅔ cup Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
¼ cup Mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Lime Juice
1 small Dried Chipotle Pepper, reconstituted, finely chopped
½ teaspoon Salt
1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
Reconstitute the pepper by soaking in very hot water for 20 minutes, then scraping out the seeds and dice very fine. Then combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and blend thoroughly.
In a medium mixing bowl combine the chicken salad filling ingredients (except the avocados), then add in the chipotle sauce and toss together until all is well coated.
Slice each avocado in half and remove the seed. Using a large tablespoon, carefully scoop each half out of its skin and cut a small piece off the bottom of each so the halves sit flat. Spoon the chicken salad mixture into each avocado cavity until almost overflowing. Best enjoyed slightly chilled.