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Three Great Weight-Watching Recipes
(and they're simple, too!)
(Food #12a, July 24, 2004)

   What a bleak prospect—making weight-watching recipes. But wait! These three recipes make delicious Southwest entrées; they are low in calories (or Weight-Watchers® Points®); and they are as good as or better than similar meals from the supermarket ethnic foods shelves.
   Before I present the three recipes, I'd like to remind you of a few basic nutritional concepts.

How to lose weight
   The basic concepts related to losing weight can be expressed in a few simple phrases:
  • To lose weight you must eat less food than your body consumes;
  • To remain healthy you must eat a well-balanced diet;
  • Throughout the day your weight varies for a number of reasons.
   I have a friend who eats a huge lunch at work every day. He makes beer at home and drinks it. But he never gains weight. He is very careful what he eats; he is particularly careful to reduce the fats in his meals, and he eats a wide variety of foods. He also gets a lot of physical activity. His metabolism is in balance. As a result his weight is very stable, and his health is good.
   In contrast, I and a few of my other friends are not as careful with our eating and exercise. We seem to need special provisions to help us lose weight. Most people call these diets.

Carbs are bad?
As far as diets go, there are two competing philosophies of weight loss: "carbohydrates are bad," exemplified by the Atkins® diet; and "carbohydrates are good," exemplified by Weight-Watchers­®. Each of these philosophies has a great number of disciples (almost like religions, they are), so I have to tread lightly here.
   I tried the Atkins® diet for a while and actually lost eighteen pounds in about a month. I felt terrible the whole time, and I didn't keep the weight off. Why? The Atkins® diet severely curtails vegetables; the diet does not work effectively if you eat carbohydrates in any significant amount. In fact, eat any carbs and the main effect of the diet actually STOPS! All fats and proteins and no vegetables—bad health. Read about this in this passage from the Old Testament:
"Then Daniel said to the guard whom the master of the eunuchs had put in charge of Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah and himself, 'Submit us to this test for ten days. Give us only vegetables to eat and water to drink; then compare our looks with those of the young men who have lived on the food assigned by the king, and be guided in your treatment of us by what you see.' The guard listened to what they said and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days they looked healthier and were better nourished than all the young men who had lived on the food assigned them by the king."
—The Book of Daniel, I: 12-15.
The Atkins®diet may be popular and fast, but it is misguided, based on bad science; and it is a little paranoic. It panders to people who believe the medical industry is a big conspiracy of some kind.

This is about where the Atkins crowd starts asking for credentials. OK! I'm not a doctor; I'm just a guy, a guy who tried the diet but abandoned it because it made me feel really bad!

A diet that works on the carbs-are-good principle is the Slim-Fast® diet; you remember, the one that has you drink canned shakes for breakfast and lunch. I tried the Slim-Fast® diet with the same results as the Atkins® diet: eighteen pounds lost in 30 days. At the end of the day I was permitted to eat a regular meal, but with only a very few flavors of shake to choose from during the day, I just couldn't keep up my interest. No long-term success!
   Another carbs-are-good diet is Weight-Watchers®. I'm currently still in this program, and I haven't lost my interest. But I have lost 35 pounds since January 1. Hey! I'm not in a hurry! And I like the idea of going to a weekly meeting with a support group of other people like me. I also like the idea of being able to eat anything on the food pyramid in moderation (but then, I'm not paranoid). I'm going out on a limb here—or a cliff, actually—I've included my "before" picture on my home page. Take a gander at it. I'll publish the "after" picture at the end of this June.
Carbs are Good?
   Remember the first item on our list, above? Food in versus energy out? Well all weight control schemes have some way to measure that. Atkins® counts grams of carbohydrates, but the most common method is by counting calories. That's a little tedious, so Weight-Watchers® devised a simpler (though almost identical) scheme called Points®. Points are integrated from calories, grams of dietary fibre, and grams of fat. They're always rounded off to the nearest whole point, and they are easier to count than calories; but it's still reckoning what you eat.
   Many modern restaurants display Atkins® fat grams beside their menu entrée; a few are beginning to show the Weight-Watchers® Points®.
   With that short preamble to our article, how about the three recipes:

two beans
great northerns and pintos, two favorites
refried beans updated
bean info
   Look at the nutrition facts label on a can of refried beans (I chose WalMart's store brand) and here's about what you will find:
serving size 1/2-cup
calories 120
total fat 0g.
total carb 21g.
dietary fibre 7g.
If you're on the Atkins® diet you shouldn't eat these beans! If you're counting calories, not bad: 120 for a half-cup. If you're a Weight-Watcher®, not bad either: 2 Points®. These canned beans are a good value. You could eat them right out of the can (about 3-1/2 servings). But I hope you'll try this recipe:
  • 4 oz. dried pinto beans
  • 4 oz. dried great northern beans
Soak the beans overnight or during a workday in enough water to cover; rinse and cook in about 2 cups of water until very soft. I use a pressure cooker—it's a lot faster.
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, canola oil, or lard
  • 1 tsp. whole or ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2-cup medium yellow onion, chopped very fine
  • 1/4-cup celery, chopped very fine
  • 1/4-cup red bell pepper, chopped very fine
  • 1 to 3 jalapeño peppers, chopped very fine (optional)
  • 1 scant tsp. lemon juice or cider vinegar (optional)
  • 1/2-tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh or dried cilantro
Heat a skillet and add the oil (I like lard best, but watch out—sat fat!). If you use whole cumin seeds, sizzle them about 20 seconds and add the garlic, onions, celery, and pepper. Saute until onions are translucent.
   Add the beans and liquid about a third at a time and stir while mashing the beans until they are thoroughly mashed and mixed. If you used ground cumin, add it now and add the lemon juice or vinegar. Continue to simmer for a short while and add salt to taste (1 tsp. seems to be enough to me). Remove the beans from the stove and add the cilantro.
This recipe makes about a quart of beans, or about 16 servings, at about 125 calories or 2 Points® per serving.

bean burrito
Refried bean whole wheat burrito. About 4 points!

   With so little difference between canned and homemade, why bother to make them? They're very g-o-o-o-o-d—better than the canned—with a subtle flavor and attractive light color and light texture. And they're good for you. But don't take my word for it; try them side-by-side with some canned beans.
   It's only a short jump from these delicious beans to my second recipe:

vegetarian chili
   Make these modifications to the recipe for refried beans, above:
  • for the cumin, substitute 1 Tbsp. chili powder (Spider Cañon, of course)
  • add 1/2 a red or green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • one 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. brown sugar (optional)
After adding and mashing all the beans, add the tomato sauce and complete the recipe. The result is a bit more than one quart, and the flavor is very good Tex-Mex style chili. Calories and points are the same as for the beans. Compare the result with commercial canned vegetarian chili.
   Either recipe, beans or chili, goes great with burritos, omelets, chili dogs, rice, as a salad topping—in other words, anywhere. And they're especially good served with tamales, my next recipe.

tamale dinner
My low-impact tamale and vegetarian chili dinner. 5 points!


In the market for a pressure cooker? They can be pricey. Before you buy, check out your local Salvation Army thrift store or flea market. There're a lot of pressure cookers out there—I got mine for 50¢! I've used it a lot.
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