Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Use Your Noodle

Are you full of new year resolution plans?

If so, the only way most people can reach their goals is to actually have a PLAN. What I mean is, just saying, for example: "I'm going to exercise more!" is not enough. If you really want to exercise more, use the S.M.A.R.T principle to devise an action plan to reach this goal.

S - Specific (I want to do 3 hours of intense cardio per week)
M - Measurable (Time your workouts and use a heart rate monitor)
A - Achievable (Be realistic about what you can achieve so you don't set yourself up for failure)
R - Relevant (Is 3 hours of cardio the best way to improve your health and fitness?)
T - Timed (Don't have some nebulous start and end point, decide to start TODAY, or at a realistic date - i.e. I am going to do 3 hours of cardio per week starting this week so I can run a 5km race in April)

Remember this: If you change nothing, nothing will change. All too often I see clients - both counselling and personal training clients - who want to change something in their life (a toxic relationship, their health, etc.), but are not willing to commit to doing what it will take to achieve their goals. Rarely do things change for the better on their own. If you are suffering from health problems due to a poor lifestyle, it is doubtful that your health will improve unless you make positive changes.

I'll get off my soapbox now, but if you are looking for easy, painless ways to improve your diet this year, I urge you to try some of the various calorie/carbohydrate/gluten-free pasta substitutes out on the market.

Regular pasta (WHOLE GRAIN ONLY), can easily be a part of a healthy diet, but the problem for many people struggling with their weight is that even before you add sauce, it is relatively calorically dense. One serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, and I don't know about you, but that doesn't even fill up a baby toe for me!

So if you have a healthy appetite and love pasta and all forms of noodles, like I do, you can easily overdo it.

One way to avoid going overboard is to bulk up all your pasta dishes with tons of veggies, but another strategy, is to use alternatives to traditional grain-based noodles.

I have mentioned several times before my love of shiratake noodles, of which there are two kinds: (1) yam starch/calorie-free, and (2) yam starch + tofu/low-calorie. I love the yam starch ones, but am not a fan of the tofu kind. The yam starch comes from the root of a konjac plant from Asia and does not contain any funky ingredients, it is simply a form of dietary fibre that has negligible food energy. The yam-only ones work best with Asian noodle dishes, so since I don't like the tofu ones, I use regular, whole-grain pasta if I am in the mood for an Italian style pasta dish.

I love shiratake noodles because they do not require boiling and are quick to make, and they are impossible to overcook because they do not absorb liquid. That being said, they can be tricky to cook with if you are not familiar with them, so here are some tips:

* They smell funny when you open the bag, but ignore this, it imparts no taste and goes away if you rinse them well.
* Put noodles in a collander and rinse well, then snip with scissors, until you have shorter strands.
* Dry them well so you don't water down your sauce. The easiest way to do this is drop them in a hot skillet or frying pan (they don't burn easily) and cook until excess water is gone).
* Pre-cook and drain any ingredients you are adding to your dish that release a lot of liquid when cooking (i.e. veggies, particularly ones like mushrooms, spinach, etc.) before adding to the noodles.
*Start with a very thick sauce, it will thin out on it's own once added to the noodles (things I use to make a thick sauce: tomato paste, nut butters, avocado, powdered coconut milk, etc).
*Keep the strands long and use in place of regular rice noodles in your favorite Asian soup recipe.

I am also now addicted to kelp noodles, which also have no calories. These are easier to use than shiratake noodles, if you can find them because they do absorb liquid, so you can sauce them with just about anything. You can eat them raw, but they are crunchy. If you want a noodle-like consistency, rinse and snip them, and then throw them into a wok, skillet or frying pan with your sauce until they soften (it only takes a few minutes). If you are really turned off by the smell of shiratakis when you open the bag, you will like that these have no smell.

Some people suggest using spaghetti squash in place of grain-based noodles, but if I am craving noodles, that just doesn't cut it for me. I know I'm eating squash. Shirataki and kelp noodles, on the other hand are filling and satisfy that noodle/carb craving.

Here is one of my favorite shiratake noodle dishes (If you don't like 'spicy' food, just omit the crushed chilis):

Korean Kimchi-style Noodles

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces (or 1 lb of firm tofu, cubed)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls fresh ginger, minced
2 tbls plum vinegar
2 sweet red peppers, cut into thin strips
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
1 can tomato paste
Crushed red chili, to taste (optional)

2-1 lb bags of shiratake noodles, rinsed, snipped and dried

Saute chicken over medium heat until cooked on the outside. Add garlic, ginger, vinegar and peppers and cook a few more minutes. Add cabbage, and onions and cook until tender and chicken fully cooked. Stir in tomato paste and noodles and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serves 2-3.

Here is an easy goal for the new year: If you eat noodles several times a week (particularly if you usually eat WHITE FLOUR noodles), replace your usual noodle with shiratakes once a week and see what happens!

For more recipes, type "shiratake" into my blog search bar and quite a few will come up.

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