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Carb Solutions: Macaroni & Cheese

Image of Mock Mac 'n Cheese
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:
  • 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.
Last month this blog reported on not being able to find a satisfactory glycemic substitute for pasta though I was armed with a spiralizer and a pile of assorted vegetables. (See “Spiralized Veggies Noodles). Very ironic in hindsight, considering that a perfect mock macaron I was in plain sight on my own pantry shelf with a Melissa’s label on it! Probably not since childhood, and definitely not since I received the diagnostic ultimatum to start counting carbs, have I been able to revisit the creamy, comfort food pleasure that is the main ingredient of a big bowl of macaroni-n-cheese. That is, until I discovered a jar of Melissa’s Hearts of Palm combined with a good sharp white cheddar.

Hearts of Palm are exactly that – the inner-most core of the stem of a juvenile palm tree. While they definitely have a flavor similar to artichoke hearts, by the time they get to the marketplace, canned and packed in water, they look more like white asparagus stalks without the tops. Each ivory-colored stalk is approximately four inches long and can range in size from a half-inch to about an inch in diameter. Each 4-inch stalk has a very visible center core (the heart of the heart!) that I popped out after slicing the whole stalks into smaller pieces for a more macaroni noodle-like appearance. Since we eat with our eyes as well as our palate, this helped create the illusion of pasta. Still, do not waste these little nuggets of deliciousness; use them in another recipe, like a dip (smashed, mixed with cream cheese and mayo) or sprinkle them on a green salad.

Texture is also a key to any culinary illusion. Hearts of Palm may look delicate, but they hold their shape well during the cooking process. Boiling them to the proper tenderness is critical; my first batch was slightly under cooked (six minutes) so the “noodles” still had a slight crunch. Interestingly, these mock noodles even cooked like real pasta in that they floated to the top of the boiling pot of water when done. I found that the perfect pasta texture was achieved with a ten-minute boil in either salted water or broth.

And I must say that the tasty results of this simple recipe were so close to a true macaroni and cheese experience that my first bite invoked a spontaneous shout of “THAT’S IT!” -- frightening one of my cats right out of the kitchen! However, the comparison of this mock version to the real thing matches up in taste, texture and appearance only. Viva la difference when it comes to the glycemic numbers! An average serving of Mac-n-cheese (Kraft® box) has 55 grams of net carbs with a GI of 64 and a GL of a whopping 33. This Hearts of Palm replica shrinks the net carbs down to 3 grams with a GI of 32 and, most importantly, an insignificant GL score of 3, which totally eliminates any spike in blood sugar! Earlier in the article, I did state that we also eat with our eyes; having said that, I am confident that this “mac-n-cheese” would still pass a blindfold taste test!

Mock Mac 'n Cheese
Servings: 4


3 jars of Melissa’s Hearts of Palm
Large pot of water or chicken broth

Cheese Sauce:
¼ cup butter
3 TBS Cream Cheese
2 oz. chicken broth
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (divided)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Crunchy Topping:
2 TBS butter, softened
¾ cup blanched almond flour

Image of sliced hearts of palm
Slice each Hearts of Palm stalk on a slight diagonal into ½ –inch rounds; the center core of each round will pop out easily. (Retain and use these hearts of the Hearts for some other recipe) Bring a large pot of salted water or chicken broth to a boil, cook the Hearts of Palm rings until fork tender, 5-7s minutes. Drain well, pat dry thoroughly with paper towels, then transfer them to an 8×8 baking dish sprayed with olive oil cooking spray and set aside.
Image of pouring cheese sauce over hearts of palm
Melt the butter over medium heat in a sauce pan. Stir in cream cheese and broth. Simmer and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add in all the Parmesan and 1½ cups of the cheddar, stirring until the cheeses are melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the “noodles” and gently stir to coat.
Image of mixing butter and almon flour
Mix the butter and almond flour together in a small bowl until chunky. Distribute this mixture evenly over the noodles; then top with the remaining ½ cup of cheese. Bake @ 375° for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly hot.
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