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Carb Solutions: Nachos!

By Dennis Linden
Image of Zucchini Nacho Bites
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 maladies have on a person's 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 that control is to decide 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 foods with 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 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 bread, which is made of 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, 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.

May's Cinco de Mayo celebrations always present a low-carb challenge for me, especially when it comes to one of my favorites, Nachos. Unfortunately, the primary ingredient of this dish is extremely high carb, high-calorie corn tortilla chips. So here's a nacho-like small plate alternative that delivers a spicy bean and fresh peppers mixture on a zucchini round, smothered in melted cheese.

Indeed, the traditional crunchy, corny, oily, salty, totally irresistibly addicting tortilla chip is missing from these tiny bites. It is more practical to use a fork instead of fingers to enjoy this dish, considering the texture of baked zucchini. Get over it, carb-counters--your chip days are behind you! One cup of crushed tortilla chips contains 293 calories and 46 grams of carbs! Fresh corn contains a wide variety of vitamins and minerals; however, when corn is processed into chips, many of its nutrients are altered or removed. The tortillas are prepared with enzyme-treated corn flour and additives, such as xanthan gum and cassava starch, to improve their structure. Adding salt and different flavors also increases the calorie count. Worst of all, tortilla chips are loaded with trans-fat, which raises "bad" cholesterol and lowers "good" cholesterol. This is typically done to give foods longer shelf life.

Still, there is no replacing the tortilla chip part of the nacho with all its nutritional faults. Instead, these little bites are meant to be a tasty twist on the original 3-ingredient recipe [created in 1940 in Coahuila, Mexico] of slices of chile peppers sprinkled on chips then covered in melted cheese. Melissa's Steamed Six Bean Medley offers a convenient, ready-to-eat and multi-flavored base combined with a simple mix of diced tomato and two fresh peppers – one for heat / one for color – with a two-cheese blend melted over each. The baked zucchini rounds are a much "safer" vehicle to deliver this tasty combination. There is no sense dwelling on the lack of chips; when one commits to a low carb discipline, the first battle is to accept that "crunchy, corny, oily and salty" anything is now OFF the menu!

Recipe notes: Slice the zucchini at least ¼-inch thick using a mandolin for uniformity. Any thinner and the rounds will lose form when baked, like my first batch. Do not cook the slices through on that first bake either, as the goal is just slightly tender. Remember, zucchini is perfectly edible raw, so the oven time is merely to soften and warm them up. The second bake should be watched closely and only be long enough for the cheese blend to begin bubbling. Also, this recipe uses a very mild Anaheim pepper because I like the peppers flavor. For more heat, use a Poblano or Jalapeño according to personal preferences.

Zucchini Nacho Bites
Makes about 40 chips
Image of Zucchini Nacho Bites
Ingredients

1 large zucchini, sliced ¼" thick (about 40 pieces)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 Anaheim pepper, diced [or any fresh chile pepper of choice]
½ yellow bell pepper, diced
2 packages Melissa's Steamed Six-Bean Medley
¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated small
½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated small

Preparation:
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Lay zucchini slices on a lightly greased baking tray. Lightly brush each zucchini slice with olive oil. Roast zucchini @ 400° for 5 to 8 minutes or until slightly tender.
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While the zucchini is baking, combine the tomato, peppers, and beans in a small mixing bowl; in a separate container, combine the two kinds of cheese. Set both aside.
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Remove zucchini from oven, top each round with the bean mixer and then sprinkle the cheeses over the top. Bake for about 8 minutes or until cheeses has melted. Transfer to a serving plate. Let cool. Enjoy!
Image of Zucchini Nacho Bites

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