Friday, December 13, 2013
Part of my low carb experience has been adapting 20 years of more plant-based experience to living without grains and without most meats. I went many years eating fish only occasionally, but it is currently a regular part of my diet. It is otherwise challenging to keep carbs low enough without resorting constantly to processed protein powders.
One excellent resource for a keto adapted / low carb high fat diet is "The Art and Science of Low Carb Living", written by two of the authors of "New Atkins for a New You". The idea of a "well-formulated low carbohydrate diet" is repeatedly mentioned. And what does that mean? Basically, get some veggies with your bacon, avoid relying on processed foods, and understand good fats.
One of my habits is to regularly make salads that try to hit some of those "well-formulated" points. My selection of greens and fats (from dressings, nuts, and cheese) is intended to help boost the nutrition I'm getting as well as to make me really, really happy with my salad.
My salads almost always start with romaine lettuce and baby spinach. This will provide far more micro-nutrients than iceberg lettuce. If my family weren't so picky I'd throw a selection of baby greens in there, but for now, we keep it simple. I worked slowly up to about a 50/50 blend.
Buying my lettuce bunched instead of pre-bagged is not much extra work, and the flavor is much better. Baby spinach, on the other hand, is so handy pre-washed in the large box. Because the leaves aren't torn, they don't start to get bitter. A salad spinner comes in very handy for washing and drying the lettuce. I usually tear the leaves into bite size (if I won't be shredding them) and then add the baby spinach before spinning. My standard salad has about 2 cups of lettuce and spinach per serving.
Dressings are an amazing part of the low-carb salad experience. You can readily find dressings that are 1g of carbs or less per 2 TBLS serving. Trader Joe's has a good selection of them. Some of the "Follow Your Heart" vegan dressings are also good choices. Read the labels, and give preference to those with no added sugar, and those not based on soy or corn oil. Part of that "well-formulated" equation is working a higher portion of Omega-3 fatty acids into our diet, which has become heavily skewed to Omega-6. Other than making these choices, I'm not tracking how much of each I get or trying to reach a specific ratio.
I put the dressing on first and toss well. This will help the other salad elements stay mixed in better, instead of slipping to the bottom. I usually add cheese next, just a TBLS or two per serving. Parmesan or romano add a sharp flavor, crumbled cotija (a Mexican cheese that is feta-like in texture, but milder in flavor), or cheddar are all tasty and low-carb options. Fine-grated cheeses spread the flavor all over, shreds give a little more "cheesy" experience, and chunks (especially fried "grilling" cheese) stand in for croutons.
If my salad will be my entree, I add two chopped hard-boiled eggs, or other protein. My daily protein requirement is about 75g, so I target 20g or so per meal, and moderate amounts in my snacks.
The final touch is nuts or seeds. These take the place of croutons. Almonds are a great low-carb choice, and Smokehouse almonds can really wake up a salad. My favorite is roasted and salted pepitas, because they're light and crunchy.
Here are a few of my favorite combinations, all on the romaine and spinach base:
Ranch dressing, cotija cheese, and pepitas (also excellent with chopped hard boiled eggs)
Salsa, shredded cheese, and warm taco meat (or in my case, taco-seasoned fake meat "crumbles")
Lemon-herb dressing and shrimp (also great with just baby spinach, no romaine)
Caesar dressing, fried "grilling cheese", and grated Parmesan (hubby particularly likes this with chicken and crumbled bacon).
My final "bonus ingredient" for salads is capers. They add a little pop of bright, salty flavor, but be careful not to over-do. They will overwhelm everything else.