Potato Hack Redux

potatoesIn April, 2013 I participated in a potato hack for 20 days. It was a simplified, starch based way of eating for 20 days based off the ‘All Hail the Potato Challenge‘ found on the McDougall Forums last March. While I had achieved great health leading up to this challenge, I was looking to use my 20 days in order to “reset myself” and consume those foods that got me to where I am today. Over the last 12 months I feel my diet has improved from where I was this time last year. Yet my eating habits continue to get me in trouble from time to time.

Satiety or the feeling or condition of being full after eating food, is what Dr. John McDougall promotes when it comes to a plant based lifestyle.  Unfortunately, I have found myself eating more and more, especially at dinner time, which results in a “stuffed” feeling. It’s not just a single meal, looking back over a typical day I can identify failures starting without breakfast. These habits have seen my weight increase, lipid panel results increase and have a “blah” sort of feeling all day.

Food choices have improved, thanks in part to Julie Marie at Protective Diet (formerly Plant Purity), which I wrote about last year prior to starting my potato hack. Her recipes, like those from McDougall are meat, dairy and oil free. Yes, this includes chicken and fish, which are both meat. You would be surprised how many times people ask that question. It also include ALL oil. Yes, even those fancy oils that are promoted as “healthy” in your diet. Julie takes eating to a new level removing “nuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners and food additives.”

Now, you might be asking yourself, “What the hell do you eat?” Plenty of good, healthy, natural food that is satiating! I usually try to eat through out the day without a need to count calories or worry about eating too much. When I started following a plant based diet I used Fit Day as a tool to monitor my weight loss, which reinforced the fact my shirts and pants fitting better. Julie makes 123 recipes available for free on Protective Diet (just register for FREE). Prior to this, I was following an “SOS” approach promoted by Chef AJ and Ramses Bravo cutting out the “evil trinity” of sugar, oil and sodium.

Excess sodium intake has never been a problem in the past. Rarely did I pick up a salt shaker to “add flavor” to my meal (unless it was meat) prior to a plant based lifestyle. I understand sodium has been linked with hypertension, “which is an established risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. In addition, excess sodium/salt intake has been associated with stomach cancer, osteoporosis, edema, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, headache, angina, left ventricular hypertrophy, arteriosclerosis, and autoimmune problems.” (source)

The real culprits are sugar and food additives, which can be very difficult to cut out, but a diet based on whole foods makes this transition easier. “The warnings about sugar are mere whispers at best. Yet sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine, and Americans are consuming 152 pounds of sugar a year!” (source) For example after giving up dairy, I was introduced to almond milk, which is a great replacement for dairy milk. Yet 1 cup of Blue Diamond Vanilla Flavored Almond Breeze is loaded with 13 grams of sugar as well as a plethora of additives that my body doesn’t need; EVAPORATED CANE JUICE, CALCIUM CARBONATE, NATURAL VANILLA FLAVOR WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS, SEA SALT, POTASSIUM CITRATE, CARRAGEENAN, SUNFLOWER LECITHIN, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, VITAMIN D2, D-ALPHA-TOCOPHEROL.

Additives aren’t easy to spot sometimes, disguised under the title of “natural flavoring” or “spices” under ingredients. Take MSG, “There are more than 25 names for MSG, so sometimes you find it spread out a little, just in case the manufacturer gets “checked out” by anyone other than the FDA. (source) These additives are synthesized by chemists so you desire more in order to get you addicted. “… they want you to only experience the best 1 millionth part of the taste – so you get “addicted” and keep having to go back for more and more, searching continuously for gratification – eating more of that product which in turns fills Big Food Companies pockets.” (source)

Many consumers don’t pay close attention to ingredients and know what these harmful substances can do (More on additives in a future T6F post). Many have been linked to cancer in animal studies, are carcinogenic, tumor causing and others that cause serious health related issues. So why ingest them?

I digress as I have moved away from my original point of having improved my eating habits thanks to Protective Diet. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and examine those habits and ask yourself “Am I doing everything I can for my health?” I know my diet still had flaws and I cravings that occasionally flair. For me, following a plant based wasn’t good enough.

Recently there have been times where I have consumed food I shouldn’t have for various reasons. Sometimes these “foods” are the best available option, other times I am hungry, without food. For example, white rice is probably the one food I exploit regularly. Within walking distance of Chinatown in Oakland, there are so many Asian restaurants, but most include ingredients or foods that I don’t eat. White rice, is simple, easy and satiating, but not as healthy as brown rice.

As many know, sometimes you don’t need a reason to eat off plan, you do it, forget about it and move on. Stating December 1 I will go 20 days basing my meals around potatoes…again! Mashed, baked, unfried, steamed, covered with cheese, chili, gravy or vegetables. Every meal I eat will contain potatoes in some form or fashion. This will allow me to “reset” myself and start the year off on the right foot.


Potato Hack

potato_hackStealing a line from the McDougall Forums, I am up for a “potato hack.” I feel this is appropriate as I evaluate the status of my current health. It’s been challenging since the new year began with my wife returning home from major back surgery, followed by a bout with melanoma, followed by two more surgeries and a load of stress. I have let myself lapse, taking those two proverbial two steps back. While my weight has increased about 7 pounds, a portion of that due to the strength gains I have made through Stronglifts (since October) I don’t have that feeling I had a few months back.

I have not changed the way I eat, still following a plant based, whole foods diet with no added oil, dairy and meat. Thankfully I haven’t fallen THAT far. Unfortunately beer has become my crutch once again, while it’s only 92 calories and 2.5 grams of carbohydrates, I do believe it’s having a negative effect on my health, as seen in the weight gain and how I have been feeling. The other factor, a lack of consistency at the gym. I have not been able to put together a full week (3 days) of work outs since February.

A final, possible factor is the lack of tracking my food and weight on a daily basis through Fit Day. While this could be seen as overkill or unnecessary, I do believe it’s another reason why I have seen negative changes. Since changing my way of eating, I have been very good at taking the time to input what I ate each day, not so much to watch total caloric intake, but to see approximately how those calories I was eating were broken down (total calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein). I would also log “exercise” or any activities that would burn calories.

My diet hasn’t changed I am eating much of the same good food I have been for the past 16 months. One change, while not major that could influence the weight gain as been the addition of nuts into my diet. Nearly every time I cook cheese, nuts are a base ingredient (although I just found a recipe on Plant Purity that uses acorn squash of pumpkin pie filling). Unfortunately yellow and green vegetables are still not a big part of my diet.

For the next 2 weeks, possibly 20 days I will challenge myself to thrive on potatoes and vegetables. Ask me 16 months ago if this was possible and I would say it would be crazy. Knowing what I know now, this will be a welcome challenge. It will also get me “back to basics” as it relates to cooking. I’m at a point where the complexity of my cooking is much more than just boiling potatoes or steaming veggies for dinner. It will be a nice break to put together a handful of recipes of just potatoes and vegetables.

As for the fitness portion, I am in the process of setting up a home gym. I had a friend donate 300 pounds of weights, as well as a squat stand. I am now in the market for a bench and a barbell. While it will still take me the better part of a month to get this organized it will benefit me to be able to work out at home, in my garage. I will also save money in the long run by not having to pay the monthly dues I pay now. Until it’s set up, I will still make the commitment to get to the gym 3 days a week.

What do I hope to gain? Better health, obviously. Also as a reminder of all the hard work I have accomplished to this point, to let myself fall back into bad habits, such as drinking beer regularly. In the process I will hopefully drop a few pounds, from 182 to 177 and get back to feeling better and looking better when I stand in front of the mirror.

Potacos (Potato Tacos)

Ingredients:Potacos or Potato tacos
4 Russet potatoes, cubed
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
corn tortillas (I used store brand from Mi Pueblo)
shredded lettuce or cabbage
pico de Gallo
chipotle nayonaise

In a small bowl mix the whole wheat flour and spices together and set aside. Peel the Russet potatoes and chop into small, bite size pieces. Drop chopped potatoes in a pan of cold water. Boil the potatoes for 5-7 minutes, remove from stove and drain water. Add the potatoes back to the pain and shake the dry mix over the potatoes. Cover the pan and shack to coat the potatoes with the dry mixture.

Heat the over to 450 degrees. Place the potato pieces on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake potato pieces for 35 minutes. At 17-18 minutes using a spatula oven the oven and turn the potatoes pieces to get a nice even browning.

Take 2 corn tortillas and gently fold them and place them in your toaster (not toaster oven) and push the toaster down. When the time is up, you will have quick and simple taco shells. Fill shells with lettuce or cabbage, drip chipotle nayonaise, added potato chunks and top with fresh pico de Gallo.

Serving Size: 12 tacos

Nutritional Facts: (1 corn tortilla with potato filling)
Calories: 104.3
Total Fat: 1.6 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 54.5 mg
Potassium: 222.9 mg
Total Carbs: 23.1 g
Protein: 2.3 g

Notes: You could simplify this recipe by substituting 1 tablespoon of taco season, instead of mixing your own, but this will add a bit of sodium to the recipe. The potatoes were actually a tater tot recipe from Fifteen Spatulas (see link below), adapted to be spiced up and served as taco filling. I am still working on a oil free version of a chipotle nayonaise. The store bought brands all contain oil in their adobo sauce. Recipe will be posted as soon.

You can also substitute 4 cups of hashed brown potatoes for the Russet potatoes. This saves a bit of time. If you do this, then use 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour (not 2 TBSP) and mix with your taco seasoning. I also reduced the temperature to 350 for 15 minutes, as these are smaller potato chunks. I think these work better than the larger chucks, but both are tasty.

Source: Fifteen Spatulas

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

4 Russet potatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (low sodium)
1 1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 1/2 Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
1 teaspoon horseradish
pinch cayenne pepper (as desired)

Chop the potatoes and place in a pot with cold water. Boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes. Drain. Add garlic, mustard, vegetable broth, mustard, liquid aminos and horseradish. Mash ingredients, adding more vegetable broth if necessary.

Just Small Potatoes

I am still about 2 weeks short of going 4 months since changing my diet and eating habits. It’s been a wonderful change that has benefited myself, wife and to a lesser degree my son. Along with the blood work results trending down, my weight it down nearly 30 pounds and I have been walking and lifting weights more than I have done in the past. As of yesterday my wife was down 11 pounds, but hasn’t adhered as strictly as I have. I am fine with that, for the most part she eats what I cook but has come to find a favorite in these last few months.

Never before did I think we would be buying 20 pound bags of potato or 10 pounds of sweet potatoes. I didn’t think I would be search for the best deals on bulk foods, such as nutritional yeast, beans and rice. Yet as soon as I find the best way to store these items I will make the plunge and buy in bulk. I was surprised to see Costco carrying a 25 pound bag of brown rice and a 20 pound bag of pinto beans.

Potatoes have become our “new meat” at the dinner table. I know that sounds a bit strange, but this ingredient can used in many dishes in a variety of ways. My wife used to enjoy eating my turkey & spinach enchiladas. When I change my way of eating, giving up meat I was able to find a enchilada recipe that used potatoes as the meat filling. Much like the turkey recipe, I would saute garlic and onion with some vegetable stock or broth and then add the chopped, boiled potatoes. Add in some spinach and cover with sauce. It’s a quick and simple recipe.

This has been the staple of our diet for the past few weeks, my wife cannot get enough of the potato enchiladas I have been making. I could use a change, unfortunately I don’t have the time to cook 3 different meals a night to feed the family. I have been scouring many vegetarian and vegan web sites and started to collect a fair numbers of sites that I will hope to use in the future. Unfortunately cooking on the McDougall program is a different than a cook claiming to be vegetarian or vegan. Many of these recipes still use a fair amount of fats, including olive oil. I have found that the case with a few vegan cookbooks I have recently purchased.

As I have mentioned before, this is a challenge but a welcome one. I have been fairly successful making meals that are relatively quick and easy and taste good. I know many I talk to about the way I eat have a misconception I am stuffing my face full of salad. That could not be further from the truth. I have yet to be hungry since I changed my eating habits and if I do get hungry, then chances are I have missed a meal. This has been too frequent at work, as I do not take lunch and hesitate to spend any money to eat out.

Tonight was a bit of an experiment. I found a recipe online for sweet potato burritos. The wife’s comment was “interesting taste.” I guess these won’t be able to replace the potato enchiladas. Still these burritos had a nice flavor that could easily be modified or spiced up to your liking. It also included onions, kidney beans along with cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, mustard and soy sauce. I know, it doesn’t sound good, but it was. Recipe soon.