Z is for Zucchini and Zevia

Writing about zucchini for my last post in the A-Z challenge probably isn't all that original, but this vegetable definitely has its place in a low carb plan. We grow zucchini in our garden, and have used it to make flourless pizza crust and lasagna noodles. No kidding. You can check out Your Lighter Side's recipes to see how its done, if interested. 1/2 cup zucchini=about 1.5 net carbs.

My fluid intake each day consists of 1/2 to 1 cup of coffee and 64 ounces or more of water. I sometimes have 2 flavored waters per week. I usually consume just one diet soda per week. When I do, I usually have Zevia. Zevia is considered "natures answer to diet soda." It is sweetened with stevia.

I have tried a few flavors, but my favorites are Dr. Zevia and the plain Cola. I have been getting Dr. Zevia through Amazon's subscribe and save program because it less expensive than buying it locally. Because I'm only drinking one can per week, a 24 pack will last me 6 months. If you are looking for a sugar-free soda that is sweetened with a more natural ingredient, you may want to give Zevia brand a try.

Because this is my last post for the A-Z challenge, I want to say a big THANKS to people who stopped by to comment or simply read. As I move into May, I am going to keep this blog going with the intent of using it to personally chronicle how I became obese, the struggle with diets, my food issues, and how I'm progressing with current weight loss. I have some very specific reasons that I have chosen low-carb as my lifelong eating plan, and that decision is not likely to change. I pray that by sharing what I've been through with food, body and health struggles, it will give others a sense of knowing that I, too, have been there, and there is hope for everyone who wants to improve their health. I hope you'll stick around or drop back by for a visit soon.


Y is for Yogurt

Before going on a low carb plan back in 2007, I wasn't a big fan of yogurt. Frozen yogurt, possibly, but not the almost-good-for-you variety in little cups that my coworkers had eaten for lunch for years.

Yogurt always tasted sour to me and had a strange texture. Even with the fruit added, it just didn't whet my appetite for some reason. Even though I had read about the "healthy, live bacteria" that yogurt can provide, I wasn't convinced I could choke it down just for improving my gut. Apparently yogurt can improve your immune response, in addition to being a good source of calcium and vitamin B2, too.

Something changed within my taste buds, or just with my taste preference, after I reduced the sugar in my diet. Yogurt didn't taste nasty to me anymore. But, when I looked at the sugar content in most commercially-prepared yogurts, I was shocked.

Some low carb cohorts on a forum convinced me to try Kroger brand Carb Master yogurt, and it tasted surprisingly decent. For a long time, I ate this brand of yogurt on the side with my salad and protein for lunch. I do like the newer carrot cake flavor, and enjoy it a few times per month. The strawberry and vanilla flavor of Carb Master brand continue to be my favorites, though. Check the containers if you are concerned about added sweeteners. Carb Master yogurts have about 4 carbs per serving.

Organic unsweetened greek yogurt has about 7 carbs per serving. You may want to give it a try in place of sour cream or as a dip. Add some berries to it for a snack. Just make sure to look closely at the label of the flavored types if you are watching your sugar and carb intake. Some people like the lower calorie versions, but the regular versions are lower in carbs, in general. And since this is a blog about low-carb, that's what I recommend for a low-carb plan.


X is for Xylitol

Xylitol is a non-artificial sweetener derived from plants. Although I have used XyloSweet in drinks in the past, my consumption is usually confined to chewing it in sugar-free gum.

Xylitol is actually good for your dental health. This natural sweetener has about 75% fewer carbs (and fewer calories) than sugar, and does not raise my blood sugar. There are other claimed medical and nutritional benefits to using xylitol, and you can read about them on this xylitol website.


W is for Water

H2O is my drink of choice. I wet my whistle with at least 64 ounces of plain water per day. There's not much more I can say about it except that I hope you take in enough fluids each day, too. Oh, and here's a really cool video showing what happens when water droplets are slowed down to 2000 frames per second and captured on video.


V is for Vitamins

Yes, I know- vitamins aren't foods. You should strive to get your vitamins from the healthful foods you eat, but most people need supplementation regardless.

There is a specific vitamin that has been getting quite a bit of attention in the last few years: Vitamin D. Many people are deficient and don't even know it. Scan down a few paragraphs if you want to know why you should probably be supplementing.

In late 2006/early 2007, I was having a myriad of health issues that I won't elaborate on, for now. My doctor began running tests and sending blood off to labs, and making the same recommendations I had always been given from him. Lose weight, and here's a script. I was trying desperately to lose weight, as I had been, for the majority of my life.

Some of my blood work returned with results that were out of the normal range. I was vitamin D deficient, which coincidentally explained some of the symptoms I was having. I was put on a prescription for Vitamin D that I took once per week for a few months. Afterwards, as I read through the research, I realized I needed to actually be on a Vitamin D3 supplement (NOT Vitamin D2 white caplets- there is a difference.)

That year, I did manage to lose 65 pounds, but not from any plan my doctor of 10 years had given me. I do think having correct vitamin D levels, though, jumpstarted my weight loss efforts. Over the years, I stopped taking my D3 and many of the same problems I was having before returned.

At your next check-up, make sure to ask for a Vitamin D blood test. Or, go to the Vitamin D Council website and order the blood kit for yourself. Each person's level and the amount of supplementation will be different. Not everyone needs the same amount per day.

Why is Vitamin D important and why should you be looking into supplementing if you are low?
For starters, correct vitamin D levels have been linked to reduced tumor formation and assists in the reduction of symptoms associated with depression-related seasonal affective disorder. Here are some links for more research in other health and wellness areas.

Don't take my word for it, though. Please spend some time perusing the information that is out there concerning Vitamin D from trusted health and wellness websites.

Even people who believe they take in enough Vitamin D through dairy, fish and other vegetables are often deficient. Some of my good friends in sunny California supplement because they work indoors or are covered in sunscreen the majority of the time.

Vitamin D supplementation has improved my quality of life.


Ultimate Snack Mix

When thinking of "u" food words, I just kept coming up with the words "unsweetened coconut." In admission of not having any real "u" words to write about today, I am flaking out and giving you some simple directions for my Ultimate Snack Mix. Although I really want to call this trail mix, there isn't any fruit (or granola or oats) hiding inside; therefore, it isn't technically trail mix. The total and/or net carbs in this mix will depend upon how many nuts you throw into it. Unsweetened coconut has right under 2 net carbs per 1/4 cup serving.

Mix together:
plain sliced almonds
whole macadamia nuts
sunflower seed kernels
unsweetened coconut flakes
Nevada Manna sugar-free semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Although I enjoy dried fruit, I cannot tolerate the sugar content of most.

Do you have an altered version of a snack mix or trail mix that contains unsweetened or low/no sugar ingredients?


T is for Tilapia and Taubes

I could also say that t is for tuna and turkey, two of my favorite "t" foods, but I thought I would just share a tilapia recipe with you and some favorite links to Gary Taubes' work.

Baked tilapia is a fish dish that everyone in my family will eat. We usually just bake it with some lemon-pepper seasoning on it and eat a side of broccoli, and call it a meal. An almond meal coating makes the tilapia even tastier, though. I "eyeball" a lot of things when I cook, so there are no specific measurements here.

Baked Almond-Crusted Tilapia
real butter
almond meal
grated parmesan cheese (optional)
lemon pepper spice (optional)

Spray coat a baking pan or glass baking dish. Preheat oven to 400. Melt real butter. Put almond meal in a separate, shallow plate or large plastic zipper bag. Coat each side of tilapia filet with butter. Dip fish into almond meal mixture and put in pan. You can also use a beaten egg with the butter to help the coating stick. Depending on the thickness of your filets, bake for about 20 minutes. Most tilapia filets are thin, though, so just watch your baking time. Some filets are thicker and can bake just a little longer.

Some links to Gary Taubes' articles and other works follow. Gary is a science journalist who has done a phenomenal job of gathering and evaluating research on obesity over the years. His book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" was one of the best pieces of informational writing I have invested my time in reading cover to cover. His latest book, "Why We Get Fat and What to do About It," is an easily-digestible read.

"Is Sugar Toxic?"
A Q&A on the Well blog- (Gary answers follow up questions from readers)
Lectures by Gary Taubes (well worth the time to watch at least one if you are interested)
"What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?"

S is for Sweeteners and Steak

I am, more or less, sugar-free while following a low carb plan. I avoid sugar because I have a lot of issues with it. I'll leave it at that for now. My father, now deceased, was a diabetic. My mother is one of those "skinny diabetics." I'm doing my best to avoid diabetes. I don't know how long I will stave it off, but I am trying.

If you have been reading my blog, then you already know that I am not a "purist" in the sense of I can go completely sweet-free just yet. So, I use sweeteners sometimes and sparingly.

I've mentioned sucralose (Splenda) on many occasions. It's something that I tolerate well. I mostly take in splenda through my coffee (the sugar-free DaVinci Syrups), but I do like iced tea in the summer sweetened with it. I don't eat baked goods very often, but splenda can be used in baking.

I do use stevia occasionally, too. Stevia is a more "natural" sweetener that comes from the plant, and the rebiana is the extract that gives it a somewhat sweet taste. If I am buying little packets of sweetener, I prefer PureVia as my first choice and Truvia second. There is a taste difference for me. I believe it is a trial and error process for most people. I don't care for the liquid stevia.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that I can tolerate well, without stomach issues or a weight stall. The sugar alcohol that I avoid at all costs is maltitol. The side effect of maltitol is digestive upset, so check the ingredients on any sugar-free candy or product purchase before indulging if you are concerned about this side effect.

I no longer take in aspartame on a regular basis, although I admit that I love a diet Dr. Pepper occasionally. It's just my own personal preference not to have aspartame. No judgment if you do, though! I think we all have choices and ultimately use and do what is working for us.

I can remember a time when steak was a big no-no in the low fat world of eating, and therefore I did not indulge in it for probably 10 years or more. Now that I low-carb, I can eat steak without guilt. I probably only have it about once per month, simply because a good cut is kind of expensive and times are tough.

I remember when I liked a "well-done" steak. Since low-carbing, I like my steak prepared medium-well. How do you like yours prepared?

Although I cannot say that I've eaten at the best steakhouses in the country, I have had some decent steak at Gallagher's in Springfield, IL and Angelo's in Panama City Beach, FL. Around my neck of the woods, we mostly have chain restaurants like Applebee's and O'Charley's that serve inexpensive cuts of steak.

Do you have a favorite steakhouse where you live? I'd love to hear your recommendations should our family ever travel through your town on vacation.


R is for Ranch Recipes

It seems I've already blogged about romaine lettuce during my 'G is for Green' post, so I will make this short and sweet today. While eating low-carb, I tend to stick with ranch dressing on my every-day salads at home. I eat the full-fat version only because the lower fat or low cal dressings usually have added sugar and therefore carbs. I can have a serving of regular ranch dressing for about 1-2 carbs, depending upon brand.

A couple of links to recipes that are worth sharing come from Dana Carpender. If you check out her 1001 Low-Carb Recipes cookbook, there is a pretty awesome recipe in it for homemade ranch dressing. If your local library system keeps Dana's cookbooks on hand, they are definitely worth looking through. Of course, I have bought several of the cookbooks and they have been a good investment for my family.

The other recipe, called Pork Steak with Ranch Dip, comes from her Hold the Toast blog. The ranch dip in this recipe really has what I consider better-for-you ingredients than most products you can buy on the market.


Q is for Quest

Quest Bars are one of the best protein bars on the market, if you want my honest opinion. I first learned about them from my friend Amy Dungan at Healthy Low Carb Living. Check out her 5-star review here. Marie Anne at Marie Anne’s Missives also blogged about free samples of Quest bars a little while back, so of course I got in on the freebies while the gettin’ was good.

I’m the type of person who likes to have a bar of some sort to take with me when I’m running all-day errands or on vacation to make sure I don’t go completely off plan. Quest Bars have no sugar alcohols, are filled with fiber and have two pretty good flavors that I like. The bars are really chewy, so be prepared if you decide to try them out. They’re really unlike any protein bar I’ve eaten. 1 Quest bar=20 grams of protein=about 5 net carbs.

Check out the ingredient list here.

It just dawned on me that I should have a disclaimer of sorts. . . I am not getting paid to write about any products that I am blogging about in the A-Z challenge.


P is for Peppers and Protein

Raise your hand if you like peppers. Bueller…Bueller…Bueller?

Bell peppers, with all their glorious color, really are great sources of vitamin A and vitamin C. My favorites are the orange and yellow ones, but I usually stick with the green and red peppers for lower carbs in general. Red peppers contain lycopene, which may help to reduce cancer. 1 cup red bell peppers=about 6 carbs.

Maybe I’m just strange, but I love the look of the glossy skin on a bell pepper. There’s just something very satisfying about the watery crunch and sweet taste of raw peppers, too. The only drawback for me comes from consuming too many green peppers, which causes me to burp. Does that happen to anyone else?

Why do we need protein? It's pretty basic. Complete proteins (like those found in meat and eggs) contain essential amino acids. We need protein for the healthy functioning of our cells, for growth and tissue repair, and to aid hormones and enzymes.

Protein is something I definitely wasn’t getting enough of before going low carb a few years ago. We ate meatless meals pretty often, without paying attention to alternate sources of non-meat protein like we should have been. Once I started getting in my daily allowance of protein, not only did I start to have more energy, but I also felt my cravings decreasing and felt full more quickly. This ultimately helped me lose weight. I don’t skimp on protein, but I do watch it. More on that in a later blog post.

Although low-carb diets are assumed to be high in protein, that isn’t entirely true. Most low-carb plans require a moderate amount of protein intake, which may be slightly higher than the standard American diet. “Protein Power” by the Drs. Eades has a formula for figuring your lean body mass and the minimum amount of protein you need to take in per day.

I also like sugar-free peanut butter and pickles for an occasional snack while I’m losing weight. Peanut butter is probably a no-no in the beginning stages of low-carb plans, but I can have it about once per week without it affecting my weight loss progress. Hold the bread, of course.


O is for Oil

While low-carbing, you can get creative with oils used in cooking. We all are aware of olive oil and its possible benefits, but have you considered macadamia nut oil or coconut oil?

Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is something I started using a few years ago, and am happy that I did. I purchase the Nutiva brand in the 29 oz jar for around $20 at my friendly neighborhood co-op. I would not recommend anything other than unrefined and organic, otherwise you just aren’t getting a nutritional advantage at all. (There are 0 carbs in a serving.)

I know some people eat the coconut oil right off the spoon, but I do not. It doesn’t taste like a coconut delicacy or dessert, but has a light coconut flavor for cooking. The benefits are pretty phenomenal if you ask me. This coconut oil contains quite a bit of lauric acid, which I’ve read boosts metabolism. You can read more about the health benefits on Nutiva’s website.

How do I use organic coconut oil? It is a mild enough flavor to use it to sauté red peppers, green beans and mushrooms. I also like to melt a Choco Perfection bar, mix in a little coconut oil, and add some almonds. I pour that mixture into a coated pie plate, and stick in the freezer for a little while. It makes an almost-almond bark that tastes like an Almond Joy candy bar.

You can even use a little bit of the oil to moisturize your skin.

If you’re feeling adventuresome with oils, you should definitely look into the nutritional benefits of organic coconut oil the next time you are at your local specialty store. Of course, you can order Nutiva coconut oil online, too.

I really wanted to blog about black olives on my “O” post, but there’s not much I can say about them other than I enjoy eating them while on my weight loss journey. I like to add them to regular salads with a little pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and Italian dressing. Of course, they’re tasty on taco salads, in pizza toppings, or simply by themselves. 5-7 black olives=about 1 net carb.

N is for Nectar Sweets and Nevada Manna

I bet those words caught your attention. These are two low carb items that, eaten occasionally, help me stay on plan.

I’m sure Nectar Sweets sound like some sort of fruit juice or sweetener, but it is actually part of a brand of Syntrax whey protein powder that I really enjoy. I have tried many protein powders, and this one suits my nutritional needs and taste buds. I can’t handle the regular protein powders you can buy from local discount stores. It has been a trial and error process for me with protein powders, for sure. Not all ingredients, tastes and textures after mixing are created equal.

Syntrax Nectar does have a lot of fruit-flavored powders, but I have only tried and used a few of the dessert flavors. My favorite is Vanilla Bean Torte. Chocolate Truffle is pretty good, too. I like to blend some ice, protein powder, some water and a little heavy cream (occasionally some DaVinci sugar-free syrup) to make a shake-of-sorts on days when I feel like some variety for breakfast. If you enjoy iced coffee, preparing the Cappucino Latte flavor with ice and cream may be up your alley. The Vanilla Bean Torte has come in handy for recipes (like Scramcakes that I mentioned in my “E” post), and in making an individual protein cookie.

This is not a cheap protein powder, coming in at around $30 for a 2 pound container at Netrition. It will go far, though. ¼ cup=0 carbs. Vanilla Bean Torte is sugar-free and aspartame-free but is sweetened with Ace-K and Sucralose as the last ingredients on the list. Other ingredients: whey protein isolate (milk), natural & artificial Flavors, soy lecithin, salt, vanilla bean powder.

Nectar Naturals are sweetened with a stevia extract.

For more detailed information on the nutrition in all their protein powders, check out the Syntrax site. I know many low-carbers and body-conscious people who use whey protein powder regularly, and with great benefits to their overall health plans.

Nevada Manna Semi-Sweet Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips were created by Carb Smart. They contain no sugar and no sugar alcohols. Talk about something nice to have around when you need just a little handful of chocolate. These fit the bill for me. 2 T=8 total carbs, or 1 net carb. Ingredients listed on the package are chocolate liquor, polydextrose (soluble fiber), cocoa butter, cocoa powder, soy lecithin, sodium bicarbonate, vanilla, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. I just noticed that due to the warmer temperatures, these scrumptious little morsels won’t be available to order again until fall 2011. I try to buy several bags at once so I have enough around for baking and just general munching with almonds and macadamia nuts.

M is for Macadamia Nuts and Mushrooms

Macadamia nuts have become something I like to have around while low-carbing. Some people would not think of them as a low-carb food, but these nuts help me stay satisfied whether I’m between meals, running errands or on a long field trip.

I can’t just put them in some white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and call it a day, though. That would defeat the purpose of cutting out sugar, grains and lowering my weight. I also cannot eat them right out of the bag to my heart’s content, either.

Compared to other nuts that I eat, like almonds, macadamias don’t have as much protein. They are high in fat, which is why I believe they help keep me full between meals. The monounsaturated fat in macadamia nuts is believed to have heart-health benefits. These nuts are not inexpensive, but store well.

I like to try to keep a small bag of whole, plain nuts (unsalted is my preference) around for snacking on when I know that I need some variety. They aren’t a daily treat, but sure help out in a pinch. A 1 ounce serving of unroasted macadamia nuts=about 4 total carbs or 1 ½ net carbs.

Adding sliced, white button mushrooms to my salads helps add in some variety for me when trying to lose weight on my low carb plan. Crimini mushrooms, typically brown, have been noted to be high in vitamins B2, B3 and B5. They have anti-inflammatory properties and help with immune function, too. I do enjoy some mushrooms sautéed in either real butter or organic coconut oil. ½ cup fresh mushrooms=maybe 2 total carbs or 1 net carb.

I love mozzarella cheese, so I personally have to limit myself or it becomes something I can go overboard on. Although an ounce has less than 3 carbs, I can cover my salads with a surprising amount if I’m not careful.