Carb Solution: Thanksgiving Candied Yams
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as 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 disorders have on overall mental well-being and happiness. However, diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some regular exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our weight. One easy way to start taking control is to choose the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [G.I.] and glycemic load [G.L.].
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 foods with 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 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 bread, made with processed white flour, is 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.
• On the other hand, the glycemic load focuses on how many digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
The holidays are full of many “just-this-one-time” glycemic temptations that are so very hard to pass up in the name of good cheer. However, it is best to find a few healthy replica dishes so that you can enjoy those once-a-year culinary pleasures without the carbs. Like Thanksgiving’s classic candied yams, dripping with a brown sugar-butter sauce…NOT! At least not anymore! Here’s a recipe that includes a formula for a harmless brown sugar substitute that, combined with a few key spices, captures the expected flavor of candied yams without all the glycemic collateral damage.
Since the potato is a tuber that carb counters must avoid, it may seem surprising that yams do not have the same glycemic baggage. When compared to regular white potatoes, yams have a higher fiber content. Fiber slows and controls the rate that our body processes carbs, contributing to a consistent blood sugar level, i.e., no spikes. Oddly, unlike many vegetables, boiling may help retain most of the antioxidant power of yams compared to roasting and steaming. Microscopically, boiling helps thin the cell walls and gelatinize the starch, which enhances the availability of yam’s nutrients. In fact, the glycemic index of boiled yams is about half that of baking or roasting them.
Using Melissa’s flavorful collection of baby yams; Garnet, Jewel and Japanese – adds a fun twist to the traditional candied recipe by providing some variation in color, texture and flavor to the dish. Baby Jewel yams have a deep orange moist interior that is quite firm and slightly sweet wrapped in copper-colored skin. The sweeter Baby Garnet yam has an orange-yellow interior with more water content than the Jewel, encased in a light red-purple colored skin. Baby Japanese yams are quite sweet with a creamy white interior and a nutty flavor that tastes like roasted chestnuts. The texture is drier, firmer, and starchier than the other red-colored skin varieties.
The key ingredient in this low-carb recipe is a brown sugar substitute called Erythritol, which I combined with just a few teaspoons of maple extract – easy peasy! Erythritol is a food sweetner made by fermenting wheat or corn starch. The body does not absorb Erythritol; instead, it passes through the digestive tract chemically unchanged. Erythritol has no calories or carbs and is approximately eighty percent as sweet as processed sugar. Note: Use in moderation as Erythritol [sugar alcohol] can cause digestive stress, gas, etc. Still, this recipe only calls for four tablespoons— making it possible for a carb counter to utter a phrase at the Thanksgiving table probably not spoken in a very long time: “Please pass the candied yams!”
Sugarless Candied Yams
1 pound Melissa’s Baby Garnet yams, boiled in skin until tender / refrigerate overnight
1 pound Melissa’s Baby Jewel yams, boiled in skin until tender / refrigerate overnight
1 pound Melissa’s Baby Japanese yams, boiled in skin until tender / refrigerate overnight
4 tablespoons brown sugar substitute*
1 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Ground cloves to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup raisins
*To make the brown sugar substitute combine 1 cup erythritol (or preferred sugar substitute) with 1 teaspoon of maple extract (like Mapline brand).
Once cooked yams have rested overnight, peel and slice into 1-inch-thick pieces.
In a saucepan, mix the brown sugar substitute mixture, orange juice, butter and spices together, then heat slowly until bubbling thick.
Place the sliced yams in a baking dish, sprinkle with raisins and pour the sauce over the yams. Cover the baking dish, bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, remove the cover, then bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.