Gaining Weight on PointsPlus: Part 2

When I first began this blog, Weight Watchers had just shifted to the new PointsPlus (PP) system. Like many of you, I had gone from 22 daily points + 35 weekly bonus to 29 daily points + 49 weekly bonus. Theoretically, the results should have been equal because the new PP program gave a higher point-value to products that are heavy in carbs.

I had been very disappointed (see Part 1) because my weight loss stopped and I started gaining! I was advised by my leader to cut back on fruit which was now free. Theoretically, this should have made a difference.

But it didn’t. I didn’t gain any more weight, true, but I wasn’t losing weight either.

For a while I went back to the old Points program, but I could see that my paper calculator wasn’t going to last forever, and I was going to have to make peace with the new program.

I decided to track my food and point intake on both programs for a week. To ensure equality between both programs, I also gave a point-value to fruit (see Points Values of Fruits on PointsPlus). The result was “six of one, half-a-dozen of the other.” I was within the total point count on both programs.

So I moved myself and the blog into the PP era, started to really exercise, watched my fruit intake, and figured everything would be fine.

It wasn’t. I’ve been hovering around the same weight for the past two months or so.

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The Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Dieter’s Fabulous Bean Bake!

Bean bakes are the best thing to come my way, foodwise, as a gluten-free, dairy-free dieter. Seriously. They’re delicious and, most amazingly, doesn’t have a hint of beans.

Interior: Banana-Coconut Bean Cake

Taste is important but it isn’t the best part of the story. A bean bake has a cake-like texture because it rises as it cooks. The result is that the bean bake tricks my body. I feel as if I’m eating carbs—thus satisfying my carb cravings—when what I’m actually eating is primarily protein, very nutritious, and filling, despite being low in calories.

Now, that’s fabulous!

And there’s more:

  • Bean bakes are versatile. First, they can be sweet (with a fruit) or savoury (with a vegetable), depending on what’s in your kitchen. Secondly, whether sweet or savoury, you can eat a slice at breakfast or as a snack, a side dish at lunch or dinner or, in the case of a sweet bean bake, a dessert.
  • Bean bakes are extremely easy to make. You put all the ingredients in a food processor, mix, and then bake.
  • Bean bakes are inexpensive. Two cups of white navy beans, three eggs, one cup of fruit or vegetable, maybe one-half cup of cheese, some spices—compare the price of that with eight servings of meat.
  • Bean bakes get along with my digestive tract. In addition to diagnosing gluten-sensitivity, my doctor told me I had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). While many foods/dishes can upset me—for example, a daily intake of too many flour-baked products (no matter how gluten-free). Bean bakes, on the other hand, leave the irritable beast slumbering away.
  • Bean bakes and the spouse are happy together. I consider my husband as the acid test of anything I make, particularly in this case because he’s far fussier eater than I am. My guarantee: if he likes bean bakes, other people will too.

To accommodate this new recipe and its numerous variations, I have created a new blog, The Bean Bake Blog.

And keep in mind…

1) White navy beans top the charts for fiber. For more information about these beans, check out:

2) Taste tip: Bean cakes are more flavourful the day after cooking. Also, savoury bean bakes taste best warm; sweet bean bakes taste best cold.

3) Calorie calculation: Cauliflower Bean Bake with Cheese, Dill, and Olive

Total calories:

  • Entire bean bake: 1,010
  • Per 1/8 serving: 126.25

27 Substitutes for Gluten-Free Eating

This article (slightly retitled here), written by Kate Morin and on the The Greatist web site, caught my eye.  While some of the tips were old hat to me, others were new and welcome.  I decided to share it with you and have added my own edits, comments, and links in italics.

1. Corn tortillas for sandwich bread
Cold cuts and deli cheese just aren’t the same unless they’re sandwiched between something starchy. When gluten-free bread isn’t an option (or if trying to watch the carbs and calories), corn tortillas are a great stand-in. Corn tortilla sandwiches are great. My fave is turkey/chicken with lettuce, a dill pickle slice, a thin slice of Manchego (sheep cheese), lettuce, and a little bit of mustard.  Caveat: the tortillas are best when fresh; otherwise they have a tendency to rip and crumble.

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Thanks to Roasted Vegetables, I Didn’t Gain A Pound!

This week, I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting in almost two months.  Fear lay heavily on my soul.  I’d been careful with food when we were away, but even so…I hadn’t followed any particular diet or tracked what I was eating.

And there’s a confession too: I had a love affair with pistachio nuts while in Tucson.  And Safeway carried these cinnamon sugar rice cakes we don’t get in Ottawa…

So imagine my delight and that of my WW leader to discover that I’d not gained a pound.  Clearly, I’m terrific at maintaining my weight…now to take off 20 more pounds, but that is the subject of another post.

I attribute this weight maintenance to three things: I did a lot of walking; we didn’t eat out very often; I made roasted vegetables so that we always had some for every dinner, even if we had salad as a side dish; AND I ate the roasted vegetables, of which I always made a large quantity, in place of potatoes or rice.

I didn’t plan this strategy in advance.  I ended up roasting vegetables because our rented apartment had no equipment for steaming vegetables but did have two shallow casserole dishes with covers.  The result was that I cooked vegetables that were on sale or looked good.

This is what I learned from the experience, above and beyond what I wrote in my first post about roasted vegetables (DIY Roasted Vegetable Medley):

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Diet Vigilance: Away from Home

How hard is it to maintain a low-calorie, gluten-free, and dairy-free diet when you’re traveling and vacationing? I’d be lying to you if I said diet vigilance was easy. During the last month, the spouse and I travelled to Florida for a family birthday and have spent a week in Tucson as part of a one-month vacation stay. For the latter we have rented a furnished apartment-condo with a not badly equipped kitchen.

I’ve already written about the ways that I coped with air travel. But now I’m in a place where I can cook, but really want a vacation from that as well. So, what to do? Here are some of my strategies:

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Travelling #gf, #dairy-free, and #WW

I’m back from a four-day trip to West Palm Beach, Florida, for a family birthday.  Before I went, I researched gf restaurants.  I had a list of possibilities.  Here are the results. 

One restaurant wasn’t gf at all.  Two restaurants had gf menus.  What is a gf menu?  A reduced version of the regular menu in which meals that already come without wheat are included.  Not one gf restaurant made or carried any gf bread, buns, or desserts.  Moreover, no restaurant carried soy milk or alternative milk products such as ice cream made with coconut milk.  And as for dieting, even egg-white-only omelets are sautéed in way too much oil.  Continue reading

Erythritol as a Sweetener

As I’ve mentioned in some earlier posts, I’ve started to use erythritol as a sweetener in those recipes where the aftertaste of an artificial sugar such as Splenda would affect the flavour.  I use it sparingly because erythritol is more expensive than sugar and Splenda.

We have access to two brands of pure erythritol in Canada: Now Foods and Organic Zero.  (Erythritol is also found in the sweetener brand, Truvia; however, it is mixed with stevia which I do not discuss here.)

So…what is erythritol?  Here is what I’ve found out through research.*


  1. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol from a family of sweetening agents also known as “polyols” that includes xylitol, mannitol, lactitol, and sorbitol.  These polyols occur naturally in small amounts in fruits and vegetables. Apparently, the only reason these sugars are called “sugar alcohols” is because the molecular structure resembles that of regular alcohol.
  2. Erythritol can be found in mushrooms, fruits such as pears, melons and grapes, and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce, and cheese.
  3. Erythritol, when developed as a sweetener, is not considered artificial because it is made through the fermentation of the sugars found naturally in corn.
  4. Erythritol has the bulk, look, and texture of refined white sugar, but it is only 60–70% as sweet.
  5. Erythritol has been approved for use as a food additive in Canada, the United States, and throughout much of the world.


Virtually non-caloric: Erythritol has a caloric value of 0.2 kilocalories per gram (95% less than sugar and other carbohydrates).  Under labelling regulations in Canada and the United States, it is able to be listed as having 0 calories.

Non-glycemic: Erythritol does not raise blood sugar (plasma glucose or insulin levels); this makes it suitable for people who are diabetic or prediabetic.

More digestable than the other sugar alcohols: More than 90% of erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine so minimal amounts reach the large intestine.  It is in this part of the digestive tract where other sugar alcohols cause diarrhea, bloating, gas, and rumbling.

Does not cause tooth decay: Erythritol, like other polyols, is resistant to metabolism by oral bacteria which break down sugars and starches to produce acids which may lead to tooth enamel loss and cavity formation.


Difficulties when used in baking: Sugar melts at 366° F; erythritol, at 250° F. This means that you will not be able to use erythritol for most baked products, such as cakes, cookies, and pies, that cook at high temperatures. I learned this the hard way while trying to make GF angel food cake with erythritol. At 350° F, a temperature that sugar would handle with ease, the erythritol boiled, bubbled over, and burnt my pan and stove.

Individual tolerance varies: Although erythritol is more digestable than the other sugar alcohols, every person has a different level of sensitivity.  Some sources suggest that it shouldn’t be used by people with irritable bowel syndrome. Since I have this condition but handle erythritol well, I suggest trying a small amount to see whether you will tolerate it.

Excessive consumption: The digestability of erythritol may be affected by the amount consumed at any one time.  If it is eaten in a quantity beyond one’s individual tolerance, it can cause diarrhea.

Long-term safety:  Erythritol has not been sold to the public as a sweetener until recently, and its use has a sweetener has not be studied in any intensive way.  It is going to take years to discover the long-term effects of erythritol, if there are any.


Is a Calorie Just a Calorie?

The Washington Post had a very interesting article yesterday about weight gain and loss, “Potatoes Bad, Nuts Good for Staying Slim, Harvard Study Finds.” This article discusses a 20-year research project that followed more than 120,000 U.S. men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s for four-year intervals to see how changes in what they ate, drank, and did affected their weight.

Programs like Weight Watchers assume that “a calorie is a calorie” no matter where it comes from, but this study suggests that this assumption isn’t accurate.  The article has a terrific graphic that demonstrates the impact of an additional serving of a variety of foods, including meats, potatoes, vegetables, dairy, diet soda, fruit juice, etc. 

Here is a highlight of results that interested me as a dieter.  Please note that the study refers to additional and extra servings above and beyond what the researchers considered as a daily portion.  What “daily” constituted was not stated in the article; however, you can go to the USDA website for the new, 2011 food guidelines, “Choose My Plate,” and search a food to find out what is appropriate for a person of your age.

Potatoes: Every additional serving of potatoes that people added to their regular diet each day made them gain an average of 3.35 pounds over the four years.  The type of potato was important. Every order of french fries put on 3.35 pounds; a snack of potato chips added 1.69. But even each helping of boiled, baked or mashed potatoes contributed a little more than a half-pound…Although the study did not evaluate why potatoes would be particularly fattening, other research shows that starches and refined carbohydrates such as potatoes cause blood sugar and insulin to surge, which makes people feel less satisfied and eat more as a result.

Refined Grains: Every extra serving of refined grains, such as white bread, added 0.39 pounds over four years — almost as much as indulging in some sweets or desserts.

Milk: The difference between the weight gain/loss of people who drank an additional serving of low-fat milk versus those who drank whole-fat milk was negligible over the four-year period.

Fruits and Vegetables: Every added serving prevented between a quarter- and a half-pound gain over four years.

Nuts: Every extra serving prevented more than a half-pound of weight gain over four years.

Yogurt: Every additional serving kept off nearly a pound over four years.  Researchers speculate that this may be because of subtle shifts of microbes in the digestive tract, or perhaps because people who eat more yogurt also tend to do other healthy things. 

Many thanks to friend and reader, Sharon, for bringing my attention to this article.

To Chia or Not to Chia: This is the Seed/Nut Question

A word about seeds and nuts for food refashionistas

I visit many food blogs when I research recipes.  Many of the blogs that promote healthy eating and/or vegetarian/vegan lifestyles include seeds and nuts in their recipes: chia seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds or flaxseed meal, almonds or almond flour, pecans, coconut, and so on.  In fact, many recipes that appear to be low-calorie and appropriate for dieters include small amounts of such ingredients.

From one health standpoint, the use of these foods is very sensible.  Seeds and nuts are rich in protein and often high in fiber and other important minerals.  Here, for example, is a description of chia seeds from which provides nutritional data and analysis of different foods: This food is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Calcium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber and Manganese.  And this doesn’t begin to mention the delicious taste and crunchy texture that these ingredients can bring to a dish.

So, why not throw a tablespoon or two of chia seeds, flax, coconut, or nuts into a recipe if you can?  After all, we all want to eat “healthy,” don’t we? There is one important reason for people who are dieting.  All seeds and nuts contain very high levels of oil in comparison to their quantity.  One ounce (two tablespoons) of chia seeds, for example contains 9 grams of fat!  But it’s healthy fat, you say.  Unfortunately, fat is fat when it comes to calories.  For Weight Watchers, 2  tablespoons of chia seeds translates into 3 points in both the Points and PointsPlus plans.  That can make a dint in your daily plan.

This doesn’t mean avoiding seeds and nuts, but it does mean being extremely careful about their use.  For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, I suggest using 1 teaspoon.  The result would be a Weight Watcher value of .5 points instead of 3 points.  I generally either cut out, replace, and/or reduce the amount of these ingredients in any recipe I’m re-fashioning.

To help you decide how much of these ingredients you should use, I’ve calculated the point-values of seed-and-nut ingredients that are not included in the Weight Watcher booklets.  If I’ve left any out, please let me know.

  • Almond meal flour (¼ cup): Points 4; PointsPlus 5
  • Chia seeds (2 tbsp.): Points 3; PointsPlus 3
  • Coconut, sweetened (2 tbsp.): Points 2; PointsPlus 2
  • Coconut, unsweetened (2 tbsp.): Points 2.5; PointsPlus 2.5
  • Flaxseed meal (2 tbsp.): Points 1; PointsPlus 2
  • Poppy seeds (2 tbsp.): Points 1; PointsPlus 1
  • Quinoa flakes (¼ cup): Points 2.5; PointsPlus 3

The Sugar Wars

Recently, I’ve had my consciousness raised about sugar.  It started with an April 13 article in the New York Times Magazine, entitled, “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes.  This article examined the current science around refined sugar use, metabolism, obesity, and disease, and the author concluded that, while there was no one answer to this question because we are complex biological beings, refined sugar should definitely be used in moderation.

I then had Shirley of the Gluten-Free Easily blog suggest to me that not all natural sweeteners spike blood glucose the way refined sugars do (the diabetic problem).  After some research I learned that I had been abysmally ignorant about the glycemic indexes (GI) of sugar alternatives. Claire, I said to myself, wake up and smell the sweeteners! 

Then I read a very useful post by Karina of the Gluten-Free Goddess blog about alternatives to refined sugars—a post that was followed by numerous comments that revealed a great deal of worry, upset, and confusion about all kinds of sugar use, including artificial sugars. I was struck by the number of people who had gone off artificial sugars and felt better.

So…where does all of this leave a gluten-sensitive, lactose intolerant, potentially diabetic dieter? 

First, the facts about refined sugar.  It is clear that refined sugar in our society is absolutely harmful when its use is measured in the aggregate. More and more folks are too heavy, if not obese, and many of those pounds are connected to caloric intake from sugar.  And obesity is 100% linked to diabetes, heart disease, other illnesses, and mortality.

Secondly, the facts about artificial sugars, particularly Splenda.  The comments on the Gluten-Free Goddess post suggest mixed physical reactions.  Some people have no problems using artificial sugar while others clearly do.  Are there other facts? A Google search shows lots of controversy as well as scientific studies that demonstrate that Splenda is not harmful. 

But I’ve noticed that science doesn’t always get it right. Do you remember the egg flip-flops?  “Eggs are good for you—no, eggs are bad for you—wait, eggs are now good for you again.” The more accurate scientific tools get, the more the nutritional experts can measure and discover new facts that can change earlier conclusions. Also, it can take years to find out results from the use of any substance—be it a food or drug.  It’s all very frustrating from a civilian point of view.

Then there are the words: natural, processed, and chemical, which swirl around us but don’t quite get pinned down. I know I get a warm, fuzzy feeling about the word natural and a not-so-nice feeling about the words processed and chemical

But I also know that natural isn’t always better. We could say that North Americans lived “more naturally” in 1900, but the average age of mortality then was 47.  Nor are processed or chemical always bad.  How many of us wouldn’t cook because it processes our food and alters its chemicals?  Or not take medications which are the result of chemical processes?

It’s a conundrum, rolled up in an enigma, and packaged like a puzzle.

The majority of people in North America are not plagued by the reactions to foods that affect those of us in the gluten-free community.  Are we just oddities then?  No, I think we’re like the canary in the coal mine.  We’re the indication to the rest of the world that there is something going on in our society and environment that isn’t good for the human gut.

Maybe it’s pollution or plastics or antibiotics or too much processed food or not enough protection against ozone or  ________. (Put in your theory.)  Or, most likely, there isn’t one simple answer.

So…what can a person do?  My solution: listen to my body, live and eat with moderation, and try to make the best decisions possible for myself, given available knowledge.

Because I have the metabolism of a snail on tranquillizers, I gain weight easily and lose it with difficulty. One of my decisions, which affects this blog, is that any true sweetener—be it brown sugar, stevia, dates, raisins, whatever—is more “toxic” for me than artificial sugar because it is high in calories. To be blunt: I’m more likely to die from being overweight than from eating artificial sugars.  

Splenda, which I tolerate well, enables me to eat, albeit sparingly, baked products that would otherwise be verboten.  A variety of foods and a feeling that I am not being completely deprived enable me to stick to a successful diet regime.  That regime is essential to my health.

So, I can’t take artificial sugar out of my recipes; otherwise, this blog would simply no longer be true to myself.  Nor would it be valid for those who share my health problems.

It’s a free world. 

But you’re not me, and may make decisions that are different than mine.  If you decide not to use artificial sugar, you can substitute any real sweetener that you prefer in this blog’s recipes.  I use Splenda which is a one-to-one substitute for regular sugar.  Just remember that every tablespoon of sugar or alternative sweetener is 1 point on both the Points and PointsPlus Weight Watcher plans, and add the additional point(s) to the per serving point values.

Yours deep in the puzzle,