Coconuts – A love story

2013 is the Year of the Coconut for me.  We met one sultry summer evening over cocktails, fell in love, and now I harbor dreams of moving to a tropical paradise where I can have a little coconut tree of my own some day!

Coconut Drink

Coconut Drink. Image courtesy of Stockvault

The smell of coconuts conjures up images of summer, the beach and holidays.  The taste is like nothing else on earth.  But not only are they exotic and delicious, I had no idea that the humble coconut had so many uses!  I now can’t imagine cooking without:

  1. Coconut oil
  2. Coconut milk
  3. Coconut cream
  4. Coconut butter
  5. Coconut flour
  6. Coconut palm sugar

If someone sends you out for milk, bread, butter, flour, oil and sugar, just get a coconut and tell them to make their own! 🙂

For years I was afraid of coconuts and regarded them more as a “guilty pleasure” than a health food, because of the saturated fat content, so when I read that coconut oil was a good oil to use in cooking I was highly skeptical.  However, I was reassured by the explanation that they contain medium chain fatty acids, (MCT) which have actually been shown to assist in weight management, and can lower overall food intake by promoting a feeling of satiety!  According to this article one study showed that coconut oil has a thermogenic effect and can significantly raise the metabolism for up to 24 hours after intake.  I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it might give me the edge in The Hunger Games.  Once I heard that coconut oil could assist with insulin resistance and slow the digestive process, so that glucose is released more slowly into the blood stream,  I just had to give it a try.

Result: It is the most beautiful oil I have ever cooked with, stable at high temperatures, it locks in the flavor of whatever seasoning I am using and lends a wonderfully exotic aroma and taste to my dish.

I am still cautious, especially because some of the literature suggests that over consumption of MCT can lead to a build up of fat in the liver.  However, this may only be the case if the oil is hydrogenated, so I am taking my chances with virgin coconut oil used in moderation for the time being.  After all, island populations have been consuming diets high in coconut oil for centuries with no ill effects. (See this article for an excellent discussion of the benefits of coconut oil)

I have been using coconut oil and coconut milk for the past 2 months and the biggest difference to me is that it has absolutely killed my craving for junk food items such as donuts and french fries. Finally I can walk through a supermarket and be completely unmoved by the smells from the bakery or the sweets in the check out line! I had already improved my diet and lost weight, but I date the end of cravings almost precisely to the day I added coconut oil and milk to my diet! It also helps me stay full for hours, so that makes me very happy indeed!  However, I only recently discovered coconut palm sugar and coconut flour.  First the sugar:  It is an unrefined sugar with a measurable nutrient content. However, even though coconut palm sugar is reported to have a low GI (35) I am using it very rarely and only in baking with a very high fiber content to mitigate the effects of the sucrose. Although it is a sugar, with all the hazards that sugar entails, once again coconut palm sugar is an absolute winner on taste!  It has a complex, rich, caramel/butterscotch taste  that is just gorgeous. The thing is, coconut palm sugar is mostly sucrose (50% glucose – 50% fructose) so use with extreme caution if at all.  Personally, I confess that it is part of my coconut love affair, but only under one condition . . .

. . .to be used in baking with coconut flour.  Coconut flour is the last of my coconut discoveries and potentially one of the most exciting.  I have been making coconut milk for awhile now, because I want to get away from the BPA in canned food as well as the additives in commercial coconut milk.  I always felt wasteful when I threw away the pulp but didn’t know what to do with it.  To my delight I recently learned that I can use this to make coconut flour!  I immediately popped some coconut pulp in the oven, ground it in the food processor and shortly thereafter the perfect cake was born!

Imagine if you could eat a cake that contained an inbuilt limitation on consumption, not only of the cake itself but on everything else you might consider eating thereafter?  Such a cake would be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, in my opinion! As Ricky Gervais points out, fat people f’ing love cake.  It’s true, we do.  It’s not why we’re fat, but that’s a whole other story . . .Ricky’s novel solution is to put cake behind a door too small for fat people to fit through.  Not a bad suggestion, but I think I have a better one!  You know the problem with cakes and cookies is that you can’t only have one?  Well I just made a batch of absolutely delicious ginger-pear muffins , and the best thing about them is you can only have one!

Sound too good to be true?  The secret ingredient is the coconut flour, which is extremely high in insoluble fiber (a whopping 6 grams per serving).  They also have oat flour, which provides the soluble fiber. You only use a third of coconut flour to replace any regular flour the recipe calls for because it is highly absorbent. The muffins are light and fluffy and give you all the warm fuzzy cake feelings in your mouth, but when they hit your stomach it is feels like the opposite of cake !  After just one you feel as if you have just overdone it at an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet!   End the meal with one of these babies and then just try going for seconds, I dare you!

Ginger-Pear muffins

Ginger-Pear muffins with coconut flour

So that’s it, I love coconuts in all their forms.  If you hear that I have eloped with a coconut, never to be heard from again, don’t be surprised! 🙂 I hope they are healthy as the current hype claims.  If not it is going to be a painful divorce.  But in the meantime they have added a wonderful dimension to my cooking and they are helping me feel full and satisfied like never before!  That has to be a good thing, right?

Advertisements

A Bold Experiment

If you have read through my ramblings on food, addiction and hunger thus far, you deserve a medal!  This post is going to be short and to the point and strive to answer the burning question:  “So where do I go from here?”

The picture is pretty bleak, truth be told.  At the ripe old age of 38 I am spectacularly disillusioned with my ability to lose weight by dieting, much less keep it off!  What’s more I now understand that there is a biological reason for this.  In the words of Dr Lustig: “No one can exert cognitive inhibition over a biochemical drive that goes on every minute of every day of every year. It is just not possible.”  So where does that leave me?  Am I destined to die young and die fat?  I really hope!  In an effort to avoid this fate, I am have devised a bold experiment that seeks to determine whether it is possible to eat a diet:

  1. So delicious that I never crave junk food.
  2. So satisfying that I never get hungry.
  3. So rich in nutrition that my body gets everything it needs for health, energy and well-being.
  4. Sufficiently low in calories that I am able to reach and maintain a healthy body weight.

I also want to achieve all of the above by:

  1. Avoiding extremes.  No deprivation and no bingeing. The “weight loss” phase of the plan needs to be as similar as possible to the “maintenance” phase.
  2. Not demonizing or deifying any of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat).
  3. Not using any means to artificially suppress my appetite  (no pills or potions!)
  4. The concept of a dieter’s “Cheat Day” must be rendered meaningless by every-day delicious and decadent eating!

As Dr Phil would say: “It’s a good deal if you can get it!” Of course I realize a deal this sweet will come at a cost.  In order to achieve the above, I will commit to:

  1. Continually educate myself on the subjects of health and nutrition.
  2. Learn to cook and prepare my own meals from scratch.
  3. Do everything within my power to source the healthiest versions of all the foods I consume on a regular basis.
  4. Engage in regular physical exercise and strive to lead a generally active life.

The experiment will be deemed a provisional success if and when I have achieved a healthy weight and maintained it for one year, on the understanding that I would then need to commit to the plan for the rest of my life.  This blog will chart my progress for the purpose of accountability and for my own interest and entertainment.

Anyone who chooses to follow my journey:  Welcome and thank you!  Feel free to comment, offer suggestions and encouragement and ask any questions you may have about what I am doing and why.  I will try to answer to the best of my ability.

What’s for Breakfast?

In my post, Top 10 Tips for Winning the Hunger Games, I wrote about the strategies that work for me in managing hunger.  This was a brief overview and probably too much for one post, so I thought I would write a series of posts going to each “tip” in greater detail.

Let’s start the series where I start my day, with breakfast!  If you identify with my description of “unnatural zombie hunger” and want to do something about it, just start eating breakfast if you do nothing else. Yes, your annoying mother was annoyingly right when she told you that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  So if breakfast is the most important meal, I say it should also be the most delicious!  When you wake up in the morning, how awesome would it be if your first thought were not that you need to check email, rush to get ready for work, sort out the kids but “what’s for breakfast?”  Yum!

I can already hear the excuses: “I am not hungry in the morning.”  “I don’t have time.”  Yeah, yeah, I know you people, because I was you people 🙂  Let me give you a clue:  You are not hungry in the morning because you are hung over from your TV and snacking binge of the night before. What’s more, you can find time if you get organized and make a few minutes to throw something together before you rush off into your stressful day.  The bottom line is if you don’t eat breakfast, plan to stay fat, hungry and miserable!

I started my breakfast habit by drinking a meal replacement.  Not ideal but better than nothing and it allowed me to gradually transition to smoothies and then to a full main meal.  Start with whatever works for you and just have something every day and soon you will wonder how you ever got by without it!

My breakfasts include:

  1. Fruit: I choose berries for anti-oxidants and deliciousness!  I get a month’s supply from Hillcrest Berry Orchards.  They have a great variety and their quality is out of this world! I then divide the berries into 100 gram portions in Ziploc bags and keep them in the freezer.  I normally indulge in 200 grams of 2 or 3 kinds a day.  This special treat alone is enough to keep me showing up for breakfast every morning without fail!
  2. Protein:  My go-to choices are eggs, whey powder or Greek yoghurt.
  3. Healthy fat: Favorites are nuts or a bit of Coconut Oil.
  4. Fiber:  Chia seeds are the perfect choice because they keep you full for hours and can be eaten on their own or added to just about anything.
  5. Whole grain.  If I am having grain on any given day I make sure at least one of the portions is for breakfast.  My new discovery and current favorite is puffed amaranth, but also love whole oats.

Need an exotic breakfast idea?  Here’s one that includes all of the above that I keep coming back to:

flapjacks, berries and ice cream

Puffed Amaranth and Chia flapjacks with berries, nuts and homemade ice cream

I love this breakfast because besides being so decadent that it should be illegal, it allowed me to make creative use of the interesting ingredients I have been collecting from The Ethical Co-Op and local Farmers Markets.  I have Ashley of Edible Perspectives to thank for the fantastic amaranth recipe (she calls hers French Toast but mine came out more like flapjacks because I made the batter a bit wetter.)  Between the flapjack and ice cream layers are blue berries, black berries, raspberries, brazil nuts and pecan nuts. Sigh. . .

This would be a great time to introduce my new recipe page.  Swing by to get the ice cream recipe for this breakfast and see Edible Perspectives for the Amaranth French Toast recipe.  Hope you like it and that it  inspires you to begin your own Breakfast Adventure!