Because there are so many diet and health books that continue to come out on a regular basis, I’d like to begin a new regular feature on the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog to help you wade through all the muckity muck and gobbledygook that comes out from the publishing world. Books galore have been written and promoted sharing this, that, and everything else as it relates to the connection between nutrition, fitness, and a healthy way to lose weight forever. If you tried to read ALL of the books on this subject, then your head would probably start to spin with all the conflicting advice and ideas that are put out there by seemingly intelligent and experienced “experts” in the field. Unfortunately, this will always be true no matter what which is why I thought it would be important for me to dedicate a series of book review posts each month to cut through the hype and get right to the heart of the matter. Some months like September 2010 will feature some truly amazing new books for you to check out while other months may feature books that you may have heard about but don’t quite hit the mark of excellence according to the standards we come to expect from those espousing health principles. As always, my opinions are just that–exactly what I think about these books, good and bad. You are welcome to disagree, but hopefully what I share will help you make an informed decision about what books you’d like to add to your personal library! And if you like books, be sure to check out my brand new Low-Carb Book Reviews” blog for my personal take on all the new and popular releases in the world of health!
From the time he burst on the scene as the host of his very own cooking show on The Food Network called “Low Carb and Lovin’ It,” George Stella was a bona fide superstar as an amazing triple-digit weight loss success story and simply amazing cook with a heart for sharing healthy low-carb recipes to an audience hungry for delicious and nutritious options for their low-carb lifestyle. Unfortunately, The Food Network fell prey to the media-contrived notion that livin’ la vida low-carb was just a fad that had become a thing of the past and let Stella go from his popular show which performed well in their ratings. I caught up with him in November 2009 by having him on my podcast show for an interview where he detailed what life has been like for him ever since, including his new cooking show on QVC as well as new book projects under the moniker “The Good Carb Chef.” His first offering in this series is called Real Food Real Easy: 120 Recipes Made Fast With Only A Handful Of Simple, Fresh Ingredients.
I’m pleased to see Stella focusing on real food with this book because the low-carb lifestyle has gotten a bum rap from the massive influx of inferior “products” that do not contain real food in them whatsoever. Anyone who has ever seen George Stella cook or read any of his books knows that this is the heartbeat of everything he does. Put the focus on fresh, real whole food ingredients removing all the white flour and sugar and what you’ll end up with on your plate is a healthy way to nourish your body. Stella knows this personally as he shares the incredible story of how his family literally transformed their lives through low-carb weight loss success. He’s unashamed in naming Dr. Atkins as his greatest influence in helping them shed the pounds. But in his desire to find acceptable low-carb alternatives to the foods he loved, he created what he calls Stella Style which features many of the great recipes we have come to expect from the Stella-meister! You’ll get a ton of brand new ones from the master himself in this new book.
The premise of this book is simple: healthy recipes, simple and easy-to-make, and with as few ingredients as possible. His goal was 5 or less but Stella explains that’s next to impossible with some dishes. Even still, the basic principle of using fresh real foods that doesn’t take much time or effort to prepare and cook to feed your family a healthy meal is what you get. Stella shares exactly what you need stocked in your pantry to make virtually every meal in this book for less than $15 each. There is an interesting section called “Good Carbs” where he explains why a low-carb diet isn’t a “no-carb diet.”
The “best” good carbs include the low-starch veggies like broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, and spaghetti squash while the “good” ones are sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and sweet onions. The vegetables with the highest amount of starchy carbs that ostensibly need to be avoided as much as possible are corn, peas, beets, carrots, lima beans, and parsnips. As for fruit, your berries, melons, coconut, tomatoes, and citrus are considered the “best” ones while peaches, apples, nectarines, kiwis and figs are considered “good.” It’s probably not a good idea to consume fruits like bananas, oranges, grapes, cherries, pineapple, and dried fruit because they are loaded with sugar.
On the nuts, seeds, and legumes end of things, once again Stella gives you guidance: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, macadamias, sunflower seeds, and pumpkins seeds, for example, are considered “good” while a more controversial list of “nutritious whole grains” include whole wheat, popcorn, whole oats, quinoa and more. Some people who consume low-carb diets have difficulty with eating grains, so make sure you are testing your blood sugar levels after eating these foods to see what impact they are having on you. The really “bad” foods to avoid, according to Stella, include white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, white flour, white or red potatoes, and trans-fats. Regardless of what nutritional plan you are following (low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, or whatever!), these are the universally-accepted no-no’s you never, ever, ever, ever want to put inside your body if you care about your health at all. EVER!
In addition to his embracing of whole grains, another sticky subject that Stella delves into with Real Food Real Easy includes the use of “reduced fat dairy.” While he’s long been a stalwart supporter of full-fat versions of most dairy products (other than milk which he avoids due to the natural sugars in the lactose), Stella reveals he’s changed his mind about the use of low-fat dairy because the added sugars that used to accompany these products has been corrected and they’re now low-carb friendly. Although his recipes call for low-fat sour cream or cream cheese, he does emphasize that “you are more than welcome to substitute for the full fat versions if that is what you prefer.” He notes that he tends to avoid reduced fat cheeses since the taste and texture are not up to par for his desired quality in a recipe. And he notes to avoid all “fat-free” dairy because it “still contains too much added sugars to recommend.” It’s an interesting position he takes on the low-fat vs. full-fat dairy and it’ll be curious to see how his fans respond to a shift in philosophy.
As for the specialty ingredients used in many of Stella’s recipes, you’ll need to stock up on almond flour (which you can make on your own at home in a food processor), bulk sugar substitute like Splenda (not the packets), and soy flour (which will likely be another bone of contention that some health-conscious low-carbers may object to since they are avoiding soy products). These are probably the three oddest ingredients in Stella’s recipes and some people may express concern about the use of an artificial sweetener like Splenda in a book about “real food.” Regardless of your position on Splenda, Stella makes it clear to choose a non-caloric sweetener that will stand up well in baking and he’s cool with that. As for the soy, I’m sure you could always use more almond flour or even coconut flour in his recipes if you have an aversion to using soy flour. That’s the beauty of the low-carb lifestyle–it’s quite flexible when you’re cooking to fit your specific nutritional desires.
Holding true to the Real Food Real Easy theme of this book, Stella offers up tips for people who erroneously think eating “real food” is too expensive. Compared with all the “great value” junk foods that are sold in your local grocery store, you can grow your own food for literally just a few dollars, stock up on key foods and freeze them, and allow the simplicity of the recipes in this book keep you from over-stretching your family food budget. And boy oh boy, the recipes are truly spectacular, too, with snacks, breakfast, lunch, chicken, meats, seafood, slow cooker, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and desserts all given their own chapter for you to jump around to create your favorite dishes. And Stella makes it easy on you, too, by putting the prep time, cook time, and serving size at the very top of each recipe page. Just underneath the name of the recipe, you’ll get all of the nutritional info like the calories, fat, protein, fiber, and net carbs. There’s also a special “Shopping List” section off to the side of the recipe so you know exactly how much and what ingredients you’ll need. And a unique addition I think you’ll enjoy is the “George’s Tips” section at the bottom of each recipe where Stella gives you an idea about how to make this particular dish even better. And if you like changing things up a bit, he also includes a “Variation” so you can double or triple the 120 delectable recipes sprinkled through this book!
One thing I couldn’t help but notice in looking at Stella’s recipes is the use of “trans-fat free margarine” instead of butter. There was no explanation included in this book about why he preferred the use of margarine over butter, but I presume Stella’s position on this would be the same as what he said regarding the low-fat dairy. If you want to use butter instead, then use butter in his recipes. Again, the low-carb way of eating is adaptable to what is appropriate for you and your dietary needs. If reducing your fat is important enough to you and produces the weight loss and health improvements you are looking for, then go for it! The best thing about George Stella is that he is not so monolithic in his thinking that he thinks everyone should follow the low-carb lifestyle like he does. There are variations and he’s the first to encourage you to embrace the plan that’s right for you.
Real Food Real Easy is vintage George Stella and I’m pleased to see this energetic man still out there trumpeting the cause of low-carb living to a carb-addicted world desperately seeking answers to their weight and health problems. Stella is doing all of that and making it tasty in the process!