Healthy Eating: The low down on carbs, part 2

From bread, to rice to potatoes, find out which of our favorite starches are better than they seem, and which are worse than we could have ever dreamed.

Bread 311 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Bread 311
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
When it comes to dieting and weight management, most people do not consider bread to be their friend – and for good reason as most breads rank high on the Glycemic Index scale. (The glycemic index of a food is ranked between 1 to 100 where foods with a glycemic index of 55 or lower provide slow-releasing energy that will stabilize blood sugar levels, foods with an index between 56 and 69 high a medium glycemic Index and foods that have scores of 70 and above have a high glycemic Index. For more information on the GI scale, see White rice? Brown rice? Long-grain rice? Short-grain rice? Basmati rice? Sticky rice?!? When it comes to the world of rice, the possibilities are endless- so how does one choose wisely?
For starters, just like bread, when it comes to rice, white is out and brown is in. A grain of rice has several layers (all loaded with different micro and macro nutrients). To create brown rice, only the outermost layer, referred to as the hull, is removed. This process is the least damaging to the nutritional value of the grain and conserves the greatest amount of nutrients.  In fact a cup of brown rice provides 88 percent ofone’s daily requirement of manganese, as well as is an excellent source of
selenium and magnesium.
However, to make white rice, the grain is further milled to remove the bran and most of the germ layer, and then polished, removing the aleurone layer of the grain-a layer filled with essential fats. The complete process destroys 67% of rice’s Vitamin B3, 80% of its Vitamin B1, 90% of its Vitamin B6, 50% of its manganese, 50% of its phosphorus, 60% of its iron, and all of the dietary fiber as well as essential fatty acids. What we are left with is a refined starch largely stripped of its nutritional content (and even if these lost minerals and nutrients are added back into the processed food, it is never the same as the original natural version).  Besides containing more minerals, brown rice contains one more nutrient than white rice – fiber! Fiber slows the digestion of food and keeps blood sugar levels stable (thus preventing those unwanted and unhealthy rollercoaster like peaks and dips). With everything taken into consideration, brown once again triumphs over its nutritionally deprived albino cousin.
However when it comes to rice, there is more than just the color to consider – the shape of the grain matters too.  Long-grain rice, as the name implies is longer and narrower rather than round and short, like short-grain rice. So how do these shapes stack up when it comes to their glycemic index? There are two types of starch in rice: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is a long, straight starch molecule that does not gelatinize during cooking, so rice grains that are higher in this starch do not stick together when cooked. Amylopectin, on the other hand, makes rice stick and clump together when cooked. While this may seem complicated, what is important to take into consideration is the ratio of amylase to amylopectin, as rice higher in amylose has a lower Glycemic Index number. As long-grain rice contains the most amylose of all the different varieties, it has a lower GI than short-grain rice (Long grain rice scoring only 56 on the GI scale while short grain white rice has a GI of 72). Brown rice and basmati rice have a medium GI of 55, while sticky rice contains no amylase and therefore has the highest GI of the bunch.
So while sticky rice is certainly yummy, the next time you are craving some Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese rice, opt for brown long-grain rice over its sticky white rice counterpart every time.
Master chef: Potatoes
PotatoesThe staple food throughout World War I and II as well as The Great Depression, potatoes have remained frequent guests on the dining room table. Loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin K , B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and iron, there is no doubt about it, this popular tuberous vegetable is certainly healthy when it comes to nutritional content. However, are these spuds duds when it comes to their harmful effect on blood sugar levels? Unfortunately, the majority of potatoes fall into the moderately high to extremely high ranges of the GI scale, with some actually ranking closer to table sugar, than to other starches. 
Like bread and rice, the type of potato matters – some have a lower GI and are richer in vitamins, minerals and even protein than others. For instance boiled white potatoes have a medium GI around 50, while baked russet potatoes have a relatively high GI of 85. However, with potatoes it goes one step further – the way one prepares the potato plays a big role, as the cooking method significantly affects and alters the GI level.  For instance, a study reported in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association,"  (conducted at the University of Toronto) found that boiled red potatoes consumed cold the next day have a GI of only 56, while hot boiled red potatoes consumed the day of had a high GI of 89. However, it gets stranger as the method used to cook potatoes affects more than just the GI – it also affects the nutritional content! While most vegetables lose some (to even all) of their vitamins and minerals when cooked, when red potato are fried their antioxidant levels falls by about half as compared to when boiled (according to the US Department of Agriculture); while baking reduced the red potato's antioxidant levels by almost 65%!
Sweet potatoNow while potatoes are rich in essential nutrients, they have nothing on their distantly related sweet potato and yam cousins. These two orange veggies are not only packed solid with beta-carotene (the precursor to Vitamin A), but are also rich in Vitamin C, manganese, copper, fiber, Vitamin B6 as well as anti-oxidants and other anti-inflammatory agents. Moreover, while these potatoes may be called “sweet,” their GI only falls in the medium range (which is lower than most members of the potato family). However, to reduce their effect on blood sugar levels, leave the skin on (this also applies to regular white potatoes) as the skin contains high amounts of fiber.
So while mashed and baked potatoes may be considered comfort foods, to feel more comfortable in your clothes, watch out on how you cook and consume (with skin, and without  artery clogging toppings) your favorite spuds.