Over the last week I have been really trying to regain the flat tummy of the Educogym days (which I am returning to, by the way, just as soon as I finish off my five gazillion bits of writing for various people!) and so I have been cutting out a lot of my usual carbs. Mr AMR would laugh a lot about that, as he has watched me chomp through toast, weetabix and porridge (not all at once) in the mornings, but for the rest of the day I have been really trying not to lazily reach for the bread or pasta to quick-fix my meals. I’m upping my lean proteins and eating lots of fish (ugh) shellfish (yum) and chicken and serving them alongside some of the substitution ideas below!
Some good substitutions for bread, pasta, potatoes and rice:
1) Salad. Don’t groan! I’m talking beautifully-dressed, in-season, fresh salad. Gorgeous juicy tomatoes, colourful peppers and peppery rocket leaves. If you want ideas on how to make amazing salads (and they will fill you up, believe me!) then buy a few good cookbooks – I like Thomasina Miers’ Mexican book and anything by Jamie Oliver. Simple ingredients, quick methods, just what you need. Serve with grilled fish or chicken.
2) Puy Lentils. My most amazing food trick of this year! I love big, saucy meals like homemade curries and pasta dishes, but obviously if I’m trying to cut down on carbs then these will just not do! So this is what I have started doing: I chuck in a tin of puy lentils at the end of the cooking time to make the dish into a type of one-pot stew! It’s amazing! You can get puy lentils from most supermarkets – they are about £1.50 for a tin of them at Waitrose and Sainsburys from a company called ‘Merchant Gourmet.’ So far I have had them in a chicken curry, a French fish stew and most recently, I have jazzed the lentils up with lemon and garlic and herbs and then served pan-fried scallops and asparagus on top of them! (Dying of hunger now, absolutely dying.) Lentils have a carbohydrate content, so they’re not ‘carb-free’ but if you’re looking to cut out wheat and add protein then these are a brilliant way of doing so.
3) Low-fat, natural greek yoghurt. (Total 0% to be precise.) I have been swapping ‘cereal and milk’ for a huge dollop of yoghurt with berries. Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries. I don’t usually advocate ‘reduced fat’ foods, as they are often pumped full of sugar and salt to compensate for lack of flavour, but in this case (as I am eating a shed-load of yoghurt more than usual!) I think that it’s necessary. Anyway, Total doesn’t have any nasties added, so it’s fine.
4) Cauliflower. (I haven’t gone mad, here.) If you simmer cauliflower florets in a bit of milk, and once they’re soft blend them up with a load of salt and pepper, they make rather a nice substitution for mashed potato! I have this with seared scallops on top and a bit of pan-fried parma ham. (Again, cauliflower has a carb content, but i’s not quite as starchy as potato, so I think it’s a good alternative. Especially with Sunday roast!)
My tummy is so flat at the moment – and I’m sure that it’s just from these little changes! I’m not advocating these substitutions for every meal – (I’m having the odd pasta dish or bit of bread when I really need to) – but as ideas to fall back on when you want to avoid too many carbs then I think you might find them useful.
(Q: What’s the problem with carbs?
A: No problem whatsoever if you eat them in sensible proportions, but some people eat toast for breakfast, a huge sarnie for lunch and then curry with rice and naan for dinner! Carbs are great for a quick-fix of energy (the body burns them easily and so chooses them first over fats and proteins) but they aren’t, believe it or not, essential nutrients for the human body. Fats and proteins are. I’m not going to go into depth here, because it would go on for pages, but there’s nothing wrong with eating carbs - they can provide essential dietary fibre for a start! – we just need to eat them sensibly. They make our bloody sugar go haywire (because they are, or quickly get converted into, sugars) and they can leave us feeling hungry very, very quickly. So, just be a little bit ‘carb aware’ – things like white bread especially should be eaten infrequently. There’s no real nutritional benefit and although it’s a ‘fat free’ food, you have to get your head around the fact that IT WILL MAKE YOU FAT if you eat loads of it and little else! Don’t make processed, ‘easy’ carbs your staple – a plate full of rice is just a filler, try swapping it for a plate full of beautifully crunchy stir-fried vegetables instead! Mmmm. Also – and this is important – if you reduce your carbs, make sure that you’re getting enough protein. We want to build muscle people! Not waste away – healthy, toned bods, that’s the aim!)