Low Carb Diet, even with High-Carb Cravings

Low Carb Diet = austerity and the end of the high-carb good times. Right?

Wrong! please read on: you may remain on your newfound High Fat Low Carb diet, and never look back!

When my son Maimon was a teenage schoolboy, he told his father: “Tati, you know what I heard old age is? That’s when your broad mind and narrow waist switch places”. Not missing a beat, my husband snapped right back at him that his mind was broader than ever, and his waist still much narrower than his, thank you, sorry to break it to you. Fast forward almost twenty years, my husband still remains a tough act to follow, Gd Bless. However I find that since I have joined the club of sixty something, keeping my mind alert is no trouble, but the tiny waist I enjoyed all my life has recently become somewhat harder to locate, let alone close a belt around in the old familiar cozy hole, nonono, not on that hole, next notch please… thank you…. After my perennial and mostly unnecessary prayer to be a size or two smaller, I have come to simply wish to get back to the size I used to be when I unjustly and foolishly called myself fat. That’s right, our preoccupation with bulges were identical everywhere in the world, from Casablanca to Paris to New York, and everywhere in between. That would be, oh, nothing alarming, just a pesky twenty five pounds off.

Twenty five unwanted pounds: Somehow it didn’t look bad enough to warrant pulling out all stops, until just a few weeks ago, when I decided it was making me feel quite uncomfortable and self-conscious, and somewhat cranky;

In short, I really missed my good figure. I had to do something but what?

Although I am the poster child for natural foods and eat no junk whatsoever, it was becoming obvious that for some of the same meals I used to enjoy wholeheartedly with nary a thought to my figure, I would now have to practically swim across the Hudson River to get away with the extra glass of wine, the extra cookie, the second helping. The “solution” many of my friends found (grueling and punishing hours at the gym almost every day) didn’t appeal to me. My decision then was: Thank Gd for Granting me my good health; continue to take my regular long brisk walks, and modify my eating habits. That ought to do it. That brought me to a visit with a trusted nutritionist.

My nutritionist had been great help to my family on several previous occasions, and I had a real appreciation for the fact that her advice was always sensible and took into account one’s lifestyle and personal eating preferences. It doesn’t hurt that her wonderful wholesome good looks are built-in props for the cause she champions.

So imagine my surprise when she suggested the Atkins Induction low carb diet for eight weeks.

What amazed me as much as the mention of the Atkins Diet was the word Induction, which I had rarely heard in a positive context and which vaguely brought to mind some cult or other dubious persuasion. I seemed to remember Dr Atkins and his beleaguered early diet ideas (which were at the antipodes of what I grew up with): A low carb diet, starting at a very low carb diet: High protein, high fat, minimal grain, starch and fruit. But she assured me that Dr Atkins’ Low Carb Diet ideas had real validity, and his low carb diet was much more nutrition-conscious than when it came out, and nowhere near as outrageous and outlandish.

I recently read Dr Mark Hyman’s Best Selling book “Eat Fat Get Thin”, which I highly recommend to all of you.

The key is: Good Fats, Good Carbs

I went a good dozen times over the low carb diet regimen my nutritionist wrote in great detail on a sheet of paper  Any way I spinned it, I was going to be in the doghouse for five weeks, with no end of good protein (so that’s good: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, chicken, lean meat, fish, egg, cheese, yogurt), small portions of salad greens, a paltry 20 grams daily carbs (you reach 20 grams carb in the wink of an eye), no fruit, no grain, no wine. Week 5: the addition of more leafy greens. Week 6: the addition of one piece low glycemic fruit (berries, apple, pear, grapefruit, not-too-ripe banana etc). Week 7: The daily addition of a serving of legume OR a glass of wine. Week 8, and on for good: The daily addition of a serving of gluten-free grain. I grew up in Morocco, dunking hearty hunks of whole grain bread in salads at every single meal, a serving of meat was a drumstick or two meatballs, half a dozen vegetable salads and olives at every meal, no end of fresh and dried fruit, and I might add we were ideally thin and fit, so to say that this regimen I was embarking on sounded totally foreign and vaguely unpopular is the kindest understatement I could conjure.

What seemed gone forever in a low carb diet was all pizza-pasta-dessert lifestyle.

Although I almost never succumb to a white-wheat bread, pizza or pasta diet, and bake everything with spelt, the disappearance of all dessert in any shape or form was the single reason I very nearly gave up the whole plan before I even started it. But instead, good rebel that I am, I decided to take the challenge head-on. I had prided myself all my life with being a tinkerer. What better occasion than this one could I possibly dream of? As always, the kitchen would be my playground and my springboard, using only natural foods, naturally, as always.

There was only one rule I was dead set on never trespassing: I had nothing but bad memories from some friends and relatives’ dieting episodes ranging from boring to annoying to downright tyrannical to their families and entourage, and I was determined to not subject anyone to any such quirks. Y’all, live and let live please! Better yet: I was going to serve everyone for the most part what I was going to make for myself, without hardly anyone noticing any upheaval in my eating habits. The non-dieters could add to their meals all the bread, wine and dessert they want!

Almost half way through my eight-week boot camp low carb diet!

Before I share my goodies with you, I would like to share my reflections about this way of eating, in no particular order.

– In my newly adopted low carb diet I enormously enjoy being more liberal with fat (only good healthy fats) adding a tablespoon cream in my coffee (full-fat has no carbs!) Likewise, a serving of full-fat greek yogurt or cottage cheese; a good juicy steak, half an avocado, a good handful of nuts, and so on. In short: Public enemy number one is now my best friend.

– Cravings go down dramatically. Did I just live through three weeks without a single piece of fruit, a single serving of rice or other grain, a single cookie or scoop of ice cream? Wow! I did find a fix, though, in minute portions, more about this later. Make no mistake: I am counting down the days that get me closer to a bowl of berries or a juicy apple: Sheesh!

– There is no way a person in very modest circumstances could be on this low carb diet. The danger of falling back on Mc Donald’s cheeseburgers (or their kosher counterparts) and other substandard protein meals would be just too great. Likewise, albeit for other no less obvious reasons, vegans and vegetarians need not apply.

– What happens to cholesterol levels when on a low carb diet? Having battled (and won) a life-long battle with inherited high cholesterol, my preoccupation with the remotest chance of a recurrence takes quasi metaphysical proportions.

– Last but not least: Now that carbs are mostly out the window, and fiber is greatly reduced, so… how can I ask politely, …. what does one do about … BMs? Or absence thereof? and about the headaches that come with them? Hang a let-my-people-go-style sticker on my sleeve? Sigh… It does get somewhat better as the low carb diet progresses…

– PS: Oh, just one more thing: I see around me lots of good fit healthy people who eat an amazing variety of foods, the whole gamut, mostly healthy and some not so healthy. What is their secret? Nonono, don’t answer that. Rhetoric question….

So, here are all my ideas, in no particular order.

Ordering in a restaurant when on a low carb diet:

I am doing just great with this so far. At Grill 212,  I ordered Schwarma and salad bar. At Sushi Metsuyan Cedarhurst and Estihana New York I ordered miso soup and sushi rolls sans rice. At Great American Health Bar I ordered a great big green salad with tuna and cottage cheese. At Le Marais I ordered a steak and a big salad. And so on……

Juicing and blending:

Health Ambition is a terrific site and includes great information on juicing, such as this one on health benefits of juicing kale
A high power blender affords you the perfect drink, the complete food, with nothing discarded, making it high in fiber and more filling.

Low Carb Diet Breakfast:

All omelettes and frittatas are good except the ones made with potato or corn filling (so, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, zucchini, artichoke hearts, cheese, tomato, scallions, etc). Green smoothies (have Vitamix, will travel). Pancakes or little bread loaves made with non-carb flours,   Cottage Cheese Salad. Very low carb and very decent tasting bread from the Tortilla Factory and Joseph Pita. Bagels and Lox? I don’t think so! Layer your lox on tomato or cucumber slices, with lots of lemon. Spread peanut or almond butter on apple or pear slices, fill the grooves of celery ribs with smoked fish, etc…. You get my drift.

Visiting my Children:

Their house or mine. Steak and salad. Roast Chicken and Salad. Grilled fish and salad. We’ll be OK! let them have the rice or potatoes, the wine, the sorbet, and double up on what you can have!

Shabbos and anytime: 

This is where I make a killing with all my Moroccan chicken and fish dishes, tajines. This chapter is the crux of this post. Talk about eating low carb in style!

Pasta cravings:

Use my lasagna recipe for guidance, and get creative with low carb noodles, they take a little getting used to, so rinse them very well before tossing them into your sauce. This link also explains how you can use vegetable “shells” for your fillings and sauce. How about using layers of roasted eggplant, zucchini or portobello as “noodles”? 

Dessert Cravings:

 Did I forget to tell you I’m only human? So here’s how I’ve been getting by so far, call it my pêché mignon: a couple squares dark dark 85% chocolate (very low carb); a concoction I make by microwaving a little nut butter, a little coconut milk, a little cocoa, a little stevia or truvia, with a handful toasted seeds or chopped nuts (no recipe really, I store the mixture in a glass jar and take a tablespoon of it when the munchies strike); a fantastic flourless cranberry pumpkin torte, and a fabulous and fabulously nutritious Chia Flax Almond Pudding I just developed.

Making a little carbs go a long way: 

Just some examples and you will get the hang of it: Instead of a big bowl of rice, enjoy a big bowl of vegetable fried rice (a little rice, lots of veggies). Make a grain- or legume-based soup: 2 cups of dry lentils, peas or beans will make you enough soup for 12 to 16 servings, so each ample serving of soup  will have barely about 2 tablespoons of the grain or the legume, the rest being veggies. Likewise, throw a nice handful of cooked rice, quinoa, bean etc…. or some diced cooked potatoes (most of it can be leftover from a side dish) in a large bowl of salad greens, making the salad closer to a main course with the addition of diced fish, meat or cheese (one at a time)

To close this chapter, let me list two very low carb menus I recently served. I will be posting any new low carbs dishes I will come up with.

Indian Shabbos dinner:

Instead of lentils: Mustard greens, turnips, tomato paste, kabocha, zucchini, cauliflower.

Omitting chickpeas, peas and potatoes, substituting lots of spinach. The chutney included in this recipe can easily be made with stevia or truvia.

With roasted baby eggplant

Moroccan Shabbos dinner:

Roasted Kabocha Squash

sans chickpeas (reintroduce the chickpea after the no-carb phase)