Whether it’s potatoes, pasta, bread or rice, starchy staples are what most Singaporeans crave for their meals. News flash: There’s nothing wrong with that. Although fad diets like Paleo and Keto encourage you to go low carb + high protein and fat, carbs are still very important. Refuelling the body with both carbs and protein after workouts is necessary for a healthy body, so don’t neglect them. Instead, replace your current diet with healthier carbs options that work for you. In doing so, you’ll feel better, replenish your glycogen stores and stimulate muscle growth.
So, here’s 7 healthier options to make carbs work for you.
1. Swap white rice for brown rice
White rice and brown rice actually contain similar calories, carbohydrates and protein. But brown rice has three times the amount of fibre and twice the amount of iron, as well as more vitamins and minerals than white. Can’t get used to the taste right away? The Health Promotion Board recommends replacing a portion of white rice (about 20%) as a start. A rule to remember: The more whole a food is (like brown rice) the more nutrient-dense it is, and the better it is for you.
2. Opt for healthy grains
Don’t fall for the common myth that foods high in carbs cause obesity. Research is showing that those who consume high proportions of their carbs in the form of fibre-rich whole grains consistently weigh less than others and are less plagued by chronic diseases. If brown rice is simply not for you, don’t fret – opt for grains like couscous, buckwheat and barley. Quinoa is a great choice that has much more carbohydrates, protein and fibre than regular white rice, while containing 40 fewer calories per cup when cooked.
3. Eat the ‘Rainbow’
As it turns out, the best thing to pair your carbs with really are vegetables. In the 1990s, a group of international food nutritionists came up with the Asian Food Pyramid, which is pretty spot-on when it comes to overall health (good news for us, right?). It goes heavy on rice, noodles and whole grains, and — this is key — places an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts. This is your “rainbow” of good foods. Fish and shellfish are optional daily choices, while eggs and poultry (and sweets!) can be eaten weekly. Red and white meats are a monthly, not daily, feature. Recent research even shows that white rice isn’t as responsible for Type 2 diabetes as previously thought. But eating refined carbs like white rice with animal protein and fat, according to Nutritionfacts.org’s Dr Michael Greger, causes a blood sugar spike and an increase in insulin production.
4. Pick wholemeal bread
There’s no need to skip your favourite breakfast sandwich, simply swap out that white bread for wholemeal! Since white bread is made from refined wheat flour, it lacks nutrients like antioxidants and vitamins A, B and E, which wholemeal bread is rich in. According to studies done by the Department of Dietetics and the LIFE Centre (Singapore General Hospital), wholemeal bread also contains twice the amount of fibre found in white bread, which assists greatly with bowel movement.
5. Leave out the heavy cream
Sitting down to a meal of pasta – even one with a cream-based sauce — shouldn’t evoke feelings of guilt. But choose to make it yourself at home, without the heavy cream. Swap it out for healthier alternatives like greek yogurt or ricotta. You’ll reduce your fat intake by a large percentage.
6. Hold the toppings
Who doesn’t love a hearty meal featuring potatoes? Whether baked, mashed, sauteed, roasted or grilled, the versatile pantry staple makes for a filling meal or snack, and is difficult to mess up. And according to physician and author Dr John McDougall (a famous advocate for low fat, whole foods diets), the human body is encoded to run on starches and potatoes are actually very low in fat and calories. It’s the toppings that we usually opt for that are killers. Fixings like gravy, cheese, sour cream – and any sinful dressings – are delicious, but totally unhealthy. If you can’t do without them, then at least halve them, thereby cutting your calorie and sodium intake.
7. Sweet, sweet potatoes
While the humble potato is a favourite with many of us, sweet potatoes are a much healthier alternative. Containing more vitamins A, C and fiber than regular old potatoes, they’re also lower in carbohydrates, making sure you stay full after a meal without having to burn off the same amount of sugars afterwards.
By Zoe Zeng