French Onion Pasta

Registered Dietitian Nutrition approved recipe for French Onion Pasta

I'm officially past the halfway point of my half marathon training, and so far things are going pretty well. My legs are sore a lot of the time, but I haven't had any twinges of an impending injury. For the most part, I've been meeting my scheduled mileage, and enjoying my long runs.

I've also noticed that I've been craving beef a lot. Typically, I'll have red meat once every few months or so, but for the past few weeks I've been wanting it at least once per week. And since I practice intuitive eating and listen to my body, that's what I've been having. This week's recipe is for French Onion Pasta, a twist on the classic French onion soup, and uses ground beef (or any other ground meat or alternative) as a protein source. My craving has been satisfied.

Why I've Been Craving Red Meat - Iron & Intense Exercise

My theory on my sudden red meat craving is that my body needs more iron - and there is some research to support this. The athletic population, particularly women athletes, are more likely to have iron-deficiency anemia than those that are sedentary. Runners are the most likely to have iron-deficiency anemia, compared to other categories of athletes. This may be due to differences in diet, because some research has shown that young female athletes don't get enough iron in their diets, but it could also be due to higher losses of iron caused by high levels of physical activity. Running may cause small amounts of blood loss in the digestive tract (which may explain why so many runners complain of stomach cramping and diarrhea during or after intense workouts). Also, the impact of your foot hitting the ground over and over can cause tiny ruptures in the blood vessels in your feet, which also causes blood loss.

Putting this all together - I think that I have been craving red meat (a great source of easy to absorb iron) because my body needs more iron that it usually does because I have been running way more than what is normal for me.

Whether you're doing intense exercise or not, it is important to make sure that you get enough iron in your diet. Even low levels of iron deficiency can decrease athletic performance and weaken the immune system. For athletes and non-athletes, iron deficiency can leave you feeling tired, and can make you more susceptible to colds and other infections.

Iron in Our Diets - Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron

Iron in food can be found in one of two types - heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found only in meat and fish, and is easier to absorb that non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in eggs, dairy, and plant sources, and although it isn't absorbed as easily in our bodies, it is an important source of iron in our diet.

Some examples of foods that are high in iron are:

Heme Iron (from most iron per serving to least)

Beef & chicken liver

Shellfish such as oysters, clams, or mussels

Beef

Sardines

Chicken

Turkey

Fish such as halibut, cod, salmon, or tuna

Pork and ham

Non-heme iron (From most iron per serving to least)

Legumes

Tofu, tempeh, and soybeans

Pumpkin seeds

Sesame seeds

Hemp seeds

Flax seeds (ground)

Cashews

Eggs

Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, or collard greens

Should I Take a Supplement?

Iron supplements can be used to treat iron-deficiency anemia, and can raise your iron stores. I personally have taken iron supplements in the past when my iron was low. However, iron supplements can cause side effects like constipation and yeast infections, and may even lead to liver damage if you take too much, so talk to a dietitian or your doctor if you think you need one.

Iron needs differ from person to person, so it's important to get personalized advice before making any big changes to your diet or adding a supplement. Want more info? Click here to book an appointment!

Let me know what you think of this week's recipe! Have a great week Food Lifers! 

French Onion Pasta

Ingredients

1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as canola or avocado

2 lbs ground meat or alternative of your choice (pork, beef, turkey, veggie round)

2 tablespoons butter

5 cups thinly sliced yellow onion (about 3 large or 4 medium)

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups no-sodium stock (chicken, beef, or veggie)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 small bay leaf

450 g (1 pound) of short noodle pasta, such as penne or casarecce

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese

1/4 grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat your oven to 400°F (I turn my oven on one the onions are done caramelizing, but it depends on how quickly your oven heats up).

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add ground meat or veggie round and saute until browned. Remove to a plate.

Add butter and heat until the foam is just starting to subside. Add the onion and stir until the onions are evenly coated. Add a pinch of salt and a few cracks of freshly ground pepper. Turn the heat down to as low as possible, put the lid on your pot, and let the onions cook for 15 minutes. No need to stir or check on the onions, they're doing all the work for you (this part of the recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen).

After 15 minutes, uncover the pot and raise the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook the onions, stirring frequently until they have reached a deep, golden brown. This took about 20 minutes for me. The caramelization is where the flavour comes from, so take your time with this step.

Once the onions are fully caramelized, add the flour and cook for 3 minutes more, stirring constantly. Add the wine, stock, thyme, and bay leaf, and stir until combined. Adjusting the heat to a simmer, and leave the pot uncovered. Now is a good time to turn your oven on to get ready to bake your pasta.

While the sauce is cooking, cook your pasta as per the directions on the box, but subtract a minute from the cooking time. Drain, and set aside.

Once the sauce has thickened, it is ready. You want it to be thick, but with some liquid remaining. The liquid should coat the back of your spoon. If it gets too thick, add some water. If it's too thin, cook it down more. Taste your sauce and season to taste.

In a casserole dish, combine the sauce and the cooked pasta. Top with the grated cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

Serve immediately with a nice salad or a side of green vegetable. I think this recipe would also be great with some peas added to it. This also makes great leftovers!