Low-Carb Solution: Comfort Food
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.
On a low-carb diet watch and need to know what dishes to avoid? Just do a Google search for “popular comfort foods in U.S.” to get a list of the most scrumptious group of tempting delights imaginable -- from mac ‘n cheese to pizza, dumplings, lasagna, mashed potatoes and gravy, pie ala mode, to name just a few. All unquestionably delicious and all laden with “comforting” empty carbohydrates that will linger in the body’s metabolism a whole lot longer than the memory of the taste of these temptation, which begins to fade as soon as the plate or bowl has been cleaned in order to make room for the next craving.
The winter season is an especially diet-difficult time of the year, when the weather can limit one to indoor activities; cooking and eating being one of those winter indoor sports that we all enjoy. And who can resist the combination of stormy weather out the window, a roaring fire and a warm bowl of something sinfully rich? Since there is no exact substitute for a real mac ‘n cheese or a serving of mom’s lasagna recipe, what I have done is focus on finding dishes that can replicate warm-all-over comfort food gratification using healthier, glycemicly low ingredients. Of course, it really is not as simple as just substituting ingredients; one must also train the palate to respond positively to a different set of flavors. Accept that your pasta days are done. Not limited, but done. Turn your back, mentally, on those empty carb cravings and your taste buds with soon follow, but it does take a bit of resolve to change.
That said, here’s a low-carb recipe with many of the standard comfort food fixings in it that will require absolutely no palate-training to enjoy! A traditional Shepard’s Pie is really the ultimate “meat and potato” meal is one dish; basically, a meat filling covered with a thick layer of seasoned whipped potatoes baked until golden brown. It’s a wonderfully tasty dish, though that layer of very high-carb potato, as in starch just waiting to burst into sugar, puts this one on the DO NOT TOUCH list for all diabetics and anyone on a limited carb discipline.
By replacing the potato component with a seasoned cauliflower purée, both calories and carbs are eliminated almost completely. Add a topping of very sharp white cheddar, then bake to the same golden brown to match the appearance of the original recipe and, I dare say, this dish also replicates that comfort food inner warmth without any collateral damage to one’s blood sugar.
Feel free to tamper with the meat filling according to taste. Subbing in ground lamb would work well too. However, keep the bacon; the ingredient qualifies the dish as a comfort food and who doesn’t like bacon. The green bean layer of the casserole gives the dish a nice contrast in textures and fresh taste that works as a tasty “middleman” between the filling and the cheesy purée topping. Besides, green beans are not only packed with vitamins and nutrients, but the veggie is often paired with bacon--so there’s the excuse you needed to add a little more no-carb bacon!
This dish also freezes nicely, which also makes it the perfect comfort food – poised to be thawed and enjoyed spontaneously when that next big storm hits and fire is going strong. With a total net score of only 5g of carbs per serving, yes Virginia, there is truly such a thing as a guiltless second helping! Enjoy.
Potato-less Shepherd’s Pie
4-6 pieces Bacon, chopped
2 pounds Ground Beef
1 Perfect Sweet Onion, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1 teaspoon Toasted Onion Powder
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Egg, beaten
8 ounces Cheddar Cheese, shredded and divided
2 cups Green Beans
2 cups Cauliflower
3 tablespoons Butter, divided
¼ cup Sour Cream
1 tablespoon Chives, minced
Fry the bacon in a large skillet until crisp; drain and set aside. Then, in the same skillet, brown the hamburger and onion, season with salt and pepper; drain the fat, set aside.
Combine the hamburger, bacon, onion and garlic powders in a large bowl. Check the seasoning for salt and adjust if needed, then stir in the beaten egg and half of the cheese.
Spread this mixture over the bottom of a 9 x 13" baking dish.
Meanwhile, in a medium pot, lightly steam the green beans; drain well, then return the beans to the pot and stir in 1 tablespoon of butter. Season to taste with salt. Now cover the meat mixture with a layer of green beans.
Cook the cauliflower 10-12 minutes until very tender; drain well. Place the cauliflower, 2 tablespoons butter and the sour cream in a food processor. Purée until smooth. Add the chives and pulse to blend. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, then spread the purée evenly over the green beans.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake at 350º for 35 minutes, until hot and bubbly.