Potatoes and pasta may have been atop your do-not-eat list in the past, but now that the low-carb craze is over, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Your favorite starchy carbs actually may not be particularly bad for you or your diet. There is a caveat: watch what you eat with pasta and potatoes, as their healthfulness is predicated on what else in on your plate.
Why They Get a Bad Rap
The standard serving of cooked pasta or mashed potato is ½ cup which is equivalent to the size of a tennis ball or a computer mouse. The calorie count for one portion is a mere 110 and 57 calories respectively; hardly a calorie-laden, diet-breaking indulgence. So why do pasta and potatoes get such a bad rap? It’s all about the company they keep. Pasta and potatoes hardly, if ever, are eaten alone and rarely are they served in proper portion sizes.
The potato is America’s favorite vegetable. We eat almost 125 pounds of the tuber each year. A recent study found an increase in the amount of servings per year of potato chips and potatoes/French fries was most strongly associated with weight gain. Clearly keeping your servings of potatoes in check is a most-worthy weight maintenance cause. On top of that, most of us don’t eat potatoes on their own. For example, a serving of small French fries from McDonald’s is 271 calories. Pairing those with a burger and sugar-sweetened beverage could become a calorie catastrophe. Even when not fried, potatoes when mashed typically have milk and butter added, not to mention are often served alongside some other scrumptiousness. Other pitfalls for eating potatoes include added cheese, buttermilk, sour cream, and gravy, of course. Swap these out of your dish and you’re well on your healthy-potato-eating way.
How can a serving of pasta at 110 calories turn into an out of calorie control dish? If you’ve been out to a restaurant, you know the answer: sauce and toppings. Extreme case in point, Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta just won a spot on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Xtreme Eating Awards, a list of foods surprisingly high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar. According to their article, the dish is served with 3½ cups of pasta (an over-the-top seven servings), with fried battered shrimp, and a butter-and-cream sauce. The stats: 3,120 calories, 89 grams saturated fat, and 1,090 milligrams of sodium. Any fried additions to pasta such as breaded veal, eggplant, and chicken will add more than 100 calories vs. the roasted or baked option. Pesto and cheese-based sauces can rack up more than 200 calories in 1/4 cup serving, and let’s not forget the bread that is often enjoyed alongside pasta dishes, with added oil no less!
More Satisfying with Less Calories
Now that you know what to watch out for, use these tips to draw down the calories in your pasta and potato dishes without completely gypping your taste buds:
- Proper Serving Size
For potatoes, choose a ½ cup of mashed potato, 1 medium whole potato, or about 10 French fries. Pasta gets 1/2 cup cooked. If you go for more, be strategic about subsequent meals and their vegetable and whole grain make-up.
- Fill It Out
Adding lean protein and fiber goes for both. Healthy additions include chickpeas, butternut squash, lentils, or cauliflower. Keep the skin in the mix on the potato side and go for whole grain on the pasta side. The point is to satisfy your hunger without adding more calories than you need. Calorie saves include topping a baked potato with non-fat plain Greek yogurt as opposed to sour cream and using well-seasoned vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, green and red bell peppers, or zucchini instead of the hefty amount of cheese that many pasta dishes call for.
- Lower-Calorie Swaps
- Instead of adding milk and butter, use vegetable or chicken stock to make mashed potatoes and add tasty herbs and spices like rosemary, garlic, chili powder, or paprika to add flavor. On the pasta side, skip tossing pasta in added olive oil and use crushed tomatoes with Italian seasoning instead of ready-made pasta sauce as it usually has a considerable amount of added oil and salt. Instead, you control what’s added when you cook.