Carb Solution: Pass [on] the Mashed Potatoes!
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:
For a dedicated carb counter, the Thanksgiving table is traditionally brimming with bowls of tasty temptations that, alas, are on the dietary NO FLY ZONE. That is not to say that many use the holiday season to stray from what even their own doctors have warned should never be on their plates. One of those turkey dinner staples is a heaping serving of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, unfortunately both rate so high on the glycemic charts that not even a special occasion holiday dinner can justify cheating “just this once”. While I understand the test of will that is involved as this dish comes around the table to your plate, but there is an option to resolute abstinence in the face of such a glycemic challenge in the midst of a holiday celebration. Rather than stressing out your metabolism -- that does not know it’s Thanksgiving, so it’s “o.k.” this once [!] -- how about cooking up an equally decadent alternative dish that will have no glycemic impact.
- 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.
Firstly, let’s be clear, there is no substitute for a heaping pile of mashed potatoes dripping with butter and homemade gravy. However, if your metabolism can no longer process that amount of carbs in a sitting, then it is equally true that your mashed potato days are done…get over it. So my approach to every carb solution is to find a delicious alternative – not a substitute. This recipe uses a couple of root crops from the fall harvest that each have a more distinctive flavor and very little glycemic impact compared to the white potato. The dish is then dressed up with some tempting flavor additives that may not make you forget “gravies past”, but at least you will be too involved in this dish’s own unique deliciousness to care!
Rutabagas and parsnips are both very unique and very similar in their glycemic profiles. On the Index both get a very high score of 79, which does not seem too much of an improvement over a potato’s score of 82. However, the rate at which the metabolism processes these two roots [GL] is at a low “7” compared to the potato’s score of 33! One of the biggest factors for this low GL is the fiber content of each, which helps slows digestion and thus enables the body to turn the starch of each root into sugars in a measured fashion. Cooking these two in a pot of chicken broth adds another layer of subtle flavor to this dish. Strain the broth and bay leaf out of the pot when the veggies are done, but retain the garlic to be included in the mash.
I guess one could run the cooked roots through a food processor, whipping them into a pretty good replica of mashed potatoes with the push of a button…as well as lose most of the distinctive flavors that make this dish so much more superior than just a pile of whipped potatoes! Instead, I used a hand mixer/egg-beater, which is probably older than I am, because of this culinary tool’s INEFFECIENCY! That is, I went the food processor route on my first prep of this dish. However, if one mixes all the colors of the rainbow together in one bucket of paint, for instance, the result will be a gray tone; that also describes pretty accurately the taste of that first batch that was whipped-until-muddled in the processor! On the other hand (no pun), the manual mixer created small chunks of the naturally sweet rutabaga and parsnip scattered amidst a granulated mixture that was almost creamy but with a pleasant, more interesting texture.
For an everyday meal, this dish could be served as recounted thus far. However a caramelized Sweet Onion topping, baked golden, is the touch that qualifies this dish for the holiday table. The presentation is not only striking, but the added accent of buttery-sweet onion laces through every bite and really upgrades the flavor profile to a special occasion dish. Now your only decision at this table of temptations is whether you are going to pass this dish around for others to try or let the rest of them settle for those plain ol’ mashed potatoes! Have a happy and glycemic-friendly holiday feast!
Rutabaga-Parsnip Mash Casserole
5 cups chicken broth
2½ lbs. rutabagas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ lbs. parsnips, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
5 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ sticks butter, room temperature, separated
3 large Perfect Sweet onions, thinly sliced rings
Combine all the ingredients, except the butter and onions, in large pot; bring liquid to boil. Then reduce heat, cover and simmer-steam until the two roots are fork tender, about 20 minutes.
Transfer vegetables to a large bowl, along with any broth left in the pot. Add in the stick of butter. Using electric or hand mixer, beat mixture until mashed but still chunky. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mashed vegetables to baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.
Melt remaining half-stick of butter over medium-high heat, add sliced onions and sauté until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until onions are tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread onions evenly over mashed vegetables. [Casserole can be prepared to this point up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate]. To Finish: Bake casserole at 375°F uncovered until heated through and onion topping begins to crisp, about 25 minutes.