Remember the good ol' days, when watching your weight meant simply watching calories? Remember when there was only one number on the nutrition label that mattered, instead of a multitude? Now there's an entire parade of food numbers-net carbohydrate counts, insoluble fiber grams, simple sugars, total carbs-that total the dietary scorecard for the nearly 24 million Americans currently on a low-carbohydrate weight loss program. Yes, modern dieting has become more exacting. But fortunately, it seems to be worth it. Not only are Americans losing weight and keeping it off on low-carb diets, but also they're learning some nutrition fundamentals.
Low-carb diets have taught consumers about the good-for-you fat in nuts, such as pecans, about the healthfulness of whole grains, and the importance of eating unprocessed foods. Best of all, these lessons aren't lost once the weight comes off. Most successful low-carb dieters make life-long changes to their eating habits based on a better understanding of healthy food choices.
They go by many names-Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, Sugar Busters-but whichever of these low-carb diets a person opts to follow, there's one food they can always reach for: crunchy, satisfying pecans. With only 9 grams of carbohydrate per 1/2 cup serving, pecans are an ideal choice for any low-carb regimen. And while pecans help limit carb counts, they boost the more nutritious components of the diet.
"You need more nuts in your life, including pecans," says Atlanta-based Carolyn O'Neil, M.S., R.D., and co-author (with Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D.) of The Dish On Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous (Simon & Schuster, Atria Books 2004). These nutrition gurus put nuts on their nutrition "A" list.
"Nutritionists, weight loss professionals and low-carb devotees are now realizing what we've known all along," says Charles M. "Buddy" Leger, chairman of the Georgia Pecan Commission. "If consumed in moderation, pecans are a natural, nutritious and satisfying complement to virtually any healthy diet."
Good nutrition is one important reason pecans are ideal for low-carb diets; convenience is another. Pecans are ready for eating or cooking any time of day and for any meal. In the morning, when low-carb dieters are likely to be craving the typical carb-heavy breakfast of cereal, muffins or toast, a helping of pecans with its chewy, nutty flavor can satisfy the appetite.
"Pecans are a good source of protein and provide lots of concentrated energy without contributing dangerous fats"
"My personal favorite for breakfast is chopped pecans sprinkled over lemon yogurt," says Susan McQuillan, M.S., R.D., a New York-based nutrition consultant and author of Breaking The Bonds of Food Addiction (Penguin/Alpha Books 2004). "It's so quick, healthy and tasty." For an irresistible low-carb lunch or light supper, consider a Baby Spinach Salad with Ham, Roasted Cauliflower and Pecans. Full of interesting colors, textures and flavors, this mixture is just one of many salads that can be instantly improved by adding pecans.
"Pecans are a good source of protein and provide lots of concentrated energy without contributing dangerous fats," explains McQuillan. "Studies have shown that the major types of fat found in pecans can help prevent heart disease by lowering levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your body and by providing significant amounts of that ever-elusive and highly protective antioxidant, Vitamin E."
Dinner for low-carb dieters-once a solitary slab of meat on a plate-has evolved to include a wide range of creative options. Incorporating zesty spices, herbs, condiments, cheeses or nuts, these high-protein low-carb meals taste like anything but diet food. A plate of Sautéed Scallops with Lemon, Herbs and Pecans, for instance, is a well-seasoned and delectable choice that stays perfectly within the low-carb guidelines. Chopped pecans in the mixture add just the right amount of crunchy richness that mild-tasting scallops need; zesty fresh lemon and herbs complete the seasoning.
"30% of American adults either on a low-carb diet or considering trying one"
Another flavor-challenged protein food, white meat poultry, also benefits from the bolder accompaniment of Georgia pecans. In a health-smart dish of Grilled Chicken with Georgia Pecan and Raspberry Dressing, the earthy nut combined with bright fruit flavors quickly turns ho-hum breast meat into a mouthwatering meal.
With 30% of American adults either on a low-carb diet or considering trying one, it has become essential for cooks to consider the low-carb crowd when planning entertaining menus. Dressed up with roasted pecans, a generous and varied cheese board is one selection always appreciated by low-carb nibblers.
The trick is to recognize when substitutions of fish, meat or poultry work in place of traditional high-carb foods such as bread, potatoes or pasta. Equally important to carb-conscious cooking is a generous hand with interesting seasonings, as well as wholesome ingredients, such as toasted pecans. The goal in this new age of counting grams after all, is not only to cut carbs, but also to create meals that make us feel as pleased about taste as we feel about nutrition.
With pecans on hand, low-carb cooks can easily jazz up the foods in their diet. Here are ten quick medleys: