Pasta Rice and Potatoes

Although some weight-conscious people mistakenly try to stay away from dinner starches such as pasta, rice, and potatoes, these carbohydrate-rich foods are important for a high-energy sports diet.

PASTA. When trying to decide which shape of pasta to use for a meal, the rule of thumb is to use twisted and curved shapes (such as twists and shells) with meaty, beany, and chunky sauces. The shape will trap more sauce than the straight strands of spaghetti or linguini.

Perfectly cooked pasta is tender yet firm when bitten with the teeth— "al dente," as the Italians say. The quickest-cooking pastas include angel hair, alphabets, and little stars (stelline). Here are some tips for cooking pasta perfectly.

  • Allow 4 quarts (4 liters) of water per pound (500 grams) of dry pasta. Allow 10 minutes for the water to reach a rolling boil before adding pasta. (If you are rushed for time, you can cook the pasta in half the amount of water, and it will cook OK—in less time.) Plan to cook no more than 2 pounds of pasta at a time; otherwise, you may end up with a gummy mess.
  • To keep the water from boiling over, add 1 tablespoon of oil to the cooking water.
  • Add the pasta in small amounts to avoid cooling the water too much or causing the pieces to clump. When cooking spaghetti or lasagna, push down the stiff strands as they soften, using a longhandled spoon.
  • If the water stops boiling, cover the pan, turn up the heat, and bring the water to a boil again as soon as possible.
  • Cooking time will depend on the shape of the pasta. Pasta is done when it starts to look opaque. To tell if it is done, lift a piece of pasta with a fork from the boiling water, let it cool briefly, then carefully pinch or bite it, being sure not to burn yourself. The pasta should feel flexible but still firm inside.
  • When the pasta is done, drain it into a colander set in the sink, using potholders to protect your hands from the steam. Shake the pasta briefly to remove excess water, then return it to the cooking pot or to a warmed serving bowl.
  • To prevent the pasta from sticking together as it cools, toss the pasta with a little oil or sauce.

The following quick and easy pasta toppings are a change of pace from the standard tomato sauce straight from the jar.

  • Steamed chopped broccoli
  • Salsa, plain or heated, and then mixed with cottage cheese
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Low-fat salad dressings of your choice
  • Low-fat) Italian salad dressing with tamari, chopped garlic, and steamed vegetables
  • Low-fat sour cream and Italian seasonings
  • Italian seasonings and cottage cheese or Parmesan cheese
  • Chicken breast sauteed with oil, garlic, onion, and basil
  • Chili with kidney beans (and cheese)
  • Lentil soup (thick)
  • Spaghetti sauce with a spoonful of grape jelly
  • Spaghetti sauce with added protein: canned chicken or tuna, tofu cubes, canned beans, cottage cheese, ground beef or turkey
  • Spaghetti sauce with added fresh diced tomato and parsley

RICE. Rice is the world's third-leading grain, after wheat and corn. Brown rice is made into white rice when the fiber-rich bran is removed during the refining process. This also removes some of the nutrients, but you can compensate for this loss (if you prefer white to brown rice) by eating other whole grains such as bran cereals and whole-wheat breads at your other meals. Here are some tips for cooking rice.

  • For each 1 cup of rice, put 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt, as desired, into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down low. Let the rice cook undisturbed until it is tender and all the water has been absorbed. Then, stir gently with a fork. (Stirring too much results in a sticky mess.) This method retains vitamins that otherwise could be lost in the cooking water.
  • Because of its tough bran coat and germ, brown rice needs about 45 to 50 minutes to cook; white rice needs only about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Consider cooking rice in the morning while you are getting ready for work so that it will only need to be reheated when you get home.
  • When cooking rice, cook double amounts to have leftovers that you can freeze or refrigerate.
  • Use the following portion guides when cooking rice: 1 cup raw white rice = 3 cups cooked = 700 calories

1 cup raw brown rice = 3 to 4 cups cooked = 700 calories

Here are a few rice suggestions for hungry athletes. For variety, try cooking rice in these liquids:

  • Chicken or beef broth
  • Mixture of orange or apple juice and water
  • Water with seasonings: cinnamon, soy sauce, oregano, curry, chili powder, or whatever might nicely blend with the menu

You can also combine rice with these foods:

  • Leftover chili
  • Toasted sesame seeds and chopped nuts
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Chopped mushrooms and green peppers, either raw or sauteed
  • Low-fat sour cream, raisins, tuna, and curry powder
  • Raisins, cinnamon, and applesauce
  • Soy sauce and diced scallions
  • Honey, raisins, and toasted sliced almonds

POTATOES. The potato is a carbohydrate-rich vegetable that offers more vitamins and minerals than plain rice or pasta. To help you include more potatoes in your sports diet, here are some tips.

  • Potatoes come in different varieties. Some varieties are best suited for baking (russets), others for boiling (red or white rounds). Ask the produce manager at your grocery store for guidance.
  • Potatoes are best stored in a cool, humid (but not wet) place that is well ventilated, such as your cellar. Do not refrigerate potatoes because they will become sweet and off-colored.
  • Rather than peel the skin (and remove some fiber), scrub the skin well and cook the potato skin and all. Yes, even mashed potatoes can be made with unpeeled potatoes.
  • One pound of potatoes equals three medium or two large potatoes. A large "restaurant-size" potato has about 200 calories.
  • To bake a potato in the oven, allow about 40 minutes at 400 °F (200 °C) for a medium potato, closer to an hour for a large potato. Because potatoes can be baked at any temperature, you can adjust the cooking time to whatever else is in the oven.
  • The potato is done when you can easily pierce it with a fork.
  • To cook a potato in the microwave oven, prick its skin in several places with a fork, place it on a paper towel on the bottom of the microwave, and cook it for about 4 minutes if it is medium sized or 6 to 10 minutes if it's large. Cooking time will vary according to the size of the potato, the power of your oven, and the number of potatoes being cooked. Turn the potato over halfway through cooking. Remove the potato from the oven, wrap it in a towel, and allow it to finish cooking outside the oven for about 3 to 5 minutes.

To spice up your potato, try the following toppings:

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