I thought we were eating healthy, Mediterranean style. But with some Googling and nutritional counsel, I learned otherwise, based on the challenge at hand. I had to re-engineer a way of cooking, eating and provisioning to get the metabolics in line. Then, we could moderate.
Here's what had to be subtracted from the menu: The "whites"-- refined white sugar, flour, pasta, potatoes and rice. Corn products. High-fat cheese. Meats -- including those favorite Italian sausages, proscuitto, pepperoni. Fats, except for extra virgin olive oil. Fruit juices. Processed foods and condiments w/ sugar and white flours. Ice cream, crackers and cookies, needless to say. Eggs were permitted in small amounts, preferably egg whites.
A daunting challenge, to say the least. Where does one start?
First, you have to purge the pantry. Remove all of the forbidden foods. Then you have to scrutinize the ingredients of what remains. Sugar was lurking unexpectedly in many items. Move on to the refrigerator and freezer.
My goal was to meet the dietary restrictions -- with an array of delicious, flavorful, new and exciting menu items.
Here's what to add for the healthy eating arsenal:
- Fresh herbs make a difference. We have bay leaves, rosemary, scallions and basil in a little kitchen garden. Then, stock up on an array of spices, peppers and natural broth cubes.
- Add some exotic rices. Brown, wild, red/mahogany and pre-mixed blends for variety. The Texmati brand is excellent and the whole grain Royal Blend is outstanding featuring brown and wild rice with soft wheat and rye.
- Next, add more variety with grains. Organic pearled barley is clean-tasting, light and will quickly make you forget your passion for pasta. Farro is a new discovery, an ancient form of wheat popular in Italy. More robust texture than barley. Quinoa is also showing up in many stores and is popular with gluten-free eaters.
- Loving legumes is also important to the veggiemania program. Here are my favorites: Italian cannellini beans, black beans, red beans, black-eyed peas, cream peas. The fresh peas will bring tears to your eyes, they are so tender, tasty and sweet. Preparing dried beans is not as hard as you might think. Canned beans are always a fall-back.
- Whole wheat pasta is next on the shopping list. I like the 100% durum whole organic farro found in Italian specialty stores or grocery departments.
- You will go very light on the breads and you will read the labels for only whole wheat/whole grain ingredients. Purchase whole wheat and buckwheat flours for the pantry.
- Thank goodness we were still allowed to have favorite salts and varietals: Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt, Profumo del Chianti (from Dario Cecchini, Tuscany's most famous butcher!), Fleur de sel de Camarugue, Maldon sea salt, Mrs. Dash salt-free seasoning, and Spike all natural seasoning. All in moderation, but why not have a variety?
- Stock up on extra virgin olive oil and seek out a selection of flavorful vinegars: red wine, Balsamic, white wine/tarragon, red wine/rosemary, etc.
- Varieties of peppers and onions will form an intriguing backdrop in any recipe, so you will be using a variety of leeks, shallots, as well as white, yellow, red and green onions.
- Fresh is always best, but natural, canned staples are good back-ups. All natural diced tomatoes, plus fire-roasted, whole San Marzano Italian and Rotel. Hatch peeled green chiles. Prepared, natural chicken and vegetable broths.
- Scope some short-cut hearty soup kits, where you add your own veggies and liquids. Bean Cuisine White Bean Provencal and Island Black Bean Soup are excellent.
- Breakfast cereals can be sugar-free, shredded wheat and/or steel-cut oatmeals.
- Fruits are important. Sweet potatoes are allowed! Nuts and olives for snacking.
- Monitor and moderate alcohol intake. Sparkling water on weekdays, La dolce vita/vino on weekends! Canada Dry Diet Ginger Ale is a favorite staple.
- You will be shopping on a frequent basis for fruits and vegetables that are in season. Build your meals around that.
- Small amounts of seafood were permitted in the dietary detox phase -- 3 oz per week! Now that we are in mode of maintaining, moderate amounts of lean chicken, pork and beef may be added. (Sustainable food expert Brian Cummings http://www.eatgreendfw.com/ sends a reminder to seek out grassfed meats!)
Planning ahead is important. Tasty vegetarian dishes have layers of flavors to make them appealing. That means lots of chopping of onions, garlic and other ingredients. Beans and grains take time to cook. Starting from scratch every evening for dinner is not the way to go. Too overwhelming and time-consuming!
I do a lot of cooking on the weekends so there will be tasty inventory for the week. Always a bean thing for heft and protein. And other fun entrees that will be good as leftovers. Then, all you have to do is add some steamed vegetables and a salad. Voila! Instant wonderful!
To rebuild your recipe repertoire, go through your existing cookbooks that feature the flavors and cuisines you like. There might not be a huge volume of recipes that are a perfect fit with this regimen, but you'll find some that will work. This way, you will be eating things that are comforting and familiar to your palate, rather than an icky-what-is-this jolt.
Then, start surfing the Internet for recipes and cookbooks that sound appealing to you, based on ingredients that you like and vegetables that are in season.
You can still use favorite carnivore recipes. But instead of using meat as a main ingredient, use it as a flavoring. For chili, I use 1/4 lb. of lean ground beef instead of 1 lb. + an extra can of beans. Same with a Hoppin' John recipe that uses sausage. Drain the meat after browning. You get the familiar flavor of something you love, but only a tiny bit of the meat.
I never thought I would be writing about food on this blog, but friends and colleagues are all asking for the recipes that we've been trying and tweaking. Loss of weight is a favorable by-product of the regime. And, most importantly, the effort delivered an impressive correction in metabolic stats after only 4 weeks!
There's no downside to adding healthy items to your routine. Then, when you eat out, you can splurge a bit. I'll share specific recipes in subsequent posts.
(Disclosure: My husband is the key focus of this dietary drill. I am on a moderate version, but still enjoying some of my personal must-haves, including cheese, crackers, a little lunch bag of crunchy Cheetos, doses of desserts, meats, etc.)