Make Carbs Great Again
I don’t want to get into a whole thing about the meaning, history, and validity of the glycemic index (GI) of foods, but suffice it to say that it’s a tool by which we measure the relative ranking of foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels.
Foods that have a high GI (70 or higher) cause a blood sugar to rise more than foods with a medium (55-69) or low (55 or less) GI.
Chronic intake of these high-GI foods is associated with higher rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and rapid aging, along with rampant fat-assedness.
The thing is, these high GI foods are all carbohydrates or mixed-nutrient foods that contain a lot of carbs, which has caused them to be shunned by people who aspire to have etched abs.
Foods that were once considered dietary staples have been dietarily Hester Prynned because of their presumed high GI and are avoided, or at least pushed aside on the breakfast, lunch, or dinner plate without nary a nibble mark.
I’m here to tell you that there’s no need to shun these foods. Simply by preparing them a bit differently – or in conjunction with a “carb-blocker” food – previous staples like rice, pasta, bread, and white potatoes can be absolved of their dietary sins and brought back into the community.
How to Save White Rice
Plain white rice, prepared the traditional way (steaming or by boiling) has a GI a little over 70, which means that it can raise your blood sugar substantially.
That’s too bad because otherwise, white rice has a lot of things going for it. It’s free from a lot of nutritional entanglements you get with other carbs; it doesn’t cause gastrointestinal stress or food allergies and lifters love it as part of a post-workout meal because it facilitates recovery.
It also has an advantage over its darker cousin because brown rice contains phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of important minerals and makes it more difficult to digest proteins.
Fortunately, there’s a way to reduce the GI of white rice, along with cutting its calories by about 50% so that you can fill up on this valuable carb without putting on pounds.
Sudhair James, an undergraduate at the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka, and his mentor, Dr. Pushparajah Thavarajah, were worried about rising obesity rates in Asia. That part of the world eats about 90% of all rice, and all those carb calories aren’t so good for regular, sedentary people, especially when it’s their staple food.
James and his mentor figured that if they could somehow reduce the calories in rice, they could make a huge impact in worldwide obesity rates. Their solution was remarkably easy and it involved changing the molecular structure of rice.
Here’s how they made their reduced-calorie rice:
- Boil water.
- Add one teaspoon of coconut oil.
- Add 1 cup of rice.
- Cook rice for approximately 20 minutes.
- Let rice cool in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
- Reheat and serve.
It’s remarkably simple. By boiling the rice in water mixed with coconut oil, you change the architecture of the rice, turning into a “resistant starch,” where two polysaccharides, amylose and amylopectin, connect to form indigestible bridges.
Chilling the rice for 12 hours leads to further conversion of starches. The result is a food with far fewer calories that also increases nutrient absorption from foods, along with feeding beneficial bacteria.
How to Rehabilitate White Bread
I get that people who are interested in healthy eating generally avoid white bread. It’s generally not very nutritive and when it comes to obesogenic foods, it has few peers.
However, white bread doesn’t have to be the dietary pariah it’s been made out to be. For one thing, not every carbohydrate you eat has to be whole-grain. Besides, it’s sometimes hard to avoid white bread entirely.
Grandma always seems to have a seemingly inexhaustible supply in the pantry, and even the most nutritionally pious among us would probably flinch at the thought of having an egg salad sandwich, a Monte Christo, or, heaven forbid, a grilled cheese sandwich made with whole grain bread that’s got wood chips the size of garden mulch floating around in it. No, in cases like that, give us white bread, please.
Maybe we can’t do much to beef up white bread’s nutritive value, but there’s a lot we can do to reduce its GI. Just store the whole loaf in the freezer next to Captain America from 1945 and the Demolition Man. Defrost it overnight and then pop it in the toaster for a 30% reduction in postprandial sugar.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well with most commercial breads as it does with homemade white bread. Manufacturers stuff their loaves with additives to condition and improve the dough. Baik and associates (2003) wrote the following in regards to those chemical additives: “…amylopectin retrogradation, together with moisture transfer between bread components, may be reduced by the use of dough improvers.”
In other words, the chemicals found in grocery store bread hamper – but not entirely prevent – some of the carbs from becoming resistant (to digestion and hence, additional calories). The result is a frozen-and-then-toasted bread that has a reduced GI, but not as reduced as if it was homemade, relatively chemical-free bread.
There’s a solution, though (other than making your own bread). Just buy breads that have the fewest number of ingredients. Brands that fit the bill include:
- Dave’s Killer Bread, White Bread Done Right: Dave’s is made with wheat flour and five different types of whole grains, but it’s still considered a white bread.
- Arnold Country White: It’s got 3 grams of protein and it doesn’t contain many ingredients to muck up the “amylopectin degradation.”
And while I don’t think anyone’s bothered to conduct a study on it, I suspect this freezing/toasting method probably works on other non whole-grain breakfast foods like waffles, English muffins, and bagels. I also suspect that it works on whole wheat bread, which, unfrozen and untoasted, has roughly the same GI as white bread.
How to Free the Wrongly Convicted Potato
The poor potato. It’s been wrongly accused and convicted of being a highly obesogenic food by those smug Paleo people. The situation is sort of the vegetable version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The potato is Tom Robinson and the white woman who lured him into her house to bust up a chifferobe and then accused him of rape when he spurned her advances is the Paleo people.
But don’t let the Paleo people know that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, i.e., a potato?
Okay, maybe I got a little carried away there. The truth is, the GI of potatoes is highly variable and depends largely on variety, size, method of preparation, and even temperature.
The most common potato in the U.S. is the Russet potato and yeah, it does have a higher GI. Russets are usually harvested when they’re about the size and color of William Shatner’s head, meaning that the starch they contain is more mature and easier to digest, which results in a higher GI.
Most other varieties rate much lower on the scale, so look for round red, round white, or yellow potatoes, along with fingerlings or long white potatoes and opt for smaller rather than bigger.
Pay attention to how you prepare them, too. French fried, mashed, and microwaved all elevate the GI upwards of 70 and this is true of even the “best” potatoes. Baking, however, appears to be the worst way to cook a potato. Even the much-heralded sweet potato, when baked, becomes more like candy than a vegetable when you stick in the oven.
The best way to prepare them is boiling, followed by 24 hours of refrigeration. This causes starch retrogradation and the amylose and amylopectin chains realign themselves to make them resistant.
If Americans were smart, we’d learn to appreciate one of the national dishes of Peru, which is papa a la huancaina, which is simply cold, boiled potatoes served with spicy cheese sauce.
If you’ve never seen a fat Peruvian, maybe it’s because of their fondness for this dish. Of course, you may not remember seeing any Peruvians at all, which kind of makes my point moot. Still, boiled, with spicy cheese or without, is the way to go.
How to Block the Carbs in Pasta (or Starches in General)
Most people think pasta has a high GI. It doesn’t. Most types hover between 40 and 50 on the scale. That doesn’t mean that it’s a “safe” food because when people do eat it, their serving size is usually large enough to fill the WW II helmet of an Italian soldier afflicted with macrocephaly.
But there’s a non-prescription, dietary way to block a lot of those calories and it has to do with ingesting phaseolus vulgaris, also known as the common bean (also known as the white bean, but generally including the kidney bean, navy bean, pinto bean, and wax bean), before meals.
According to Song and associates (2016), “Alpha-amylase (inhibitor found in beans) can inhibit activity of saliva and pancreatic amylase in the gastrointestinal tract and impede or delay the hydrolysis, and digestion of the main carbohydrates in food, thereby reducing body weight, blood sugar, and blood lipids.”
Put simply, an enzyme contained in beans prevents or delays the digestion of complex carbohydrates. The cumulative result is weight loss, in addition to improvements in blood pressure, blood lipids, and inflammation biomarkers.
This isn’t just theory, either. There have been solid studies that confirm the carb-blocking, waist-size reducing effects of the common bean. Luchovy and fellow scientists (2015) found that the inclusion of navy beans in the diet of volunteers resulted in a 2.5 and 2.1 centimeter reduction in the waist sizes of female and male participants.
More recently, Shenil Wang and colleagues (2020) found that feeding 2400 mg. of a bean extract before each meal for 35 days resulted in an average weight loss of about 1.1 pounds a week. (While the study involved a bean extract, the results probably apply to whole beans, too.)
Another study, this one a meta-analyses (Kim, 2016) involving 21 trials with 940 participants, found that the inclusion of pre-meal beans led to a weight reduction of 0.34 kilograms, compared with diets that didn’t include beans. Although 0.34 doesn’t sound like much, you have to consider that it’s the composite number of over 21 trials – some undoubtedly showed much more impressive results.
So yeah, here’s the trick: Just consume about 130 grams of beans before a high-carb meal. That’s a little over half-a-cup.
Some of you who are in a Russian nesting doll frame of mind might be asking, “Well, what about the carbs in the beans themselves, huh, what about that?” Okay, Sheldon, there’s a solution for that, too.
Remember our trick from the potatoes where we cooked them and cooled them to increase the amount of resistant starch? You can do the same thing with beans. In fact, you can heat them and cool them a couple of times over to further increase their resistance.
This is a pretty nifty dietary trick. Just remember that it only works on complex carbs like those found in pasta, bread, and whole grains in general and not fudge sundaes or their sugary cousins.
- Baik, Moo-Yeol, L. Charles Dickinson, and Pavinee Chinachoti. “Solid-state 13C CP/MAS NMR studies on aging of starch in white bread.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 51.5 (2003): 1242-1248.
- Ferdman, Roberto, “Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts calories,” The Washington Post, March 25th, 2015.
- C. Jeya K. Henry, et al. “Glycaemic Index Values for Commercially Available Potatoes in Great Britain,” British J Nutr. 2005 Dec;94(6):917-921.
- Shana Kim, “Effects of dietary pulse consumption on body weight: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” Journal of Nutrition, 30 March 2016.
- Luhovyy, Bohdan L., et al. “Canned navy bean consumption reduces metabolic risk factors associated with obesity.” Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 76.1 (2015): 33-37.
- Song H, et al. “Phaseolus vulgaris extract alleviated diet-induced obesity, insulin resistance, and hepatic steatosis and alters gut microbiota composition in mice,” Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 20, January 2016, pages 236-244.
- Wang, Shenli, et al. “Regular intake of white kidney beans extract (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) induces weight loss compared to placebo in obese human subjects.” Food Science & Nutrition (2020)