Tastes good = unhealthy??

I’ve been reading The Taste of Sweet by Joanne Chen, and it has me thinking.  Do many people really equate ‘tastes good’ with unhealthy?  I don’t know that this is something I would ever have agreed with.

Of course, before you can answer this question, you have to decide what is ‘unhealthy’ food.  After reading and thinking, I’ve come to a conclusion that doesn’t agree with either the current orthodox opinion or the main competitor.  I do not believe that fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol in food is any measure of its healthiness.  I also do not believe that carbs, sugar, or wheat are unhealthy.  It’s processing and chemical ingredients that I have suspicions about.

What this means is that a homemade chocolate chip cookie isn’t on my ‘awful for you’ list.  It’s something that can be quite healthy in moderation (i.e. the family sharing a batch of homemade cookies or two a week).  A package of cookies from the grocery store is much more unhealthy, with the hydrogenated oils usually used, preservatives, and the fact that much more of the preparation is done in a factory.

How does this relate to taste?  Homemade chocolate chip cookies do taste much better than anything from the store.  So in this case, healthier and tastes better are the same foods.

Actually, this is probably an almost universal rule.  For any food which has both a packaged and homemade version, the homemade version is healthier because it is less processed.  It also can always be better tasting, if enough time and money are put into the effort.  However, none of us have the time and energy to do this for all foods.

Then we should consider the foods that just can’t be made at home.  Some foods can’t be made without the use of processes that we just can’t replicate at home.  In my mind, many of these are also the most unhealthy foods.

Some of these considerations also apply to ingredients.  White flour that has not been bleached or bromated has been made for over a century.  It’s not far beyond what we could do at home, if we wanted.  We at least can make whole wheat flour.  Canola and soybean oils require industrial processes that we cannot possibly do at home.  Olive oil and lard were made at home, or at least on family farms, for centuries if not longer.

Do I want to live on a farm and eat nothing that I have not grown and processed every step of the way myself?  No, of course not,  But I do want to eat foods where I could conceivably make that food truly from scratch myself (i.e. plant a seed or raise an animal), if in the proper climate.  Like other grand ideals, I need to do what I can and be at peace with the fact I could always do more.  This afternoon, the way this looks is the following:

  • My crockpot has been working all day on corned beef.  I brined it myself for the last week and a half, but I used a purchased spice mixture.
  • I just put two loaves of homemade white bread in the oven.  They could have been whole grain, but that wasn’t what I wanted today.  I did use unbleached, unbromated white flour from King Arthur Flour.  The recipe I used called for shortening, and so I used a palm oil shortening instead of hydrogenated or interesterified shortening.  I’m making bread of the kind I want to eat, using the best ingredients easily available to me.
  • I’ll be steaming a fresh vegetable later.  Not organic, so I could have done better, but still a fresh veggie.  I’ll probably serve it with a little butter and and herb or two.

As the above set of examples shows, I do what I can about nutrition, and refuse to feel any guilt for the things that I can’t or choose not to do.

Returning to the original question, I think that given my definition of healthy food as less processed, and a variety of foods, tasty does not in any way imply unhealthy.

I would like to hear what you, the reader think.  Do healthy and tasty conflict?

No tricks part 2: a cookie

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In today’s post I’ll be showing how to carb count homemade cookies.  The recipe I’ll be using is Alton Brown’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies called ‘The Chewy.’  It can be found in the Good Eats volume 1 cookbook page 166, or at Food Network’s website.

I followed the recipe as written, including the use of a #20 disher to measure the dough.  I left the disher a little heaped.

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While the cookies were in the oven, I calculated the carbs in one batch of dough.  The ingredients that had carbs were the following:

  • 12 oz bread flour, at 21 grams of carbs per ounce, so 252 grams of carbs
  • 10 oz sugar (2 oz white, 8 oz brown) at 28 grams of carbs per ounce, so 280 grams of carbs
  • 12 oz chocolate chips, or a whole bag.  The bag contained 24 servings at 9 grams of carbs per serving, so 216 grams of carbs.
  • 2 tablespoons of milk has carbs, but not enough to consider in this case

Thus, the batch of dough had 748 grams of carbs.  I found that this time the dough made 20 cookies, so each cookie had 748/20=37.5 grams of carbs.  I wrote down this number where I could find it until the cookies were gone, and I recorded 748 grams of carbs per batch in the cookbook next to the recipe to make things easier next time.  I don’t reuse the carb count per cookie because sometimes I get more or fewer cookies out of the same recipe.  I think it has to do with how much I scrape the top of the disher.

There’s one more trick I want to mention.  Sometimes there’s almost a cookie worth of dough that sticks to the side and bottom of the bowl and to the mixer blade.  If this happens, it can be helpful to calculate the carbs as if the recipe had made one extra cookie.  In this case I didn’t need to because I used a spatula to gather the dough up.

These cookies may have a very high carb count, but they’re also huge cookies.  They could easily be made with a #40 disher to be standard sized, or something between #20 and #40 for a large but not giant cookie.

No tricks part 1: the method

Sometimes the tricks for carb counting that I’ve been looking at in the last few posts don’t apply.  Then what do we do?  The following steps are how I work through these situations:

  1. Add up the carbs in the whole batch of what I’m making.
  2. Figure out how much of the stuff I made.  This can be weight, volume, or count.
  3. Divide the total carbs by how much to find out how many carbs are in one thing, or how many carbs are in 1 gram of food, or how many carbs are in some reasonable volume of food.
  4. Write down this number so that I can use it until the food is gone.  I often write it down so that I can reuse it every time I make the same recipe.

First let’s look in more detail at step 1.  To find the carbs in the whole batch, I first think about which ingredients have carbs.  I’ll post later some help with this.  Then I make a list of the ingredients with carbs, and how much of each I used.  I calculate how many grams of carbs are in the amount used of each ingredient.  Then I add the carbs for the ingredients together, which gives the total carbs in the whole batch.

The hard part of step 2 is knowing whether to use weight, volume, or count.  I count the items if the items are distinct and all of the same shape and size.  This works for cookies that are all the same, cupcakes, or rolls.  If I don’t use count, I think about how I want to measure my child’s portion.  For bread or cheesecake, I cut a portion and then weigh it, so I use the weight of the whole batch.  For lemonade, I measure a portion in a measuring cup, so I use the total volume of the pitcher of lemonade.

Step 3 is a single mathematical calculation, and so I’m not going to add any comments on it.

For step 4, the only  explanation I want to give now is exactly what I write down.  I always write the number I calculate in step 3 somewhere I can find it for as long as I expect the food to last.  If it’s something I store for a while, I often use my label maker.  If I expect to make the recipe the same way every time, I also write on my recipe the number from step 3.  If I carb count by number of items like cookies or biscuits, I instead write on the recipe the number from step 1, because then I can easily recalculate if I make the food a different size the next time.  Also, even though I use a disher for cookies, I never seem to get exactly the same number out of a recipe.

The remaining posts in this series will be a few examples of this procedure.

Tricks part 3: use a reference book

Sometimes, I cook something from scratch, but it’s easier to just use a reference book than to calculate everything.  Two foods for which I do this are pancakes and mashed potatoes.

Before using this trick I ask myself is if what I make is pretty standard.  For both mashed potatoes and pancakes this is true.

When I make pancakes, I measure how big they are.  Last time I did this, the pancakes were about 4 inches in diameter.  Using the reference book Calorie King I see that a 4 inch pancake has about 11 grams of carbs.  I then add up the number of pancakes my child ate and multiply by 11 to get the total carbs from pancakes.  I add on the carbs for syrup and for anything else eaten to get a carb total for the meal.

I’m considering using a different reference book that should give more accurate results next time.  Think Like a Pancreas has an appendix of carb factors, and includes a carb factor of .28 for pancakes.  The weight of a pancake in grams is going to be much more precise than the diameter of something as unevenly shaped as a pancake.

This post completes the series I’m writing on tricks for carb counting.  Soon I’ll start a similar series for the cases where these tricks don’t apply.

 

Tricks part 2: mostly one ingredient

If a food that I make is mostly one high carb ingredient, with small amounts of very low carb ingredients mixed in, I carb count this food based on the carbs in the high carb ingredient.  I’m going to share a family recipe for macaroni and cheese to illustrate this.

Baked macaroni and cheese
Print
Recipe type: main
Cuisine: American
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 box elbow macaroni (or other shape, such as shells or rotini)
  • 1 lb shredded cheddar cheese (or Colby Jack or Mexican blend)
  • oil or shortening to grease a pan
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, grease a 8x12 glass baking dish (other pans of similar size work, too). Also, preheat the oven to 350° F. (This recipe can cook at a different temperature if it needs to share the oven with another dish.)
  3. Drain the pasta when it is done.
  4. Pour half (or a little more) of the pasta into the baking dish.
  5. Sprinkle the pasta in the pan with about half the cheese. (If you are using several cheeses, put the gooier cheese like Colby Jack in this layer and save the flavorful cheese like cheddar for the later layer.)
  6. Put the remaining pasta in the dish, followed by the remaining cheese.
  7. Bake until cheese on top is completely melted.
Serving size: 1 generous cup Carbs: 40 g

 

In this recipe, the only ingredient that has significant carbs is the pasta.  1 cup of pasta has 20 grams of carbs.  We measure the macaroni and cheese to a heaping cup because the cheese takes up a little bit of space, so a heaping cup of macaroni and cheese has about the same carbs as a non-heaping cup of macaroni.

If I serve my child 1/2 heaping cup macaroni and cheese, I count this as 20 grams of carbs.

I also use this method for homemade fried rice or pasta with a little oil and garlic.

Tricks part 1: from a recipe

In this series of posts, we’ll look at a few tricks that only apply to some recipes.  They’re good to know because when they apply they are usually the easiest method.  The first of these is to use a recipe that does most of the work for you!

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The particular example I’ll be using is a loaf of homemade bread that I made yesterday.  It’s the ‘100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread’ recipe on page 182 of King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking.  I followed the recipe carefully, and after the recipe, the book has nutrition information.  I’m going to reproduce most of the nutrition information from the cookbook to use as an example.

NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING (1 SLICE, 49G) 21g whole grains, 124 cal, 3g fat, 4g protein, 17g complex carbohydrates, 2g sugar, 3g dietary fiber, 8mg cholesterol, 193 mg sodium, …

To use this for carb counting, I start by noting that one serving weighs 49 grams.  I don’t use the slice as a serving, because it’s just too subjective.  Each serving has 17 grams of carbs in the form of complex carbohydrates, 2 grams of carbs as sugar, and 3 grams of carbs as fiber.  Adding these together, we get 22 grams of carbs per serving.  I divide 22 by 49 to get 0.4490… so I round this to a carb factor of 0.45.

To use this carb factor, I weigh a piece of bread I have cut.  As an example, a piece of bread could weigh 32 grams before buttering.  This bread has 32 * 0.45 = 14 grams of carbs.

This method works well for any recipe that has nutrition information.  I will post later a list of some of my favorite cookbooks that have nutrition information.

Basic carb counting

When a kid is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, part of the training for the parents is how to count carbs.  Unfortunately, the teaching that I received was just about counting packaged food, not food cooked from scratch.  After a few months, I gained enough confidence to try to carb count the food that I made before diagnosis.  This post starts with what you should know when you get to this point.  If you’re not there yet, please look over the resources here to see that this will eventually be possible, and just concentrate on getting through each day.  I would love to have you come back here when you’re ready.

Most of my carb counting relies on a ‘carb factor.’  For any food, the carb factor is the decimal between 0 and 1 that represents how much of the weight of a food is carbs.  It’s calculated by taking the carbs in a batch of food and dividing that by the weight of the batch of food in grams.  It’s used by multiplying the weight in grams of a portion of food by the carb factor.  The result is the carbs in that portion.

There are two ways to look at carb counting.  One is to look for tricks that only apply in some cases.  The other is to use the ingredients list and weight of a batch of food to calculate the carb factor.

I should note here that I don’t always use weight and a carb factor.  Sometimes it’s more helpful to know how many carbs there are in a cup of food or in one piece of food.  These details will make more sense when we look at examples in other posts that are coming soon.

Fruit on the bottom yogurt

My kids and I love fruit on the bottom yogurt.  It somehow always feels more ‘fruity’ than the yogurt with fruit flavor all over.  I’ve been making my own yogurt for a long time, but we either ate it plain or put some jam on top in a bowl and stirred it in.  It was far less convenient than the individual cartons, both to serve the kids and to carb count.  So yesterday I made my own.

I started out by making my own yogurt.  I used the instructions here, as usual.  I don’t use organic milk, but I do use whole milk.  Do not add dry milk, or that will change the carb totals.

Then I made a batch of blueberry goop for the yogurt.  It’s not jam, because it has less sugar and is runny.  It’s not syrup, because it has too many solid blueberries in it.  It’s not pie filling, because it has no flour or other such thickener.

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Blueberry Yogurt Goop
Print
Author:
Serves: 24 servings
Ingredients
  • about 1 lb frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Mix ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 220 °F.
Serving size: 4 teaspoons Carbs: 10 g

 

I made yogurt cups by putting 4 teaspoons of blueberry goop in the bottom of each 1 cup canning jar.  Then I stirred up the yogurt (it got runny; this is OK) and put 3/4 cup of yogurt into each jar.  Then I put a lid on each jar and refrigerated them overnight.  The yogurt thickened back up as it cooled. Yum!

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Total carb count per jar: 9 grams for the yogurt and 10 for the goop.  This gives a total of 19 grams of carbs for a jar.  This is about what a container of Greek yogurt from the store has, and about half what Yoplait or Dannon has.

I think this would turn out better in a wide mouth 1 cup jar.  It would be easier to stir and eat.

 

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes (often abbreviated T1D) is a condition where a person’s body is no longer able to make its own insulin.  This leaves a person’s body unable to use the sugar in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes is an entirely different disease.  Because so many more people have type 2 diabetes, when most people mention diabetes, they mean type 2.

The usual treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin.  The insulin can be injected or come through an insulin pump.  The amount of insulin has to match with the number of carbohydrates (carbs) in the food eaten.  This is where carb counting comes in.  The person with diabetes (or a caretaker for a small child) adds up the carbs in food eaten at each meal.

The American Diabetes Association has an explanation of type 1 diabetes.

The JDRF is an organization very involved in raising funds for diabetes research.

For parents caring for children with type 1 diabetes, this community can be very supportive and helpful.  They have a forum for posting questions.

Why eat real food?

With all of the easy and tasty industrial food available, why eat real food?

  •  Real food tastes better.
  • You know what is in real food.  Most modern food has hard to pronounce ingredients that most of us don’t know much about.
  • Cooking real food can be fun.
  • By some theories of nutrition, real food is healthier.
  • Real food can bring back memories of cooking with family.
  • Preparing real food can give us confidence in ourselves.
  • Making real food together can be a good way to spend time with someone.
  • Real food is often less expensive than modern food.  Yes, ramen noodles are cheaper than a home made roast beef dinner, but homemade cookies cost significantly less than store bought cookies.