Where are the carbs hiding in my recipe?

My Mom (hi Mom) sent me a recipe from Woman’s Day magazine for “Veggie and Egg No-Pasta Lasagna.” Her question is, “I see 12 grams total carbs, with 5 grams of sugar. There’s no pasta in this lasagna, so where are the carbs hiding?”

Surprisingly, they’re in just about everything in the dish. Carbs aren’t just ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or flour, or just in items like bagels or cake, though we tend to think of things like that first when we think of carbs (or when we dream of carbs — but that’s a whole other craving. I mean topic). Carbs are in all vegetables and fruits, and even in some places — like eggs — where you wouldn’t expect them. I’ll break it down by ingredient.

First, though, it’s important to remember that eliminating carbs isn’t the goal; the goal is a healthy balance of whole-food carbs. We eat too many carbs — especially refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar — in the United States, and the results are strikingly obvious in both the appearance and health of the population. Paleo and similar diets seek to correct the over-consumption by keeping an eye on just where and how excessive carbs get into our bellies (and stay ON our bellies…).

In this recipe, leaving aside the unfortunate issue of the use of egg substitute in place of wholesome, nutritionally valuable real eggs (ahem), we can figure out where the carbs are hiding. I entered all the ingredients into MyFitnessPal.com to get a total nutritional breakdown for the recipe Mom sent. The entire recipe is listed at the bottom of this post; in the meantime, let’s look at the ingredient list:

2 large zucchini (1 LB)
1 Large Portobello Mushroom
1 onion sliced (1 cup)
1 cup shredded mozzarella (4 oz.)
4 cup eggs substitute (equiv. 16 eggs)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. Italian seasoning or
to make your own
•    2 Tablespoons basil
•    2 Tablespoons marjoram
•    2 Tablespoons oregano
•    2 Tablespoons rosemary
•    2 Tablespoons thyme
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups freshly chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup freshly chopped fresh basil
2 plum tomatoes
2 Tbs grated Parmesan

Per serving, it looks like this, according to the original recipe:

Calories: 182
Fat: 4g
Protein: 23g
Carbs: 12g
Fiber: 2g
Sugar: 5g

I reconstructed the original recipe in MyFitnessPal.com, and the entire pan of lasagna looks like this:

Calories: 1,106
Fat: 24g
Protein: 141g
Carbs: 78g
Fiber: 23g
(there is no separate sugar designation in MFP, since starch and sugar are considered together for low-carb purposes.)

Which means my breakdown per serving looks like this:

Calories: 184
Fat: 4g
Protein: 24g
Carbs: 13g
Fiber: 4g

Some different values, but close enough. And, not bad on the carbs! A entire standard veggie lasagna clocks in at 394g carbs and 3,000 calories  — or 48g of carbs per piece and 368 calories.

Where the Carbs Are
Taking the dish as a whole, the onion has 16g of carbs, the zucchini 15g. Dairy has carbs, too, with 3g in the mozzarella. The spices, being vegetable matter, have a few: basil has 5g, rosemary 4g, thyme 3g, oregano and marjoram have 2g each. The egg substitute is 16g, the mushrooms 4g, and the plum tomatoes give us 5g. The spinach comes in at a 2g and the garlic a teeny-tiny 1g. The only ingredient essentially devoid of carbs is the Parmesan cheese, with a mere 2/10th’s of a gram (but only if it’s not the processed kind loaded with fillers). Even baking powder has a negligible amount of carbs due to the addition of corn starch, but such a small amount it’s not counted.

Where’s the Sugar?
For the second question — where’s the sugar? –, we can see there’s no added sugar in this recipe, so we know that any sugar on the nutrition information is just the native, natural sugars found in the various ingredients, and does not need to be counted above and beyond the listed amount for carbs. The carb total given here for this recipe (and on any nutrition information label) already includes the listed amount sugar.

Carbs come in three types: Sugar, starch, and fiber. Sugar is required to be listed separately on a food nutrition label, while starch is not (the amount of starch can be derived by adding the sugar + fiber, and subtracting that number from the total carbohydrate. That’s the starch). Sugar and starch have a very similar impact on the body in terms of insulin, and so low-carbers lump them together. Fiber doesn’t impact insulin, and for this reason, can be subtracted from the total carbs listed on a label when determining Net Carbs for a recipe.

When reading nutrition labels, it pays to be aware of the many, many names that sugar hides under. Watch out for these words on a label; they all mean the same thing: Sugar!

Agave Nectar
Barley Malt Syrup
Cane Juice
Corn sweetener
Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
Dehydrated Cane Juice
Dextrin
Dextrose
Evaporated Cane Juice (anything ‘evaporated’ means ‘highly concentrated’)
Fructose
Fruit juice concentrate
Glucose
High-fructose corn syrup
Honey
Invert sugar
Lactose
Maltodextrin
Malt syrup
Maltose
Maple syrup
Molasses
Raw sugar
Rice Syrup
Saccharose
Sorghum or sorghum syrup
Sucrose
Syrup
Treacle
Turbinado Sugar
Xylose

One serving of this lasagna has 13g of carbs, of which 4g are fiber, 5g are naturally occurring sugars, and 4g are starch. Net Carbs is 9g. Sweet! I mean, Not Sweet! But very, very yum.

Now with Eggs…
Just for grins, let’s check all the relevant numbers if we replace the egg substitute with 16 delicious whole eggs:

Calories: 300
Fat: 17g
Protein: 24g
Carbs: 11g
Fiber: 4g

You can change your net carbs from 9g to 7g by using whole eggs, but more importantly, get that sleek, shiny, Hi-Pro Glo ™ that egg yolks give your coat. Um, I mean your skin and hair. Eggs are a perfect food — after all, they are able to make a whole new critter out of nothing but what’s inside that shell. If you’re worried about cholesterol, you should be aware that eggs are no longer on the ‘do not eat’ list — dietary cholesterol doesn’t translate to blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is affected much more by — you guessed it — sugar.

What about all those extra calories when we add in all those whole eggs? Calories go UP in low-carb cooking — they have to. Energy must come from somewhere, and fat is an excellent source of energy.  Recent studies exonerate fat as far as being the cause of heart disease (heart disease is affected much more by a high carbohydrate diet).

It’s difficult to adjust to eating more fat and calories at first — especially if, like me, you are coming from lifetime of trying to make low calorie, low-fat/no-fat diets work — but when the results start coming in (such as perfect lipid numbers at the doctor’s) and the weight starts disappearing, the phobia of fat and calories starts to fade fast.

Hopefully that answers your questions and then some, Mom. Now I’m going to make this lasagna…but with real eggs! (My Mom uses real eggs, too. She’s got chickens. I’m jealous — I’m 3,000 miles away from her very talented, very free-range, bug-and-grass-eating “Girls,” and I miss those farm fresh eggs!)

Oven Baked Omelet Lasagna

2 large zucchini (1 LB)
1 Large Portobello Mushroom
1 onion sliced (1 cup)
1 cup shredded mozzarella (4 oz.)
4 cup eggs substitute (equiv. 16 eggs)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. Italian seasoning or
to make your own
•    2 Tablespoons basil
•    2 Tablespoons marjoram
•    2 Tablespoons oregano
•    2 Tablespoons rosemary
•    2 Tablespoons thyme
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups freshly chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup freshly chopped fresh basil
2 plum tomatoes
2 Tbs grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425

Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/2” thick slices

Chop mushroom stem and cut cap into 1/2” pieces

Coat large skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium high heat

In batches add zucchini, mushroom slices and onion and cook 3 minutes per side,
recoating skillet between batches

Coat 13 X 9” baking pan with cooking spray. Lay the veggies in pan sprinkle evenly with cheese.

Whisk the eggs baking powder garlic, seasoning and salt til fluffy. Stir in spinach, basil, and mushroom. Pour over cheese mixture in pan. Bake 20 minutes or until firm and brown.

Slice tomatoes and drain on paper towels. Place on lasagna. Sprinkle with grated cheese, bake 5 more minutes, cool slightly, serve.

Servings: 6

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