Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Pancake Diet - Gluten-Free too!

Although I have been neglecting my Gluten-Free Blog a bit recently (my posting-frequency is suffering as I had to do some "real" work the past few weeks), my diet is going well. One of the core components of a healthy gluten-free diet I have been adhering to for the past six months or so now is pancakes. Yes, pancakes as a diet aid!

These are no ordinary pancakes either, as they are extraordinary in both composition and flavor and nutritional value. I would almost call them a "gluten-free meal replacement" diet product, as one pancake constitutes my entire mid-day meal (lunch or very late breakfast) on most days now.

I had a few objectives in mind when I designed these wheat-free and gluten-free pancakes, and I put a lot of time into tuning them and improving them over time - which didn't take long, since I eat them on most days.

My diet-pancake goals included:
  • Consistency and taste: always my top priority in baking! Gluten-Free or not, it has to taste good and have great texture in order for me to eat it - especially if I am going to eat it regularly!
  • Simplicity: I needed a formula or recipe that was simple to mix up in a hurry and bake without much thought or effort, plus one that is adaptable to simple flavorful/healthful variations.
  • Healthful: not just "empty carbs", but rather a mix of ingredients with a reasonable glycemic index coupled with a nice balance of protein, vitamins, minerals, and overall nutritional value.
The Result: Gluten-Free Super-Diet-Pancakes!
I met all my goals with the gluten-free pancake diet recipe that has evolved from months of continual use. I absolutely love the fact that I can now eat pancakes on a regular basis (which are, of course, rather closely related to cakes, and thus my primary passion: gluten-free desserts). The consistency and taste take care of my "need" for bread-like foods that I would so otherwise miss in a traditional diet, and I have enough flavor and variation in flavor to keep me wanting them day after day.

Simple would be understating how easy these are to "get right" just by eyeballing the ingredients. I can make any of a wide variety of these wheat-free Pancakes now just by pouring, shaking, or adding ingredients into a single bowl as I go, without any measuring equipment (don't worry - I give close approximations for proportions of ingredients in the recipe below).

Healthfulness objectives were met on most levels, though I vary the recipe a bit based on my add-on ingredients (I admit it: on more than a few days, I give into my chocolate addiction and add chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, etc.!) But, overall, it's pretty good on the "health scale", and makes up about a third of my daily 2000-calorie target diet.

The Diet-Pancake Recipe / Formula

I'm going to include a few pictures here to demonstrate how simple, and rather free form, this "recipe" is. This picture shows my various ingredients accumulating in a bowl. And, here is an approximation of what my typical "diet pancake" includes:

The "core recipe":
  • roughly 3/4 Cup buckwheat flour (please, please,... no posts from people that do not understand that buckwheat is safe, gluten-free, and not related to wheat in any way). If you need gluten-free buckwheat flour, you can get the Pocono Certified GF Organic Buckwheat Flour here.
  • roughly 1/3-1/2 Cup pumpkin puree (I am using all my freshly cooked pumpkin-pie pumpkin filling I made and froze last fall - see my various gluten-free pumpkin recipes blogs and such for prior discussions). I have used canned pumpkin too. This is a super-healthy ingredient with a low-calorie, low glycemic index, and full of nutrients (Vitamin A being one standout, and plenty of fiber!)
  • about a tablespoon of cinnamon. (Why so much cinnamon? Read the sub-discussion on this prior gluten-free blog entry about Cinnamon and health benefits).
  • roughly a tablespoon of molasses. This is a great source of Iron, Calcium, and Potassium!
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon Inulin (i.e., ground chicory root) - nearly pure soluble fiber.
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown rice bran (I use Ener-G's products for this). Again, great fiber source and more! Some studies have shown it useful for lowering cholesterol too. Note: don't use TOO much - this is one case where "too much of a good thing" is easy to reach...the flavor and texture can easily ruin the pancake if overdone.
  • 1/2 ounce of the miracle gluten-free "gluten" product: whey protein isolate. I did a prior blog about the marvels of baking with gluten-free whey protein here. This truly is an amazing product, and makes these pancakes hold up to any comparison to "real" (wheat-filled or gluten-containing) ones.
  • A bit of baking powder: 1/4-1/2 tsp max.
  • Water : enough to reach proper consistency... add some, mix, add more, until desired batter thickness (see below for discussion...)
  • Baking / Frying instructions: (see below...)
Recipe Variations / Options / Add-Ons
I will regurly add one or more of the following to this mix for both flavor and varied nutritional / diet objectives. Some options include (at whatever level of extra flavor - and calories - you desire):

  • Chocolate (a weakness of mine!) - chips, chunks, even cocoa on occasion. Full of antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium, and more (good excuses for sure!)
  • Frozen blueberries (or other frozen fruits), Raisins (or other dried fruits) - more antioxidants
  • Chopped nuts - walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc. All of them go well in here, and walnuts are full of Omega-3's!
  • Other grain(s) - I've mixed in some Flax Meal on occasion, and have even tried some perhaps unusual "experiments" (that came out fine) where I pre-cooked some whole Teff grain, and mixed the cooked grain into my pancakes (for a nice added Whole-Grain benefit)
One of my favorite combos included some 85%-cocoa chocolate with chopped hazelnuts. Fantastic!

The Pancake Batter

The above picture shows the resulting pancake batter after being hydrated. I don't know how to best advise getting the moisture level right, other than by a bit of trial and error, since altering the ingredients list varies the amount of water needed.

Even the different batches of cooked pumpkin I use vary in their water-content, and thus alter the amount of extra water I must add. I just know what the consistency and thickness needs to be in the end to get the pancake right. It's probably not much different than what a "normal" pancake batter would be like.

NOTE: the batter may be a bit "lumpy" looking with all that pumpkin-fiber (and optional nuts, fruit, chocolate) in there.

Baking / Frying the Gluten-Free Pancake

Notice I said "pancake" and not "pancakeS" here -- I'm making one LARGE pancake (10" wide, nearly 1" thick), though you can certainly split into smaller batches. I use a 10" cast-iron frypan, and pour the entire bowl of batter on to a well sprayed (cooking spray) pan that I pre-heat a bit. I have found that getting the heat-level right is important, especially for these mega-pancakes.

I cook on low heat for a longer period of time. I have found that 7-10 minutes frying on the first side makes flipping easier by far, and then I cook the mega-cake for another 4-5 minutes on side two. The end result is the plate-sized super-pancake pictured at the beginning of this gluten-free blog entry.

That is one serious pancake!

It's always hard to get a sense for scale in a picture, so here's a cross-section picture showing the full depth of this cake, while also exposing my chocolate chunks! :) Now you can see how a single pancake can be so utterly filling (And fulfilling!)

Nutritional Data
If you were trying to count carbs, protein, sugar, and so forth during the ingredient list above, I can help out here (in approximation). I'm targeting about 600 calories total in my single massive meal-replacement pancake, and the breakdown is roughly:
  • buckwheat: 300 calories, 66g carbs (9 of which is fiber), 12g protein, 3g fat, 15% RDA potassium
  • pumpkin: 20 (yes, only TWENTY) calories, 6g carbs (1/4 of that is fiber), 1g protein, 100% vitamin-A RDA
  • cinnamon: 20 calories, 6g carbs (4g is fiber)
  • molasses: 50 calories, 12g carbs (all sugars), 15% RDA potassium, 15% RDA Calcium, 20% RDA Iron
  • brown rice bran: 25-50 calories - high in potassium, carbs are nearly 50% fiber, and it's high protein
  • Inulin: 2.5g carb (2 of which is soluble fiber)
  • Whey Protein Isolate: 50 calories, 12.5g protein (25% RDA)
  • [optional recipe ingredients]100-200 calories of walnuts, blueberries, etc.
I point out the fiber content of the carbs here, since fiber is quite important in the diet plan, as it "fills you up" and makes you feel full, while keeping the overall glycemic index of the carbohydrates in check a bit. I wanted something that would satisfy my tastebuds while making my stomach think it had plenty to eat, and something with a "slow burn" (vs. simple sugar and carbs). This seems to do the job nicely!

Pancake-Diet and Weight Loss - the Results
While eating my "diet pancakes", I have lost nearly 20 pounds over the past 4 months. These pancakes make up the "core calories" in my day-to-day life, and they are enjoyable and delicious calories that satisfy my cravings for carbohydrates while also being generally healthy with a good balance of protein, fiber, carbs, and nutrients.

I do not attribute all of my weight loss to these pancakes, as I am also working out regularly and staying active (as any real diet plan should include) - 20-30 minutes/day, 6 days/week of some form of exercise. One day/week is resistance training (with light weights where appropriate): pushups, chinups, situps, curls, dips, squats, military press, leg-lifts, etc. The other 5 days is moderate aerobics: stationary bike (well, stationary for Winter at least), rowing machine, and/or walking or jogging.

I was not technically overweight to begin with, but I did see room for improvement, and certainly room to tone up a bit more. And, by sticking to my diet and my exercise routine, I am now able to wear the same size jeans I did in College - which isn't bad considering that was some 20 years ago! So, one way or the other, the pancake diet (using my specially formulated gluten-free diet pancakes) has certainly been an integral part of the plan and has helped me meet my health goals.

I hope this formulation / recipe can be of use to anyone else that may want a great dietary option for health and/or weight-loss reasons. If nothing else, it may at least give you a great basis for some experimental gluten-free baking :)

I can see easily adapting this recipe to create "health bars" or such... perhaps such a recipe will be coming in the future on the Gluten-Free Blog.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Gluten-Free Wild Thymes Sauces

These various gluten-free / wheat-free dipping sauces from Wild Thymes are among my favorite GF kitchen pantry "must have" items. I get them at our local Whole Foods market, and use the sauces in a wide variety of dishes. Speaking of, as I went to take a picture of the bottles, I noticed it's time for another trip to the store, as I had just used the last of the Indian Vindaloo Curry variety!

I definitely recommend these products. We use the Garlic Thai Roasted Garlic sauce on ribs, chicken, and other things. And, the Moroccan Spicy Pepper and/or Indian Curry sauce are a regular item for me when I'm in a hurry for a healthy snack or quick meal. They add tang and taste to all sorts of dishes, and every variety I have tried is consistently wonderful and delicious!

Simple "Recipe" using these Sauces
Here's what I like as a nice quick-fix snack, lunch, side-dish:
  1. Cut up a whole Spanish onion and a couple cloves of garlic
  2. Fry those up in a pan for a few minutes, caramelizing the onion nicely
  3. Remove fried veggies to a plate, add a small (6 ounce) can of gluten-free tomato paste (I use Walmart's own brand which is clearly marked "Gluten Free" on the label)
  4. Add a few tablespoons of these spicy Wild Thymes sauces - generally the Moroccan and/or Indian type
  5. Eat!
Fast, simple, rather low-calorie, full of flavor (and Lycopene), and quite satisfying. I use this as part of my overall diet strategy, as a great way to get some vegetables into the diet (tomato and onion certainly), while leveraging the intense and wonderful flavor to fulfill any cravings that may otherwise lead me to less healthy eating options. If you don't mind the extra carbohydrates, throw some freshly cooked rice into the mix: most excellent!

I like how the Wild Thymes products exhibit superb flavor and are clearly labeled Gluten-Free, and also how their ingredients are the sames as what you would use to make your own gluten-free sauces (if time permitted), as they stick to the basics and natural items. For example, the Vindaloo has Tomato, Onion, Cider Vinegar, Olive/Canola Oil, Garlic, Ginger, Lime, Spices, salt and sugar. They keep the sodium and sugar low in general (the Thai Chili / Garlic one has a bit more sugar - as it is a sweeter variety sauce).

I hope you enjoy these products as much as I do!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Beets : Gluten-Free Blood-Pressure Treatment

Yes, you read the heading correctly! Beets can reduce blood pressure, or so says a study just released by The London School of Medicine. Those lovely deep-red root vegetables that seem actually rather uncommon on most American household menus, now turn out to hold the promise of a dietary blood-pressure control option.

Beets are one of those gluten-free and wheat-free foods we can all enjoy in our diets (well, "enjoy" in that they are safe for Celiac and gluten-free / wheat-free people - as for enjoying the taste, that's up to you). And now, perhaps we can also consume them with the intention of lowering our blood pressure. Here's a summary of what the study found:
  • 500ml of beetroot juice a day can significantly reduce blood pressure
  • blood pressure was reduced within just 1 hour of ingesting beetroot juice
  • a peak drop occurs 3-4 hours after ingestion.
  • Some reduction was observable up to 24 hours after ingestion.
Now, don't think about taking beet extract in pill-form or something, because a vital component of the protective effect of beet-juice is generated by the interaction of the nitrates in the juice with your saliva (meaning, it has to pass through your mouth) which helps convert it to a nitrite (notice the spelling difference) that ends up having protective, a BP-Lowering impact. Thus, you'll have to either eat your beets or drink your beet-juice to get the benefit as best as I can tell.

I always find this type of study interesting, and I am always especially pleased when the item of interest is also gluten-free / wheat-free, since all of us can enjoy the benefit! Quite honestly, I don't think I'm going to run out and buy a pile of beets, but if I had high blood pressure I'd certainly be inclined to try it before going on prescription medications. Don't get me wrong: I like beets, and I really enjoyed them when I was young (not sure why, but I just don't think about them much now, but perhaps my diet will include them more often going forward).

Half a liter of beet juice a day? Sure, why not? Call it a new Sports Drink (gluten-free of course) and market it to the masses -- perhaps add a bit of caffeine to the mix, and it becomes the new Deep-Red Bull. lol. If you want to read more details of the study, here's a link to Study on Beet-Juice lowering Blood-Pressure.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

CBS Sunday Morning Faux Pas

I like the CBS Sunday Morning news program quite a bit, and typically watch it every week. Today (2/3/08), one of their news segments focused on the use / abuse of Steroids in America, which was a rather enlightening look at how widespread and rampant the use of the illicit drug (well, i.e., illegal without a prescription) is in the USA.

What got my attention, is when, after repeatedly showing bottles of various testosterone derivations (aka, Steroids) and related things like human growth hormone throughout the segment, their camera zoomed in on a bottle of Cyanocobalamin towards the end of the spot. That is NOT a Steroid - it is VITAMIN B12! I can just picture people in America now thinking a component of a standard daily multi-vitamin contains or is a steroid, or, perhaps people will next be out searching for B12 in hopes it makes them gain strength and muscle (note: it may actually make them feel a bit more energetic - many claim it does).

So, I sent the CBS Sunday Morning show an Email asking them to have a medical professional review such footage before airing, as it could give the wrong impression to people (of what Vitamin B-12 is).

The only reason I mention this here otherwise is because I wrote a discussion here on the Gluten-Free / Wheat-Free blog last September I called Medical Secrets Revealed : Vitamin B12 administration, where I discussed the simple technique of increasing B-12 absorption (something that can be incredibly important to individuals with impaired nutrient absorption from the side-effects of Celiac Disease). Vitamin B-12 is important for brain function, nervous system function, and for the formation of blood cells, which certainly is important. But, that doesn't make it a steroid :)