Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pasta, Potato & Rice Substitutes

Pasta and potatoes, I love them - but sadly, they don't love me. As a matter-of-fact, white starches (such as rice, pasta, potatoes and white bread products) should no longer be on my menu, except rarely or in very small quantities. A serving of any of these white, starchy no-no's should be limited to 1/3 cup once or twice a week, at the most. Have you ever measured out a level 1/3 cup of pasta? It's not much more than a spoonful. Plop that in the middle of your plate, top with spaghetti sauce and that's not much of a meal! I thought the days of my favorite spaghetti dinner were over for good. But instead of giving up, I got creative!

There are lower carb, higher fiber pastas on the market, such as Dreamfields brand, which is formulated in such a way that only 5 net carbs are absorbed by the body. It tastes like regular pasta to me, so it is my favorite "go to" brand when cooking for my family. Even with reduced carb pastas, portion control is important. One serving is about ½ to ¾ of a cup of cooked pasta, not a heaping plate full, but a small side-dish size. Also, it is best to test and see how your blood glucose reacts to the different reduced carb pastas before you include it regularly in your food plan. (To see how your body reacts to any food, check your blood sugar about 2 to 2½ hours after eating, if it is still elevated and over 150, then the offending food should be limited in your diet.) When it comes to potatoes and rice, for me they need to be avoided almost entirely. Here are some of my favorite food substitutes that can stand in nicely for this disastrous trio that are much more nutritious while adding fiber and flavor to your meal.

Pasta Alternatives

1. Spaghetti Squash is extremely easy to prepare, but you do need to plan ahead for cooking time. Simply cut the squash in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or oiled with canola or olive oil. Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45-50 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. With a fork, scrape the noodle-like strands onto a serving plate. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper before topping with your favorite pasta sauce. Nutritional Information for 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash: 40 calories, 9.9 g carbohydrate, 0.2 g fat, 2.2 g fiber, 0.9 g protein.

2. Zucchini "Pasta" can be made by cutting lengthwise into 1/8" thick slices, then further cutting thin slices into 1/8" wide matchsticks (or use a mandoline to cut into long julienne, matchstick slices). Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a pan, add minced garlic and saute until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add zucchini to pan, add salt and pepper to taste. Saute until limp and spaghetti-like. (If desired and to fool your tastebuds into thinking you're eating a more authentic noodle pasta, add 1/3 cup cooked spaghetti noodles to zucchini and toss together.) Remove to serving plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Top with your favorite pasta sauce. Nutritional Information for 1 cup of cooked zucchini "noodles" sauteed with olive oil without added pasta noodles: 86 calories, 7 g carbohydrate, 6.6 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, 1.1 g protein.

Potato Alternatives

1. Potato & Cauliflower Mashed "Potatoes" can be an acceptable substitute for many people, especially those starved for their much-loved, but forbidden, creamy spuds. Simply steam 1 large head of cauliflower until tender. Meanwhile, boil 1 large russet potato that has been peeled and cut into chunks until fork-tender. Drain vegetables and place into large mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Mash with a potato masher or whip with a hand mixer. Add milk or chicken stock 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4. Nutritional information per serving (¼ recipe) : 122.8 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 4.5 g fiber, 3.9 g protein.

2. Roasted Vegetables are one of my favorite side dishes and is so easy to prepare. Cut up a variety of vegetables into similar sized pieces and place on a baking sheet. Some suggestions are butternut squash, parsnips or sweet potato (definitely good potato substitutes), cherry or grape tomatoes, carrots, acorn squash, zucchini, or asparagus. For taste and visual appeal, try a mixture of your favorites. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in a hot 400-degree oven until vegetables are fork tender, usually 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type of vegetables chosen. Approximate Nutritional Information per serving (½ to ¾ cup): 147 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 6 g fiber, 1.5 g protein. (If using lighter vegetables, such as summer squash, tomatoes or asparagus, the totals will be much less.)
Rice Alternatives

1. Lentils are in the legume family, so they are high in fiber and protein. They cook up fairly quickly, about the same amount of time as rice. There are several colors and varieties of lentil, so finding one to compliment your oriental stir-fry or to have as a side dish is not difficult. To add more flavor, simmer in chicken, beef or vegetable stock instead of water. Also, add herbs to further link the lentils to whatever you're serving as the main course. Nutritional Information (per ½ cup serving) is 112 calories, 19.3 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 7.2 g fiber, 8.9 g protein.

2. The nutritionists will tell you, "eat brown rice instead of white rice," or "quinoa is the new super food," or "barley is a better choice than white rice," etc. Actually, in comparison, they are not much different (although brown rice, barley and quinoa are slightly more nutritious than white rice). Below is a chart so you can decide for yourself. The deciding factor really should be how your body responds to eating any rice or grain because your glycemic response is what is most important. Check your blood sugar about 2 to 2½ hours after eating, if it is still elevated and over 150, then the offending food should be limited in your diet.

I hope you'll give these a try. I'm sure you'll find them as satisfying and pleasing as the original high-carb foods they're replacing on your dinner plate. Enjoy!

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