Oatmeal vs Lox

Calling all oatmeal lovers: what’s your favorite way to prepare oatmeal?

Ever since I admitted in my last post to ditching oatmeal and falling back into my bagel-and-lox habit, the guilt is getting to me.

Actually, all of my lo-co eating habits are out of whack. Yesterday I hit Wendy’s again while driving home from the 8th HS Baseball game in 2 weeks. Of course I had no menu planned and frankly, I was too tired from shivering in the wind for 3+ hours per game to make any.

So I decided the easiest way to get back into eating lo-co was to focus on breakfast (at least I’m now spinning 2x a week so all’s not TOTALLY lost, lo-co-wise). Because dinners are so not happening right now – and baseball season has only just begun.

So, breakfast. I know I should be eating oatmeal, the cholesterol-lowering superfood. But I love my half-bagel-with-lox. So I need to know: do I really need to give up my lox-every-day habit? Is it that bad for me? Or can I have oatmeal a few days a week and still have my bagel and lox some (most?) other days?

To decide, I researched lox. Frankly, I was hoping to find that lox is a healthy choice (and maybe I’d just add oatmeal cookies to my diet?) It seemed rational: I mean, lox is smoked salmon, and that’s chock full of fish oil and healthy protein, so it should be healthy. Right?

The answer is, yes… kind of.  But lox has issues, which I guess I knew. But I was all hold-my-hands-over-my-ears about them.

It turns out that lox does indeed deliver good-for-you omega 3 fatty acids and lean protein. Which is great, but I had no idea lox also packed a big sodium punch.  Truly, no idea. Despite how the divine salty taste mingles with the sweet, cream cheese.

See above monkey-hear-no-evil mien.

A 3 ounce serving of lox has 1700-2000 mg of sodium. Eat that much lox every morning and you’d be over the USDA guideline of 1500 mg of sodium by 8am! Lox nutritional info is not easy to find online; for details, read here and here.

Luckily, I eat far less lox on my bagel than most – I roughed it out to about 0.6 ounces, which is 1 small slice – every morning. Still, that drops 350-400 mg of sodium into my system along with my decaf hazelnut coffee (with Silk Soy Creamer and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, thank you very much.)

So lox has far too much salt than is good for me daily. And here I was thinking I eat a low sodium diet because I never add salt to anything.

In “The Risks of Eating Smoked Salmon,” health writer Jeffrey Traister explains that in addition to the high sodium, ingesting lox potentially exposes you to chemicals that can cause cancer, and lox can be infected with the dangerous bacteria, listeria. He advises:

“Minimize your risk by eating smoked salmon less often, eat foods with low sodium content on days you consume the fish, eat small amounts to reduce exposure to polycyclic hydrocarbons and eat it shortly after purchase to lower risk of listeriosis.”

Sufficiently freaked out, I will be eating cereal while I search for delicious ways to simply prepare great tasting oatmeal.

Recipes, anyone?

Illustrations by Christine Juneau.


Barley lowers cholesterol

Everyone knows oatmeal is a cholesterol-lowering food. But frankly, oatmeal leaves me cold. The consistency kind of grosses me out, and it reminds me of poor, sad Oliver Twist holding out his porridge bowl.  And that is no way to start every day.

So I reverted back to my 1/2 bagel-with-smidge-of-cream-cheese-and-lox daily breakfast. True, the momentary culinary delight gives way to guilt over skipping the holy grail of cholesterol-lowering foods. But I’ve made peace with that.

Or I had – until I realized my next 6 month cholesterol check is not so far away. And with no daily oatmeal, kind-of-sort-of daily Metamucil and far too many Wendy’s runs, I’m likely to see poor results.

So I set out to see what other food I could start eating that would lower my cholesterol. A food that would not make me sad.

And happily, I found barley. I’d heard of it, of course – but never eaten it. And certainly never cooked it. In that wow-karma, the universe will provide way that sometimes happens, I opened the NYT Dining section last week and found Melissa Clark ‘s article, “Mushrooms and Barley, A Spring Jump Start.”  Which was exactly what the, ahem, doctor was calling for.

Though the recipe itself is called a ‘salad’ (and you know I am not salad-girl), the picture showed NO salad greens so I decided to try it. I bought the ingredients but even then waited a few days because the recipe said it would take a daunting 90 minutes…which it DOES. But it’s not difficult – just a ton of chopping.  So if you don’t like to chop – and/or your knives aren’t sharp – this is not the recipe for you. But if that sounds OK to you, forge ahead because this is tasty…and pretty easy.

My tips about this recipe:

  • I used parsnip instead of celery root because I couldn’t find celery root and had never cooked parsnip. Turns out parsnip is a cinch to cook with, and imparts a slightly sweet taste that was great in this dish.
  • As I did not find the ‘special’ mushrooms the recipe called for, I just used pre-sliced baby bella and white mushrooms. Totally fine – am sure would be better with special mushrooms, but ‘typical’ mushrooms were great in this dish.
  • You MUST toast the pearl barley. I’d never done before and it’s simple – and fills the house with a delicious nutty aroma.
  • The recipe explains why you should cook the barley in a virtual vat of  boiling water – I did, and it did not stick!
  • I used champagne vinegar rather than cider vinegar.
  • I wish I’d tasted it BEFORE I added the vinaigrette – my son despises vinegar of any sort, and had I served it to him sans vinaigrette he probably would have liked it – because he liked the barley (!)
  • I served this as a main dish – it took 90 minutes so that was all I was cooking!  But in my view, it’s more of a side. Probably would be good with an actual green salad.  Gak.

So fabulous…now I know how to toast and cook barley, and am free to play around with other add-ins and non-vinaigrette versions of this recipe. But the question remains: is it worth finding and fiddling with barley recipes?

And the answer is YES – because barley reduces cholesterol.

This Lower Cholesterol: Eat More Barley article, on the website of the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, a “leading authority in natural medicine” explains the clincial study that proves barley lowers cholesterol. It’s well written and a great explanation of how oatmeal – and barley – lower cholesterol:

“One study showed that for every 1 gram of soluble fiber consumed per day, total and LDL cholesterol decreased by 1.55 mg/dl. This means that consuming a diet high in soluble fiber can have a clinically important effect on serum cholesterol levels.”

This study is also well explained in WebMD’s Barley Helps Lower Cholesterol article. And you can find out more / all about barley and its nutritional values at the Barley Foods site: www.barleyfoods.org.