Carbohydrate-rich foods may get a bad rap by some nutritionists. But they often get “thumbs up” by consumers for deliciousness. Fortunately, you can eat foods like pasta, rice and potatoes in ways that make them healthier for your body. You just need to follow a few easy tips from your very own kitchen. Here they are!
KITCHEN TIP #1: Cook pasta to al dente.
Cooking pasta for less time not only gives back minutes to your day, it also helps to keep your blood sugars in check. Cooking al dente (meaning “firm to the bite”) gives pasta a lower GI compared to cooking pasta until it’s soft. Even better yet, make it whole-grain pasta!
HINT: Basically, if suggested cooking time is 10 to 12 minutes, aim for a maximum of 10. This may also help keep the GI of pasta low.
KITCHEN TIP #2: Enjoy slightly unripe bananas.
Resistant starch, considered a form of dietary fiber, resists digestion by your body. This implies that foods high in resistant starch can be helpful for managing blood sugar levels. They can potentially help promote good bacterial growth since the starch may be considered a prebiotic, or food for probiotics. Because unripe bananas contain more resistant starch compared to ripe bananas, consuming slightly green bananas rather than fully ripened (cheetah-spotted) ones can be a better health bet. Bye-bye, brown spots!
HINT: A banana counts as a fruit serving. Use the fruit to provide natural sweetness in baking while helping you use less added sugar.
KITCHEN TIP #3: Nosh on noodle leftovers (and serve salad beforehand).
Pre-planned pasta leftovers are the way to go! Based on a BBC television show experiment, by cooking pasta, cooling it and reheating it, the post-meal rise of blood sugar was reduced by 50 percent compared to eating freshly prepared pasta. Stay tuned for science-based findings in the future.
What’s more, scientific research finds that eating a healthful salad before a pasta meal may enhance satiety, reduce calorie consumption and increase vegetable intake. Specifically, a study published in the journal Obesity finds that enjoying a salad before a pasta entree may reduce total meal intake by approximately 123 calories when compared to having no salad. And a separate study published in Appetite finds that eating a low-calorie salad before (instead of with) the main course may boost veggie intake by 23 percent!
HINT: Remember to consider size and selection. Think in terms of “cupful” rather than “bowlful” of pasta or other noodles. Whole-grain noodles like whole-wheat spaghetti are a healthier bet than refined “white” pasta anytime.
KITCHEN TIP #4: Cook, then cool, potatoes.
Let your potatoes chill out! When cooked and cooled, starchy foods are higher in resistant starch than when not cooled. We can’t digest resistant starch so the sugar is broken down or absorbed by the body. Based on a study in ileostomy patients published in Advances in Nutrition, freshly cooked potatoes had slightly lower amounts of resistant starch than potatoes that were cooled. This seems to occur due to a realignment of potato starches after cooling.
HINT: A potato is a starchy vegetable, but it’s still a vegetable! Scrub and keep the skin on to ultimately boost fiber and antioxidant intake. It may also slow down digestion.
KITCHEN TIP #5: Pick your pasta shape wisely.
Yes, the shape of pasta may make a difference! And spaghetti could be one of the shapeliest. Though there is a lack of recent research, one study suggests that spaghetti has a notably lower glycemic index (GI) than macaroni. That means after you slurp up your serving of spaghetti instead of macaroni noodles, glucose (the breakdown of carbs) may be more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream.
HINT: To really keep the GI down, opt for whole-grain pasta and cook it al dente. Of course, if you top it with vegetables and a little olive oil, the fiber and fat will help to blunt a spike in sugar as well.
KITCHEN TIP #6: Buy bigger oats.
Oats are a whole-grain food and an excellent source of soluble fiber. But they’re not all created equal. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition finds that the smaller the particle size, the higher the glycemic response. So bigger is better. A sampling of their GI findings suggests large-flake oats, steel-cut oats, muesli and granola provide a low to moderate glycemic response; quick-cooking oats and instant oatmeal cause a high response. So skip the instant and quick-cooking oats and savor a bowl of large-flake or steel-cut oats instead.
HINT: Oats start as a healthful pick. What you add to them can transform them into a less or more healthful option. Consider savory rather than sweet options.
KITCHEN TIP #7: Cook rice with coconut oil, then chill.
Don’t forget the protein and fat. Each can reduce glycemic responses of starchy foods. For instance, enjoy rice as part of a balanced meal that includes a protein-rich food and a source of healthy fat, like chicken and avocado or tofu and peanuts.
Want to go one step further?
Cook rice along with coconut oil, then cool it to significantly boost resistant starch (perhaps tenfold) and potentially cut in half the calories! Research conducted at Sri Lanka’s College of Chemical Sciences suggests this: Add a teaspoon of coconut oil to boiling water, add a half-cup of unfortified white rice, simmer for 40 minutes, then refrigerate for 12 hours. It’s OK to reheat it afterward.
HINT: Choose brown, red, purple or black rice rather than white rice when possible for whole-grain benefit and cuisine intrigue. The naturally occurring plant pigment that gives a specific rice its color, like anthocyanins in purple rice, further promotes health.
What Do You Think?
Do you follow a high-carb or low-carb diet? Why or why not? Do you have other healthful carb-cooking tips to add? Please tell us in the comments!
- American Chemical Society: New low-calorie rice could help cut rising obesity rates. Presented at 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS)
- Diabetes Care. Glycemic Response to Pasta: Effect of Surface Area, Degree of Cooking, and Protein Enrichment T M S Wolever, BM, MSc, D J A Jenkins, DM, J Kalmusky, RPDt, C Giordano, RPDt, S Giudici, RPDt, A L Jenkins, RPDt, L U Thompson, PhD, G S Wong, MD and R G Josse, MD. July/August 1986 vol.9 no.4 401-404
- Advances in Nutrition. Resistant Starch: Promise for Improving Human Health. Diane F. Birt, Terri Boylston, Suzanne Hendrich, Jay-Lin Jane, James Hollis, Li Li, John McClelland, Samuel Moore, Gregory J. Phillips, Matthew Rowling, Kevin Schalinske, M. Paul Scott, Elizabeth M. Whitley. November 2013 Adv Nutr vol.4:587-601, 2013.
- Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. The potential of resistant starch as a prebiotic. Siti A. Zamana & Shahrul R. Sarbinia. 13 Jan 2015.
- The Journal of Nutrition. The Effects of Fat and Protein on Glycemic Responses in Nondiabetic Humans Vary with Waist Circumference, Fasting Plasma Insulin, and Dietary Fiber Intake. Elham Moghaddam, Janet A. Vogt, and Thomas M. S. Wolever. October 2006 vol. 136 no. 10 2506-2511.
- Obesity. Assessment of satiety depends on the energy density and portion size of the test meal. Williams RA, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. 2014 Feb;22(2):318-24. doi: 10.1002/oby.20589. Epub 2013 Sep 23.
- Appetite. Salad and satiety: the effect of timing of salad consumption on meal energy intake. Liane S. Roe, Jennifer S. Meengs, and Barbara J. Rolls. 2012 Feb; 58(1): 242–248.
- British Journal of Nutrition