The following post was written by Julie Upton, MS, RD, cofounder of Appetite for Health , who knows that it isn't always easy to avoid those enticing carbs. Thankfully, she's provided us with 12 suggestions for smarter ways to give in to those cravings.
Have you been passing on potatoes, skipping spaghetti, and banning bread in an effort to get those fab abs you've always dreamed of? Well, here's some tasty news: these favorite foods aren't the diet disasters you may have believed they were.
Sure, you'll lose weight on a diet that cuts carbs, but that's because you're cutting calories. Any plan that scales back on calories, whether it's Atkins, Mediterranean, or Paleo, will help you peel off pounds. But the real key here — what will help improve your chances for long-term success, according to studies — is whether you can stick with it. For most carb-loving women, a diet that permits potatoes, pasta, and bread is an eating style that can last a lifetime.
How can you have your carbs and eat them, too? Try these tricks.
Nutrition Numbers: A medium potato (5.3 ounces) has just 110 calories, so it won't make a dent in your daily calorie budget. (Plus, it is an excellent source of both vitamin C and potassium, is rich in B-vitamins, and chips in two grams of fiber.)
Potatoes are thought of as a diet don't because of how we eat them — as high-calorie French fries, potato chips, and mashed with butter and gravy. To make a skinnier spud:
- Enjoy it baked, broiled, roasted, or grilled. You may be surprised to discover you can satisfy your fry cravings with a healthier roasted version.
- Skip high-calorie toppings, like butter, sour cream, and bacon, and opt for healthier ones, like steamed broccoli or kale, chili, beans and salsa, plain Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese.
- Opt for red potatoes and fingerlings; they have a lower glycemic index (glycemic index is a measure of how much and how quickly blood sugar rises after eating a specific amount of a carb-rich food) than Russet (baking) potatoes. Lower GI foods are recommended as they don't cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar that can trigger hunger and cravings.
- Heat then cool your potato. For instance, make a Mediterranean-style potato salad with small colorful potatoes that have been boiled then cooled. This lowers the GI by raising the amount of "resistant starch" in the potatoes. For an extra boost, use extra virgin olive oil in place of mayo; the unsaturated fats and other bioactive compounds in EVOO help keep you satisfied longer.
Nutrition Numbers: Pasta is higher in protein than other carbs because it's made from durum wheat, a variety of wheat that packs in more of the satiating nutrient. There are six grams of protein per two ounces of dry pasta or about one cup cooked and 210 calories. Due to its protein content, pasta also has a lower glycemic index than other carbs, so it doesn't cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels that can spike appetite. For example, most pasta varieties cooked al dente will have a GI value in the 40s to 50s compared to a GI of 99 for English muffins.
Italians know that pasta isn't fattening — they eat a lot more of it and are much less likely to be overweight or obese. According to the International Pasta Organization , Italians eat 57 pounds of pasta per person per year compared to 19 pounds per person in the United States, but only about 10 percent of Italian women are obese versus 36 percent of American women . Pasta is wrongly targeted as a diet disaster due to the company it keeps — buttery, meaty, and cheesy sauces — as well as the ginormous portions we eat. To slim down your spaghetti:
- Strive for a 50-50 pasta-to-produce ratio. Great produce picks include tomatoes, roasted veggies, and dark leafy greens.
- Try whole-wheat varieties that are made with a combination of durum wheat and other grains to get an extra dose of fiber and protein. (Just be sure to watch cooking times closely, as overcooking whole-wheat can make noodles gummy.)
- Stick to no more than two cups of cooked pasta at a meal to keep calories in check. (Two ounces of dried pasta equals 1-1½ cups cooked.)
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Nutrition Numbers: An ounce of bread (a slice or small roll) has about 80 to 100 calories. Whole-wheat or seeded varieties have more protein, fiber, and fat to keep you fuller longer but also contain more calories.
Bread may be one of the most highly craved carbs, but there's no reason to banish it from your diet. Simply figure out healthier ways to enjoy it:
- Combine it with other foods, especially those with protein and fiber, to slow down the digestion of carbs. For instance, when you eat out, make sure to ask for the breadbasket with your meal — not beforehand.
- Choose whole-grain breads where you can actually see the grains or seeds and that feel dense (not squishy) when you give them a gentle squeeze. According to researchers at Harvard School of Public Health , the best whole-grain options will have a carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of lower than 10:1.
- Spread your bread with wholesome toppings, like avocado, olive oil, nut butters, hummus, or tapenade.
- Look for whole-grain breads that have at least two grams of fiber and three to four grams of protein per serving.
- Opt for "light" store-bought breads, which are sliced thinner so they have about 50-60 calories per serving. Just be sure it's a whole-grain variety.