Pasta Deconstructed

Keeping a good relationship with food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of what (and how much of it) is in each thing you eat will help you make better nutrition decisions. Now, not everyone has the time to think about these things while eating. The posts in this series will help you gain that ballpark knowledge of everyday items we have. If you like this analysis, please feel free to request more items.

Pasta is usually thought of as an unhealthy or non-diet friendly dish, isn’t it? In this brief post, I intend to analyze this comfort dish of mine. I’m going to look at one of my easy go-to recipes, which is quick and comforting. By quick I literally mean done in nine minutes.

This post is not intended to be a recipe, but since it’s so simple, I can spend one paragraph or two describing the procedure. The following table summarizes the ingredients and the deconstruction for one portion. I’m not going to decompose further the noodles as they’re literally flour, salt, and water.

ItemCaloriesCarbsProteinFat
64g dry semolina pasta237.4447.798.350.97
18g bacon75.060.232.277.14
3 garlic cloves13.412.980.570.05
6 cherry tomatoes18.363.970.90.2
1/2 tsp olive oil19.89002.25
4 fresh thyme sprigs3.230.780.180.05
6 basil leaves0.690.080.090.02
1/4 oz parmesan cheese29.770.992.011.97
Semolina Pasta with Pomodoro Suace397.956.814.412.7
Deconstruction of one of my pasta recipes.

Side-Track: Recipe

The procedure for cooking is quite simple. If you don’t care about the recipe you can safely skip this section.

Mise en place

Mince the garlic. Tear the thyme leaves. Dice the tomatoes. Dice the bacon.

Preparation

In a medium saucepan bring to boil enough water and add kosher salt to taste. Add the pasta and cook until it’s slightly undercooked. Reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy water, strain, and reserve.

For the sauce. Heat a skillet and add the bacon pieces, no oil is required. Cook the bacon until it’s rendered the fat. Add the garlic, and thyme and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the starch water and the tomatoes, and reduce until thickened. Test and adjust the salt. Add the pasta and parmesan cheese to finish the cooking. Serve with basil leaves and drizzle with olive oil.

Deconstruction

One note on the pasta selection: I use whole grain pasta (in this case, I made my own from milling durum wheat) because of the micronutrients and the fiber. You want to incorporate fiber in your diet for many reasons that you can read here. Standard pasta is sweeter and goes better with certain types of sauce, but for comfort food, I’m not that picky. Yet the sauce pairs very well with whole-grain semolina pasta.

My home-made whole-grain semolina pasta drying in the pasta hanger.

As you can see, almost 60% of the calories come from the pasta itself. Did you think most of the calories came from the bacon? For many years I had a misconception from bacon as unhealthy. Trying out the keto eating style busted that myth for me. Actually, the reason why I included the recipe was to make this point: by including the bacon, I’m making the recipe even healthier! This is because I can avoid cooking my sauce with oil by taking advantage of the rendered bacon fat. I also barely have to add any salt to it since the bacon is also a salty item. Finally, bacon adds a good share of protein into the mix.

Another noteworthy thing about this dish is that it only represents 20% of a standard 2000-calorie diet. That’s not too bad for one main course! You can even indulge in the parmesan a little more without adding many calories.

One thing to note about this recipe is the ratios of the macro-nutrients: 15% protein, 17% fat, 68% carbs. This is far from the standard Mediterranean diet macros. But you can bring it closer by adding bacon and fewer noodles. Still, if you’re into running, cycling, or other cardio activities, this would be a great pre-workout meal.

The Pasta Myth

Why then does pasta have such a bad association with unhealthy? You can read all about it in this article. But I will give you my interpretation.

The most popular type of pasta is the processed one, which doesn’t have the fiber and the micronutrients. This type will be digested much faster than the one made with whole grain. This carb-dense meal will be metabolized by the body through glycolysis, leading to an insulin spike, which will make you hungrier briefly after absorbed. We digest the whole-grain variety much slowly and it makes us feel satisfied for longer. Especially with the help of bacon!

Like many millennials, I grew up being fed by GenX parents. Unlike my grandparents, who were used to all of the DIY stock in their pantries, my parents relied heavily on convenient packaged foods highly processed and stripped of all nutrition. I grew up listening to nutritionists and watching diet shows on TV recommending against eating pasta (of the processed kind), and I suspect I’m not alone.

Conclusion

This Italian staple has been demonized for decades. A reputation that it earned for their processed cousins, the low-carb fad, and the gluten-free fad. In my mind, when consumed in its whole-grain variation, and better if it’s home-made, with a simple sauce made of top-quality ingredients, it can make a wholesome, satisfying meal that you can have before your cardio exercises for a boost of energy.

Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow

I stumbled upon this book as a recommended read in a business class during 2019. At first, I was hesitant that it would be of any value to me, but it became one of the most life-changing books I’ve read. It gave me enormous insights into the human mind, and suddenly I perceived myself and others in a completely different way.

The book summarizes the lifelong works of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky Most notoriously known for their prospect theory, they are world-leading experts of behavioral psychology. Their work has vast applications in finance, which awarded Kahneman a novel prize in economic sciences.

In the book’s pages, the reader will learn about:

  • The differences between our intuitive and rational minds.
  • The various heuristics and biases that we have.
  • Ways in which we can be overconfident.
  • The mental process of making choices.
  • And finally, how we experience things versus how we remember them.

My Takeaways

This book initially seemed a bit technical to me. But after reading some of its passages more than once, I feel it would have been hard to explain the concepts more simply.

Once I started incorporating the concepts, I could easily explain my actions and impulses; this helped me improve how I interact with others and process my emotions. It was a game-changer. This knowledge urged me to take a more data-driven approach to life, and it led me to improve in many areas like financial planning, general skills, and effectiveness in my job.

One of the most impactful learnings for me was to see how our mind can make connections of completely (and statistically) unrelated events and draw conclusions on which we base beliefs.

I recommend this book to anyone, and I think schools should teach this topic as it can help many keep their lives on the right path.

Cooking for Singles: Braised Pork Shoulder, Eight Ways

Variety is the number one challenge I find as a single who likes to cook; convenience is the second one. These challenges lead me to develop ways to make the best use of my ingredients in a way that’s neither boring nor inefficient. Today I’m going to walk you through one week where I ate a 4lb of pork shoulder in many different ways. My mission is to showcase how a single person can keep food exciting and healthy when the number of servings is against you.

Zero waste and no repeated meals were my mantras for this journey. I also got the chance to cook dishes of different cuisines. The idea was simple: Make some building blocks that are versatile enough to fit nicely into many dishes. One such building block is a braised pork shoulder. Here are my ingredients.

  • 4lb Pork Shoulder. It’s best if it’s bone-in.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • Olive oil.
  • A few carrots
  • One large yellow onion.
  • Two celery stalks.
  • Two Roma tomatoes.
  • Four garlic cloves.
  • One-half cup of white wine. I used Pinot Grigio.
  • Two tablespoons of brown sugar.
  • Three cups of chicken stock.
  • A bouquet garni of your favorite aromatics, I used bay leaves and sage, just because It’s what I had available.

I will not go into the details of braising a pork shoulder; there are so many great resources on the internet. However, you can watch this youtube video for the technique. I didn’t add too many spices because I wanted to keep the flavor profile as neutral as possible.

Out of my braise, I got:

  • The meat, which I let cool off, shredded it with my hands and stored it.
  • All the vegetable chunks.
  • The braising Liquid.

I placed all the vegetable chunks and part of the braising liquid in my food processor; this gave me a delicious and thick pork-flavored tomato sauce. I strained and reduced the remaining braising liquid at low heat ending with a rich “jus.”

With these building blocks in hand, I prepared my dishes as the week progressed. I will not go into each recipe’s details, but please ask me about them in the comments section.

Dish 1: Fonio with Braised Pork, Dates, and Pepitas

Fonio is a grain that has gained popularity lately. People use it in the same way as couscous, but it’s grain in its own right, and it’s gluten-free. I toasted the grains in olive oil to add depth of flavor. I poured some of my braising sauce, thinned it out with water, seasoned it with some spices, and brought it to a boil for one minute. I took it off the heat and waited for fonio to work its magic. Then I incorporated chopped dates, squares of goat feta, pepitas. I finished the dish with some fresh cilantro.

Dish 2: Bulgur with Braised Pork

This dish looks similar to the previous one, but it’s completely different. Bulgur is an easy grain to cook; it’s cracked wheat and just needs some soaking to become soft and tender. I thinned out the sauce with a bit of water in this dish and cooked the bulgur in it, tossing some of the pork last minute. I stirred in part of the thick ‘jus’; I seasoned the dish with lemon, cumin, and cinnamon and garnished it with fresh cilantro.

Dish 3: Orzo with Pork Shoulder and Feta

Following the trend, this time, I converted the sauce into a “pork ragu”. I cooked some orzo in this sauce to make an indulgent pasta dish. I finished it with olive oil, goat feta, and cilantro.

Dish 4: Braised Pork Galettes With Yuzu Mayo

This dish took a lot of work. Entering the realm of french cooking, I made buckwheat pancakes and transformed them into braised pork galettes. My galettes had caramelized onions, part of the pork shoulder, and I topped it off with some of my homemade yuzu mayonnaise and pickled red chilies.

Dish 5: Pork and Shrimp Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Pork and Shrimp spring rolls are amongst the most known Vietnamese appetizers. I kept using my cilantro (I bought a bunch when I got the pork) and got some Thai basil that I could use later.

Dish 6: Teriyaki Braised Pork with Rice and Fukujinzuke

For this dish, I prepared a classic teriyaki sauce. I then reheated the pork in this teriyaki sauce and served it with white rice (which I mixed with minced cilantro) and a Japanese relish I like to keep in my fridge: Fukujinzuke; this made for a great Japanese meal.

Dish 7: Pulled Pork Sandwich

For this last dish, I transformed the sauce into BBQ sauce with the help of some brown sugar, honey, apple cider vinegar, and classic spices like paprika, cumin, and black pepper. I soaked into it the pulled pork for the braise to heat it through, and I assembled the sandwich by toasting some of my homemade sandwich bread, some dill pickles I also made a month back, cheddar cheese the pork.

Dish 8; Shrimp and Pork Thai Green Curry

Is there a better way of ending the week than with a green curry? Yeah, I know, pork goes better in red curry, but I only had green curry paste. I tossed in my favorite green veggies, some potatoes, the remainder of the pork, and some shrimp to make this delicious dish.

And the Leftovers

These eight dishes were not the only ones I made. I practiced other things that were not entirely worth noting. By the time I finished the green curry, I had left only about a cup of that braising sauce. It ended up in an excellent shakshouka brunch.

Takeaways

This series of dishes don’t speak too much on their own, they are not culinary masterpieces, but instead, the process showed some of the tools that need to be part of the home cook’s arsenal. I summarize them here:

  • Stock up with long-lived items: Grains, nuts, pasta, etc., can live in your pantry for a long time and are convenient when building meals on the fly.
  • The same goes for preserves: Preserved lemons, relishes, pickles, and so forth play an essential role when balancing the flavor of your creations.
  • Salty and fermented items have a long life: Salty cheeses like feta, parmesan, etc., not only live long in your fridge but deliver fantastic flavor. Fermented things like buttermilk or creme fraiche can also live for a very long time.
  • Make your condiments: You don’t have to make every condiment all the time; store-bought are convenient and do the job just fine. But if you know how to make them, it will open the possibilities when the time comes. An example would be my pulled pork sandwich with improvised BBQ sauce.
  • Find ways to use the same fresh herbs: Fresh herbs deliver freshness to your dishes and look fabulous as garnishes. You don’t have to buy a bunch of cilantro and a bunch of parsley. You can use either interchangeably at home. These herbs, unfortunately, don’t last long but come in substantial quantities. The best alternative to buying: Keep pots and grow them yourself! Zero waste.
  • Learn about different cuisines: Picking your favorite cuisines and studying them will give you the perspective you need when it comes to variety and creativity. Just look at the dishes I made: African, Middle Eastern, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Japanese, American, Thai.
  • Cook versatile building blocks: If the message of the post was not clear enough. Think versatility.

Sometimes the fact that ingredients sell fractioned in a way that’s excessive for a single person can be a blessing.

I hope you enjoyed reading, stay single, and happy cooking!

One Strategy to Manage Your Weight

Paying close attention to how we fuel our bodies is essential for weight management. In this blog post, I intend to show you how I think about my weight management and share my insights on the subject.

Before I begin, you must know: I’m not a nutritionist, so I might not cover the subject with the required depth or perspective, so please do your research and take my words with a grain of salt.

You might find the content I present here overwhelming, especially when it comes to the effort of tracking calories and measuring your body. Why bother if you can follow a diet? Well, foremost, nobody truly believes diets work long-term. Second, suppose you try to follow this without looking at the numbers. In that case, you might become a victim of your own biases, such as the availability bias – the tendency to remember only recent things. Third, humans tend to overestimate what we do well and underestimate what we don’t. Putting everything into numbers will better prepare your intuition. Let’s get started.

Weight vs. Body Composition

Before you start thinking about your weight, you need to have a goal. Measuring only weight is dangerous because everyone is different. Let’s take a closer look at some of the things that affect our weight:

  • Skeletal Muscle Mass. (Muscles, bones, and organs)
  • Body Fat Mass. (Energy storage)
  • Water.

Most people are familiar with Body Mass Index. BMI is a simple yet very general measure that makes many assumptions. One is that your muscle mass directly correlates to your height. Another one is how much water that your body currently has. Water itself can make the difference between being considered obese or overweight when measuring BMI. Therefore, when choosing our goal, we ought to look at our body composition. You can read more about it here.

Accurately measuring your body fat mass requires specialized equipment. Some smart scales will give you a reasonable estimate of it. If you don’t have a smart scale, you can use this tool to estimate it. Once you know your current body fat mass, you can define a goal. It should be, ideally, what’s normal for your age and gender.

Energy Expenditure

Another critical piece of information is your basal metabolic rate (BMR); this number tells you the calories your body burns to keep you alive. Smart scales can calculate this number for you, but here is an online calculator. Now, during your day, you will spend much more than that. For example, on those days that I’m busy with work and I don’t move much, I’ve found that I burn 40% more than my BMR, around 2100 calories. This number can sharply increase if I go out for walks or a bike ride. I found that, on average, I burn 2700 calories daily; this is 73% of my BMR. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

There are many ways of estimating how many calories a day you burn. Smartwatches like Fitbit does it based on the heart rate, and I’ve found it to be quite accurate. If you have none of these tools, I’d recommend adding 40% to 50% to your BMR and calibrating as you go.

If your weight has been stable for some time, it means you haven’t made any significant surplus or deficit in energy expenditure; this is Calories Spent = Calories Eaten. So you can count your daily calories with an app for a week or so, average the number (make sure your body fat mass remains almost the same), and contrast with the number you previously estimated based on your BMR. That comparison should give you a ballpark idea of how many calories you effectively use daily.

Weight Management Strategy

At this point, you have the tools to strategize about your weight. Building a strategy will help you solidify your habits and better control what you eat. You don’t have to do this forever. I would recommend keeping track of the numbers until you learn more about yourself and your body.

Let’s start with keeping the weight that you currently have; this is the foundation for long-term changes. Thus, learn how to keep it off or on before losing or gaining.

The following figure shows the schedule I follow. I target to have my meals during a timeframe of 10 hours; this way, I give my body plenty of time to digest and process before I go to bed. This schedule helps me get better sleep, and I feel energized throughout the day.

Sample schedule of daily eating

You might already have your schedule; you can use it as a base to distribute your calories.

Snacks are optional. Only have them as a tool when you’re too hungry before your main meal, and you feel you won’t manage to control your portions.

One crucial aspect is not to over-obsess with the numbers and try to hit your target like clockwork. For example, I already have a cookbook of my staples that I know fit my targets; in that way, I simply cook as usual. Though revise what I’m eating if I see my body fat mass go beyond 20%, my target is currently 15%. I do weigh myself every single day.

I can’t emphasize enough that you shouldn’t feel bad if you under or overeat. Every day you might feel different. After one year of counting my calories, I understood how much variability I can tolerate without gaining or losing weight, about 10%. I show this in the following spreadsheet.

Spreadsheet showing the breakdown of calories into meals.

Losing or Gaining Weight

Now that you know how to keep your weight, we can build on that to take it where you want. There is much to say about this topic, and I recommend reading this article before jumping to conclusions. In simple words, you have to introduce a calorie deficit (or surplus) to allow your body to burn (or build) its fat reserves.

The toughest part is dealing with your hunger hormones. Also, there is much to say about this, and I recommend reading this article.

The easiest and most effective way is to reduce (or increase) 10% or 15% of your base calories and monitor your progress daily until you reach your goal. In my case, I reduced my calories by 420/day and dropped 17lb (8kg) in about four months. The following figure shows these numbers in a spreadsheet.

More advanced spreadsheet that shows your calorie budget and time to lose / gain.

I will admit that during the time I lost that weight, I did not have a great time. I was very irritable. I fought with many of my friends and felt helpless even when someone shared food with me. I would lose my mind if I didn’t know how many calories were in a particular dish. If I can, I would recommend a 10% deficit and lose over a year, building solid habits while doing it. It took me over nine months to solidify my habits before I felt confident to stop tracking my calories.

As you can see in the figure, minor adjustments in how you cook will do the trick just fine.

Sample Menu

Now that you know how to think about what you put on your plate. Let me give you a few examples of my staples and how many calories they have. I base most of my recipes based on one serving of each ingredient. Since this is not a recipe blog post, I will not share the details, but please ask me in the comments section if you want to know more.

Breakfast

  • Whole milk yogurt with Granola and Berries + Almond Milk Latte: 420 calories.
  • Asparagus & Mozzarella Omelette + Almond Milk Latte: 400 calories.
  • Avocado Toast w/poached egg + Almond Milk Latte: 520 calories.

Lunch / Dinner

  • Spaghetti in tomato sauce: 580 calories
  • One bowl of chicken pho: 500 calories.
  • 6oz steak with lightly dressed salad: 600 calories.

Desserts / Snacks

  • Two squares of dark chocolate: 50 calories.
  • One small banana: 90 calories.
  • One red apple: 90 calories.
  • Two mandarin oranges: 80 calories.
  • Twenty grapes: 68 calories.
  • One serving of a plant-based chocolate pudding: 150 calories.

When I’m thinking about cooking, I adjust on the go, but the essential piece is to keep your meal per serving in the ballpark of your target. Of course, no food is off-limits; just budget your calories.

Weight Management Tips

The last thing to add is some tips and tricks to make your life easier:

  • Weigh yourself every day; it will help with motivation, and you’ll learn many things you didn’t know about yourself.
  • Target to eat foods with a low glycemic index. High glycemic index foods (processed items or simple sugars) may produce a glucose spike on your system, making your body feel hungry right after. Check the added sugars in the nutritional label.
  • Avoid “Diet” or “Reduced” items. This ties to the previous point of processed foods. Plus, diet branded items typically won’t make you feel satisfied, and there’s nothing worse than being hungry and with an unsatisfied craving.
  • Try to eat things that take longer to digest: Carbs with low GI, healthy fats, and protein.
  • Items with high water content will make you feel more satisfied with fewer calories.
  • Practice mindful eating and learn how your body feels when you eat.
  • Make your food look pretty!
  • Pay attention to the quality of your sleep. It will help you control your hunger.
  • Regularly moving your body must be part of your lifestyle. For example, go for a walk, run, ride your bike, climb the stairs, etc.; this doesn’t only help your heart work better; it also allows a few more calories for you to enjoy.

Many people trick themselves into thinking exercise is the key to weight loss. Let’s look at the numbers. One daily hour of moderate-intensity cycling (or 30 minutes run) will burn about 400 calories; this is close to the deficit I targeted with my diet. The problem is that fitting in your day that training schedule might be unsustainable, and after you drop your weight, you are likely to gain it back if you don’t learn how to hone your hunger. To be realistic, most people don’t have the time to do a cardio workout for an hour (+ the prep time) every single day.

After trying many apps to track my calories, like Fitbit, Noom, “MyFitness Pal,” and others, I recommend you use “Nutritionix Track.” It’s by far the easiest to record recipes, pre-built foods, and workouts. It’s free!

Conclusion

There are many more things to be said about weight management, and I’m not the right person to talk about them. I hope, though, that this post gives you an initial understanding of how weight management works and brings back the belief that conquering your weight goals is possible! If you feel I’m missing pieces of the puzzle or have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section. Weight management is a journey, and it involves developing habits and understanding until it comes out automatically. Like brushing your teeth and flossing or saving money in your retirement account, it is not something you do at one time; it’s something that ought to be part of you.

Three Stunning Island Cycling Routes in Washington State

When I moved to Seattle, it took me a while to get used to cycling around here. Coming from California, I learned to enjoy routes that almost always traverse through 1000+ ft tall hills. I’m missing those routes here in Seattle, but now I’m learning to enjoy flat roads and rolling hills.

The three courses I’ll show in this blog post are both beautiful and challenging. Traversing over many rolling hills, they accumulate total elevation gain quickly, and it will drain out the energies of the unprepared cyclist. For the beginner, it might feel frustrating, but the intermediate and advanced cyclist will undoubtedly appreciate the quality of these rides.

Bainbridge Island Chilly Hilly

Chilly Hilly is a route created by Cascade cycling club. It looks like they have an event around it as well. This route offers lovely views and consistent but short climbing with almost zero cars to worry about. There are possible coffee stops at the beginning/end but also the midpoint. Mostly covered by trees, this is the perfect ride for a sunny day.

Mt Rainier from the Waterfront of Bainbridge Island

The best way to get there is by taking the Bainbridge Ferry in downtown Seattle. The trip costs about $10 round trip, and its schedules are pretty flexible.

Camano Island

This route offers stunning views and many rolling hills. If you begin at Stanwood, you will get a nice 40-miler, but I started it from Lake Goodwin for a strenuous 76-miler. This route is also mostly covered by trees and has almost no traffic. If I was training for a time trial, this is where I’d go.

Water views in Camano Island, unfortunately the day didn’t help me with the photos.

This area is primarily residential, and I found it challenging to park. I did see many safe spots in Stanwood, but I ended up parking at Wenberg County Park for about $10.

Lopez Island

The final route is a cycling paradise. It traverses through many rolling hills that take you to pictorial corners around the island. Mostly farms, parks, and residences, this island offers bike packers a treat. I would recommend, though, packing some snacks of your own as the restaurant options here didn’t please my inner foodie. There are many ways to explore this island, and I would come back multiple times. The island itself is perfect for riding, but so are the other San Juan Islands and Anacortes.

The ferry terminal at Lopez Island already gives the ride a special vibe.

If you’re driving to the area, there is plenty of parking space available. You can also park long-term at the Anacortes ferry terminal. I parked outside the city for the chance of exploring Anacortes, also to add twenty miles to my ride that day.

Final Thoughts

All of these routes offer the temptation to blast through them. I recommend pacing yourself as the rolling hills might be deceivingly easy but build fatigue quickly. I also recommend for additional enjoyment, thinking of these as joy rides. Pack your favorite picnic items, and surrender to the feeling of stopping everywhere to soak in the stunning scenery. If you’re new to cycling in the area and want more tips, let me know in the comments section. Also, if you are very acquainted with the area, I’d love to know which are your favorite routes.

One of the many coastal views that Lopez Island has to offer

Caesar Salad Deconstructed

Keeping a good relationship with food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of what (and how much of it) is in each thing you eat will help you make better nutrition decisions. Now, not everyone has the time to think about these things while eating. The posts in this series will help you gain that ballpark knowledge of everyday items we have. If you like this analysis, please feel free to request more items.

In this post, I will analyze and deconstruct a salad. The salad of choice today is a Classic Caesar Salad that I found in Bon Appetit Magazine. Many people believe they’re eating healthy when they eat a salad, so let’s take a closer look at what’s going on, and I’ll follow with my analysis and weight management suggestions.

The following table depicts the recipe and displays the calories of each ingredient. According to Bon Appetit, the recipe serves 6. I wouldn’t consider it more than a side salad and double the portion if I wanted to make it an entree.

QtyUnitFoodCalories (kcal)% of Total

Dressing

1

clove

garlic clove

4.47

1

pinch

kosher salt

0

2

tbsp

fresh lemon juice

6.71

0.75

tsp

dijon mustard

2.3

2

tbsp

olive oil

238.68

10.29%

0.5

cup

vegetable oil

963.56

41.55%

3

tbsp

grated parmesan

70.88

1

pinch

ground black pepper

0.33

Totals

1286.97

55.49%

Croutons

3

cups

bread

319.2

3

tbsp

olive oil

358.02

15.44%

Totals

677.22

29.2%

Lettuce

3

heart

romaine hearts

116.79

5.04%

Cheese

2

oz

parmesan cheese

238.14

10.27%

Grand Total

2319.12

Per Portion (6)

386.52

Percentage of Oil

67.28%

Deconstruction of Bon Appetit’s Classic Caesar Salad

Highlights:

  • Lettuce takes most of the physical volume.
  • Only 5% of each portion’s calories is lettuce.
  • 67% of each potion is oil (olive or vegetable).
  • 14% of the recipe is bread.
  • 10% is parmesan cheese. For those who don’t know it, cheese is typically fat and protein. To be precise, 28% of it is fat and 28% protein.
  • The original recipe doesn’t specify the amount of parmesan, so I assumed two servings of it for the entire salad.

What an excellent way of eating oil with bread! Energy-wise, lettuce barely adds anything. It primarily adds micronutrients like iron. If it weren’t for the croutons, I’d even dare to say that this salad fits the keto target macros.

Analysis

Is this salad healthy? If you go backpacking and everything you have is a bottle of oil, you could keep taking sips of it and get the energy you need to keep going. It doesn’t sound too appetizing, but from the energetic perspective, it will do the trick. You might also read on the internet nutrition advice encouraging you to consume olive oil for its anti-oxidant properties. The bread is the only highly processed component. The rest of the items from the dressing will bring all kinds of micronutrients. None of these remove the fact that you’re eating garnished oil. I’m not a nutritionist, so I can’t talk about how healthy or not it is to eat vegetable oils. You can refer to this article on HealthLine to expand on the subject.

Weight Management Analysis

In terms of weight management, our bodies digest oils slowly. This fact makes the salad a great tool if your goal is to induce yourself into a calorie deficit because you will feel satisfied for longer. One serving of this salad will give you potentially a 200 ~ 300 cal deficit if you take it as an entire meal (I target my meals to be around 500 ~ 600 cal each to keep my current weight.) With the assumption that you can weigh it and serve the right portion.

Overeating this salad will quickly transform it into a calorie surplus. I’d say: proceed with caution.

I would personally not cut down on the oil, even if I’m targeting a calorie deficit. Reducing the amount of oil will drastically reduce the total calories and you might not feel satisfied at all. This might potentially lead to an episode of fog or storm eating.

This analysis applies to many of the salads that are out there when they only differ on the veggies. Beware of salads with seeds or nuts, as those will make the calorie count go up drastically. Seeds and nuts are also primarily fat.

Latte and Croissant Deconstructed

Keeping a good relationship with food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of what (and how much of it) is in each thing you eat will help you make better nutrition decisions. Now, not everyone has the time to think about these things while eating. The posts in this series will help you gain that ballpark knowledge of everyday items we have. If you like this analysis, please feel free to request more items.

Today we’ll look at the question: Which one has more calories? A standard 12oz latte or a traditional croissant. I will answer this shortly, and you might end up surprised.

Let’s begin with the easiest to decompose, the latte.

Latte Macchiato

ItemCaloriesCarbsProteinFat%
12oz Latte Macchiato192.022.17.88.1100%
8oz Whole Milk (1 cup)148.8411.717.697.9377.5%
4oz espresso (double shot)10.661.980.140.215.5%
2 tsp sugar32.518.40016.9%
Decomposition of a latte Macchiato

As you can see, the bulk of the calories are in the milk. I used standard whole milk, but more premium brands can range from 160 to 210 calories per cup. I recommend whole milk as the best tasting and the less processed option of all dairy kinds of milk.

There are some conclusions we can draw:

  • Regular lattes are not keto.
  • Reducing the volume of coffee would significantly increase the calories with the increase in milk.
  • The added sugar does not add significantly more calories: 16% if you go for both tsp of sugar, 8% just one. These calories are by far offset by choice of milk the barista does.
  • If you increase the milk by 4 oz, to make it a “grande” size, using the Starbucks lingo, then it easily goes to over 300 calories. Even more for premium milk.
  • The ratios of the macronutrients do not respond either to a normal diet or to a sports diet.

I’ll come back to this drink in a little bit but now, let’s focus on the croissant.

Butter Croissants

ItemCaloriesCarbsProteinFat%
16 Butter Croissants261.2 (each)27.14.215.2100%
370g all-purpose flour1346.8282.3538.223.6332.2%
125g bread flour451.2590.6614.982.0810.79%
55g Sugar212.8554.99005.09%
7g Instant Yeast22.752.892.830.530.5%
60ml Whole Milk37.622.961.9420.9%
284g Unsalted Butter2036.280.172.41230.3548.72%
1 egg (for the egg wash)71.50.366.284.761.71%
Decomposition of a Croissant

When I made this recipe, the yield was around 16 croissants plus some dough discard. I would dare to say that these croissants effectively are about 230 calories each. As you can see here, the calories come equally from the flour and the butter.

By looking at these numbers, here are some conclusions we can draw:

  • If we lower a bit the amount of butter, it won’t be as delicious, but there will be great savings in calories.
  • About half of the calories come from highly processed ingredients (Flours and refined sugars).
  • About half of the calories are empty calories.
  • The ratios of the macronutrients do not respond either to a normal diet or a sports diet.

Analysis

12 oz Latte from Bartavelle, in Berkeley

In combination, a 16 oz latte and a butter croissant make more than 25% of the standard 2000-calorie diet. This means that we certainly need to watch when and how we have these treats, as it can quickly escalate to weight gain. The main problem with having these is the enormous quantity of sugars and empty calories we’re getting, which by no means will satiate our hunger. The net effect, when eaten, will be a spike in your glucose levels and an increased level of appetite afterward.

While there are no simple tricks to make a croissant healthier other than sharing half with someone; you can make your latte healthier by following some of these tips:

  • Avoid sweeteners. Not for the calories, but they will contribute to the spikes in your glucose levels, making you feel hungry shortly after eating.
  • Replace whole milk with Oat Milk (110 cal per 8 oz) or Almond milk (70 cal per 8 oz).
  • Make it a cappuccino! This drink will take only 4 oz of milk, which is ideal for enjoyment and to cut calories by half without sacrificing texture or flavor.
  • Try to avoid having them together! Yeah, I know, not ideal, but if you enjoy these treats at different times, you’ll effectively make the experience less calorie-dense.

Weight Management Analysis

Would these two items make a nutritious everyday breakfast? If we add up the energy that these items bring, you can think this is a good option. I target my breakfasts to be in the ballpark of 500 calories. Do I recommend having it every day? By looking into what’s in it, we can observe that they have a high content of highly processed simple carbohydrates and simple sugars. While these calories will help you energy-wise, they might cause an insulin spike in your system that will make you feel hungry a few hours after having it. Not to mention the stripped-off micronutrients. With all of this, I would not recommend a daily intake for weight management reasons.

Avocado Toast on Yeast-Sourdough for Two.

This recipe is ideal for those weekends when you prefer to stay at home but still want to have delicious brunch. It will show you how easily you can bake a tiny loaf of bread with an open crumb. It’s ideal for two people. It also shows an alternative way to toast it. You’ll top it with avocado, ricotta cheese, and a poached egg, but feel free to make it your own.

Scheduling: I recommend to kick off the bread-baking process the day before at around 6 pm. Leave the dough proofing overnight in the fridge, from 10 pm to 8 am, bake it, and have brunch at 10 am.

Notes on the Bread: 

  • I call for 82 grams of water to produce the open crumb that you see on the photos. But a beginner might find that dough too sticky and difficult to handle. So, if you want to make an easier version, you may reduce the amount of water to, let’s say, 75 or 70 grams.
  • I will mention techniques that you might be unfamiliar with. Please see this youtube video, for demonstrations. It’s just a bunch of technical names for easy techniques.

This toast pairs well with an arugula salad, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. I paired it with some grapes I had.

This tiny loaf, which fits on the palm of my hand, was made with yeast but still shows a very light and open crumb.

Recipe of an avocado toast with everything made from scratch.

Bread

  • 100g Bread Flour
  • 82g Lukewarm Water, use 70 to make it easier to handle.
  • 2g Instant Yeast
  • 3g Sea Salt
  • 6g Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Toast

  • 1 Medium Hass Avocado
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp Ricotta Cheese
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon Zest
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vinegar of any kind.

Bread Preparation

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the water and the flour until there are no lumps or any dry flour. Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Mist with water your counter, and stretch the dough like if forming a pizza, trying not to tear it. Sprinkle the yeast and the salt evenly over the surface. Fold 1/3 of it towards the center, and repeat with the other side (like closing a taco). Rotate 90 degrees and fold it in the same way. Return the dough to the bowl.
  3. Sprinkle the olive oil on top of the dough and massage it with one hand until it’s fully incorporated. Around 5 to 10 minutes. Return it to the bowl and cover it with plastic.
  4. Let the dough sit for 30 to 40 minutes until it’s relaxed, then perform one coil fold on each direction. Cover the bowl again.
  5. Repeat the previous step every 30 to 40 minutes until the dough can hold its shape. Typically 2 or 3 times.
  6. Let the dough rest until it has gained some volume (50% to 60%), usually after 1 hour.
  7. In a lightly floured counter, pre-shape it into a small boule and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  8. If the dough has relaxed after 20 minutes, flour the counter generously and repeat the boule shape (this might mean it’s too weak!). Otherwise, simply sprinkle a generous amount of flour on top of the previous boule. Flour a piece of cheesecloth with semolina, whole wheat, or white flour (in that order of preference). And place the dough upside down, with the ‘soft side’ on the cloth. Transfer to a soup bowl and put it inside a plastic bag with plenty of air inside.
  9. Proof the dough overnight on the fridge. It will double its size after around 7 to 9 hours. When it does, it will be ready to bake!
  10. Cut a piece of parchment paper, place the dough on it, and perform a 1 1/2 inch score at the top.
  11. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Until the crust is golden brown. Then remove from the oven and let it cool off completely.

Avocado Toast Preparation

  1. Slice your tiny loaf of bread in half like a sandwich, making sure the bottom part is thinner, no more than 1/2 in (~1 cm). Then cut it in two lengthwise. You will have four pieces.
  2. In a medium bowl, puree the avocado then mix it with the ricotta, 1tsp olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste.

Poach 2 eggs.

  1. Bring 3qt of water to boil.
  2. Add 1 tsp of vinegar and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  3. With a spatula, spin the water to form a whirlwind, then quickly throw the egg into the vortex, so the white wraps around the yolk.1. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes and take the egg out with a skimmer.1. Repeat for the second egg.

Toast Assembly

  1. Toast the bread. Heat 1tsp of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet, then place the bread pieces with the crumb side touching the skillet, to toast, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn it to toast the crust side.
  2. Assemble the two toasts in the following way: Place half of the avocado mixture over the thin toast. Distribute the avocado mixture evenly, and place the poached egg on top. Finally, slice and reserve the top toast to dip in the egg’s yolk while eating. Decorate it with a bit of cayenne pepper.

I Tried Keto, This is What Happened

During the pandemic, I had a lot of spare time to try things out, so I tried going keto. I thought it was a good idea after reading a lot about it. It seemed like I could reduce fat mass pretty quickly, which was my goal. It also looked like an excellent opportunity to clear my liver. Finally, I wanted to re-establish my relationship with food, as I had demonized some items when I was doing Noom.

If you want to learn about the ketogenic diet, there are many videos online; here is my favorite.

Those who swear by the keto diet claim some benefits: 

  • An enhanced mental clarity,
  • A more stable mood.
  • Automatic calorie intake control.
  • Being able to enjoy those fatty treats, etc. 
  • Medically, it is used to treat epilepsy and diabetes.

During my tests, I could confirm some of these claims and bust others. I also will share how it affected me during the time I did it.  

The Process

Before going keto, I counted calories and measured my body composition without paying attention to the ratios of my macronutrients (macros for short). The first step was to think about these macros and gradually reduce the carbs; this happened a week before ‘keto day one.’ At the same time, I began researching keto from different resources and bought a cookbook on Amazon.

These ‘Deviled Eggs’ Were a delicious snack!

During the first week, I minimized my intake of carbs by removing grains, rice, cereals, fruits, and starchy vegetables from my diet. There are some fruits like berries that are still ok to eat.

By doing this, I noticed some changes :

  • I felt thirstier.
  • I visited the bathroom much more often.
  • I didn’t have any trouble reaching my calorie goal.
  • I struggled to eat enough food because I was feeling full and satisfied. 

By the end of the first week, I experienced the ‘keto flu,’ which I thought was regular flu. I even got a little scared of the possibility of having COVID-19 as I had visited several airports. It started with a 5-mile hike in the snow. Suddenly, I felt Ill. I spent two days in bed with the shivers. It all ended after having a very salty Thai soup that made me feel better instantly. Apparently, my sodium levels were too low.

Week two came with the first lockdown. I decided to shop for groceries and follow the meal plan from my keto book. I followed it to the T.

I enjoyed cooking foods like meatloaf and cauliflower mash. It felt refreshing to go all-in with cream and butter while cooking. I could not develop a liking for keto sweets based on stevia.

I monitored daily my ketone levels with the urine straps. I was happy to observe that having a PB&J sandwich in the middle of a long bike ride did not kick me out of ketosis.

This test stripe shows I had a high level of ketones in my system.

My Findings

  1. The first two weeks I lost about 6lb of water weight. At the same time, my body composition went the opposite way I wanted. Reduced lean body mass and gained fat mass. I think, though, it was part of the fat-adaptation process.
  2. I restored my relationship with fatty foods. I got to experience with ingredients I had demonized and cooked meals I didn’t think of healthy before.
  3. My mood was very stable, but I didn’t get any additional mental clarity. If anything, I found it harder to focus. I believe it’s also part of the adaptation process.
  4. My appetite and eating patterns changed. Moved to just three meals a day without snacking in between. I felt satisfied most of the time. I had to force myself to eat more; otherwise, I’d have less than 1400 calories a day, which is even below my BMR.
  5. I felt weaker: I could barely do ten push-ups. I felt my usual weights more challenging, and while cycling, my legs felt the strain on roads that before didn’t feel that challenging.
  6. My endurance improved; I could ride 100km on my bike while eating very little food.
  7. Snacking was hard. It’s hard to find keto snacks in grocery stores; these snacks also typically need refrigeration. Hiking or riding bikes is not compatible with refrigerated snacks. You end up only carrying Jerky, nuts, or packets of nut butter. Even some nuts have too many carbs to be considered keto. Virtually everything has sugars, so if you want to follow it by the T, you need to be a good planner.
Here you can see how my body composition changed (towards the end) when I started the Keto Diet

Final Thoughts

Going Keto was a good decision from the learning perspective. I learned a lot about nutrition, and I learned about my own body. It also showed me that it’s impractical if I’m not at home where I can control every aspect of it. Would I do it again? No. As an athlete, it’s not my goal to compromise lean body mass, and I need the bursts of energy that only carbohydrates give. I would recommend it only for people who want to learn how to control their calories or lose the fear of eating oils and healthy fats. If you already know how to manage your weight, then intermittent fasting with a Mediterranean diet seems to be a better long-term sustainable solution—my two cents.

Almond Milk Flan

Since I’m a kid, I’m obsessed with flan. It is one of those desserts I’m sure I’d not be able to stop eating. That’s why I like to have them once in a very long while. It’s more of a treat rather than something habitual.

Not long ago, I baked a horrible loaf of bread. It was probably the worst loaf I’ve ever baked, and I’ve done many! To not waste it, I decided to make bread pudding with it, but I only had almond milk available. I felt adventurous, so I decided to give it a go. I soaked the chunks of my loaf in that almond milk and then prepared a custard with the liquid that the bread had not absorbed. In the end, my custard did set beautifully, and the flavor was incredible. So I thought: this ought to be a great way of making non-dairy flan! That’s how this recipe came to be.

One characteristic of almond milk is that it tastes significantly different from dairy, so if we want such a confection to work flavorwise, we need to build its flavor profile. I used Meyer lemon zest as a base, and since my almond milk is not the “unsweetened version,” I didn’t use as much sugar as I would have for a regular flan. Then I found the combination of cardamom and cinnamon as garnish gave the flan a lovely flavor component without being overly sweet.

My flan beautifully set and chilled, ready to eat.

I use the same techniques as a regular flan for this preparation, and it works well. Here is the recipe.

Almond Milk Flan

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 5 tsp of cane sugar, two for the caramel and three for the custard.
  • 1 large egg (I also added one egg yolk, but I feel it can be avoided)
  • ½ tsp zest of Meyer lemon.
  • 1 tiny pinch of salt.
  • 1 Cup of vanilla-flavored almond milk.
  • ¼ tsp cardamom & ½ tsp cinnamon.

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF or 180ºC
  2. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tsp of sugar into caramel, making sure not to scorch it as it will develop an unpleasant flavor. Once it’s pourable, pour it to coat the bottom of the container where you’ll bake the flan. I used a glass microwaveable food container. Place the container in your freezer while you prepare the custard.
  3. In a small saucepan, warm up the almond milk to about 165ºF, or 73ºC. Make sure it doesn’t go too much over that, or it will cook your egg.
  4. While the milk is heating, In a bowl, combine and whisk the egg and yolk (if using) with 3 tsp of sugar, salt, and lemon zest.
  5. Temper your egg batter by whisking in vigorously ¼ of your almond milk first, then slowly incorporate the rest of the almond milk. It’s crucial to get this step right. Otherwise, you can potentially end up with sweet scrambled eggs.
  6. Pour your batter into the container with the caramel.
  7. Prepare your bain-marie: Fill out a larger saucepan, pot, or tray with enough water so your flan container is submerged 80%. Bring the water almost to a boil. Then place your flan in. Transfer everything into the oven right away.
  8. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the custard is set. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  9. Plating: Run a pairing knife through the edge of your container and un-mold the flan into a serving plate. Garnish with cardamom and cinnamon.
  10. Enjoy!

Freshly un-molded almond milk flan with a light caramel on top.