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When this column and my kids were in their infancies, the low-carb craze was already a toddler. Dr. Atkins’ actually pioneered his ideas in the 1950s, but they didn’t catch on till almost a half-century later, when they swept through my family. A great-uncle dropped 40 pounds on a regimen of lamb chops. My mom, visiting after my first son’s birth, filled our fridge with slabs of salmon, bottles of heavy cream, and tubs of olives. But the Atkins Diet had the lifespan of a fad and passed into history, leaving a repulsive residue of sugar-free candy bars.
Except that it’s back
Or maybe it never went away. From the Scarsdale Diet back in the 1980s to more recent versions like the Zone and Paleo, diets that advocate eating fewer carbs pop back up like zombies. Now, a rigorous study published this September in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that the persistence of this solution to our dietary dilemmas may be more than just a way to sell books. Limiting carbohydrates had a positive effect on the cardiovascular health of study participants, and they lost more weight than participants on low-fat diets.
What does this mean for our kids? The study acknowledges that it’s difficult to limit carb consumption, nor is it advisable to cut them out entirely. It was performed on adults who wanted to lose weight, not healthy children. And another finding was no surprise: Moderation in all things is key to well-being. But if one goal we parents share is to raise our kids to grow into healthy adults, then the study confirms prevailing wisdom: Limit sweets, and eat fewer “white” or simple carbohydrates, substituting “high-quality” carbohydrates such as “fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.”
What’s new here?
Families should drink whole milk. Eat nuts, avocados, cheese, even bacon. If you want to, trade that dry chicken breast for a thigh or even some wings. One theory about why these practices help maintain healthy weight is that a glass of whole milk or a handful of nuts is going to satisfy hunger better than one of those 100-calorie bags of cookies, so kids won’t crave more. Other explanations delve into metabolic mysteries best left out of this column.
But this news has got me thinking, once again, about how to feed my two boys. They play soccer four days a week. They’re active, growing, and ravenous, and they aren’t going to bed happy after a salmon filet and a side of asparagus. So I’m always on the hunt for hearty dishes that provide that stick-to-your-ribs feeling we associate with potatoes and dinner rolls — without the spuds and bread. A recent winner, just in time for fall, is my friend Julie’s mom’s white chili.
I’ve tinkered with it a bit. The Kroger on Cleveland was roasting fresh Hatch green chiles the other day, and I bought a bag and froze them to use here. Julie uses a rotisserie chicken, but confided that her mom makes this with canned chicken breast that breaks down during cooking to a seductively creamy consistency. I used chicken thighs. I didn’t have a jalapeno, so I subbed a canned chipotle pepper. And I’m topping mine with a dollop of sour cream. Why? Because I can.
Anne Meiman’s White Bean and Chicken Chili
- 3 16-oz. cans navy or Great Northern beans
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed (or more, to taste)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1.5 lb. chicken thighs, cut into ½” cubes (or use the meat from a rotisserie chicken, skin removed, shredded)
- 4 oz. chopped green chiles (canned are fine)
- 1-2 teaspoons salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 jalapeno or canned chipotle pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Optional: grated Monterey Jack cheese, chopped scallions, sour cream, hot sauce for serving
Sautée onions till translucent. Add garlic, cook for a minute. If using chicken thighs, add now and cook till all pinkness is gone. Add beans (no need to drain), broth, rotisserie chicken if you’re using that, and remaining ingredients except optional garnishes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Simmer it longer for a thicker, creamier consistency.) Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with garnishes.