Simple Ways to Lighten Up Your Plate
Have you ever thought about your appetite having it's own rhythm? It does in fact, and it isn't too different than the way plants have their own cycle. What we crave season to season is biological and instinctual, and aligns with what's in the ground. We naturally crave more salads around this time of year as opposed to the heavier, warmer foods in the winter. Those cold weather root vegetables, mushrooms, butter, dense grains, and meat we're drawn to in the winter provide high calories and fat, which break down more slowly in the digestive tract, generating a steadier amount of energy and raise body temperature. But what if the craving for winter's higher-carb, higher-fat fare becomes less of a seasonal desire and more of a year-round addiction?
"How do I get my family out of the heavy food rut"?
This is what a student asked in a recent class I taught. She desperately wanted to know how she could transition her family's palate from the usual heavy dishes like, chicken a la king and shepherd's pie, to the lighter fare she was enjoying in my class. It was a great question because it brought up the challenge of how our cyclical pattern of eating has been diluted over time with the availability of every variety of food on market shelves all year long. This can dull our senses in a way that keeps us from tuning into our body's changing needs and from using nature as a compass for what to put on the plate.
Use what's already in front of you
Lightening up the plate does not mean adopting a diet of tofu and plain rice. As I explained to my student, use the idea of what your family likes and make some lighter substitutions with Spring vegetables and complex carbohydrates that will make them feel full without the bloat. Take the example of chicken a la king. It's the creamy, stew-like textures they enjoy so I suggested using seasonal vegetables like carrots, asparagus, and artichokes. Instead of the heavy cream sauce, a lighter sauce can be made with chicken broth, almond milk, and arrowroot to thicken it or go out on a ledge with this cauliflower-based sauce. With immune boosting, anti-inflammatory properties, Spring vegetables such as asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, spring onions, kale, and radishes, are already bursting in certain markets. What a great time to load up on these foods, especially if you suffer from seasonal allergies.
First, think about adding as many of the vegetables listed above. Still, many people tell me they are stuck in the starch category, feeling tied to their potatoes, pasta, and white rice, until I introduce them to a whole new world of more complex carbohydrates. These will keep you fuller longer, prevent blood sugar spikes, cortisol dysfunction, weight gain, and other metabolic and hormonal dysregulation. Check out these tips for some lighter substitutes.
Vegetable pastas - Vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, carrot, beet, and daikon are a delicious and nutritious alternative to regular pasta. The Veggetti is an easy hand-held spiralizer. There are more elaborate, larger machines that give you more options for spiralizing your favorite vegetables. You can eat any of these raw, but for a warm preparation I recommend cooking them very quickly (about 2 minutes) in a heated pan with olive oil, garlic, and/or any of your favorite spices.
‘Oodles of noodles - Today there are endless options for noodles in addition to classic Italian pastas, like udon, soba (look for 100% buckwheat), ramen, vietnamese or thai rice. Make sure to read the cooking preparation as each one requires a different cooking time. Most of these pastas carry a lot of starch and need a good rinse under cold water before dressing and serving.
Gluten free grains - Adventure outside of white or brown rice and into the gluten free grains, like quinoa, millet, amaranth, Job’s Tears, kasha, and teff, you’ll find more texture, flavor, and an abundance of micronutrients. Quinoa is a good starting point. It’s high in protein, low Glycemic load (won’t spike your blood sugar), and high in dietary fiber. Quinoa is a blank slate that can be flavored with nearly any spice or herb. I recommend 1 ½ cups water to 1 cup quinoa + ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and steam for another 5 minutes with the lid on. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve.
Move over Rice ‘a Roni - There’s a new rice that’s all the rage and it’s cauliflower “rice”. High in fiber, phytonutrients, and low in starch, cauliflower “rice” is quicker to make than most grains. It just takes a few pulses in the food processor until you reach a size of a breadcrumb and then saute in olive oil, coconut oil, or butter in a large skillet for 5 minutes. Add any aromatics you’d like, such as onions, garlic, ginger, herbs, and spices, and you’ll hardly know you’re eating cauliflower.
As in any season, mindful eating will always help you in your goals of feeling better about what you eat. And it's never too late to start. Chew slowly. Pay attention to your food as you digest it, with all your senses. Notice how the food makes you feel. Bon Apetite!