Slow Carb Chicken Shawarma

Slow Carb Chicken Shawarma

Slow Carb Chicken Shawarma

Slow Carb Chicken Swarma for an Easy Dinner

The hand- on part of this Chicken Shawarma recipe is very quick and easy, although you do have to allow a couple of hours for marinating and cooking time (about an hour marinating in the fridge and an hour in the oven).  Add some greens and you have a perfect, easy-but-fancy, slow carb dinner!

Chicken is such a popular and versatile dish, but it can be pretty bland.  Chicken Shawarma is anything but bland, with a lively marinade of lemon, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper flakes.  It is a Middle Eastern dish that is often served on warm flatbread topped with a savory yogurt sauce.  Neither flatbread or yogurt is compliant with a slow carb diet, although you could make a yogurt sauce with full-fat plain yogurt that would work with some low-carb diets.

True shawarma is cooked with stacked, spice-marinated meats– lamb, turkey, chicken, beef, or a mix of meats– on a vertical spit. The shawarma turns and cooks on the spit for hours and hours, basted in fat and its own juices.   Sometimes it is served with a tahini sauce which I could probably modify to be slow carb compliant, but I was going for quick and easy with this dish.

Honestly though, it was delicious without flatbread or yogurt or tahini sauce and if you didn’t know that it was usually served that way, you would never miss it!

Recipe for Slow Carb Chicken Shawarma:

Ingredients:

  • 2 lemons, freshly juiced
  • 1/2 cup plus
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cumin (toasted seed and then ground if you’ve got time)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 lbs. skin-on chicken thighs
  • 2 onions (yellow or red), quartered

Directions:

  1. For the marinade:  In a medium to large bowl, combine lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper flakes.  Whisk to combine.
  2. Add chicken thighs and toss to coat them with the marinade.  Cover and store in refrigerator for 1 hour up to 12 hours.
  3. When ready to cook, preheat over to 425 degrees F.  Spray rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or oil.  Quarter the onions (or cut in large chunks) and coat with the marinade in the bowl.  Remove the chicken and onion and place on baking sheet.  Pour any remaining marinade over the chicken.
  4. Roast the chicken in the oven until it is browned, about 30-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit a couple of minutes while you make the accompaniments if using.  Serve and enjoy!

Ideas for accompaniments might include tomatoes, cucumbers, hot sauce, olives, fried eggplant, feta or a tahini sauce.

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The Dreaded Diet Plateau

diet plateau photo

“diet plateau” photo

What is a Diet Plateau?

In the last year of coaching people on high-protein-low-carb diets the most common scenario is a loss of 2-5 pounds in the first few weeks and then a downward trend of about 1 pound per week over the next 6 months. At some point however (often more than one point on the journey) you hit the dreaded diet plateau.
The plateau is not exclusive to a low carb or slow carb diet. In fact, people generally reach a plateau with every diet under the sun. In researching the various diet plans, I’ve come up with a curated list of methods that have seen some success in getting people off the diet plateau.

Why Do We Plateau?

It seems like everything is cruising along fine, you’ve got the hang of the diet and your sugar cravings are in control. Seeing that gradual weight decrease on the scale in the morning is enough to keep your spirits up, even if it is only .2 lbs. Then….a week goes by with no decrease. Then another week. This is when the going gets tough. Many people will give up at this point, blaming the diet because they know they have been 100% compliant.
Fat loss plateaus can be extremely frustrating at times, but generally they are temporary bumps in the road. It’s important to keep focused on your goal, and look at the overall downward “trend” of your weight loss, rather than minor changes in measurements or weight from week to week.
Sometimes a fat loss plateau can be traced back to some minor changes that may have happened over time. Sometimes it is fluctuations in water weight due to stress, hormones or lack of sleep. And sometimes it’s just mysterious voodoo. Often, after being on a plateau for a couple of weeks you will see a “whoosh” where your body just seems to all of a sudden release a few pounds.

Ferriss on the “Diet Plateau”:

Some of the following methods come directly from Tim Ferriss’ book “The Four-Hour Body”, some of it is what I have seen work in the last year and a half of diet coaching, and some is curated methods from health and fitness blogs and podcasts.

Briefly, here is what Tim Ferriss says about the plateau:

  1.  “Don’t start thinking that you’ve plateaued until you have been on the diet 6 weeks. It is not unusual for women to experience their greatest weight loss around the 6-week mark. “
  2. “Eating too late, not eating enough protein (my note: you need at least 20-25 grams a meal), drinking too little water are the three most common causes of hitting a weight loss plateau.”
  3. ” The total percentage of body fat lost per month naturally decreases over time. The number of mitochondria in your muscle tissue largely determines your rate of sustained fat-loss (this is why you need resistance training as part of your exercise routine!). Targeted exercise, even just 20 minutes per week, will often double fat-loss that’s plateaued, and should do so for at least two to four months.”

Simple Tips for addressing a Diet Plateau:

  1. Check ingredient lists of any pre-packaged foods you have been eating for and note the sugar, the carbs and the calories. If the food label has 3 grams of dietary fiber for every 20 grams of carbs, it is a “slow carb” that will not spike blood sugar in the same way as a simple carb.
  2. Reduce the amount of beans in a day. While beans are allowed (and necessary for energy levels), you only need 1 cup per day. More than that and the calories and fats in legumes can stall your loss. Alternatively, if you aren’t on a slow carb diet, have smaller portions of food – essentially decreasing your calories by doing either one.
  3. If you have been using any kind of protein shake, discontinue use for a week and replace it with a whole food, like eggs, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc.
  4. Drink more water, it is really necessary for high-protein diets. Insufficient water intake seems to be particularly common among women. Make a special effort to drink more water on your cheat day.
  5. Portion out or do not have “Domino Foods”. There are certain foods that, while technically fine to eat on a high-protein diet, are prone to portion abuse. almonds, which are easy to consume by the handful, contain 824 calories per cup, 146 calories more than a Whopper from Burger King. A few nuts is just fine (5-10), but no one eats just a few. Self-discipline is overrated and undependable.
  6. Have a proper cheat day, if you have skipped any recently. There’s a lot of data that shows a spike in calories, and a spike in carbohydrates both helps your body to avoid a lower metabolism due to dieting.
  7. Eat more than 60g, but less than 230g, of proteins every day.
  8. Eat healthy fats. Getting enough healthy fats from foods like avocados, coconut, nuts, eggs, and fish can help stimulate the right hormones to ensure that your metabolism doesn’t shut down, even when you’re cutting back on calories. Not getting enough healthy fats will cause your hormone levels to suffer and create a risk for adrenal fatigue, which can cause all sorts of problems, including weight gain. Healthy fats are also what keep you full and give you long-term energy, so always make sure you’re getting enough in your diet.

More Robust Ways of Addressing a Diet Plateau:

  1. Start exercising more intensely, this is often the key to getting off the plateau in terms of fat loss – get in some sort of strength resistance exercise of your choice for 3-4 times a week. Some experts estimate that every extra pound of muscle on your body burns 30-50 calories extra a day, while others estimate each pound burns 6 extra calories a day, compared to 2 calories burned by fat. Either way, if you want to increase your metabolism, gaining muscle is the best and most sure way to go about doing so.
  2. Intermittent Fasting . There are several different types of IF and that is another whole post. Google intermittent fasting and get knowledgeable to see if it’s for you.
  3. Find out what your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is using one of the calculators on the web and start tracking calories. The reason for plateauing at each level is usually related to the fact that your metabolism starts to slow down as you consume less food. In addition to building muscle and taking cheat days to increase metabolism, there is some evidence that getting cold (either by taking cold showers, sleeping cold or drinking ice water in the morning) can help boost metabolism
  4. Follow the very, very stringent meal plan that Ferriss lays out in his “Last Mile” Chapter of 4-Hour Body. It is effective for the short term, but not a sustainable way of eating.

If you have reached the dreaded plateau and want some accountability coaching to help jump off, visit me over at the coach.me platform and check out the coaching option.

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Maintenance Plan for Low Carb or Slow Carb Diet

So you’ve met your goal weight!  Kudos!  Not an easy thing to do and the last thing you want to do is lose momentum and put to waste the struggle it involved, just to gain it all back in a year.  If the statistics are correct however, there is a good chance that you will gain it back.  You need a plan.  A maintenance plan for low carb or slow carb diet.

Body fat measuring tool

Body fat measuring tool

Why People Tend to Fall Down:

Even if you took on a high-protein-low-carb diet as a lifestyle change rather than a diet, this insidious thing called “carb creep” seems to enter our complicated lives at some point.  The fact that we are social beings and that eating and drinking with friends/family is a favorite social activity is going to be an ever-present influence.

Restaurants and food producers are making an effort to decrease the sugar in our food, but high levels of carbs and sugar in prepared food is still the norm.  How many people cook at home these days?  I don’t know the answer to this, but based on the pool of clients I have coached over the past year, I would guess not many.  Especially in the under-30 crowd.  A lot of foodies, but not many home cooks, and this leads to boredom and the convenience of eating out.

So….how do we navigate these influences over time once we have reached our goal weight?  Enter the  “maintenance plan”.  The maintenance plan I’m outlining below is not based on clinical trials or large studies, but rather it is a plan that has worked for me for 4 years now and one that 80% of my clients have seen success with for at least a year.

Maintenance Plan for low carb or slow carb diets:

Four overarching strategies make up the plan:

  1. Data tracking to avoid carb creep
  2. Reintroducing Non-Compliant Foods (SCD)
  3. Exercise routines for metabolism maintenance
  4. Action steps to instill perseverance

1)  Data Tracking and Carb Creep:

Tracking body fat vs weight

Tracking body fat vs weight

As Tim Ferriss notes in a quote from Peter Drucker, “What gets measured gets Managed”  I love this quote and live by it.  I’ve been tracking my weight every day now for 4 years.  It’s a habit that I don’t even think of…UNTIL, I go over my red-flag limit.  Then it’s time to get serious again.

The red-flag limit is a personal limit you give yourself for how many pounds you are willing to shrug off before you call it carb creep and slap yourself into being strictly compliant again.  My red-flag limit is 4 pounds.

The scale is a blunt instrument and your weight will go through natural fluctuations depending on stress, sleep and hormones.  For my body however, 4 pounds is something more than natural fluctuations.  It usually happens after a vacation or a prolonged holiday.  Your individual red-flag limit may be different based on your own weight and body rhythms, but it is important to establish one and then honor it.

Most people find that once they have been eating a low carb diet for a while, their body has reached some sort of equilibrium and it is fairly easy to lose the vacation weight in 1-2 weeks if you just become compliant again and get back into your low-carb eating habits.

The other reason to studiously track your daily weight is that you can look back over the year and see which months were difficult for you, what you may have been doing at that time, and how long it took to correct it.  That last part can be a huge stress-reliever.  Just seeing that indeed you did correct it and it only took a couple of weeks can be highly motivating and allow you to calmly remedy the creep rather than falling into a spiral of self-hate.

Data geeks often track their micro-nutrient grams, their body fat %, their exercise minutes, etc. but I’ve found that once you understand the parameters of the diet and you have a pretty solid routine, the only thing you really need to track is your weight.  Body fat % is a great thing to track but most people can’t easily do that on a daily basis.  The daily long-term record keeping is what is key.

2)  Reintroducing Non-Compliant Foods:

Panna Cotta w/ Strawberry & Red Wine Sauce

Panna Cotta w/ Strawberry & Red Wine Sauce

With the slow carb diet you are allowed a scheduled cheat day once a week and if you lost your weight under this particular diet, you don’t really need to change anything.  Cheat day still exists on the maintenance plan and I think it is a beautiful thing.  That delayed gratification aspect keeps you eating mostly clean and over time cheat days tend to become days for some fruit and grains rather than the junk-orgy they start out to be.  Ferriss said not long ago that he does the all-out cheat day usually about once a month, with the other three cheat days being much milder and healthier.  The thing to remember is this is by choice and so you end up evolving into a lifestyle that is sustainable and quite healthy.

By the time you have reached your goal weight with either a low carb or a slow carb diet plan, you have learned a lot about nutrition.  At this point you can start to add back in certain foods that are not strictly compliant with a slow carb diet, but that follow the principle of not spiking blood sugar/insulin levels.  This would be things like full-fat plain yogurt, some aged hard lactose-free cheeses, some berries, and perhaps grapefruit or some citrus.  Add them one at a time over a period of a couple of weeks for each and see how your body responds.  Just be aware of the sugar content and read labels.

Exercise Routines

Exercise Routines

3)  Exercise Routines for Metabolism Control:

So you lost weight without any exercise?  Totally possible, but it probably won’t stay off unless you do some sort of regular exercise routine.  The research on exactly what kind of exercise is best is hotly debated.

The part of it that is not debated is to start with something you enjoy and that you can incorporate into your schedule.  The “routine” is the most important part of exercise on a maintenance program.  Once you get into a regularly scheduled exercise routine, the type of exercise will likely evolve into something more intense as you go.

Most of the current literature on exercise maintains that interval training with a resistance component is the best exercise for weight loss and weight control.  This is because it builds muscle and muscle will keep your metabolism up.  Keeping a high metabolism rate is relevant to a low carb diet maintenance because your metabolism does tend to downshift and adapt to the lower needs of the diet.

4)  Action Steps to Instill Perseverance:

This last step is a goal-setting exercise that you can do alone, but is helpful to do with a coach or a friend.  Implementing the illusive quality of perseverance over the long term is made up of personal habits and the unique environment that you live and work in.

There are a number of goal-setting methods that will work.  I’ve found the most important aspects of goal setting is threefold:  1) make the action steps measurable, 2) only pick out 3-5 action steps that you are willing to totally commit to, and 3) write it down physically in a notebook that you have handy and will look at frequently.

Here is a brief example of one person’s goal-setting exercise for perseverance:

GOAL:  To stay compliant with SCD and make it a lifestyle that can accomodate life’s changes in routines and circumstances

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Part of persevering is mastering the ability to let go.  Commit to taking deep breaths or a 3-minute meditation when the emotional stress that is tempting you to eat comes on.
  2. If there are people in your life who are particularly negative and seem bent on preventing you from achieving, it’s ok to either stop spending time with them or limit how much you see them. Seek out 1-2 places per month where you can find some healthy, like-minded friends.
  3. When faced with food temptations at the office, I will use my phone and do the Pomodoro technique to distract me.
  4. Reflect on what happened when you fell off the wagon and figure out what you can take away from the experience. Write this down in your notebook. Even the strongest people have failures (usually many of them). Write down a new idea for pursuing your goal in a similar situation where you failed, acknowledging it’ll turn out differently next time.
  5. Read one biography a month about someone who accomplished their goals despite emotional or physical hardships.
Falling Off the Wagon

Falling Off the Wagon

Want online coaching?  Go to coach.me to hire Dorothy for diet coaching or to browse the huge range of goals and coaches.

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Pickled Eggs as a Low Carb Snack

Pickled Beet Eggs as Low Carb Snack

Pickled Beet Eggs

Pickled Beet Eggs…so pretty to the eye and so healthy as a healthy snack.  If you are strictly “slow carb” then beets are not allowed (too much sugar in them), so I followed Jamie Oliver’s lead and made pickled red cabbage eggs.  They’re just as beautiful and just as tasty.  Oh, and one more plus to this low carb snack…..they’re easy to make!

Pickled Beet Eggs on the Road:

I first experienced pickled beet eggs this Thanksgiving in one of those serendipitous ways that make you think of double rainbows.  My husband, daughter and I were taking a road trip out East to visit my son in Connecticut where he was going to host his first Thanksgiving dinner in his new apartment (he’s 22 years old – got to hand it to him, that’s more than I would have taken on at 22).

Everyone in our family except my son follows a slow carb lifestyle and it’s challenging, to say the least, to find low carb or slow carb snacks while traveling by car through America’s pit stops.  At one point in Pennsylvania we stopped for gas, and scoured a truck stop for something to tide us over until dinner.  It was looking grim until I happened upon these red hardboiled eggs called “beet eggs”.  After a questioning group shrug we decided to give it a go.  The consensus was “not bad”, in fact “pretty good”.

Later that night after arriving at and checking out my son’s new apartment, he brought out an appetizer for us.  Yep…pickled beet eggs!!!  I had never heard of these delicacies and here they are in front of us twice in one day.  I have to say, my son’s were much fresher and better, but the truck stop ones were not bad at all.   Apparently, they are popular especially in Pennsylvania, and also in other regions where Amish and Mennonites have settled.

Transforming Pickled Beet Eggs to a Slow Carb Snack

Well, red pickled eggs are now established in our Minnesota household as a portable low carb snack, except that I make them with red cabbage instead of beets.  Using red cabbage instead of beets is a riff on the beet eggs from Jamie Oliver, and since red cabbage is compliant with slow carb diets, I definitely wanted to try it.  Both the beet eggs and the red cabbage eggs are excellent, and although beets do have sugar in them, they also have a lot of nutritional value, so take your pick.

If you don’t cook at all and don’t like the idea of peeling a dozen eggs, I think you could probably buy some peeled hard-boiled eggs in the grocery store, a jar of pickled beets and toss them together with some spices for the “I don’t cook” method.  It will elevate plain hardboiled eggs to a beautiful new high.

Red Pickled Eggs as Low Carb Snack – 2 Ways:

 

Pickled Beet Eggs Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1 cup canned pickled red beets (with their liquid)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice

Directions:

  1. Place peeled hard-boiled eggs in a quart-sized mason jar (or any other heatproof container)
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 min.  Pour warm mix over eggs and cover tightly.
  3. Chill for at least 2 days before serving.  Will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator

Pickled Red Cabbage Eggs Recipe:

(modified slightly from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook)

Pickled Red Eggs - Low Carb Snack

Pickled Red Cabbage Eggs

Ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 Tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 small red cabbage (10 oz)

Directions:

  1. Gently lower the eggs into a pot of cold water.  Turn the burner on high and bring to a boil.  When the water comes to a boil, turn off the burner, cover the pot and let the eggs sit in the pot for 5-7 minutes.
  2.  Meanwhile get a large bowl and fill with ice water.  When the eggs have sat in the pot for 5-7 min. ladle them out into the bowl of ice water.  When cool enough to work with, peel the shells off under running cool water (shells come off more easily if you start with older eggs – not really fresh).
  3. In a dry skillet, over gentle heat, toast the star anise, cloves and mustard seeds, shaking the pan often so they do not burn.  Bring 1 cup of water to a boil (can be done in microwave).  When spices start to smell nutty and toasty (about 5 minutes), add bay leaves and the 1 cup boiling water.
  4. Simmer for about 3 min. and then stir in honey, vinegar and 2 heaping tsp of salt.  Remove from heat.
  5. Shred the cabbage (with a box grater) and add to the pot.  Stir in and leave alone for 10 min.
  6. Layer the cabbage mixture and the eggs into your mason jar and pour any extra pickling juice in to fill up the jar.
  7. Place jar in refrigerator and leave alone for 24 hours.  They will last up to two weeks.

There you go.   Ready for the next road trip, hockey trip, airline travel, etc.  Great, portable low carb snack!

Red Pickled Eggs in jars

Red Pickled Eggs in jars

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Slow Carb Cauliflower with Chimichurri Sauce

Slow Carb Roasted Cauliflower with Chimichurri Sauce

Slow Carb Roasted Cauliflower with Chimichurri Sauce

The Skinny on Slow Carb Cauliflower:

Cauliflower definitely rose in popularity with the rise of Paleo, low-carb and slow carb diets.  One of those vegetables with loads of fiber and very little carbohydrates, it is also a vegetable that can become mock mashed potatoes, can serve as a stand-in for a tortilla shells, and can be roasted into all kinds of crusty deliciousness.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t, but now slow carb cauliflower is one of our go-to vegetables.  It has been referred to (by internet sites anyway) as one of the world’s healthiest foods.

To Dress it up a Bit:

While roasted cauliflower with a little oil and salt is fine on its own, it pairs perfectly with a range of sauces to add variety to your meals.  Mustard sauces, tahini sauces, romesco sauces and chimichurri sauces all work to dress up roasted cauliflower and make it into a flavor bomb.

The recipe below involves a twist on a chimchurri sauce (I added almonds), but for a more traditional chimichurri sauce,  see this recipe.  Or try a romesco sauce  with this recipe.  They are all great sauces and they can go with just about any other protein or vegetable on a slow-carb diet.  Eggs too (of course).

Recipe for Slow Carb Cauliflower with Chimichurri Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • olive oil or nut oil
  • 1 to 2 tsp salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1/4 cup extra for basting
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional additions would include:  oregano, smoked paprika, or cilantro

Directions:

  1. Heat up an oven-proof skillet in  in a 375 degree oven while you prepare the cauliflower (place a small pan of water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam)
  2. Tear off the cauliflower leaves and cut the stem to be flush with the base of the cauliflower.  Now, carefully cut out the core of the cauliflower, attempting to not cut through any of the florets so that it stays in a round head.
  3. Rinse and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinklw heavily with salt and rub in.
  4. Put the cauliflower in the hot pan in the oven, core side down and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until very tender.  Occasionally baste the cauliflower with the additional olive oil.

For the chimichurri sauce:

  1. Toast the almonds in a small skillet over low heat for a few minutes until they just start to brown and get a fragrance (don’t burn).  Set aside to cool.
  2. In a blender or food processor combine almonds, garlic and butter and blend until smooth.  Mix in the oil and vinegar.  Blend in the herbs and red pepper flakes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon into small bowl and serve with warm cauliflower.  The sauce should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks at least.

There you go….Serve with your favorite protein dish and you have a special slow carb Sunday Dinner.

Want more Slow Carb Dinner ideas?  Check out this meal plan over at the coach.me site where I offer coaching on high-protein-low-carb diets.  The meal plan is free by the way.  Just click on the “join” button and you can move around through the 21 recipes.

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