the low ingredient diet

The other day at work I was thinking about new ways to prepare quinoa, which I enjoy but usually only make with sauteed peppers and onions. For anyone who hasn’t tried quinoa, it’s actually a seed that you cook similarly to rice but is low in calories and has a lot of protein. Like rice, it’s basically a blank slate that you add flavors to. Because my creative juices weren’t quite flowing, I used my solution to everything: Google- “recipes with quinoa and chicken.” It gets the job done.

When I was looking through the results I came across a blog of sorts ( in which the author described what he referred to as the low ingredient diet. Essentially instead of counting calories, you keep track of the number of ingredients you’re consuming in an effort to eat more whole foods and less processed products. I’m not on a diet, if you can tell by my binging on assorted desserts, but I was very intrigued by the concept. The author kept track of his ingredients for 45 days and, during that time, lost 13 pounds and about 3% body fat on an average of 61 ingredients per day.

This reminded me of a time when I was younger and decided I wanted to make jam out of the raspberries growing in our backyard. After consulting the label of the jar of jam in our refrigerator, I casually requested that my mom add “fruit pectin” and “high fructose corn syrup” to her grocery list. Needless to say my jam-making business didn’t quite take off.

If I’m being honest, I read this article on Wednesday and wanted to try it immediately but I kept messing up by accidentally consuming fun-size Twix bars (14 ingredients) from the secretary stash at work. On a side note- who decided to call those “fun-size?” In my opinion a fun size would be as big as my face. Anyway, I got sidetracked by candy and other weekend foods and beverages and decided to start my week by counting ingredients.

I still started my morning with my Special K Red Berries (10 ingredients including milk) and coffee (3 ingredients) because I’m a creature of habit and get very cranky when my routine is broken. For lunch, I had a greek yogurt (6 ingredients) with some honey nut Cheerios (9 ingredients) and a banana mixed in. And for dinner I used an idea from the same blog: quinoa with pesto and chicken. Three things I love.

Quinoa is kind of a pain, in my opinion. You have to “wash” it before you cook it, otherwise it has a bitter taste that is really unappetizing (aka I ate it this way the first four times I made it because I didn’t know any better but didn’t want to waste it.) I use one of those hand held strainers with the really tight mesh so that the quinoa doesn’t slip through. The directions on my package of quinoa suggest 1 cup of quinoa to 1 and a 1/4 cup water or chicken stock, but the time I did it that way I nearly set the house on fire. Use 2 cups of liquid to one cup of quinoa.

There are a lot of varieties of pesto- I generally make it with the following ingredients (plus olive oil). I toast the pine nuts in the oven on broil for 5 minutes or so, turning half way through. I use about 1 cup basil: 2 tbs pine nuts: 1 tbs parmesan cheese: 2 cloves garlic. Drizzle in the olive oil while everything in the food processor until it reaches the desired consistency.

Then I trimmed the chicken, patted it dry, tenderized with a fork, brushed with a little olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

I simply mixed everything together and had a very flavorful dish- with a total of 12 ingredients.

Then of course like a moth to a flame it’s dessert time for me. I was immediately drawn to the cookies and cream ice cream in the freezer and basically cried when I saw it had 24 ingredients. I had to “settle” for my chocolate covered pita chips again, another 12 ingredients.

This was an interesting experiment and I think in general it’s good to be conscious of what ingredients you’re eating and not just the number of calories you’re consuming. Like fat free salad dressing- they have to put a bunch of other crap in it to still make it taste acceptable. I figure if you’re eating vegetables you can splurge on some quality ranch. At the same time, this is a diet you could cheat like any other. I could live on beer, cheese, and chocolate for the rest of my life (4, 5, and 6 ingredients respectively) and I would be thrilled but also most likely on the path to serious health issues.

I also had to decide some rules for how I would count. For example, I didn’t include vitamins in my ingredient count because I didn’t see them as being something added in as much as nutrients that simply exist in the combined ingredients. I did, however, count ingredients more than once. For example, there were some overlapping ingredients between the Special K and the Cheerios, but I counted them both times. Mainly because I thought it would be a royal pain to figure out the overlaps.

When I have tried to count calories before, it stresses me out and I always wonder how accurate it is in the first place. I had a similar experience today. I ended up with a total of 53 ingredients, but my only basis for comparison was this one blog in which the author averaged 61. I think I ate pretty similarly to the way I do most days, which is just further justification for me to not be on a diet and just practice portion control (excluding cookies) and exercise like a maniac. Food for thought, though. Pun intended.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ryan Chapman says:

    Hey Erin! It’s Ryan Chapman. I wrote the Low Ingredient Diet blog that you mention above. Glad you tried it. I actually developed a more precise way of eating based on this concept that eliminates the ease of cheating. I call it the 90/10 plan and you can see the details here (just thought you might be interested in seeing the way it works):

    1. Thanks, Ryan! I’ll definitely check it out!

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