How to lower your carbs in 3 easy steps

rice-pasta

Did you see the recent story in the media about being able to change the carb count of white rice simply by the way you cook it and cool it? With one particular method it actually lessened the impact on blood sugar by as much as 50 per cent.

It’s the latest in a number of scientific studies I’ve seen over the past year or so on this topic, and it seems like it can also work in a similar way with bread and pasta too.

As someone who tries their best to follow a low carb diet most of the time (admittedly with varying success in recent months) I’m constantly faced with the temptation of things I really like to eat – freshly baked bread, white fluffy basmati rice, and the occasional bit of fresh egg pasta.

From following several really good low carb blogs like All Day I Dream About Food and I Breath I’m Hungry, and the Trim Healthy Mama weight loss plan, I’ve managed to build up a small arsenal of go-to bread and rice-like alternatives, but try as I might I just can’t resist my husband’s eggy, buttery brioche straight from the breadmaker. It’s totally moreish and completely derails my weight loss attempts (hmm do you think there’s sabotage at play here?).

Healthier carbs

So can us aspiring low GI-ers have our carbs and eat them too? Well it seems like it might just be possible.

The story l read recently in the Washington Post involved an experiment by two chemical scientists in Sri Lanka. They discovered that by boiling a pan of water and adding a lipid (in this case coconut oil, in a quantity of around 3 per cent of the total amount of rice to be cooked) before adding the rice, then cooling it in the fridge for around 12 hours, it dramatically altered the composition of the rice.

Basically, it went from being a highly digestible starch, which converts quickly into glucose in the body, to a resistant starch, which takes a lot longer for the body to digest. This not only lowers the amount of calories available to the body, but crucially, limits the spike in blood sugar in the body from a rush of glucose, the excess of which will be stored as fat.

As undergraduate scientist Sudhair James told a scientific conference: “The oil interacts with the starch in rice and changes its architecture.

“Chilling the rice then helps foster the conversion of starches. The result is a healthier serving, even when you heat it back up.”

Here in the UK, TV presenter and author of The Fast Diet, Michael Mosley, reported on some similar experiments for the BBC TV programme ‘Trust me I’m a doctor’ (you can read the BBC New website story on it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29629761)

Here they took a randomised group of volunteers who were given a pasta dish to eat on three separate days.

On one day they got to eat freshly cooked and hot pasta in a tomato sauce. On another day they had to eat the same dish cold after it had been chilled overnight in the fridge – clearly not a very appealing option! And finally they got to eat the dish again, after it had been refrigerated and then reheated.

With each experiment, the volunteers’ blood sugar levels were monitored before and after the meal.

Much like the experiment with the rice, they found that the cooked, cooled and reheated pasta had the least impact on their blood sugar – a significant reduction of around 50 per cent. Its molecular structure had changed and it was acting much more like a fibre – or resistant starch ¬– in the body rather than a fast-releasing starch. Again this meant that there was a reduction in calories absorbed by the body too.

ricebowl

Better bread?

So does it work for bread too? Well the good news is yes! Freezing bread changes its structure, and then toasting it after freezing has an even more beneficial effect, according to scientists.

You can read this 2007 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition here.

And what about potatoes I hear you cry? Well we’ve known for a long time that they way you prepare and cook a potato has an impact on its glycaemic load. For example mashed potato has a much higher GI than a simple boiled potato.

And according to the summary of this study in the FASAB Journal – I don’t have access to the full study – cooking, cooling and reheating potatoes produces similar results to rice, bread and pasta, although the implications are that there are some variations between the actual variety of potatoes used.

Personally I intend to follow the suggestion of the two Sri Lankan scientists and boil my rice (as well as my pasta and potatoes, for good measure) in a water / lipid solution.

So does this mean we can eat our carbs guilt-free? Well, yes and no. For those of us who are trying to lose or have trouble maintaining weight, it’s a welcome finding and one that I’ve certainly started to experiment with.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that we should start stuffing our faces with starchy carbohydrates. We need some (and remember we get lots of healthy ones from fruit and vegetables), but that quantity really depends on how active we are and how we plan to burn off the excess – as in many cases there will still be an excess of glucose circulating in our blood.

I’m wondering why I didn’t rush out and try this the first time I heard about this concept last year. I think I must have thought, surely it can’t be that simple! I guess because the food doesn’t come in a packet with the carb count on the back, we may be slightly wary about the veracity of the claims. But following this simply cooking method is, in my view, certainly much better than buying any low-carb manufactured bread and pastas, which are always over-priced and often tasteless.

The only product I sometimes buy is konjac noodles (see brands such as Zero Noodles and Miracle Noodles) which are really filling, and derived from a natural highly-resistant starch source. They’re a little pricey and, sadly, absolutely tasteless, but they’re especially helpful as a healthy filler if you’re doing a low calorie ‘fast day’ (5:2 dieters take note).

As for me, I’m planning to eat bread this way perhaps for a couple of meals a week, plus some occasional dishes served with fluffy basmati rice. As a South Indian, my husband actually buys this stuff by the 10kg bag!

Anything that can help with adherence to a mostly healthy, good fat / low carb eating plan has got to be a good thing in my opinion.

QUICK GUIDE TO LOWERING YOUR CARBS

Rice, pasta and potatoes – boil with a lipid (olive oil, coconut oil, etc) – cool for 12 hours – reheat and eat
Bread – buy it or bake it – slice it and freeze it – thaw it and toast it

More reading:

Washington Post article

Nature article

BBC article

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