Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: The Pancake
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:
A single 5-inch pancake, never mind the traditional “stack” served swimming in a sugar-syrup topping, has a carb count twice that of white bread with an equally high GI score of 96 as well as a whopping 346 GL (over 20 is high!). Needless to say this iconic culinary symbol of Americana, with all its blood-sugar spiking super powers, is something to stay away from for those trying to limit daily carb intake. It can also be downright dangerous for diabetics. On the other hand, there really is nothing quite like the buttery-syrupy-fluffy dough experience of a good stack to start the day! Here’s a pancake recipe with a buttery taste, fluffy texture and even a topping that will satisfy those syrupy cravings, although these ‘cakes have few carbs and a GL score of only 13. A perfect facsimile of a “real” stack only without the sugar spike!
- 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.
The glycemic culprit of the pancake is its white flour base. The one good characteristic of this high-carb, empty calorie ingredient is that it makes for a light and fluffy pancake. So the biggest challenge for the carb counter in search of a glycemicly-friendly ‘cake is to find a healthy, low-carb flour substitute that does not cook into something with the weight of a boat anchor, i.e. the infamous granola bran muffin!
While quinoa can be a great low-carb stand-in for rice in a savory dish, this multi-purposed grain-like seed—with the help of some almond flour and little baking powder—can also be the solution to a low carb pancake experience! Once cooked and cooled, quinoa provides the structural framework, if you will, for the pancake form that the almond flour in this recipe could not form alone. Both these components are “lightweights,” texturally, so they really need each other to produce the pancake’s shape. The combination of the two plus a few extra teaspoons of baking powder is key to this pancake’s “fluff factor.”
Quinoa can trace a heritage to the ancient Aztecs, a foodie culture whose culinary legacy lives on in an array of foods we enjoy today, like corn, chocolate and tamales! The Aztecs considered quinoa a super food that helped energy and stamina. Modern science supports this super food status as quinoa has proven to be rich in fiber, higher in protein than any other grain/seed, gluten free, low on the Glycemic index and heart healthy. It’s also very tasty! It cooks up quickly and has a light texture with a pleasant earthy flavor.
Melissa’s Blue Agave Syrup is used twice in this recipe for sweetness, once in the batter and then again as the primary pancake topping. True, there is no exact substitute for the “maple-ness” of maple syrup; however, try mixing in a little cinnamon powder, then heating up the agave slightly on the stove or in a microwave. I dare say that “cinnamon-ness” trumps maple-ness every time! Agave is a carb counter’s perfect component…twice as sweet as sugar, yet totally glycemic-friendly to the metabolism!
I used apples in the batter mostly because September is apple harvest time, so why not start off the day enjoying a taste of the current season! Also, since the pancake cooks relatively quickly, the apples retain their crunch, which adds another layer of texture and flavor to each bite. However, the fresh fruit options are endless and definitely a cook’s choice.
It should be noted that the yield estimated from the measurements called for in this recipe will obviously depend on pancake size preference. For this feature’s photo presentation of the finished product, the pancakes are quite a bit larger than I like to make them as they are quite rich and filling. The batter is a bit thicker than regular pancake batter; use the back of a spatula to spread the batter for a thinner pancake. I usually make a double batch of batter and refrigerate the leftovers in a tightly sealed container so that I can enjoy a stack a few times per week without fuss. There is one secret to preparing that second day’s stack successfully: mix in a little more skim milk to thin out the batter again as refrigeration tends to dry and thicken the mixture. Enjoy…carb-lessly!
Yield: about 8 large pancakes
2 cups Quinoa (White), cooked and cooled
1½ cups Almond Flour
4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Coarse Salt
2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Nutmeg
2 large Eggs, plus 2 Egg Whites
2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil (Canola)
¾ cup Skim Milk
4 tablespoons Agave Syrup
1 Gala Apple, diced small
In a large mixing bowl, blend the quinoa, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In second smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk, and syrup.
Add egg mixture to flour mixture, mix until smooth, then fold in the diced apples.
Coat a nonstick skillet or griddle with a little oil and heat over medium to medium-low heat. Drop batter in ¼ cup portions onto hot skillet. Batter will be thick; pat each pancake down to thin and flatten to desired size. Cook until bubbles form, 2-3 minutes, and then flip to cook for another 2 more minutes or until golden brown – be aware that this flipped side will cook much faster than side one.
Serve stacked, slathered in butter and agave syrup laced with cinnamon powder, topped with fresh berries of the season!