Almost everyone loves at least one starchy food, and many of us love starch in almost any form. Some of the most common starchiest foods are potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and cereal. These high-carb foods can contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar, and other health concerns, but it is easy to keep portion sizes down, choose healthier versions, and prepare them in healthier ways so that they can benefit you.
Mashed potatoes, hash browns, French fries, and potato chips help make potatoes the most popular vegetable among Amercians, but they may also contribute to this starchy vegetable’s association with weight gain and increased health risks.
Sweet potatoes have more antioxidants and less of an effect on blood sugar than regular potatoes. Winter squash is another good alternative. Cooked cauliflower can sub for potatoes in mashed potatoes, and potato salad, and kale can be baked to make a crunchy snack instead of potato chips.
Try this: Slice zucchini into long, thin slices. Dip them in a beaten egg and coat them in a mixture of parmesan cheese and your choice of garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and/or sea salt. Bake on a cookie sheet with parchment paper for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Yum. Sliced bread, pita bread, bagels, tortillas, pancakes, and even pizza crust…no wonder bread is the second-biggest contributor of calories to the average American diet! It is also the top source of sodium.
Choosing whole-grain versions is always a good idea for getting more fiber and natural nutrients. Strategies for taking smaller portions of bread include using taco-sized tortillas, making open-faced sandwiches, and ordering thin crust pizza. You can also try alternatives such as cauliflower crust pizza, pancakes made with cottage cheese and whole-grain flour, and “naked” burritos.
Try this: Make your own breakfast sandwich with a whole-grain English muffin and your choice of toppings such as cheese, egg white, spinach, tomato, and avocado. Compared to a breakfast sandwich on bagel, it will have half the carbs.
Fried rice, steamed rice, risotto, jambalaya, and rice in burritos and casseroles are all delicious, popular, and not always very healthy.
It can be easy to make rice healthier. While white rice consumption is linked to higher diabetes risk, choosing brown rice instead is linked to lower risk. Brown rice is just as easy to prepare, and it is available in regular supermarkets and many restaurants, or you can use other whole grains such as quinoa, barley, and bulgur. Another option is to swap riced cauliflower by pulsing cauliflower in a food processor before swapping it for rice in a recipe.
Try this: Make cheesy broccoli rice casserole by substituting riced cauliflower for regular rice. Other ingredients can include low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat cheddar cheese, onions, broccoli, eggs, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper.
One of the biggest problems with pasta is how easy it is to eat way too much. A reasonable portion for a meal is a half-cup to a cup of pasta, but a bowl or plateful can have four or more times that amount.
Along with switching to whole-grain pasta or bean-based gluten-free varieties, you can cut back on refined carbs by serving less pasta and more vegetables. That can include adding vegetables to pasta sauce or serving a side salad on half of your plate to make less room for pasta. Strands of cooked spaghetti squash and spiralized zucchini make great, low-carb alternatives to pasta.
Try this: Make penne pasta casserole with whole-grain penne for half the pasta, cooked cauliflower for the other half, and tomato sauce with your choice of vegetables such as sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, and sliced carrots. Top with mozzarella or parmesan cheese.
Cereal and More
Yes, there are all kinds of starchy carbs to love, and they can be made healthier! Just watch portion sizes (hint: eat pretzels from a small cup, not from the bag), choose whole grain versions (thankfully, that’s pretty easy when it comes to cereal – just check the box), and watch out for added sugars (sorry, that single packet of Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal has over half a day’s worth of sugar).