Carb Solution: More Melons!
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 effect 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 bloodstream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based on how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate these calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for people with diabetes who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating low glycemic scores. They also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts has 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 many 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 ten or less is low.
The melon is one of my favorite summertime pleasures, no matter the variety! Refreshingly juicy, sweet yet low in calories, fresh melons are packed with vitamins and nutrients that contribute to a healthy and well-hydrated metabolism. Best of all, with measured management, melons can be incorporated into a low carb diet despite some high GI scores! Here’s an interesting three-melon salad recipe with an Asian accent that, with the help of Melissa’s ready-to-eat Steamed Lentils, is a great no-cook lunch dish for a hot summer’s day!
While the GI scores of all three melons of this dish are relatively high – honeydew (62), cantaloupe (65) and watermelon (72) – these melons are mostly water with just enough fiber to dilute the carbs per serving, so the metabolism can process slowly, resulting in no spike in blood sugar levels. All three melons have an extremely low glycemic load score of just (9) for the sweeter watermelon and a lowly (4) for the other two. Be aware that serving size is the key factor in managing a low carb diet. For instance, note that the measure of watermelon in this recipe is half that of the other two melon varieties to offset the watermelon’s slightly higher carb content and GL score. Carb counters should limit watermelon quantities while still enjoying this fruit. In other words, too much of a good thing can make it a bad thing! Each of these melons also contributes a distinct flavor, texture and health benefits to this dish.
The honeydew melon is a low-sodium, potassium-rich fruit which contributes to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Honeydews contain vital nutrients for bone health, including folate, vitamin K and magnesium. Honeydew melons are also loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants known to support healthy eyes and vision. Be aware that the texture of this variety can change depending on how ripe it is. A ripe honeydew has a rough texture on the outside of the skin, but the fruit itself will be much softer and juicer. Conversely, the outside of an unripe melon tends to be slick and hard to the touch without the same strong aroma that is so very prevalent in a riper fruit.
Cantaloupes have both immediate and potentially long-term health benefits. The variety has much more fiber than honeydew and is packed with B vitamins that help maintain energy within cells and control blood glucose levels. Research has also connected the consumption of cantaloupe to preserving skin and hair health, lowering blood pressure, supporting heart health and preserving aging eyesight. Compared to honeydews, cantaloupes contain more than twice the amount of vitamin C and over 60% more vitamin A! When the cantaloupe reaches a point just beyond peak ripeness, the muskiness of this variety becomes more pronounced, though the sweetness also intensifies. Shop for cantaloupes by touch and smell. That is, check to make sure that the fruit is heavy for its size and firm all over. Then, give the fruit a sniff. Identify a ripe melon with a sweet, musky smell from the rind. If there is no smell, the melon might need to sit on the kitchen counter for a few days at room temperature to finish ripening.
Watermelon contains more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable! Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits found in red or pink fresh produce, like tomatoes and berries. Lycopene supports heart health and has been proven to lower the risk of certain cancers. Additionally, watermelon juice contains the amino acid L-citrulline, which can greatly alleviate muscle soreness in athletes when consumed before strenuous exercise. While the melon is made up of 92% water, water also contains electrolytes that hydrate much more effectively than just water alone. So, forget the Gatorade; try a watermelon slushie for the same rehydrating properties with value-added lycopene to boot! Plus, there’s no better treat than ice-cold watermelon dripping down one’s chin on a scorching hot day— the very essence of summertime pleasures.
Lentils and melons? Hey, it works, and the nice thing about Melissa’s Steamed Lentils is that they are summertime friendly, ready right out of the package without cooking. I also think that adding the lentils makes this dish more of a meal, turning three simple melons into a refreshing cold summer salad with intriguing and complex flavors of the Far East. More summertime pleasure to enjoy!
Summer Melon Salad
½ cantaloupe melon, medium diced
½ honeydew melon, medium diced
¼ small seedless watermelon, medium diced
2-ounces fresh ginger, peeled, minced
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 package Melissa’s Steamed Lentils
2 cups wide-flake unsweetened coconut
1 ¼ cups blanched raw peanuts
Lime zest, from one lime
Trim the rind off the melons, remove any seeds, dice the fruit into 1/2” pieces and transfer to a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the ginger, sesame seeds, lime juice, soy sauce, half the olive oil and ½ tsp salt. (Don’t worry about the sesame seeds floating to top.)
Add the lentil to the melons right out of the package, then pour the ginger mixture over the top and toss to coat completely. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend the coconut, peanuts, lime zest, remaining olive oil and salt in a small bowl, then transfer this mixture to a sauté pan. Toast on medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the coconut and peanuts have turned golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Plating: Just before serving, fold the peanut mixture gently into the melon mixture and stir gently to combine. Serve family-style in a large bowl at room temperature.