Monday, June 10, 2013

Un Diet Cookbooks

When is a diet book, not a diet book? Diets are often considered temporary, just until you lose weight, or get a medical condition under control. But if you are celiac, then gluten free is more than just a diet, but a a way of life. Some dietary changes are necessary, others might be considered optional. Several books have caught my attention recently, because on first glance you might think they are diet books, but they could really be seen as "lifestyle" books, because they represent changes for the long term, not the short term. 
Recently I was at a breakfast with Mark Bittman and he discussed his latest book, VB6. After being told his health was at risk, Bittman decided to adhere to a new way of eating, "vegan before 6 pm." Everyone wants to talk to him about cheating, and the first thing he did at the vegan breakfast was request dairy milk for his coffee. Let's just say he's flexible and that's probably key to his success. He's lost weight, lowered his cholesterol and blood sugar.

VB6 is not a cookbook, although it does include about 60 recipes, not all of them vegan, it's more about how to change the way you eat. Bittman also reduced processed non-whole grain foods like white bread, pasta and rice. Whether you go vegan before 6 pm or just start increasing the number of vegan meals you eat in general, the benefits seem pretty clear. And if you're worried about what options you'll have for breakfast, Bittman covers that too (think smoothies, cereal, tofu scrambles, nut butters on whole grain toast and fruit parfaits).

There are lots of gluten free cookbooks, but one of the latest ones comes from Kristine Kidd, who was the editor at Bon Appetit for more than 20 years. Unlike some other more complicated gluten free cookbooks, Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Gluten-Free is all about quick and fairly easy recipes. With the exception of xanthum gum, it doesn't rely on lots of unusual ingredients. It also has a resource section that offers sources of gluten free basics like flour, pasta, grains, tortillas and broth. The recipes have a California vibe to them, lots of grilled meats, pasta, salads and quick and easy dishes with grains like quinoa. It also has a can do attitude that makes it seem less daunting.

Some fab sounding recipes? Shrimp Avocado and Peach Salad with Chile and Lime, Braised Chicken with Fennel and Polenta, Sausage and Chard Risotto and Ginger Cherry Oatmeal Cookies.

There seem to be two camps when it comes to salt. Those who constantly advocate using it, and those who don't. While I use salt, I think over dependence on it can really be a crutch. Some people with kidney, heart problems or high blood pressure need to reduce sodium, that's just a fact. But even if you don't, aren't you curious about how you can lessen your dependence on salt to boost flavor?  I'm a fan of Jess Gouldman Foung's book Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook which includes lots of cool tricks for creating robust flavor without adding any salt or salty ingredients. She even makes her own creative versions of salty foods like pickles and kimchi.

Don't Break Your Heart written by registered dietitians, is not as extreme as Sodium Girl in terms of reducing sodium (for example recipes will use low salt soy sauce or parmesan cheese). The book is focused on reducing sodium and to some degree unhealthy fat, for heart health and weight management. The recipes like Edamame Avocado Dip, Chicken with Golden Raisins, Green Olives and Lemon and Strawberry Gazpacho are much more interesting than the boring fare sometimes offered up by dietitians.

I'm not a big believer in the Paleo diet, but if it works for some people, so be it. Elana Amsterdam of Elana's Pantry has written a little volume called  Paleo Cooking from Alana's Pantry. Her recipes are gluten free, grain free and dairy free. Coconut Macadamia Tart Crust, Olive Oil Thyme Crackers made from almond flour, Cauliflower "rice" and her Flourless Brownies will probably help you look past the restrictive nature of this way of eating.

Frankly her recipes are appealing and easy and bottom line, that's probably key to making any change stick.


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