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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Creamy Avocado Squash "Pasta" + How to Roast Spaghetti Squash

Because I grew up eating nutritionally bankrupt foods, "bad" carbohydrates made up a large part of my diet - white flour and table sugar in foods like cookies, cakes, pastries, and candy, refined pasta dishes, white rice, and soda. But carbohydrates are an important part of our diet and they should not be avoided, like many diet fads suggest. The key is to consume health-promoting complex carbohydrates - the carbs nature intended for us to eat.

Our bodies use carbohydrates as its main source of fuel. Essentially, all carbohydrates contain sugar. When sugar hits the bloodstream, it's converted into glucose, which our cells then use as fuel. This process of breaking down sugar molecules supplies us with energy to keep us going throughout the day and help keep our organs functioning optimally. The difference lies in how simple and complex carbohydrates digest in the body.

Carbohydrates fall under 3 categories: complex, simple and fiber. Simple carbohydrates are often called the "bad" carbs and complex carbs are commonly referred to as the "good" carbs. But it's a little more complicated than that. Some complex carbs are unhealthy, such as white bread. And some simple carbs are healthy, like fruit. It's all a matter of how quickly the carbohydrate boosts our blood sugar. The glycemic index is a numerical system that measures how quickly a certain food raises our blood sugar levels compared to consuming pure glucose. 

Fiber carbohydrates, insoluble and soluble, are undigested by the body but play an integral part in keeping us regular by moving food through our intestinal tract while regulating our blood sugar and lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Simple carbohydrates are made up of 1 or 2 sugar molecules, much shorter chains of sugar than complex carbs. The simple sugars enter the bloodstream quickly resulting in an rapid rise in glucose, or blood sugar. We experience a surge of energy and then we crash. But because our body is trying to maintain a stable blood sugar level, we become hungry again in order to raise our blood sugar. This leads to a vicious cycle of energy fluctuations and inevitably, weight gain. Simple carbohydrates are highly processed, which involves the removal of most of the nutrients that the food contained originally.

Fruit is an exception. It is considered a simple carbohydrate but due to its fiber content, it takes longer to digest and thus reduces the amount of sugar that reaches the cells. Plus, the sugars in fruit are naturally-occuring.

Because complex carbohydrates are made up of 3 or more sugar molecules and are woven within the food's fiber, they take longer to digest, which keeps us fuller longer and stabilizes our blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates are present in whole plant-based foods which are naturally unrefined, fiber-rich and contain essential vitamins and minerals. Food sources for complex carbs include: whole grains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, steel-cut oats, oat groats, brown rice), starchy vegetables, beans, and lentils.

Aim to consume whole grains. Otherwise, the bran and germ have been removed from the whole grain kernel leaving only the endosperm. This refining process strips numerous key nutrients, present in the bran and germ, from the whole grain.

My whole point is... eating healthy doesn't have to be unsatisfying or tasteless. You don't have to give up one for the other. This is a case where you can have your cake and eat it too! There are limitless possibilities for reinventing your favorite traditional foods. Pasta dishes don't have to weigh you down. Choose whole grain pastas or even better, squash pasta, which will supply you with long-lasting energy and necessary nutrients all in one. 

This meal has a lengthy cooking time due to roasting the squash but once that's done, all you have to do is make the avocado sauce which takes literally 3 minutes. Long cooking time but hardly any real labor on your end - about 15 minutes or so, if that.

And most importantly, I got the stamp of approval from my dad. :-) It's safe to say that he's my guinea pig and a major food lover ... and not of the healthy variety usually. I have to say, though, that my healthy living and eating habits have had quite an influence on him since it has become such a major part of my life. In fact, he's changed many of his poor eating habits and has been pleasantly surprised with the vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free meals and desserts I've made. He even told me that he's so happy I've turned him onto healthier foods. That does my heart good!

How to Roast Spaghetti Squash Whole

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place the squash on a baking sheet. You may also use a silpat to place the squash on like I did if you have one. If not, no worries!
3. Pierce the squash in a few areas with a knife so that some of the moisture can be released. It's been said that it can blow up in the oven if you're not careful!
4. Roast for 1 hour and 20 min. The time will vary depending on the size of the squash. Mine was about 2 pounds.
5. Turn off the oven and open it a crack to let the squash cool for about 45 min. Or you can carefully take it out of the oven -- don't grab the squash though! Pull it out on the baking sheet or you will burn your hands.
6. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Save them so you can roast them in the oven later! They taste like pumpkin seeds. Yum!

7. Take a fork and drag it along the squash flesh to create strands that resemble pasta. 

8. Place the squash pasta on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, to taste.

That's it! Super easy, right? Some people cut the squash in half before roasting to cut down the time but frankly I couldn't cut my squash. My knife wasn't sharp enough and I wasn't about to cut my hand off trying. I've sliced my fingers too many times to risk cutting off a whole finger or my hand...

Depending on the size of your squash, you could save any extra pasta strands in the refrigerator and pull it out for a quick lunch or dinner. You could whip up the easy creamy avocado sauce again, use your favorite marinara sauce or any other sauce you desire.

Now onto the star of the meal... the creamy avocado sauce. It's bursting with flavor. So rich and creamy and garlicky. I imagine it would even be delicious as a salad dressing or on gluten-free whole grain pasta, like brown rice or quinoa pasta.

I found this recipe as I was browsing the popular vegan blog Oh She Glows. Like Angela, I had never eaten spaghetti squash before but oh man, I could've eaten it all by itself, which I can't believe I'm actually saying because I used to despise squash as a kid and would refuse to eat it. It's incredible how my taste buds have adapted to foods I used to avoid just by changing to a plant-based, whole foods diet. I am so, so glad I'm no longer missing out on such nutritious and delicious foods that make me feel better than I ever have.

Creamy Avocado Sauce
Adapted from this recipe

YIELD: 2 servings

• 1 medium avocado
• 1/2 lemon, juiced (or 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice)
• 1-2 garlic cloves (it was really garlicky with just 1 clove)
• 1/2 tsp high-quality sea salt
• 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• Black pepper, to taste & garnish

1. Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

2. Place the sauce on top of your pasta of choice and serve. The roasted spaghetti squash "pasta" is what I used and absolutely loved!
*See note below for avocado sauce storage tip.

• The serving size is assuming it's your main entree. I always start dinner with a big salad, so my portion size was a bit smaller and could've been stretched to 3 servings. My dad mentioned that he could see himself enjoying this dish as a side as well, which would stretch it even further.
• Because avocados don't last more than a day or two when ripe, any extra sauce will last in the refrigerator for up to a day. I didn't use all of the sauce when I first made it and used it the next day as a tasty dip!

Before I let you go, I wanted to let you know that I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to expand my knowledge of holistic health and receive certification as a health coach. My journey begins September 9th.

I came to a fork in the road. The left road led to a safety net full of predictability, confinement and conformity. The right road led me towards my passion of holistic health and nutrition. It also comes with uncertainty and requires unrelenting faith. My inner compass has directed me to the right. How can I decline my calling? It feels like I am aligning with my truth. So I'm following my bliss, trusting that doors will continue to open so that I am able to serve myself in order to ultimately serve others.

Until next time! Take care. :-)

"If you don't build your dreams, someone will hire you to help build theirs." Tony Gaskins


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