Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wrap-Up: Low carbohydrate Pasta Alternatives

What do Gluten-free, Paleo, Dukan, Whole30, and Atkins diets all have in common? Most of us have heard about these diets or lifestyles, but if you haven’t they all discourage the use of wheat products (along with other restrictions). Many of my clients are trying to reduce the amount of pasta they consume, but the reasons may vary. Some may be trying to follow a different lifestyle (as listed above) or are trying to decrease their carbohydrate intake for blood sugar control, while others are trying to reduce calories for weight loss/maintenance.

My general philosophy with food is that we should eat a variety of balanced foods that taste good and make us feel good. Though I often encourage whole grain varieties of pastas and grains, the occasional refined grain can be part of a healthy diet.

For some people wheat does not make them feel good, if that is the case I encourage those individuals to avoid it. You know your body best. Just to clarify, gluten-free pasta varieties (brown rice, rice, quinoa/corn etc) do contain carbohydrates. Use the nutrition facts label to identify and compare products for carbohydrates and fiber to make better choices. I’ve put together a list of my favorite low-carb pasta alternatives for you to try for yourself.

Spaghetti Squash
A tried and true easy alternative. Spaghetti squash has a mild flavor and goes with almost any sauce that you would put over pasta. Slice in half and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or cook in the microwave to 10-12 minutes. Shred with a fork I love garlic, olive oil and sundried tomatoes or pesto with it!

Vegetable Noodles
These can come in a variety of shapes depending on the variety of vegetable and how you’ve cut your vegetables. Without any special tools you can thinly slice zucchini, summer squash, or eggplant lengthwise to use as lasagna noodles or use a vegetable peeler lengthwise to make thin wide noodles. Top with your favorite sauce!

If you start making vegetable noodles a lot you might consider purchasing a Spiralizer. These gadgets vary in price and size. Depending on the model it may make different shapes and sizes for you. I have one of the handheld less expensive types but am considering investing in one of the larger tools. The handheld varieties cost about $15.00 while the kitchen-size ones run $40.00 to $50.00.

Vegetable “Boats"
Another great option is to slice a summer squash or zucchini in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff with your favorites meats, sauce, or cheese and bake! This can also be done with large portabella mushrooms.

Shirataki Noodles      
Also known as “miracle noodles” or “skinny noodles”. These originate from Japan, but can be typically purchased in the produce section of most grocery or health food stores. They are made of water and a water-soluble dietary fiber called glucomannan and are very low in carbohydrates and calories (about 15 calories per cup, and 0 net carbs). Some varieties include tofu for increased protein, most varieties are gluten-free. While they have a fairly mild flavor their texture is not appealing to some people. Try with your favorite Asian sauce or in a stirfry.

 Black Bean Pasta
Don’t let the appearance of this pasta turn you away. It is made of black beans and water making it a good source of protein, fiber, and a lower carbohydrate choice. 1 cup or 2 oz provides about 15 g carbohydrates  per cup, and 180 calories. Because it does have a stronger taste than the other varieties I don’t think it pairs as well with tomato based sauces. Instead I will use it in stirfries and in Mexican inspired dishes.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mediterranean Haddock

Many of my clients tell me that they often order fish when dining out but hardly cook it for themselves. For many, cooking fish is an intimidating feat. I used to be the same way, but I have found it to be one of the easier and quickier proteins to prepare. My #1 tip for cooking fish is to be sure not to overcook it! Overcooked fish is dry and unpalateable. Baked in tin foil packets the clean-up couldn't be easier! Since its still cold in Vermont I am baking fish, but fish on the grill (in packets) is super tasty! This recipe features garlic, kalamata olives, capers, tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil for a flavorful dish that is packed with healthy fats! Serve with your choice of vegetables and a whole grain rice if desired.

Go Sustainable!
Look for sustainable fish varieties. Fish should be fresh and shouldn't have a strong "fishy" odor. In general look for wild caught varieties instead of farm-raised. I highly recommend checking out or thier app (The Seafood Watch) to learn more about sustainable seafood!

The benefits of fish in the diet is well studied and accepted. Not only is it a great source of lean protein, but it contributes healthy omega 3 fatty acids to the diet. The typical American diet is often low in omega 3 fatty acids and higher in the less healthier omega 6 fats (not a good combo)! Increasing the amount of omega 3s in your diet is beneficial in decreasing inflammation and may decrease your risk for heart disease and dementia. If you are trying to increase the fish in your diet aim for 1-2 times per week.

Mediterranean Haddock
Serves 4

1 1/4 pounds fresh or frozen haddock
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup drained capers
Black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Mix the garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Place the fish on a large piece of tinfoil and drizzle olive/lemon mixture over the top. Spread the remaining ingredients on top of the fish and fold the tin foil into a packet.
4. Cook for ~20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
5. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Creamy Chicken with Mushrooms

When craving a hearty comfort food casserole think beyond the can of cream of mushroom soup. This dish pairs meaty mushrooms with juicy chicken breast, and a light and creamy sauce. Making your own sauce is easy, tastes better, and eliminates the preservatives and much of the sodium. Serve over brown rice, quinoa, or whole grain egg noodles and extra veggies and dinner is ready!

Did you know that mushrooms are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D? Content varies on the type of mushroom with wild varieties conatining more than portabella or white mushrooms. Don't be fooled by mushrooms bland color, they are also packed with B vitamins, copper, and selenium and are often touted for their benefits in immune support, thanks to their phytonutrient profile. Cooking Tip: Mushrooms absorb water quickly and is best not to rinse or soak mushrooms. Simply wipe them down with a damp towel before use.

Creamy Chicken with Mushrooms
Makes 6 servings
  • 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast (trimmed and cut into tender-sized pieces)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 pound (16 oz) of fresh baby bella mushrooms (thinly sliced)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup half and half or evaporated milk
  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and dedge both sides in flour. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan (or better yet, if you one, a have a Dutch oven). Once the oil is hot add chicken and sauté until golden. You will need to work in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. Set aside on a plate if using a Dutch oven or place in a 9x13 casserole dish otherwise.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Add remaining olive oil, mushrooms and onions and sauté 5-8 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Set aside on plate or casserole dish.
  4. Melt the butter in the same pan, whisk in the 2 Tbsp flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, and half and half and bring to a simmer.
  5. Add the chicken and the mushroom mixture to the Dutch oven (or pour the mixture into the casserole dish). Cover and bake for 45 minutes.
  6. Serve over your preference of starch (I went with a brown/wild rice mix, but could be potato or whole wheat egg noodles as well). Pair with your favorite vegetable.
Nutrition Facts: 4 oz chicken w/ mushrooms and sauce
380 calories, 19 g fat (3 g saturated), 16 g carbohydrates, 36 g protein, 300 mg sodium

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Southwestern Chicken Soup

It has been a heat wave in Vermont over the past 2 days, a whopping 50 degrees! Even though the weather is warming I am still making up batches of soup. I love that I can cook on Sunday and have lunches for the week with little prep, perfect for those busy days. When I get sick of eating it I just freeze the rest into individual portions. This southwestern chicken soup packed with vegetables, beans, and plenty of flavor. Because it is packed with chicken and beans it can be a meal on its own. I made the stock from scratch, but low sodium chicken broth would work as well. Short on time? Use leftover chicken or a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken.

I have listed some optional toppings at the end of the ingredients list that I think would be great
accompainments. Certainly you don’t need to pick all of them, but they can make the soup a little extra special. I like it with a pinch of cheese, avocado, and tsp of sour cream!

Southwestern Chicken Soup


1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
2 fresh jalepenos, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
8 cups homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
1 pound cooked chicken breast and/or dark meat, diced or shredded
1 can low sodium diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
14 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn

Toppings: (optional)
Low fat shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican blend)
Diced red onion
Sour cream
Diced avocado
Tortilla Strips

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onion, celery, carrots, jalapeños and red pepper and cook for 3 minutes.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low-medium heat for 45 minutes. Serve hot.
Nutrition Facts:
1 1/3 cups: 175 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated), 19 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 20 g protein, 341 mg sodium

Monday, February 2, 2015

Buffalo Chicken Salad

As many of you may know, I LOVE buffalo sauce. I put it on eggs, sandwiches, salads and pretty much everything else in between. Sadly, I had never made a buffalo chicken pasta salad. Boy, was I missing out! This dish has a little bit of crunch (thanks to the carrots and celery) and is perfect for a lighter meal during these winter months. It will stand apart from the more traditional pasta salads at the next party or dinner table. The spiciness can be adjusted based on your taste preferences. Best of all it is quick and easy to make and can be made the day before. If you are super short on time you can use a rotisserie chicken instead of grilling or baking your own. 

Most pasta salads are laden with mayonnaise or dressings and end up being a high fat choice. I lightened this one up by using a small amount of light mayo and some olive oil, and relying mostly on buffalo sauce for the flavor. Sprinkling blue cheese crumbles on top gives it a lot of flavor without adding a heavy blue cheese dressing. Using whole wheat or high fiber white pasta gives this dish the fiber power to keep you feeling full.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
Makes 12 servings

1 pound whole wheat pasta (some favorites: elbows, penne, spirals)
½ cup Frank’s Buffalo Sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup canola or light mayonnaise
1 cup diced carrots
3 stalks celery, diced
3 cups cooked and diced chicken breast
¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
Black pepper, to taste


  1. Cook pasta as directed. Drain and run under cold water.
  2. Mix in a small bowl: the hot sauce, garlic and onion powder, olive oil, and light mayonnaise and set aside.
  3. Combine the pasta, carrots, celery and chicken in a large bowl. Pour hot sauce mixture over the top and stir well.
  4. Sprinkle blue cheese on top and chill for at least 20 minutes. Serve cold.
Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (~1 cup)

260 calories, 8 g total fat (2 g saturated), 31 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 17 g protein, 450 mg sodium