GF Dieters: Please Be Cautious with this Cookbook!

Recently, I checked The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking by Peter Reinhart and Denene Wallace out of the library. It is a newly published cookbook, and the title and claim—“80 low-carb recipes that offer solutions for celiac disease, diabetes, and weight loss”—sounded as if its recipes would be perfect for me and many of the readers of this blog.

The reality, however, doesn’t live up to the hyperbole, particularly if viewed through a Weight Watchers lens. If you’re a gluten-free dieter or a person with diabetic issues who has to keep your weight down, caution is in order. Here’s why.

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How to Blend Low-Calorie, Gluten-Free Flours/Starches

Recently, I got a reader comment that surprised me.

Katherine from the Kat’s Health Corner blog was remarking on my Pumpkin Currant Muffins and wrote, “I love how you combined the chickpea and quinoa flours — how creative!” What surprised me was the praise. (But thank you, Katherine, thank you!)

The truth is I’m driven, not so much by the desire to be creative, but by the search for low-calorie GF flour/starch blends for baking.

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Point Values for Commonly Used Seeds

Back in June, 2011, I started realizing that seeds could carve a deep hole in my daily WW points. I knew about the high fats in nuts, but I wasn’t sure about seeds. This was during the height of the chia seed craze, and they seemed to be in every recipe I looked at.

Research on chia seeds confirmed my worst suspicions: 2 tbsps. = 3 points (see note at bottom) because of the high quantity of fat in the seeds. True, chia seeds contain healthy fat but, unfortunately, WW doesn’t distinguish between good and bad fats when assigning point values. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be sprinkling chia, or any other, seeds around with happy abandon.

I wrote about the seed problem in what has turned out to be the 2nd most popular post on this blog, To Chia or Not to Chia: This is the Seed/Nut Question. I attribute part of this popularity to the fact that the WW Pocket Guide doesn’t include point information on seeds—nuts, yes; seeds, no.

But I hadn’t really delved into all the seeds or provided an easy basis for comparisons among the seeds. My remedy is a “Point Values of Commonly Used Seeds” chart which uses 1 tbsp. as the common quantity.

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Thanksgiving: A Dieter’s Suggestions

Arghhh…Thanksgiving, the dinner that just keeps on giving—weight-wise that is. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie…and the list goes on.

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and, as our Weight Watcher leader brought us through techniques for diet-managing the bounty of food, I began to think about my own strategies.

In our house, the spouse handles most of Thanksgiving. That is, he makes the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy and is not—repeat, is not—open to diet suggestions. Daughters bring salads and desserts.

I’ll have roast vegetables, probably Brussel sprouts, to ensure there’s lots for me to eat. But here are some other dishes I’ll make to keep my Thanksgiving calories down.

Dieter’s Spiced Cranberry Relish

Dieter’s Spiced Cranberry Relish: Love cranberry sauce? Don’t waste your valuable points on the canned stuff. This relish, made with cranberries, oranges, spices, and artificial sweetener, is easy to make, delicious, and 0 points!

Sweet Potato Bean Bake with Currants

Sweet Potato Bean Bake with Currants: If you can, try to avoid the white mashed potatoes and gravy; it’s just one big point-fest. This dish, on the other hand, provides protein, carbs, and great taste for only 3 points per serving. (Think 1/8 of a pie–see photo for Crustless Pumpkin Pie.) BTW, this is my favourite bean bake, and I often have a pan of it in my fridge. Bean bakes will keep for 4-5 days when refrigerated.

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Crustless Pumpkin Pie: At the WW meeting, the leader passed around a recipe for a “crustless pumpkin pie.” My hopes lifted but then dashed. The recipe called for evaporated milk, and I don’t know how to replicate that with soy or another alternative milk. So…what will I substitute? Pumpkin “Pie” Bean Bake, that’s what! It looks like pumpkin pie, tastes like pumpkin pie, and is creamy like pumpkin pie. And even better? WW value: 2 points per serving unless you add coffee liqueur (optional).

Can Our Taste Buds Have Orgasms?

This question begins with two stories: one about cauliflower and the other about an omelette.

First story: Being the harvest season, the cauliflowers are fresh and abundant. I microwave a head and serve it without adornment for dinner. The flavour is the essence of “cauliflowerness”: light, slightly sweet, delicious. I rhapsodize about it to the spouse.

He says, “It tastes like cauliflower.”

“But,” I remonstrate with him, “the taste is delicate and lovely.”

And he replies, “It still just tastes like cauliflower.”

Second story: We’re in a restaurant and both the spouse and I order omelettes. His is a cheese omelette; mine, plain. But the waiter, by mistake, gives me the the wrong omelette. Not realizing what has happened and not really looking to check, I take a large forkful, bite down, and…

POW! An intense and incredibly pleasur-able, salty, cheese-y taste explodes in my mouth. The thrill of it suffuses through my body. I swear I can feel it in my toes.

And not only am I hit hard, I want more of it of that creamy, salty, and rich flavour. Boy, do I want more. It takes all I have to push the dish over to the spouse and say, “This is yours.”

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Diet Danger! Does This Happen to You?

Yesterday I returned from a lovely five-day trip in NYC with my grandson Alex. We stayed with wonderful friends, Tom and Linda. Linda was my best friend from high school—do not ask how many years back that relationship goes. Suffice it to say: in the second half of the previous century.

Alex and I walked miles, travelled subways, investigated museums, etc. and so forth. I did not eat gluten or dairy, and I tried my best to stay on my diet by sticking with protein and vegetables/fruits.

You and I could quibble over my choice of honeyed peanuts instead of plain peanuts, but if I told you that I succumbed while waiting for a flight home that was three hours late, I’m sure you’d understand.

In other words, the Angel of Diets had taken generally good care of me. I had a piece of cake here and some coconut ice cream there, but my activity level was also sky-high. I figured that I hadn’t gotten off the diet track in any serious way.

But what is it they say about good intentions?

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No Weight Loss? Have You Had Your Thyroid Checked Lately?

This is a cautionary tale. It’s about the thyroid, a gland that controls your metabolism and can cause your weight-loss program to seemingly self-destruct.

I tell this story because it happened to me, and I should have known better because I’ve had thyroid disease for almost 20 years.

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Point Values of Gluten-Free Flours, Starches, and Ground Meals

This post replaces last year’s “Point Values of Gluten-Free Flours.” Why and what’s new?

  • More flours: I’m finding new GF flours in my own small corner of the world, and you’re probably seeing them too.  The main change here is the growing variety of bean flours, which is welcome to dieters because they are lower in calories and higher in proteins than other flours.
  • No descriptors: I’ve dropped the brief descriptions of the flours. I was never entirely comfortable with them because I hadn’t used all the flours and was relying on other people’s information and taste buds. Moreover, as more people require GF diets, the amount of information on the Internet increases exponentially. Just google an ingredient, and you’ll find out a lot more information than I could provide in the space I had.
  • Three lists instead of one list: Gluten-free bakers have to create blends of ingredients to replace wheat flour because no one flour, even with xanthan or guar gum, can work in all recipes. Essentially, we pick and choose among three types of ingredients: flours, starches, and ground meals. Having three lists reflects this reality.
  • Elimination of the Points Program values: Last year, this time, Weight Watchers was just switching programs so I had both. Now I have just the point values from the PointsPlus Program.

New to GF baking? I’m sure the whole GF “scene” is just plain daunting. That’s certainly where I was a year ago.

However, once you learn the ropes, you will find yourself mixing and matching ingredients based on the type of baking you’re doing, the tastes and textures you’re looking for, the nutrients you want and, if you’re dieting, the point value of the flour.  (For non-Weight Watchers: one point is roughly 50 calories.)

Some suggestions for getting started:

Low-Calorie Snacks

Snacks and dieting…dieting and snacks. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, these are two things that don’t go well together.

In my pre-diet days, I loved the oh-so-easy snacks. I’d just grab something from the fridge or cupboard that would quickly satisfy my carb or salt cravings.

Snacks on a diet don’t have that happy-go-lucky quality. For me, snacks now require careful planning from the grocery store right up to the finished product. Even a simple nosh like an apple requires making sure I always have apples in the house.

But this post isn’t about the simple snacks. I don’t know about you, but sometimes an apple, a handful of carrots, or a bowl of popcorn (how to make your own in the microwave, oil-free) just won’t cut it. I want a snack more interesting in taste and texture that is also

  • Low in calories, i.e., has little or no fat. (Sugar isn’t a problem for me; I use artificial sweetener.)
  • Healthful because it has nutritious ingredients.
  • Filling so that I don’t get hungry again so quickly.
  • 2 Weight Watcher (WW) points or less so it doesn’t overwhelm my daily count. (Roughly 100 calories.)

To that end, I am now experimenting with snack recipes, mine and others’, with the express purpose of keeping the calorie count down. As part of this effort, I decided to compile a list of all my low-calorie recipes to better understand how to replace empty calories with good ones. I thought you’d find this list helpful.

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