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 are all in total control of our own weight.
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. Foods with low glycemic scores convert to sugar much slower than foods with high scores; this enables the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the blood with more sugar than it can process. In fact, eating foods that have a low impact can both 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. One simple way to take control is to start making decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
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, defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
One needs to pay attention to both glycemic scores. While a food may have a high glycemic index number, if very little sugar exists in a typical serving size then its glycemic load can be quite low. For instance, most store-bought whole wheat breads average about 71 GI, but score a low 9 GL based on a serving of one slice.
Since being diagnosed with Diabetes-2 some twenty years ago, these two scores have become the rudder that guides my own meal plans. It is hoped that the dishes featured in this monthly blog will inspire readers to develop the habit of checking the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load scores of a recipe’s main ingredients before preparation. Here is one very basic list that I reference regularly. Low-carb and a baked sweet dessert sound contradictory, but it’s all in the choice of ingredients.
The June harvest kicks off a summer-long assortment of luscious plum varieties that can satisfy a sweet tooth without spiking one’s blood sugar. It is true that most all of the calories in the plum come from carbohydrates in the form of sugar. However, while a plum does have a GI rating of 39, it is also one of those fruits that have a glycemic load score of “0”; meaning the fruit has absolutely no impact on overall blood sugar levels. So, as a sweet hand fruit, the plum is the natural friend to diabetics or anyone watching their carb in-take. That said, sometimes we all crave something a little more special (and decadent!) than a simple fresh fruit snack and that’s where we all get tempted into the world of empty-calorie baked goods. Take heart, contrary to the old saying, it is entirely possible to have one’s cake and eat it too (literally) in a very low-carb way!
The key, glycemically speaking, is knowing the difference between “good” and “bad” flours. A low-carb diet demands that one eliminate the grain mill and all its by-products, meaning milled grain flours. While white flour contains 100% empty calories that spike blood sugar, whole wheat flour is only a slightly better option as itemized in the comparison below. This month’s sweet plum tart recipe uses almond flour enhanced with a little coconut flour. The two innocuous flours even add a bit of sweetness to the overall flavor of this tasty dessert. Nutritionally, a comparison between almond flour versus wheat flour truly demonstrates the phrase “empty calories” with some simple math:
Almond flour vs. Wheat flour (approx. ½ cup)
Almond flour = 21.94 g protein, Wheat flour = 9.71g
Almond flour = 19.44 g carbs, Wheat flour = 76.22 g
Almond flour = 10.4 g fiber, Wheat flour = 2.4 g
Almond flour = 687 mg Potassium, Wheat flour = 149 mg
Almond flour = 275 mg Magnesium, Wheat flour = 25 mg
Almond flour = 216 mg Calcium, Wheat flour = 20 mg
Almond flour = 3.72 mg Iron, Wheat flour = 1.26 mg
Almond flour = glycemic index under 1, Wheat flour = 71!
Coconut Flour is another great option to grain flour. Besides adding a hint of sweetness, coconut flour absorbs and holds water, which keeps baked goods moist. While this flour is very high in fiber, it is also very light, so it does feel “heavy” like a traditional high fiber food, such as a classic bran muffin. Although coconut flour does have a medium glycemic index score of 45, the glycemic load is only 3. In fact, several studies have confirmed that as the coconut content in a diet is increased, the blood sugar response between the diabetic and non-diabetic subjects became nearly identical. Conversely, and amazingly, as the coconut content in the foods were decreased, the diabetic subjects’ blood sugar levels became elevated! So here is a low-calorie path to some baked sweetness that has no impact on blood sugar– the Holy Grail for anyone with a sweet tooth who must (or should) limit carb intake! Enjoy…
Guiltless Plum Tart!
2 medium Eggs
2 Tablespoons Agave Syrup
2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3 Tablespoons Butter
½ cup Almond Flour
¼ cup Coconut
½ teaspoon Sea Salt
½ teaspoon Baking Soda
Ingredients (Plum filling)
1½ pounds Fresh Plums
2 Tablespoons Water
1 Tablespoon Gelatin for the glaze
2 Tablespoons Agave Syrup for the glaze
Preparation – Crust
In a food processor, mix together the eggs, agave and vanilla extract, then add almond flour, baking soda, salt and about half of the coconut flour and mix.
Drop in soft pieces of butter while the processor is running; as the batter becomes a ball, add in rest of the coconut flour.
Place dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and with your hands form an oval-rectangle crust with sides. With a fork, poke holes along the bottom of the crust. Note: this is a rustic tart, crust does not need to be perfectly shaped. Bake at 325 degrees F for 8 minutes; remove and set aside.
Preparation - Plum filling
Slice each plum in half, remove pit, then cut into quarters, then slice quarters thin.
Arrange the plum slices close together within the crust. Mix the glaze in a small bowl by adding water to the gelatin, mix quickly, then add the agave and whisk into a syrup. If too thick, thin with a few drops of water. Apply the glaze generously to the plums with a pastry brush. Bake at 325° for 20 minutes. Let cool. Best served at room temperature or cold.