Monday, February 11, 2008

Review: BHG Biggest Book Of Low-Carb Recipes

While browsing through Borders book store I came across a shelf full of sale items that caught my eye. One of these items was the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book Of Low-Carb Recipes. The bottom claims "All recipes 10 grams net carbs or fewer!" At the price of $3.95 I figured it was a great bargain and picked it up.

I spent this weekend reading through the information in the front and thumbing through the recipes. While there are certainly some tasty looking recipes in this cookbook, there are also some things that were glaringly out of place or incorrect.

In the section marked "low-carb basics" you'll find 6 pages of information aimed at summarizing the rudiments of low-carb living. They clearly state that this book wasn't written to accompany any one specific plan. While they've not done a horrendous job of simplifying low-carb plans in general, they have made some statements that disturb me, which I'll discuss at length next.

The first objection I have to this area is the following statement:

"Switching to a low-carb diet is not permission to pile high-fat meats on your plate."

Really? Last I checked that was one of the great benefits to low-carbing. I can enjoy meat again! Now if you like leaner cuts of meat, then knock yourself out. But for most low-carb plans, low-fat is not a requirement. Low-fat and low-carb do not mix well and are not usually recommended together. Fat is an essential part of a low-carb plan and should not be monitored as if it's dangerous. This is obviously the mode of thinking here though because of this next sentence.

"... both ground turkey breast (which has less fat) and low-fat ground turkey make good choices"

Again, OK if that's what you like, but not necessary, or even recommended for low-carb diets. If something says low-fat on it, I tend to run in the opposite direction.

"Researchers suggest adding moderate amounts of fat back into the diet."

The last thing I want to hear about is what "researchers" say. I've lost faith in most studies because the researchers tend to find what they want to find regardless of the different variables and facts presented to them. But this does explain why BHG is riding the caution wagon in regards to fat consumption.

Later they discuss portion sizes...

"Eating more protein or fat than our body needs can lead to weight gain."

Now I'm afraid they are trying to make it complicated and again scare people off the very premise of low-carb dieting. Protein and fat should be the foundation of your low-carb menus. They fail to tell you how to figure your needs in these areas, which just leaves the readers hanging, and if they are new to low-carb, probably worrying.

Then they have a small Q&A section. While meant to be helpful, I believe there is too much "myth" involved to truly be of assistance.

When speaking of low-carb specialty products, they say some are high in calories and will cause weight gain. They obviously subscribe to the theory that a calorie is a calorie. I believe calories have their place, but they are certainly not the only piece in this puzzle. Where you get your calories from is, in my honest opinion, more important than how many you consume.

The biggest problem with SOME low-carb specialty items, especially during the "craze" a few years back, is that they are loaded with junk. Manufacturers were just making products with lower-carb counts, not taking into consideration that we needed flour-free, sugar-free items that would work with our insulin issues. They seemed to just make products that contained less junk than the original versions. Sorry... not good enough. So then when those products didn't sell, because smart low-carbers were reading ingredient labels and putting the item back on the shelf, the media proclaimed the low-carb "craze" was dead.

The next question they address has to do with which fats are best to consume. They are obviously against saturated fats and promote monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead. Two problems here: 1. Saturated fats are not dangerous. They've never proved it. 2. Key's study of cholesterol and heart disease relied on replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. In the 1970's polyunsaturated facts were reported to cause cancer in lab animals. Afterwards public health officials recommended less fat in general. (Only 2 studies had ever tested the effects of low-fat diets on heart disease and they had been contradictory.) So I'm not sure recommending polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats is such a good idea.

What about fiber? Let's see what BHG has to say...

"Fiber is harder to work into low-carb diets than into low-fat diets."

Really? That's news to me. I don't know why everyone assumes you can't get adequate fiber if you don't eat bread. My son is a perfect example. He loves bread, cereals, pasta, etc. When he was younger we had to give him fiber wafers to keep him regular. Now that he's eating more veggies, and less grains, on his lower-carb menu he doesn't need them.

I can praise them in the area of maintenance. They remind their readers that you can only maintain if you stick to your chosen plan. If you think of a diet as a way of losing weight, and not a permanent lifestyle change, you will gain it all back. BRAVO BHG!

The menu plans in this cookbook are OK. While most are under 20 grams, most of them are not induction friendly. This is something you'll want to keep in mind if you are on Atkins and considering those.

As I stated before, there are some tasty looking recipes in this book. But I also saw some ingredients that I would rarely, if ever, use in any of my low-carb meals. Here's a few on the list:

  • Salad Dressing (like Miracle Whip)
  • frozen packaged meatballs
  • all purpose unbleached flour (as much as 1 cup used!)
  • margarine
  • milk
  • brown rice
  • pears in light syrup
  • corn
  • potatoes
  • ramen noodles
  • honey roasted peanuts
  • orange juice
  • bread crumbs
  • beef gravy
  • pinapple
  • apple juice
  • honey mustard
  • rice papers
  • phyllo tart shells
  • frozen whipped topping (like cool whip)
  • ladyfingers

  • While some of these would certainly be acceptable in later phases of low-carb plans (such as occasional high GI fruits on maintenance), most of this stuff really has no place in a low-carb menu.

    My opinion - I give this book a neutral rating. It can be useful for those who already know what true low-carb living is about. For beginners I fear it would be a disaster. Sadly there will be those who pick up the book, read the basics section and assume they know what they are doing without ever picking up a plan book.

    I'll use this cookbook here and there I'm sure. But it won't be used in our weekly menu planning.


    Carol Bardelli said...

    Great review! I can't believe that list of ingredients was seen by the writer or publisher as acceptable to use in a low carb cookbook! Wow, they really don't get it do they. The only three in our kitchen are milk (whole and I never touch it), margarine (Smart Balance with perfect omega 3 to 6 ratio) and potatoes which I rarely touch. Jerry's into baked potatoes and Bruno's into milk. I'm surprised they managed to get the recipes under 10 grams with stuff like that.

    Sparky's Girl said...

    Hi Carol!
    If you get the portions sizes small enough... anything can be under 10 net carbs. ;)
    To be fair they didn't have huge amounts of these items, but I'm not comfortable with using most of them at all.

    OhYeahBabe said...

    Thank you for the review. Clearly it wasn't written by experienced low carbers! Very frustrating when inaccurate information is put in print like it's an authority speaking. I'd hate to see anyone's weight loss efforts derailed by making recipes that have ingredients that aren't lowcarb friendly.

    Sounds like you may have gotten your $3 worth, though!

    Sparky's Girl said...

    Hi OYB! Yes, I probably got my $3 worth, but I'm sure glad I didn't pay more.

    Cindy Moore said...

    BHG started posting "low carb" recipes on their site...and they sound that that's what's in this book. Too many used white flour, white or brown sugar, and various other ingredients that "true" low carbing wouldn't allow. Whenever I'd question a recipe I'd get the party line....they're "lowER carb" recipes and "there's no definition of low carb" (so we set our own), etc.

    Unfortunately tho, I think the novice is exactly the person that's most likely to buy this!

    Sparky's Girl said...

    I believe you are right Cindy. The novice will pick up the book, flip through it and take it home. If I had looked through it better myself, I probably wouldn't have bought it. (Well... I might have just because there are a few usable recipes there and it was cheap.) Hopefully any newbies who look at this book will have read their plan book throughly and understand enough of of the science behind it to avoid putting too much stock into these recipes.
    Maybe my review will be a "heads-up" for a few as well. :)

    Migraineur said...

    Yeah, this is what happens when the big, well-recognized brand names try to ride the bandwagon of a trend - they have to make it look like the AHA and the ADA approve it or something. If I'd continued to listen to all those American [Something] Associations, I'd be a very sick woman by now.

    Migraineur said...

    P.S. Pears in light syrup! Yikes! Not even "pears in juice," or even better, "fresh pears"?

    I'm sure BH&G is taking the "convenience" tack, but criminy! It takes approximately 1 minute longer to peel and core a pear than it does to open a can.

    Sparky's Girl said...

    Exactly Migrainuer!

    Jimmy Moore said...

    This is disgusting! THANKS for sharing your review, Amy. WOW, the nerve of these people to claim to know ANYTHING about low-carb. Sheeeeez!

    Amy Dungan (a.k.a Sparky's Girl) said...

    I agree Jimmy. I'm less than impressed by this book.

    rachel said...

    If you are looking for lowcarb items suh as Atkins - Bars, shakes, breakfast bars, etc... You can find them on this website I have been buying mine from. The link below will take you to the Atkins section on thier wbsite.