In the Battle of the Bulge: Slow and steady wins the diet race


By Catharine Kaufman

“The bestsellers are cookbooks and the second best are diet books; how not to eat what you’ve just learned how to cook.”

— Andy Rooney

We have become a nation enamored with fad and trendy diets for decades. Think Dr. Atkins’ exclusive carnivorous smorgasbord, the Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherer “Caveman” Diet, The Zone, The Martini Diet, low fat, low salt, low sugar, low carb, low food. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has the latest stats on the weight-loss scene. Here’s the skinny on the most effective diet regime.

Researchers weighed the low-carb, low-glycemic and low-fat diets against each other and found the former burned the most calories in a day, the latter burned the least calories, while the low-glycemic was the best all around diet, burning more than the low-fat diet while easier to stick to over the long haul than the low-carb diet.

The buzzwords of this diet are Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, referring to how certain foods affect blood sugar and insulin levels, and ultimately measuring how quickly foods are digested.

High-glycemic foods cause a spike in blood sugar then a crash, resulting in a surge of hormones that trigger hunger pangs and lower metabolism. This puts the skids on weight loss and maintaining optimum weight. So in the new world of dieting, the lower the index and load, the better.

Numbers Game

The Glycemic Index is measured on a scale of 1 to 100. Foods ranging from 1 to 54 are low-glycemic; those between 55 and 70 are moderate, while those over 70 are considered high-glycemic, glucose representing 100.

Low GI foods include lentils, beans, sourdough rye, pumpernickel and stone-ground whole wheat breads, sweet potatoes, barley, apples and tomato juice.

The moderate category includes brown rice, Moroccan couscous, raisins, corn and cranberry juice; while in the high category are the refined whites — white rice, Wonder white bread, baked potatoes, French fries, Cheerios and watermelon.

To calculate the Glycemic Load, (a more accurate indication of the effect of a serving of food on blood sugar levels), the amount of available carbohydrate in a serving of food is multiplied by the GI, then divided by 100. Once again, lower is better. Some examples include lentils with a GL of 5, brown rice 16, and white rice 25.

Swap Meat

It’s easy to swap out high GI foods for low ones. For breakfast, instead of sugary, refined, cold cereals and orange juice, do oatmeal with raw oranges.

For burgers switch the pasty white buns for whole grain or rye. With breaded chicken cutlets or battered fish, use whole wheat, rye, oat or almond flour, or better yet, poach or grill with fresh lemon and olive oil. Do sweet potato fries instead of Russet fries, and raw veggies with a low-fat yoghurt dip, rather than chips and cheesy dips.

Gas it Up

Beans and lentils add a low GI oomph to your diet, dialing up fiber, protein, an assortment of B vitamins and minerals. Autumn offers a bounty of beans — from Cranberry, Butter Limas and Cannellini to Black, Red and White Kidneys. If you’re not a fan of beans, do hummus with traditional chickpeas or riffs using Great Northerns or organic edamames.

Watch Your Bs and Qs

Give wheat the shaft for low GI grains like nutty, chewy barley, as divine in soups, stews, pilafs and risottos as in cereals and desserts. Fragment and fluffy Basmati rice has a low GI because it losses a lot of starch during cooking, the finished product not sticky like other high GI rices. Buckwheat is a versatile seed that can be roasted as in Kasha, or ground into flour or enjoyed as a noodle.

Quick-cooking, multi-tasking bulgur wheat is typically used for Mediterranean dishes, including tabouli, pilafs and stuffings. The Incan Mother grain quinoa is a complete protein that can be a satisfying main dish or a delectable side or salad.

— If you’d like to chew the fat, e-mail

Not your Grandma’s Barley Tabouli