2011-06-30 / News

Notes from a carb-free life

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

I just finished eating breakfast. I had an omelet with eggs from Windmist Farm, fresh shitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, Italian pecorino cheese studded with truffles, and I finished it off with some truffle oil. On the side I ate several sweet, local strawberries. It was heavenly. The funny part about this is: I am on a diet and have just hit the 10-pound weight-loss mark.

I have not dieted in years, probably because I have been unsuccessful in the past. Also because I have made friends with the extra 15 pounds I carry around and we are mostly at peace with our love-hate relationship. Also, because I am a much kinder and more patient person when I am not on a diet and this is much appreciated by my husband, who doesn’t seem to notice my extra pounds.

Even though the Atkins diet came out decades ago, I never tried it and never really thought about trying it until I hit a major birthday lately and realized that the longer I waited to part ways with my extra weight, the harder it would be to do it. So, I bought the book.

The basic premise of a low-carbohydrate diet is that you stay away from starches and sugars and instead you eat more protein, fats and plenty of non-starchy vegetables. No potatoes, pasta, rice or other grains. No pudding, cake or candy. The basic philosophy is that by eating more protein and fat, the body turns to burning its stored fat for energy instead of using the newly consumed carbohydrates. I’m not a scientist, but it seemed plausible so after reading the book, I began my quest to lose 17 pounds.

A couple of things have happened in the weeks since this process began. One is that I am steadily losing weight – about three pounds a week. Another is that I have been forced to read every label when I shop to look for hidden carbs, so I have become a more informed consumer. Prior to this endeavor I had no idea how many carbs were in various foods I typically eat and I have been amazed to see how many products, like condiments, even cold cuts, contain sugars and starches that significantly bump up the carb count.

When I first started this diet I had a couple of bad days. When we went to the Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankees Stadium I walked the entire circumference of the concourse – twice – to see if I could find something allowable. Not being really familiar with carbs at that point, I had to guess in most cases. But the interesting thing about being in a New York City food venue is that they must post calorie counts alongside each menu item. So I know that a jumbo popcorn is 2,310 calories and a Nathans hot dog logs in at 350. Burgers come in at about 700 calories depending on what is on them. I finally settled on a plain corned beef sandwich (450 calories), but only ate half, and I had a beer (220 calories) just because I was in a ball park and really wanted a cold one. I got in a good, long walk while reading each menu, so I didn’t feel too guilty. The good part of having a bad day is that on the next day I just re-read my allowable foods list and resume the battle.

Being on a low-carb diet has made me a more adventurous cook. I have been experimenting with alternative flours like soy, coconut and flaxseed meal, which are all high in protein and fiber. With the soy flour, I made Korean scallion pancakes. With the coconut flour I have made a couple of different “breads,” that don’t really come close to the wonderful loaves you’d find baking at the Village Hearth, but they do give me the satisfaction of having had a “starch” of some sort. I can also use the alternative flours to dredge chicken or veal cutlets before sautéing them.

The food item that has been the biggest lifesaver is Jell-O. Instead of tea and cookies at night, I have a bowl of sugarless Jell-O, topped with berries, some half and half and maybe some nuts. It really helps beat the cravings that sneak in between dinner and bedtime.

An indispensible reference tool is the carb counter that’s on the Atkins website. It’s over 100 pages of protein, fiber, carb, fat and calorie counts for virtually every common food item. I find myself searching this list at least twice daily.

I have not hit my goal weight yet, but based on the first few weeks I think I am off to a good start.

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