Sunday, October 20, 2013

Making Do the Best You Can

Whether in hockey or in life, you strive for the best, but sometimes you must make do with the best you can do.  For example, my son's hockey team doesn't have a full-time goalie--this caused much consternation in our association:  should we then have three teams or two really large teams; if we create a third team how will the goalie situation work; without a full-time goalie will the team be non-competitive and what effects will that have on the team?  These and many other questions were raised at the start of the season.

And like many things in life, we just plugged ahead.  A third team was created so that the players could have better playing time.  There were two boys on the team who had played goalie in the past and were willing to share that responsibility.  And, I think most of the kids on the team have the attitude that they are here to play their hardest and if they lose games because of the goalie situation, well, that's just life.

Kind of like low carb cooking and (for me especially) baking.  Changing to a low carb style of cooking hasn't really affected our meals.  If the boys still want bread or mashed potatoes, well, I make that too and give it to them with dinner.  But the matter of baking and baking treats is something I've really taken quite seriously.  While I've never been a baker, circumstances in my life (including the changeover to low carb) have made me decide I want to control more of the food my family eats.  And that extends to the treats my boys eat.

I've started trying to bake grain-free and sugar-free with little success thus far (NOTE:  Success is defined as it tastes good to both me and my boys.  If it's not a treat then why bother baking treats, right?).  So, I've taken an incremental approach--what's the best I can do right now?  Right now that means dialing back, but not eliminating, the carbs:  cutting the flour in half and replacing the other half with nut or seed flours; and cutting the sugar by half or two-thirds and replacing the rest with sucralose or erythritol.  Is this ideal for my boys?  No.  But it's the best I can do right now and I continue to experiment (like, replacing some of the butter with peanut butter appears to improve the overall texture of the cookies, if a slightly peanuty taste is acceptable and compatible with the other flavors).  Just as I'm sure there will be some changes to our goalie strategy over the course of the season, I'm sure there are going to be more changes in my baking strategies for my boys.  I think the key for me is that I'm doing SOMETHING and I'm moving in the right direction AND the boys are enjoying the results just as much.

What I Ate: Cream of Spinach Soup with Feta, Carrots, Squash, and Bacon

I thought I would channel my inner Michael Chang, creator of the Cooking for Engineers blog, and a feature he ran there for many years.  This was my lunch yesterday:  cream of spinach soup garnished with some cooked carrots, fried summer squash, bacon, and a few pieces of feta cheese.  A low carb treat!

When some people hear low carb, they automatically think of bacon, butter, and steak.  There is far more to this way of eating than that.  Eating good, whole foods in a nourishing and (very) filling way.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Website Review: Vitacost, Netrition, and Amazon

Adopting a new way of eating can be difficult, particularly when it comes to a way of eating that departs from the Standard American Diet (SAD).  The adage, "Shop the perimeter of the grocery store," is certainly practical advice and channels your food purchases to produce, fresh and frozen meats and fish, dairy, and frozen produce which are all (or mostly all) amenable to a low carb lifestyle.  However, there is more to life and eating than simply these things.  If you want to have low carbohydrate sweets you'll need to find some alternatives to flour and sugar.  Maybe you want some items that you can grab and go on those mornings where you can cook or make a proper breakfast (think, breakfast bars).  Or maybe you want to supplement your yogurt or shake with some additional protein in the form of protein powder.

Some or all of those things can be found in supermarkets or specialty food stores in major, urban areas.  But sometimes the selection is quite limited or you may not live in an area that has stores with those items.  What do you do then?  The answer, as in many cases in the 21st century, is to go on-line.

There are many choices of on-line outlets for specialty food items.  I'll review the three I've used in the past and provide what guidance I can on selecting the right one for you.  Those three outlets are:  Vitacost, Netrition, and Amazon (of course, Amazon).

Vitacost is an online health food, vitamin/supplement, and healthy lifestyle merchant.  They have a huge selection of items ranging from sweeteners, protein powders and green foods, flour alternatives (almond meal, flaxseed, etc.), olive oils and other fats, and even canned food items like black soybeans or diced organic tomatoes.  If you are looking for cleaning products or healthy pet food or pet care products they have those too.


  • Free shipping with purchases over $49 and they provide "thank you, come again" coupons in their shipments to entice you back.
  • Each product description includes nutrition information and customer reviews.
  • Vitacost has a smartphone app that works great and provides all the functionality of the website including detailed nutrition information and product reviews.
  • They have a wide variety of products and I love that I can even get pantry type items such as canned goods that are high-quality and at great prices.  Black soybeans are a favorite of mine for chilis and my local markets don't stock them.
  • The breadth of "healthy" products they offer spans more than just food and supplements.  If you are looking for healthier alternatives for laundry detergent, cleaning products, or pet care, chances are you'll find them at Vitacost.
  • They offer both keyword and brand name searches for their product search.
  • They run frequent sales and promotions which can often be the lowest price on that product anywhere (if you happen to catch it on sale).
  • They carry coffee and tea if you are looking to try something different than what you can get at the local market.
  • They also offer exclusive content such as blog posts, videos, and recipes.


  • Their stock can be limited--a number of times I've gone to the website and found I can't order items because they are out of stock, or worse, have ordered an "in stock" item only to find out later that it is now back-ordered.
  • They don't have many bread replacement products.  They do stock a few mixes, but nothing like low carb tortillas or bread.
  • Selection on sweeteners and some other items is somewhat limited in both variety and sizes offered.  For example, they only have one brand and size of erythritol (1 lb) and it always seems to go out of stock.
Netrition is an online health food and vitamin/supplement merchant.  Their products are really focused around food and health and do not include items like cleaning or pet care.  That being said, they carry certain "fresh" items like bread and tortillas.  They also classify their products according to your dietary needs such as "low carb", "muscle building", etc.

  • Netrition offers flat rate shipping of $4.95 no matter the size of your order.
  • Netrition generally has the same or better prices on products (not always, but probably 50-60% of the time compared to Amazon or Vitacost).
  • Each product description includes nutrition information and customer reviews.
  • As noted in the summary, they offer "fresh" items like low carb tortillas and bread.
  • Their selection of low carb baking mixes items is HUGE!


    • Netrition does not have a mobile-enabled website or smartphone app.  So, if you use your phone as much as I do, you'll have to use the full version of the website which is difficult to view on a small screen.
    • They don't carry olive oil.  In particular, I get olive oils from California which have been shown to be genuine unlike nearly all imported or supermarket olive oils (including organic!).
    • They don't carry coffee or tea like Vitacost.
    What can I say about Amazon that hasn't already been said.  Yes, the on-line merchant you use to buy e-books, stream videos, and do all your Christmas shopping also has a large grocery and health food section.

    • The Amazon name and brand--they stand behind everything that is sold and will make it right should your purchase go wrong.
    • They have a smartphone app which gives you access to product information and reviews though I don't really like it that much.
    • Some items can be shipped for free if you are a Amazon Prime member (NOTE:  Shipping costs are HIGHLY variable as there are many Amazon resellers which offer the grocery and health food items.)
    • Selection is generally as good or sometimes better than either Vitacost or Netrition.  You want to choose betwen a 1, 2.5, or 5 lb bag of Xylitol?  Amazon, has it.
    • Generally the items lack nutritional information or labeling viewable on the website.  Sometimes you are lucky and that information is in one of the product photos, but generally it is not.
    • Prices are usually the highest on Amazon (and the shipping can also be expensive as you will not be buying all your items from one merchant).
    Based on the Pros and Cons listed above you may have guessed that I prefer Vitacost and Netrition over Amazon and you would be correct.  The nutrition and ingredient information is critical, particularly when starting out on this new lifestyle.  In addition, they generally have better pricing and more favorable shipping as you are purchasing everything from a single vendor.  Choosing between Vitacost and Netrition is more a personal decision.  I gravitate toward Vitacost because of the olive oil and I'm not interested in things like bread or the baking mixes.  I also find that Vitacost has the lower prices on Atkins bars which I use to supplement my diet.  My suggestion is to go to both websites and search for products that you are interested in and compare the selection and pricing.  Also consider items that you may be interested in the future and see which merchant has a better selection and pricing on those as well.

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    Blog Roundup: Week of October 14, 2013

    I spend a lot of time reading the blogosphere.  About 99% of the low-carb/paleo/real food/nutrition blogs out there publish a lot of what I consider to be "unuseful" information along the lines of:  "Gosh, I can't believe everyone doesn't eat the way I do.  Let me rant about how bad I think people are who don't agree with the way I eat."  While this can occasionally be motivating, most of the time I believe it's a waste.  Articles, posts, and podcasts which give information, tools or techniques are things that will help keep me (and anyone else concerned about their weight and health) going on the right path.

    So when I find blog entries, podcasts, or news articles that ARE useful and fit in with the goals of this blog, I will summarize them for you in a "Blog Roundup".  This week I've found a few good things for you to read or listen to.

    First is an interview with Dr. Barry Sears (creator of the Zone Diet) on Smarter Science of Slim with Jonathan Bailor.  Dr. Sears gives quantitative advice and techniques on how to optimize your diet to improve your weight loss and health.  Very much worth the 20 minutes or so listening.

    Second is a follow-on posting at regarding the recommendation by Swedish health authorities that low-carb dieting is more effective.  This post has some specific information regarding the "MyPlate" guidelines and how to change them for a low-carb lifestyle in keeping with the new recommendations.

    Lastly, the Low-Carb Diets site at has a newsletter this week on sweeteners.  Laura Dolson, who manages this site and newsletter, is knowledgeable and practical in her assessments on topics of sweets and diets in general.  I find her advice is the one I gravitate to whenever I have a question on something "controversial" or debatable.

    Enjoy these postings as you educate yourself on how to be healthier.  Have a great week.

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    Recipe: Grain-Free, Sugar-Free Granola

    One of the things I most miss since going low-carb is granola...  good, crunchy, nutty granola...  While this isn't a perfect replacement, it IS darn good.  NOTE:  This is VERY filling, I do not recommend eating a whole bowl of it like you would granola cereal.  Instead, it is great as a mid-afternoon snack on its own or sprinkled on top of fruit or yogurt.

    I've also included a technique in this recipe--making a simple syrup from Splenda or sucralose.

    1 cup roasted, salted soy nuts
    1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds + 1 handful
    1/2 cup slivered almonds (blanched or raw)
    1/2 cup walnuts
    1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (optional:  roasted, salted; or sprouted)
    1/2 cup roasted peanuts
    1/2 cup chia seeds
    1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
    1 Tbsp cinnamon (optional)

    2 cups sucralose
    2 cups water

    LCHD Technique:  Sugar-free Simple Syrup
    Pour 2 cups sucralose into 2 cups water in a small saucepan on the stove.  Stir the mixture with a whisk until the sucralose is dissolved.  Heat the mixture at medium-high heat until the mixture begins to boil gently.  Stirring occasionally, allow the mixture to boil for 20 minutes.  It should reduce to about 3/4 cup and will have a slightly golden hue.  Once reduced, remove the saucepan from heat and allow to cool.  This will be used to bind and sweeten the granola (below) and can be used for a variety of other things as well:  sweetening your coffee or tea, sweeten your plain yogurt, or using as a glaze for baked items.

    Granola Recipe:
    Preheat the oven to 250.

    Put all of dry ingredients into a food processor fitted with the S-blade.  Using the pulse function, pulse the mixture 10-15 times.  The mixture should have a range of sizes.  Pour into a mixing bowl.  At this point, I typically add another handful of the roasted, salted almonds (whole) to this mixture to give some bigger nut pieces.

    Starting with 1/2 cup of the simple syrup, pour it onto the mixture in the mixing bowl and use a spatula to incorporate.  Taste for sweetness and whether the mixture is well-coated.  If necessary, add the remaining 1/4 cup of simple syrup.

    Take a 10x15 baking pan and place a piece of parchment paper or silicone baking mat onto it.  Spread the mixture from the mixing bowl onto the paper or mat.  It should roughly cover the pan (with about 1/2" border on all sides) and be approximately 1/4" thick.  It should be pretty sticky and spread as a single mass.

    Place into the oven and bake for 25-30 mins on the middle rack.  After 25-30 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan.  It should be quite crispy and will be like a giant, brittle granola bar.  Break it up loosely (don't break all the "biggies"--those are the best part of the granola!) and place it into a plastic bag or glass jar.

    NOTE:  If using shredded coconut, this will add moisture to the mixture and will require additional baking time.  After 25-30 minutes, take the granola mixture out.  Most of the moisture will be trapped toward the center on the bottom of the baked mixture.  Using a spatula, break up the mixture on the baking pan being sure to turn over the pieces and expose any moist sections or pieces.  Put back into the oven and bake another 15-20 minutes.  Take out of the oven and test to see whether the mixture is fully dry.  If not, put back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Once the mixture is fully dry, take out of the oven and allow to cool as above.  Store as above.

    Wednesday, October 2, 2013

    Breaking News: Low-Carb (High-Fat) Diet Endorsed by Swedish Health Agency

    In a first for public health policy the health agency responsible for evaluating clinical efficacy of medical treatments and devices (SBU) issued the results of a two-year study demonstrating low-carb (high-fat) diets show better results in terms of both weight loss and blood chemistry.  You can read more about it on Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt's Diet Doctor web-site (in English!) here, hereherehere, and here.

    The importance of the release of this study cannot be overstated.  While many of us would consider the results to be obvious, an official endorsement by a public health agency that in turn drives the treatment recommendations of medical practitioners in that country represents a potentially HUGE shift in obesity rates, diabetes and all of the costs associated with those diseases.  I can only hope other countries follow suit and we can begin to see a significant reversal in the trends of obesity and diabetes from the last 30 years.

    Monday, September 30, 2013

    Recipe Review: Baked Eggs in a Portabella Cap

    Baked Eggs in a portabella cap
    Andover Diet Center has a great listing of recipes for those following the Ideal Protein plan or a low-carb diet in general.  Here is one of my favorites:  Baked Eggs in a Portabella Cap (photo above from the site). I reproduce the recipe below for convenience and add my notes which provide some additional techniques or details to make the recipe as good as it can possibly be.

    Reminder the portion of eggs for a Phase 1-3 dieters is 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites.
    So you could actually have two mushroom caps, with 1 egg plus 1 egg white in each cap.
    portobello mushroom caps
    black pepper
    fresh parsley or thyme
    a little olive oil
    Clean the portobello mushroom caps with a damp cloth, remove the stem and scrape out the gills so you have a well deep enough for the egg.  LCHD NOTE:  Use a spoon to remove the gills--set them aside for use later.  Use care to keep from cracking or slicing through the edge of the cap--otherwise you'll leak the egg onto the baking pan.
    Rub a little bit of olive oil on the outside of the mushroom to help it cook and keep it from sticking to the pan. Arrange the caps on a baking sheet.  LCHD NOTE:  Depending on how flat the caps are you may need to balance them on something--I use ramekins on the pan in the case where the cap is severely tilted.
    Crack each egg into a small bowl and then carefully slide it onto a mushroom cap
    Sprinkle with black pepper and fresh herbs of choice รข I used parsley but thyme would be great as well.  LCHD NOTE:  Saute the gills with some soy sauce and drop them back into the cap before you fill it with the egg.  For more protein add sauteed ground beef/turkey or even broken up bits of bacon.
    CAREFULLY place the baking pan into the pre-heated 375 degree F oven and bake for 20-30 minutes. The amount of time required depends on how thick your mushrooms are and how done you like your eggs.

    Review: Quest Cravings Peanut Butter Cups--No Such Thing as Santa Claus

    "Amazing snack", "unbelievably delicious" are not how I'd describe these peanut butter cups.  Also, anyone who writes that these taste like the "real thing" (presumably Reese's Peanut Butter Cups) should be tested for intoxicating substances.  While not BAD per se, they are NOT a guilt-free version of their candy namesake.  I think I'm so disappointed because my expectations were so high (see Backstory).  The chocolate is waxy and bittersweet and the peanut butter filling dry and powdery.  On the positive side, they are filling and do not appear to spike my blood sugar and create carb cravings afterward.

    Meh.  While not bad in and of themselves, they are NOT a replacement treat for peanut butter cups.  This motivates me to make my own and see if I can come up with something better.

    After 11 weeks of strict low-carb dieting it was time for a treat...  What better treat than a peanut butter cup!  You see the Quest Cravings Peanut Butter Cups advertised all over the place (like here, at Jimmy Moore's blog).  Reviews on web-sites like Netrition, Vitacost, and Amazon border on the fanatical.  And hey, if I can give these to my young defenseman after practice or a game--all the better, right?  Filling protein and fiber and few carbs to avoid making a perpetually hungry boy perpetually hungrier by spiking his blood sugar.

    Here's some artwork and nutrition information to get you started:

    Quest Cravings Protein Peanut Butter Cups

    I ordered a case (12 twin-packs) for $27.99 from Vitacost and last Friday made the presentation to the family after dinner.  Look at the artwork--doesn't the creamy peanut butter and light brown chocolate look absolutely fabulous?!

    We broke into our treats--my wife and son #2 abstained as neither are big peanut butter fans--all the more for me, I thought (how I'd rue those words).

    Shown below is what the peanut butter cups actually look like.  The chocolate looks more like the waxy chocolate in semi-sweet or unsweetened chocolate and the peanut butter definitely AIN'T oozing.

    Biting into these confirmed my worst fears:  the chocolate is hard, waxy, and somewhat grainy.  Not surprising considering that there is no sugar in these and they are sweetened only with erythritol and a little sucralose.  The peanut butter filling is POWDERY--cough!  Be sure to have something to drink on hand as it will stick to your tongue, roof of your mouth, and throat.  Taste of the chocolate is similar to semi-sweet chocolate with only a little aftertaste.  The peanut butter filling is reminiscent of the powdered peanut butters you can find online or at health-food stores and does not appear to have much if any moisture in it.

    Son #1 (inveterate sweet tooth) stopped after one cup saying (in his best politically-correct tone), "Here, Dad, you can have my other one."  I think that about says it all.  If you are looking for a low-carb TREAT, these are probably not going to fill the bill.  If you are looking for an alternative to a protein shake or bar after a workout, these will do as well as any of those (though I'd argue some of the Atkins and other bars out there taste better as well--I'll cover those in a future review).  So there ISN'T a Santa Claus--no guilt-free treat that tastes just like it's high-carb namesake.  And my plans for using these as a post-practice/post-game treat for my defenseman have crashed and burned as well.

    So there you go, the DEFINITIVE peanut butter cup review complete with unboxing!

    Sunday, September 29, 2013

    A New Season

    With this season, my son's 5th year as a youth hockey player, I come in 45 pounds lighter than last year--lighter than I've been in my 18 years of marriage.  And with a new season both for hockey and for my health, my head is filled with all the promises and fears that comes with new beginnings:

    • Will my son play well?
    • Will I maintain my weight loss?
    • Will his team be successful (last year wasn't a great year win-loss wise)?
    • Will my family adapt with me to my low carb lifestyle or will they freak out and call for the head of the cook?

    I guess at this point all I can do is hope and count on the things that have been learned:

    • My son has at least started to understand the value of work ("Hey, if I work hard, I play better and the coaches notice, too").
    • I've learned how powerful diet is to losing weight.
    • We've all learned (especially, the parents!) that the value in sports and hockey is not simply games won or goals scored, but how skills are developed and honed and making/renewing friendships and the sharing of good times.
    I've said that this diet will be the last diet I'm ever on.  I hope I can keep that promise.  This blog will share my steps on that journey even as I juggle late night practices and early morning games, and struggle to eat the way I should even while on the road at the next tournament.  To everyone starting their own new season I wish you good luck!