Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Carb comeback After years of badmouthing, they’re back on the plate

With low-carb eating back in its rightful spot alongside cabbage soup and grapefruit diets, we again are celebrating foods that give comfort and energy.

We are cooking and ordering three of our favorites – potatoes, pasta and rice – without feeling the guilt of committing a dietary no-no. We’re carbo-loading again and proud of it.

“So many of the messages in the last decade have been negative: ‘Don’t eat carbs. Don’t eat this or that.’ People are ready to enjoy food that tastes good and is good for you – like carbs,” says Cynthia Harriman, spokeswoman for the Whole Grain Council in Boston. “The carb mania finally has subsided.”

Carbohydrates, an important part of any healthy diet, are the body’s No. 1 choice of fuel. Before the Atkins and South Beach diets vilified and blamed carbs for super-sizing our bellies, they were accepted as the building blocks of a sensible eating plan.

Today, carbs have regained the respect they deserve, with the realization by former low-carb disciples that, when eaten regularly, carbs do not lead to weight gain unless they are gobbled to excess.

“It never made sense to me that people believed that if they stayed away from pasta for more red meat they would be thinner and healthier. Those of us who know the power of pasta survived the attack by realizing that moderation eventually will prevail,” says Wade Moises, chef at Sassi, a high-end Italian eatery in Scottsdale.

“Carbs were never the enemy, and finally the low-carb (craze) is exposed as the fad it was.”

Nutritionists, in fact, recommend a carb-heavy diet. Calories should be divided this way: 40 to 50 percent from carbohydrates; 20 to 30 percent from protein; and 30 percent fat.

Pasta, potatoes and rice – the three missed sorely during the no-carb era – also provide essential nutrients and little harm.

• Pasta is fortified with folic acid, an essential B vitamin. A half-cup serving of cooked pasta contains a mere 99 calories, less than half a gram of fat and less than 5 milligrams of sodium.

• Potatoes are high in vitamin C, fiber and potassium. They contain no fat or cholesterol and minimal sodium. And a 6-ounce potato contains 3 grams of highly digestible protein, almost as much as half a glass of milk, making it a great foundation for a whole meal.

• White rice is a good source of insoluble fiber, low in fat, contains some protein and plenty of B vitamins.

Nutrients weren’t enough, however, for rice, pasta and potatoes to make “good” carb lists with high-fiber, slow-burning types such as lentils and beans. Instead, they often found themselves on the “bad” carb lists with Twinkies and sugary cereals.

“The attack on the potato was unfair and misleading. We were on the wrong list as far as the low-carb movement was concerned,” says Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, which fought back four years ago with an expensive advertising campaign celebrating the potato’s virtues.

These three carbohydrate staples also provide culinary vessels for other favorite foods: macaroni tossed in a creamy cheese sauce, mashed potatoes spiked with wasabi, pasta topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and garlic or rice stir-fried with broccoli and peppers.

The key is eating these time-tested and economical favorites in moderation.

“A small bowl of pasta is wonderful,” Moises says. “A tub is too much.”

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