Cheesy ‘Cream’ Spinach with Ham

This experiment came out quite good so here it is:

  • 1 20 oz. bag frozen chopped spinach
  • 3/4 lb. deli ham – I used the store-cooked type that has a milder flavor and is less processed.
  • 1 stick butter
  • 5 slices American cheese
  • 1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup almond ‘flour’ (almonds I ground up in the food processor)

Chop the sliced ham into 1/2″ square bits or smaller. Fry the ham with the butter in a large skillet uncovered until nicely cooked – maybe a few bits here and there are browned. Next, pour in the frozen spinach. I bang on the bag with my fists before opening to break up frozen chunks. Now mix them together and cover. set the heat to low and give it a few minutes for the spinach to melt and add liquid to the pan.

Once the spinach is thawed and begins to cook, place the cheese slices on the top and as the cheese melts, blend it into the mixture. Next, toss in the almond flour. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, but it didn’t seem to hurt, either.

The melted cheese and the liquid from the spinach gave the mixture a creamy sauce, which is why I call it ‘cream’ spinach. The cheddar cheese almost overpowered the dish, so don’t overdo it.

Safe for induction.

Run! (The Direction Isn’t Important)

I don’t know what to make of this article from Great Britain titled ‘Obesity Needs to be Tackled in the Same Way as Climate Change’. It bothers me on so many levels. First, there is a statement, presumably from the fellow connecting obesity and climate change, that scares the living hell out of me:

Professor Philip James said the challenge of obesity was so great that action was needed now, even without clear evidence of the best options.

So…we don’t know what to do, but we need to take action?!? Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?

What seems to go forgotten in this article is that we have been fighting obesity for the past 50 years – go down the aisle of any grocery store and count the number of low-fat, low calorie products – you might not be able to keep count.

Western culture is obsessed with obesity. How many people do you know are on a diet?

How many people do you know that don’t need to be on a diet are on a diet?

Oh – by the way – if the good doctor paraphrased above hadn’t noticed – the polar ice caps are still melting. Maybe we don’t want to tackle obesity in the same fashion?

And…the article goes on to tell us something only a scientist could tell us and make it sound like a solemn learned observation: children are born small.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the quote:

“Because these children start off being born small, they are then exposed to totally inappropriate environments, and they are therefore super-sensitive.”

Apparently, this researcher works at the Institute for the Frigging Obvious.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the article. It goes on to mention a drive for better product labeling – nothing wrong with that, but the ‘traffic light’ labels wouldn’t help somebody following a low carb lifestyle as there’s no mention of carbohydrates – I guess because they’re so darn good for us. Or is ‘sugar’ and carbs the same thing in the EU?

I guess their food labeling does little to clue me in.

Lastly, they talk to an American researcher that provides the same old song and dance that we’ve heard for 50 years – cut calories and exercise for 60 to 90 minutes.

Problem is – there’s no proof exercise leads to weight loss – and it makes you hungry to boot. I’m not going to put down exercise – I wish I did more myself – but I lost 80 lbs without doing any, so that proves that maybe exercise as a means to weight loss isn’t a requirement for everybody.

So I’m struggling to find why this article is newsworthy. Maybe they just needed to fill space? If you think about it, the BBC can’t post on their site:

Nothing much happened today, in our opinion, so surf someplace else.

I mean, they have to write something.

I guess this is something. The sad fact is – if this is the kind of quality health journalism the public receives, the public will continue to get fat and stay fat.

Kitchen Experiment #12 – Three Cheese Spinach (Updated)

We’re in a situation in our household where we go to the grocery store, come back with a carload of stuff, and two days later someone says: “There’s nothing to eat.”

I made a vow over the weekend that I would not go grocery shopping and eat only what was in the house. So, rummaging through the freezer I found frozen spinach. I did a search on the internet on what kind of low carb dishes you can make with spinach, got some ideas, and came up with this:

  • 1 16 oz. bag of frozen spinach
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parm cheese
  • 1/2 cup cheese of unknown pedigree (we got it at an Italian fair – it was in the parm family)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup ground almonds (I grind almonds in a food processor and keep in the fridge)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

NOTE: all measurements here are guesses – I just tossed in the stuff – feel free to adjust.

My general approach was to make the spinach ‘creamy’, coat the top with cheese, and put in my Hummer of a toaster oven, so first I took the ricotta cheese and mixed it with the olive oil and garlic. It made a nice goo which I poured over the spinach.

The spinach I prepared by placing in a square oven-safe baking dish, nuking for 5 minutes, then draining. I hate the act of squeezing out the water in spinach, and found that if I use my big rectangular butcher knife, and sandwiched the spinach against one side of the dish and compressed, it worked very well to squeeze the excess water out of the stuff. No muss, no fuss – and no extra dish.

I mixed the spinach with the ricotta / oil / garlic goo and evened out in my pan. I turned on my toaster oven (actually a convection oven – it makes horrible toast) and set it to broil. Then I sprinkled the almonds evenly on the top of the spinach. I then grated the remaining two cheeses and spread evenly on the top. I then put it in the oven for 15 minutes.

THE VERDICT: 15 minutes was a bit too long – the cheese became crusty instead of gooey, and the spinach could have used a bit of salt in the ricotta, but it was actually quite good, and relatively easy to make. Two members of the Low Carb Confidential Taste Panel enjoyed the crust and was eating it off the top of the dish until I shooed them away.

This one is safe for induction and another way to get your veggies.

UPDATE: I had this for breakfast and the flavors had melded nicely. I will most definitely make this again.

Recipe – Asian-Style Cucumbers

I like cucumbers – and I like them even more when I prepare them like this. It’s fast and simple – the only trick might be finding one ingredient, but it’s worth it. To make this you’ll need:

  • Cucumbers
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil

The sesame oil can be tough to find. You can usually find it in specialty food stores, well-stocked supermarkets (check the ‘International Foods’ aisle) or in an Asian market – you will always find it in the last one because Asians are smart and include this flavorful oil in a lot of dishes.

Anyway, slice the cucumber in blocks – I cut it into 4 spears, then chop those about 1/2″ thick. Pour on some sesame oil and soy sauce to taste.

A great induction side dish and a great way to get your veggies.

Product Review – Tanita bathroom scale model BF-679W

If you read my other post about scales, you know the jury was still out on the ConAir “Weight Watchers” branded one I bought a few weeks ago to replace “Ol’ Red.” Sorry to say, the ConAir went back to the store on Sunday. Too many days went by that left me guessing about what I really weighed. The difference among a number of trials each morning could vary as much as 1.3 pounds.I was now intent on getting a Tanita, which was my first desire when I went shopping in January after reading the ‘reviews of the reviews’ on Bed Bath & Beyond carried two of their many models: a glass plate number for $100 that had many more features than I needed, and the model that was regarded in the above mentioned review as the most reliable and the most consistent: BF-679W. It was a mere $50, much less than I’d paid for the ConAir, and I had a 20% coupon bringing it down to $40. Pretty darn reasonable.

The BF-679W isn’t a beauty prize winner. It’s pretty standard bathroom scale fare, and I’d say it looks and feels a lot like “Ol’ Red” with a silver paint job and a display makeover. Our bathroom has brushed nickel accents, so it fits in okay, unpretty as it is compared to most of its peers. It sports some diamond-shaped silver plates for the electric pulse necessary to measure body fat and water, and the only other adornments are three small buttons below the display for setup, and three toe-kick buttons on the lower end to start it up. A switch on the bottom of the unit lets you pick whether you want the readout in pounds, kilograms, or lb/stone. Four AA batteries are included. The scale has a maximum capacity of 300 pounds, and the display measures in 0.2 pound increments of weight and 0.5% increments of body fat.

The scale is easy to program, as was the ConAir. There’s memory for two persons, and it has a “guest” mode so visitors can check their weight along with the other optional measurements. For each regular user, you use the set-up buttons to indicate age, gender, and height. Once that data is in, each user simply taps with their toe their assigned button on the lower edge to start; their data is displayed followed by a zero weight reading and a beep to indicate ready to weigh. The user steps on the scale, minding that their feet touch the metal plates (long footed people can overhang the front if necessary). The scale shows a countdown readout from 5 to 1 while it makes the measurements and, voila, displays the weight, below which either the body fat percentage and body water percentage are shown, trading places for several seconds even after the user steps off. With the push of one of the buttons below the display, you can recall your previous weight and the associated difference. There is a center toe-kick button so that weight-only measurements can be taken that do not utilize the current pulse feature (important if you have a pacemaker or such, or are pregnant).

I did an accuracy check when I set it up, as I did with the ConAir. I put a towel on the scale and placed a 35 pound Olympic plate from my home gym on it. The ConAir weighed the plate and towel at 35.2 pounds. The Tanita weighed them at 36.0 pounds. While I normally would expect a 35 pound plate to weigh exactly 35 pounds, giving more credence to the ConAir for accuracy, I’d assume there must be some allowance for error in manufacturing such pieces of iron; 0.8 pounds is only 2.2% of the plate’s supposed weight. Also, I did not make repeated trials of weighing the plate on the ConAir because I did not know at that time the readouts were inconsistent; perhaps a subsequent trial or two would have seen the plate and towel weigh 36 pounds (the ConAir typically would weigh low on first trials). In any event, without the ability to test this clinically, I will assume the Tanita is correct (or more correct than the ConAir) by virtue of other reviews attesting to its accuracy.

So how has it performed in the last five days? I weighed myself each morning upon waking, sans clothing and post-evacuation. I went through the same series of three or four trials as with the ConAir, some with weight-only, some with body fat measured. The most fluctuation I could see was in the least significant digit, which can be taken as the scale simply trying to choose a number closest to the two-tenths to which its display accuracy is limited. The body fat and body hydration readings were either identical to or nearly identical to those readings I’d seen on the ConAir (32% body fat, 48-49% water).

I’m satisfied with the consistency of this model and would recommend it heartily. If your performance concerns are the same as mine and you don’t mind a pedestrian-looking appliance in your bathroom, this is an economical choice I believe you can count on.

Does The Government Want Us Fat to Save Money?

Here’s a little conspiracy theory for you. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories (most times), and I don’t believe this one (at least not yet), but they’re fun.

I came across an article that essentially says that smokers and the obese are cheaper to care for – the study shows that fat folks and smokers do society a big favor by kicking the bucket early – avoiding those long, drawn out diseases of old age like Alzheimer’s – which cost a lot in terms of medical care.

So…that means that it’s good for society from a cost standpoint for us to be fat and die early.

Now you know why they call economics ‘the dismal science’.

It’s only a small leap to see that if the government wants to cut costs, keeping people fat would help.

So that leads to the conspiracy theory: the government wants us fat so we will die in the prime of life, and relatively suddenly, so that we don’t burden the system. To facilitate this, it pushes a diet that makes us fat – while telling us it makes us thin – and helps guide us down a path to our early demise.

Total rubbish – I know. Like I said: conspiracy theories are fun, but they’re just not real – things like that just don’t happen.

Is the Tide Turning on Low Carb?

Maybe it’s me. I’m well aware that most of us are quite good at fooling ourselves. I believe that we are all delusional, so it is wise to choose delusions for yourself that make you happy rather than sad.

Am I delusional to say that it seems that the tide is turning on low carb, and that more and more, mainstream science and the media are beginning to embrace some of the notions that labeled Atkins a dangerous quack only a few years ago?

In psychology there is something known as a ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. See Wikipedia for a list of cognitive biases and check out which ones you see yourself in – enlightening.

Maybe it’s this confirmation bias that I’m suffering from, or maybe it’s true that more and more people seem to seem to be embracing many of the notions that form the basis of a low carb lifestyle – maybe not as aggressively as Atkins did, but it’s moving in that direction.

My evidence?

  • An article in the mainstream media titled ‘What if Bad Fat Isn’t So Bad?‘ where the author point out that there has never been an established relationship between saturated fat to heart disease. Old news for the low carbers who have educated themselves on the scientific evidence, but it is somewhat remarkable to see this out in the mainstream media where it contradicts their regular nutrition articles touting low calorie and low fat diets.
  • The ADA has (almost reluctantly, it seems) come out endorsing a low carb diet as helpful in diabetes management. It’s tough to admit you were wrong so I give them credit for taking even some small steps in the right direction (See list of cognitive biases above to determine which one they’ve been suffering from). I was reading a recipe for a smoothie that was endorsed by the ADA as good for diabetics – 40 grams of carbs. That’s more than I try to have in a normal day – not in one drink.
  • Gary Taubs and the publication of his book ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories‘. In this book, the author makes a solid and very well researched argument that good science was essentially hijacked by a number of people with an axe to grind and 50 years of screaming about fat being bad for you is nonsense. What kicks this up a notch is that he’s gotten a lot of PR – heck – he was on Larry King, for instance.

Maybe the Atkins craze of 2003 was just a first battle in war that isn’t lost just yet. The problem with the craze was it’s lack of depth. Docs almost universally poo-poo’d it, a bunch of companies came out with crappy low carb products, and millions of people ate nothing but burgers, steaks, butter, bacon and eggs without a real understanding of how low carb works, thinking they could lose their 20 lbs, then go back to cookies and pizza and not have a problem. When they did, they claimed that Atkins didn’t work. Or they ate the low carb crap food, didn’t lose weight, and claimed Atkins didn’t work. Or they never explored outside the narrow little world of steak and eggs, cheated because of that, and claimed Atkins was too hard.

The craze of 2003 spawned a lot of research, and the results of this are beginning to come in. Combine this with Gary Taub’s book, and it shows that low carb dieting is not just the wacky idea of a single quack doctor with a best-selling diet book (which is how it appeared to me in 2003), but a theory that has a lot of evidence to support it, as well as a long history of empirical success in the history of medicine.

The jury is still out, however. the problem with this sort of research is it is like the peeling of an onion. Each layer reveals more, and helps to confound the assumptions and conclusions of the previous knowledge we once thought to be immutable.

A simple fact that is known is that with 50 years of low fat messaging to the American public, and a overall reduction in the consumption of saturated fat – the demonized nutrient that supposedly causes heart disease – and the rise in carbohydrates eaten, our rates of diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed.

This fact has doctors a bit more open it seems, to the notion that low carb might not be all that bad as an alternative to low fat, because the low fat approach is not doing most of their patients any good.

So, perhaps the tide is turning?

I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Ghandi:

First they ignore you
Then they laugh at you
Then they fight you
Then you win.

Confessing To The Choir

LCC, you dog. I was beginning to think we’re twins separated at birth except I suspect there’s 14 years or so between us.I cheated last night. I’d finished my second martini, the wife had headed up to bed, and I was reading a magazine. Suddenly, I got the urge to nosh (Merriam-Webster defines this as “eating on the sly;” interesting, yes?)

Now, it’s not that I was hungry. My wife had created a fabulous shrimp and clam stew we’d finished not too much earlier (watch for the recipe here soon). But it’s been a month since I started re-induction. I’ve been on a plateau for two weeks. I miss my old low carb goodies.

So, I made a third martini and began rummaging through the cupboard. My intent was really to have only one thing, and nothing “bad.” I ate an Atkins Peanut Caramel candy bar.

Then I had a Breyer’s Carb Smart ice cream bar. That leftover Italian sausage link taunted me when I opened the fridge, so I polished that off (polish sausage?) with some Dijon mustard while finishing the magazine article I was reading. I wanted more sweet after that and scarfed an Atkins Caramel Nut Chew. Why I finished it all off with a slice of Swiss cheese, I’ll never know. I swallowed the last of my cocktail and went to bed.

You said, “You don’t lose weight by eating right for one day – and you don’t gain weight by eating wrong one day.” I got up this morning and checked my ketones; medium light color on the stick. Then I got on the scale. I ignored the first readings; I’ve found I have to step on and off several times before getting what I think is a true result (the new scale is going back to BB&B today, by the way!) When I stepped on the last couple times, I found I’d gained 1.3 pounds from yesterday.

I plugged the previous evening’s dinner and munchfest into my food diary this morning and figured I’d had over 40 net carbs and over 3000 calories yesterday. My dinner, which was a larger portion than it should have been, accounted for 21 net carbs all by itself. I now know I should not have eaten this during induction, but we didn’t have the time to calculate everything before she put it all together. I wrote up the recipe afterward as she dictated to me and then figured out what the net carbs were.

Beside gaining over a pound on this, the first day of induction month number 2, I crossed the graph line of my 2003 weight loss. I now weigh 2 pounds more than I was at this point when I did Atkins the first time, and I started out 8 pounds heavier back then.

Beat myself up? No. Give up? Never. OK, I had a moment of weakness; that’s yesterday’s news. Here’s what I personally think is important:

  • I could have eaten worse things than I did; I maintained SOME sort of control (I still have three cans of roasted almonds in my car!)
  • I’ve lost SOME weight in four weeks, despite wishing it were more.
  • I’ve lost SOME size; I no longer have to stretch my trousers’ amazing expand-o waistband to get it buttoned. My rings are loose again.
  • I still feel better than I did a month ago; no mid-afternoon yawns from a blood sugar dip, no cravings for starchy junk. I feel… tighter. Some of this is no doubt due to the small amount of exercising I’ve been doing.
  • I had my share of minor ups and downs in 2003, along with lengthy stalls; I came out of the gate roaring down the track back then, but it actually took me nine months to lose 30 pounds. For whatever reason I’m not tracking the same this time, I have to keep in mind that it’s not a race with a finish line. That’s the kind of thinking that usually foils other diets. A low carb, or more accurately, a controlled carbohydrate nutrition plan should be what becomes a new way of living as a result of understanding the science behind the approach.
  • My fear of carbs (bad carbs, let’s call them) has returned. I’d somehow lost that last year, and that was my real downfall.

When I quit smoking 24 years ago, I didn’t then have as much fear of disease and death as a result of using tobacco as I do today of ingesting bad carbs. I gave up smokes “cold turkey” back then, but it was probably the fourth or fifth time I’d seriously attempted it over a period of 20 years, and I even had a two year stretch where I quit and then resumed smoking for several more years.

“Taking the long view,” as was cited in the previous post on this subject, I’m obviously better off a quarter century later, and I made a lasting change that became a way of life for me. I see the same cycles in my life with regard to my weight loss attempts and what I’ve eaten to lose and then gain it all back. My long range goal is to look back on this 20 years from now and feel the same sense of accomplishment and health improvement from eating a controlled carb diet as I do when I consider having overcome my addiction to cigarettes.

Keep the faith, stay the course. Time can be your enemy or your friend depending on what you do with it.

Cheat to Win

I cheated yesterday.

With some alcohol to loosen my guard, and M&M and croissants to tempt me, I found myself indulging for the first time since I started induction December 31.

I see some people – as well as myself at times – that use one cheat as an excuse to admit defeat and just resign themselves to being fat and miserable.

I’ve discovered a few tricks that I use to prevent that from occurring – to isolate the cheat as a one-time thing and get on with it.

  • Stating your intentions. This is risky, but telling people you are losing weight and will continue to do so helps keep you on track. I did this the first-go-round of weight loss on low carb, and I did it this time as well.
  • Examine how you feel. When I’ve done induction for over two weeks, carbs make me sick. I had a stomach ache, felt bloated, my joints ached, and I had severe heartburn. Take my weight out of the equation – and I just feel much better when I’m living low carb.
  • Take the long view. You don’t lose weight by eating right for one day – and you don’t gain weight by eating wrong one day. It’s takes a lot of days to do either. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again, as the old song says.
  • Don’t forget the Big Mo. If you’ve been doing induction for a week or more, the worst has passed. You’ve gone too far and gained too much to give up now. It’s like earning a dollar then trading it for a dime – it’s not worth it.
  • Look at what you ate. Was it something worth cheating over or was it stale M&Ms left over from Halloween? Talk about trading a dollar for a dime!
  • Don’t beat yourself up. You might have to have a heart-to-heart with the part of yourself that gave in, but trash-talking yourself leaves you feeling battered and powerless – and you’re not.

Reflecting on the above can turn a negative into a positive and strengthen your resolve over the long term.

There’s no reason to give up because of setbacks – nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without them.