Losing Lox

My parents are staying with us for a few weeks, and my Mom recently asked about my daily bagel and lox habit.

Sigh.

I know it’s probably not what I should be eating every day. But I do love it so. And really, how bad could it be?

You might recall that I tried to answer this very question nearly two years ago in my Oatmeal vs. Lox post. That was when I discovered lox has a lot of sodium (yes, it’s ridiculous this was news to me. But it was. Truly.)  But I also found solace in the fact that lox also delivers omega 3 fatty acids and lean protein – good for lowering cholesterol.  So while I concluded that I should switch to cereal or oatmeal, I guess it never felt like an emergency.

Because, you know, there was good along with the bad.

But now my Mom’s question had me thinking. So I delved into the numbers. For real this time. I did about 2 hours of research.

The answer is not pretty.

It’s ugly actually.

This time, I calculated the actual nutritional value of what I am eating.  My bagel and lox habit consists of one-half of a bagel topped with 1 TB of whipped cream cheese and 0.5 oz of lox. I input this into My Fitness Pal and compared it to the oatmeal breakfast I would actually eat if forced to eat oatmeal (1 packet of Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal made with 3/4 cup of organic skim milk).

Full details in this spreadsheet. Here are the couple of take-aways that I found surprising:

  • My bagel and lox breakfast is BETTER than oatmeal in the sugar category – but this is the ONLY nutritional value where lox is better. Sigh. And if I wasn’t such a huge baby and could manage unsweetened oatmeal (ugh) rather than the childish Maple & Brown Sugar, probably my bagel and lox would not be a huge winner here either.
  • On the sodium front, these two breakfast options are about the same!  I guess Quaker puts a lot of sodium in (with the huge amount of sugar) for a flavor punch.  Ouch.
  • The difference in FIBER was not huge.  This was quite surprising – because I thought I should be eating oatmeal because of the fiber.  Which is certainly better than my bagel and lox.  But it wasn’t a huge amount better.
  • In the end, it turns out I should be eating oatmeal (made with skim milk) not only because of the fiber.  Also because the oatmeal breakfast has less saturated fat, similar protein, less dietary cholesterol, and a lot more vitamins, calcium and iron than my beloved bagel and lox. (Damn that skim milk.  If I made the oatmeal with water, I bet the bagel and lox numbers would be far closer.)

If you’d like to see the full details, here is a PDF of the spreadsheet I created which compares the nutritional comparison details of these two breakfasts, for those so inclined.

Now that I know that the oatmeal with skim milk option is a far healthier choice than my half-bagel with a smidge of whipped cream cheese and one small slice of lox, perhaps I’ll start with the oatmeal again.

And if that doesn’t stick, maybe I’ll research some cold cereals.  That Special K with cinnamon pecan isn’t bad…

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Let them NOT eat cake

Going Lo-Co Conundrum: controlling cholesterol via healthy eating and exercise while nursing an ankle injury and an unusual, prolonged aversion to meal planning and cooking.

The ankle is getting better, so exercising is on the upswing.  But having a senior in high school applying to college (insert any other challenge here) has not been exactly conducive to my finding and preparing low cholesterol meals.

I was glad to find the Fresh 20 meal planning service, which at least got me cooking a bit again. And somehow I found the strength while planning Thanksgiving for 16 to actually try a few new low fat recipes.

My first goal was a coffee cake alternative. When I gave my mother-in-law several choices for Friday-after-Thanksgiving brunch, she asked me to make her Sour Cream Coffee Cake. I won’t post the recipe here because, though delicious, it’s from the 1950s and not remotely lo-co.

However, the cake had its benefits. My son – with newly minted baking skills complements of his HS Culinary class – and I made this together, and we had a blast with it.  We’ve never baked together, as I’m more of a cook than baker and he’s never had any interest. But he now has actual skills, so he got to poke fun at how I measure (‘exact’ is not exactly in my vocab).  He also taught me about the paddle attachment for my stand mixer. Apparently, I’ve used it incorrectly for years – who knew the whisk was just for whipping?  Cake turned out to be healthy for our relationship, if not my cholesterol.

So we had fun making cake together. But I knew I should not partake in much more than a nibble (thank goodness it wasn’t chocolate or that plan would have been in vain), so I needed an alternative.  My own fresh-baked cake for breakfast.

Enter Melissa Clark’s recipe: Butternut Squash Oat Muffins with Candied Ginger. Though there is butter in this recipe, I decided the whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and butternut squash were a good enough counterbalance.  And hey, it had to be better than actual coffee cake.

These were quite tasty and though time-consuming, not very hard to make,  Fair warning: I’d not attempt unless you have a Cuisinart to grate the butternut squash.  Here are a few things I learned/modified if you give this recipe a go:

  • I am not a ginger fan, so I tweeted to Melissa Clark (and she answered in mere moments – amazing) and she suggested to substitute raisins or dried cranberries.  As it was Thanksgiving I chose dried cranberries and they were great in this!
  • If you do like ginger, good luck dicing it.  My effort was a debacle. Google it – there are tricks that involve adding a lot of sugar while in Cuisinart and that did seem to work, but it’s not a simple process.
  • Plan ahead – there are 2 items that need to be at room temp:  eggs and greek yogurt.  I ended up making this at 11pm because I didn’t notice the yogurt! Oh, and the butter needs to be melted and cooled.  So mine ended up in the freezer for a bit – better to do that ahead too.
  • I’d never before grated butternut squash, but with pre-cut cubes courtesy of Trader Joe’s and the grating disc on my Cuisinart, it was simple.

My in-laws did not try the muffins (being 86, they’re a bit set in their ways) but my husband, son and I all loved these muffins.  Not maybe as much as the cake, but…

Give these a whirl – these are a great snack or breakfast. And a big THANKS to Melissa Clark – if she hadn’t immediately tweeted back the dried cranberry for ginger alternative, I’d never have finished baking these delicious muffins!

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Melissa Clark to the breakfast rescue?

With much reluctance, I abandoned my usual bagel and lox breakfast this week (see Oatmeal vs Lox). I’ve been grumpy about it, but I stuck with it… all week.

The first two days I went with cereal. Special K Cinnamon Pecan Cereal, to be exact. Then I tried instant oatmeal but it was so boring I didn’t even finish a bowl. I know, I know – instant oatmeal’s terrible. But who wants to cook in the morning? So back I went to cereal.

It’s astonishing how very much I miss my warm bagel with just a smidge (never a smear) of whipped cream cheese – topped with a fresh, thin layer of lox. Simply astonishing I can actually pine for a breakfast item.

A friend saw my Facebook post bemoaning my lox loss and wishing for a tasty oatmeal recipe and sent this:

“Hi Karen, I’m an oatmeal lover and couldn’t resist sharing my current favorite recipe. While the oatmeal is cooking I toss a handful of dry coconut flakes into the mix (they soften and the taste blends into the porridge). To serve I crumble walnuts (for protein and crunch – but any nut will do) and fresh organic blueberries, and then I smother mine with rice milk. (For added health, sprinkle 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds- good for hormonal balance). Yum. and Happy Spring!”

Doesn’t that sound great? Aren’t you inspired? Despite my lox mourning, even I had to admit this sounded delicious, so I dutifully printed this out and went shopping.

And promptly FAILED.

No, I didn’t cave and buy lox. The problem was coconut flakes – I didn’t have any and clearly, they were vital to this recipe. But Trader Joe’s doesn’t stock coconut flakes and Fresh Market was out. (I find this puzzling – is there some Passover or Easter coconut tradition I don’t know about?)

Worse, I was so flummoxed by my inability to purchase coconut flakes from 2 different stores that I totally forgot to buy fresh blueberries.

Now very frustrated, I banged a bowl of Special K onto the table, sloshed in some milk, and opened the New York Times Dining Section. To my surprise, I found inspiration. Nope, not for breakfast; instead, I was inspired by Melissa Clark’s calzone article. Check out this piece of potential lo-co cooking heaven:

“For the dairy eschewers in my life, I whipped up a calzone without any cheese at all. Instead, I piled garlicky mashed white beans and caramelized fennel and onions into pizza dough, baking it until golden. It was full-flavored and soft-centered, not a traditional calzone but a delicious tart-like creation unto itself, and one that I’ll make again.”

Now thinking I had a plan for dinner, I was doing a bit of research on Ms. Clark’s blog for an ingredient suggestion. (Two issues: first there’s no actual recipe in the article, so that’s a dilemma. And second, I hate fennel so am wondering what to use instead.) And guess what I found? An amazing post about homemade Coconut Orange Muesli.

It seems I’m destined to work on ditching my lox jones.

If I can just find some coconut flakes, I’ll have 2-count-em-2 oatmeal recipes to try.

Just please stop laughing at the fact that I’m so far gone lo-co-wise, that I’m now writing about the IDEA of lo-co recipes – and haven’t actually made them.

Yet.

Illustrations by Christine Juneau.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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