Q&A: Keto diet

Q: Is the ketogenic diet safe? Does it work?

A: Thank you as always for the question. I always enjoy responding to reader questions.

The ketogenic is a popular low carb diet right now. Different from Atkins or South Beach diet, the keto diet focuses on high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbs. The diet has been used for years in neurological settings, helping with uncontrollable seizures.

The idea behind the diet is a bit complicated, but, similar to intermittent fasting, focuses on burning fat and lowering insulin. Our body wants carbs for energy. When we don’t consume them or have anymore stored, the body will break down fats into products called ketones (the source of the name ketogenic). The body then uses these ketones somewhat like carbohydrates. (This is an oversimplification, but works for our purposes). Since the body is burning fat (consumed and stored), insulin isn’t triggered.

There are some risks with this diet, like any.

-It could be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Over a very short term period, this isn’t as concerning as in the long term. Fruits and vegetables are often the most diverse sorts of micronutrients in our diets, so restricting these as strictly as many keto diets recommend could be dangerous.

-If you have liver or kidney problems, a diet very high in fat could exacerbate these problems and would not be recommended.

-This diet is low in fiber. The benefits of fullness seem to be covered by the full feeling provided by fatty foods. But you could become constipated.

-High ketones in the blood can alter neurological functions. This can be good in the case of epilepsy, and possibly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (there is promising research here). But for normal, healthy adults, it could lead to difficulties in memory and fuzzy thinking.

-Risks for heart health and diabetes. The keto diet is often very high in saturated fat. Some studies have even shown increases in LDL or bad cholesterol with heart health. Experts have mixed thoughts on diabetes. Very low carb diets are not recommended for those with diabetes. And people with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease, so our previous discussion on saturated fat applies. However, some carb restriction could lead to lowered insulin. Just likely not as low as keto diets recommend.

There are not enough long term studies yet to know if the keto diet is safe and effective in the long term. Short term studies do show it is very effective at weight loss.

Personally, I would not recommend this. I doubt it is sustainable in the long term, and question it would be healthy to do so. A more mild approach would likely be fine.

Hope that helps!

Do you have a question? Comment here, on Facebook, or email me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.

Sources: Harvard Health, US News, Cleveland Clinic

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Chicken Fajitas, two ways

I love making big spreads of Mexican food. Much of it is easy to prepare and not incredibly time consuming. Mexican food is also a crowd pleaser – people can choose their own toppings to make everything customized. And let’s be honest, it’s delicious.

A friend told me recently about oven baking her fajita mix. I tried it, and it worked really well. Time wise, I think it takes about the same amount of time. But it is less hands on if you that helps in these hectic dinner times. Who knew winter could be so busy?

Chicken Fajitas (Serves 4)

Chicken Fajitas

½ tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
½ jalapeno, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, sliced
3 large chicken breast, cut in strips
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 large whole wheat flour tortillas

Stove top:

1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil. When hot, add chicken. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until done. Remove to a plate.

2. Return skillet to heat. Add onion and peppers, cook until beginning to soften. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook, stirring until fragrant 1-2 minutes.

3. Stir in tomatoes and chicken. Cook until most of moisture is gone from tomatoes. Serve on tortillas with cheese.

Oven:

1. Line a large baking sheet with foil. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine vegetables, chicken, oil, and seasonings in a large bowl. Toss to combine.

3. Spread in one layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes, or until chicken reaches 165 degrees F.

4. Serve on tortillas with cheese.

Nutritional information (amount per serving):

Calories: 489 kcal
Protein: 59 g
Fat: 16 g
Saturated Fat: 6 g
Cholesterol: 163 mg
Carbohydrates: 29 g
Fiber: 7 g
Sodium: 501 mg

Recipe notes: You can obviously mixup the toppings here. I just kept it simple. You could also increase the amounts of peppers and tomatoes if you like them. Mixing up the colors of you peppers is fun, too.

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Q&A: Intermittent fasting

Q: Many people I know are using “intermittent fasting” to lose weight. Is it effective? Are there health benefits? Should I try it?

A: Thank you for your questions as always. I actually have a few family members who follow an intermittent fasting “diet”, so I was very interested to research some more about this.

Intermittent fasting is followed in various forms by different people. The basics are that you limit your eating to a set number of hours per day. Most people it seems go with an 8-10 hour period, but I’ve heard of some restrict it down to only 2 hours per day.

What results are we seeing in scientific studies? Studies have shown that people have as good weight loss as just restricting their overall intake without a time restriction. But studies also indicate there may be benefits in relation to blood glucose and fat levels, which is good news for those at risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Why? This article from Harvard Health goes in much greater detail if you are interested. But in short, when we eat carbohydrates, one of two things can happen. First, those carbs are used for energy, which requires insulin (insulin levels are high). Second, they can be stored as fat. In between meals, when the body needs carbs but there aren’t any available (insulin is LOW), the body breaks down the fat for energy. This is good. We want the body to do this. But if we are CONSTANTLY eating, insulin levels stay high and we never break down that fat. Also, constantly overload of insulin can lead to our body not responding well to insulin, which can lead to diabetes.

But isn’t fasting hard? For some people, it can be. The Harvard article mentions some research that shows putting your eating period earlier in the day makes it easier rather than later (so 7 am-3 pm vs 12 pm – 8 pm). I think the timing of your fasting period is likely to be very individualized based on your preference and schedule. If you already aren’t a morning eater, don’t start just because of fasting.

Don’t want to fast? Me either. But there are some good take aways for EVERYONE, even if you aren’t intermittent fasting.

-Stop eating ALL the time. Allow insulin levels drop and you can burn some fat.

-“Hunger” in and of itself isn’t a horrible thing. Letting it get out of control so you eat out of control can be bad, but a little bit of hunger between meals is ok.

-Don’t eat late at night. This is likely to be just junk foods and shortens the periods of low insulin levels at night.

-Find what works for you. Fasters need to find the 8 hours that work best for them. Find what “schedule” of eating works best for you, be it 1, 2, or 3 meals a day. There is not a generic diet that will be perfect for everyone. You have to make it work for you!

Hope that helps!

Send questions to kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Creamy Orzo with Bacon and Peas

Getting back into a groove after the holidays can be rough. I know I’ve felt a little off my game. And with it getting dark so early and quickly, it seems like it magically is dinner time RIGHT NOW every night. Any one else?

I’ve resorted a lot to quick meals. This one is nice because it is enough like macaroni and cheese that my kids will eat it; has bacon so my husband likes it; and has vegetables and is delicious so I like it. Wins all around. And it cooks in 1 pan. So easy clean up. Enjoy!

Creamy Orzo with Bacon and Peas (Serves 4)

Creamy Orzo with Bacon and Peas

4 ounces bacon, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 cups orzo
3 ¼ cups water
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 eggs
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon pesto

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until mostly browned. Add in onion. Sauté 2-3 minutes.

2. Add in orzo; cook until toasted. Add water. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until water is almost absorbed.

3. Stir in tomatoes and peas; cook 2-3 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and parmesan together.

5. Turn off heat. Stir egg/parmesan mixture and pesto into pasta until well combined and creamy. Serve warm.

Recipe notes: I turn off the heat but then keep it on the burner to make sure the eggs actually cook. You could also cook it on low. You just want the eggs to cook slowly or you’ll have scrambled eggs.

Nutritional Information (amount per serving):

Calories: 366
Protein: 18 g
Fat: 23 g
Saturated Fat: 9 g
Cholesterol: 133 mg
Carbohydrates: 22 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 708 mg

Source: lightly adapted from Giada de Laurentis

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New Year, new plans?

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a great start to your 2019. Mine is frigid cold, unfortunately. But otherwise, 2019 is starting good on my resolutions.

I’ve talked about resolutions on here A LOT before. I think they are great. I am still solidifying mine for the year. We traveled a bit for the holidays, so I’m starting some of mine today, the second. Some may start next week when my daughter goes back to school and life is in more of a routine. But it’s ok. Just pick any day and start.

Did you make any food or health related resolutions? This is my third year making the exact same resolution – only eat “treats” 2 days per week. The first year I didn’t do well. Last year, I did awesome until May then was pretty hit or miss (mostly miss) for the rest of the year. But that’s ok. I’m not perfect and never will be. But I can keep trying to be better. What are you trying to be better at in 2019?

One goal many people have is to meal plan better. Meal planning is GREAT for your budget, your daily stress level, and your health. You eat more healthful foods if you plan it out. However, planning can be a chore. I do it every week, so I know.

One solution many seek are either menu services or meal delivery services. I tried out Hello Fresh recently, so I thought I’d give a quick review here. (I previously reviewed Blue Apron here.) I am not sponsored by Hello Fresh. I used a discount coupon I got in the mail, but it was a generic coupon code. Hello Fresh doesn’t know I am reviewing them and did not give me anything to do so.

Hello Fresh Review

I was fairly impressed with the different recipe selections they had. It seemed a wide variety and food my kids would eat. When the box arrived, I felt like the ingredients were good quality for the price I paid. Of the recipes I got, I’m sharing today about the Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops with Garlic Herb Couscous and Roasted Broccoli.

And the food…

Hello Fresh Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops

was delicious! I was actually pretty impressed. I’m not always a huge fan of couscous, but this was really good.

Pros:
– The food was good. Close to restaurant quality. Not an average weeknight dinner for us.

– It was fast and easy to make. This recipe in particular was pretty quick and straightforward. I even felt like it worked well. Pork and I have a hard time, but I felt like it cooked in the amount of time it stated (I often find I need to cook pork much longer than suggested cooking times to reach appropriate temperatures).

– I could make this again. I liked that I know exactly how much of all the ingredients were included so I could easily make this on my own if I wanted. Blue Apron was not that way, which I found frustrating. I wouldn’t keep ordering the same thing from a service, so I like getting the recipe for myself.

Cons:
-Price. Hello Fresh is at least $7 per serving. I try to budget around $10 per DAY at my house. I’m not always successful. But more than half of that at dinner kills me.

-Serving sizes. I personally found the serving sizes a little odd. The pork chops and veggies were good sizes. The couscous was a little scarce for 4 servings at my house (and 2 of my servings are little kids). But that just may be my house. A relative of mine says she serves 6 people fine off of 4 serving boxes.

-What is it saving you? Meal box services always kind of confuse me. They provide 2-4 dinners per week. So…I still have to plan and grocery shop for all the other days and meals. To me it just doesn’t move the ball enough to be worth the money. If that doesn’t phase you, great! Go for it!

Hope you are having a great new year! Let me know in the comments your experiences with Hello Fresh and any resolutions you have for 2019!

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Beef and Spinach Enchiladas

Do you have recipe pet peeves? If you do, I’d love to hear them in the comments. I have a few. I don’t love when something is listed in a smaller unit of measurement than necessary (don’t say 4 tablespoons, say ¼ cup, for example). I prefer when something says the whole amount need in the ingredients list rather than list it 3 times (say 1 teaspoon of salt, divided). But those are mostly my preferences.

I do have conflicting pet peeves, actually. I hate when recipes call for an amount of cooked meat, like chicken. I rarely have precooked chicken just sitting around. And without the steps in the recipe, sometimes I find myself half way in and realize I need to cook the darn chicken. BUT another pet peeve is to have a million steps to make something that is just one part of a larger whole that also has a million steps.

Unfortunately, this recipe hits those pet peeves. There is no way around it. Enchiladas need cooked meat. BUT, the good news is this recipe for meat is super easy and delicious AND makes more than you need for the enchiladas (or easily does) so you could have sandwiches, meat on salad, etc for awhile afterwards. So forgive me for doing what I actually hate myself. The end result of these is pretty darn delicious! And please pardon the photo. I tried several times and couldn’t get an appealing shot of enchiladas. While tasty, they aren’t photogenic.

Beef and Spinach Enchiladas (Serves 6-8)

Beef and Spinach Enchiladas

3-4 lb boneless chuck roast
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 large onion, sliced
1 cup low sodium beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 teaspoon canola oil
½ onion, chopped
9 ounces fresh spinach
2 tablespoons water
½ cup low fat sour cream
16 corn tortillas or 8 large flour tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
2. Combine salt through cumin. Rub on all sides of chuck roast. Place in a shallow baking pan. Cover with onions, broth, and tomatoes. Cover pan with a lid or with foil.
3. Bake for 3-4 hours, or until meat is tender enough to pull apart with a fork.
4. Remove meat and shred. Pour juice/tomato mixture from pan into a saucepan. Heat over medium heat to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until thickened. Puree. Add ½ cup sour cream. Set aside.
5. Heat a large nonstick skillet with oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, saute for 2-3 minutes. Add spinach and water. Cover with a lid. Cook 2-3 minutes, until spinach is wilted, stirring as needed. Remove from heat. Add shredded beef to spinach mixture.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
7. Spoon a small amount of tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Fill tortillas with beef mixture and cheese, placing in pan seamside down. Reserve ¼ cup cheese for topping. Pour remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with cheese.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and cheese melted.

Recipe notes: I use my Traeger to cook the meat at 275. If you have a meat thermometer, you want the meat at about 195 degrees F. My meat was quite frozen the last time I made this, and it only took 3 hours to get there. So I recommend watching it. I’ve cooked thawed meat for over 3 hours to get it tender as well. Also, it seems like a lot of sauce. I’ve put all of it and not put all of it. More sauce is always better.

Nutritional information: (amount per serving)

Calories: 453
Protein: 44 gm
Fat: 18 gm
Saturated fat: 8 gm
Cholesterol: 131 mg
Carbohydrates: 32 gm
Fiber: 4 gm
Sodium: 623 mg

Source: adapted from Traeger and various sources online

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Pressure Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

So this makes the third recipe in a row that requires a pressure cooker. But I feel like almost everyone has an Instant Pot at this point (or is getting one for Christmas). I actually don’t, but I do own a stove top pressure cooker.

The awesome part of pressure cookers is how quickly things come together. I love using mine to make brown rice in about 30 minutes, much faster than the hour suggested on the package.

Meat dishes are a little trickier since you can’t know if it is “done” without opening it. But the chicken pieces in this dish cook quickly so that isn’t a concern.

This dish is as good as take out. And can be made very quickly, if you are in a rush (which who isn’t this time of year?). Enjoy!

Pressure Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken (Serves 6)

Pressure Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
½ tablespoon canola oil
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup ketchup
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoon sesame oil
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
2 green onions, chopped
4 cups cooked brown rice

1. Preheat pressure cooker. When hot, add the oil, onion, garlic, and chicken to the pot. Sauté for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens.

2. Stir in the soy sauce, ketchup, and red pepper flakes. Lock the lid in place. Once the cooker comes to pressure, cook for 3 minutes.

3. When the cook time ends, a quick pressure release. When the valve drops, carefully remove the lid. Add the sesame oil and honey to the pot and stir to combine.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and cold water until smooth. Add to the pot. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the green onions. Serve over rice

Recipe Notes: I really like to serve this with a cooked bag of stir fry vegetables as well. Really rounds out the meal.

Nutritional Information (amount per serving):

Calories: 531
Protein: 47 g
Fat: 9 g
Saturated Fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 132 mg
Carbohydrates: 66 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 945 mg

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

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