Ethnic foods that are so starchy, you'll need more than one workout to burn off the calories in them
As it turns out, Americans don’t have the market cornered when it comes to carbs. While pizza, sodas, and bagels are certainly staples in the United States, you may be shocked to see the carb creations that exist across the globe. How do these popular dishes outside of America stack up in the nutrition department? We asked Lori Zanini, R.D., with HealthCare Partners and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to deconstruct them. Read on to find out just how many carbs these foods pack!
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It’s starch on starch on starch—and it would seem to be a carb counter’s worst nightmare. Japanese potato salad is similar to the American and German types in some ways—for one, it’s made with mayo, albeit a tangy Japanese variety. And a sandwich made with a quarter cup of potato salad packs 60 grams of carbohydrates. But, Zanini adds that most of the carbohydrates are complex and far healthier than simple carbs. The silver lining: Japanese potato salad is filled with nutrient and fiber-rich fresh and pickled vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, and onions.
Pommes frites, chips, or fries. By whatever name you call them, thinly sliced deep-fried potato sticks are the epitome of carby deliciousness. But Indian cuisine may have a dish that has one-upped its French and Belgian counterparts: samosa. It's potatoes and peas wrapped in a pastry and then fried, served with sweet and tangy tamarind chutney. You’ll be getting about 11 grams of carbs per samosa. But many of those are complex carbs from the potatoes and green peas—which are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
It may look like some kind of purple alien space goo, but Poi has long been a popular staple in traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian island cooking. Made from steamed taro root and smashed into a highly-viscous paste, poi has a unique tang. And its calories come almost entirely from carbohydrates—a half-cup serving has about 30 grams of carbohydrates. According to Zanini, “Poi is a great source of potassium, which helps muscles contract, helps maintain normal blood pressure, and helps reduce the risk of decreased bone loss."
Long before the concept of Asian fusion cuisine was in (and then out), there was the Bahn Mi sandwich, perhaps the greatest Euro/Asian dish every concocted. In the middle of the last century, a colonial genius in Indochina took a French baguette, pâté, and mayonnaise, and combined them with the Vietnamese ingredients cilantro, pickled carrots, hot sauce, and fish sauce. Voilà!, the banh mi sandwich. The damage: 40 to 50 grams of carbs (mainly from the baguette). And there’s nothing lean about fat-filled mayonnaise and pâté. But since the pork packs a protein punch—and the cilantro and carrots contain loads of vitamins and antioxidants—consider the banh mi a not-entirely-evil special treat.
Porridge may appear in our nursery rhymes but not so much on American tables. Still, whether it’s hot, cold, or nine days old, we’d rather eat a bowl of porridge than a plate of haggis any day. This Scottish breakfast dish can be made up of any combination of starchy grains such as oats, rice, barley, or farina. Most traditionalists prefer to use just steel cut oats as the main ingredient. A half-cup of porridge made with water and unsweetened has about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Make it with a cup of milk and that adds 12 grams. Either way, the oats are a great source of fiber, complex carbohydrates and B vitamins, says Zanini.
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Though not often used in North American or European cooking, cassava, also known as yuca (not to be confused with yucca), is one of the most popular tubers on earth. A plant that can thrive in difficult climates and soil conditions with a root very rich in carbohydrates, it’s considered a vital food energy source in developing nations throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. And it is versatile: Ferment it to make booze, fry it to make chips, or make it into baked goods—such as cassava bread from the Dominican Republic, a slice of which has about 30 grams of carbohydrates.
Years ago, chefs in Shanghai turned the concept of dumpling soup on its ears by filling the dumpling with piping hot soup (how that liquid gets inside the gummy wrapper is a subject for another story). The inside of this quivering white mound served in a deep spoon also contains a pork meatball which is high in protein, but the muscular dumpling material holding it all together is decidedly carb-laden, with about 8 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per dumpling, according to Zanini.
Winter is coming and warming up with soup is a time-tested method for beating bitter weather. Few places have worse winters than Russia, so it stands to reason that Russians get their comfort from klotski soup—a type of chicken soup with potato dumplings. Zanini says that a bowl with four small klotski will have about 30 grams of carbohydrates, most of which comes from the flour and potato in the dumpling.
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