Thursday, September 13, 2012

Asian Noodles for Carb-Counters?

"Every Thai can cook" is what the instructor at Asia Scenic Organic Cooking School in Chiang Mai told Chris and I during our flagship course. Not only do the Thais work a mean wok, but they also know their ingredients (many of which come from small, organic farms). They have to, in order to master the chaotic, aroma-laden markets; beelining for booths carrying the right basil for tonight's curry, the correct consistency of condensed chicken stock for the soup, or the appropriate noodle for a side of Pad Thai (rice) or Khoa Soi (egg).

On the trip to the market during the cooking course, I became fascinated by the variety of fresh noodles used in Asian cooking. I know this is mainly because - though I'd love a forkful of slippery, savory noodles - their empty carbs keep me at an arm's length. So my eyes slurped up the displays of handmade slitherins sold at select booths.

"Glass noodle," our instructor said, pointing to a bin of clear ones. "Thai women like because low-calorie!"

Low calorie carbs!? I don't believe it. So, after our instructor pointed out a few more of the like, I hit the research and put the pastas' profiles to the test.

Glass Noodle (pictured) - FAIL
Found in everything from salads to stir fry, these see-through thin-sters are hard to avoid in Asian cooking. They're made from the mung bean, a low-glycemic bean rich in fiber, protein and vitamins. But the noodles don't tout the same profile as they're made from the STARCH of mung beans. That's why a cup of these noodles clocks in at 491 calories; 121 grams of carbs and negligible protein. But if you're looking for the bright side, they have no sugar and virtually no fat, plus, a Taiwanese study says these "low glycemic" (slow digesting) noodles are among the lowest on the GI list of high-carb Asian foods.

Egg Noodle - PASS
Eggs = high protein, low-carb, right? Well, compared to glass noodles. At 221 calories per cup, egg noodles carry 40 grams of carbs, but, unlike glass noodles, contains fat (3g) and cholesterol (30mg). However, and here's the redeemer, you get 7 grams of protein! Considering you can throw some healthy sauce on a cup of these babies and get a decently protein'd meal for around 300 calories, I'd say these are a great option.

Soba Noodles - BEST CHOICE
The Japanese continue to impress me with their health-conscious options (remember when I told you about those tofu shiratake noodles? Another low-cal/high-protien noodle). Enter Soba noodles, made with gluten-free buckwheat (comparable in taste to whole wheat). This makes for a noodle high in fiber and protein, and - our favorite - low in calories and carbs! A cup of this stuff only sets you back 113 calories and 24g carbs, yet fills you up with nearly 6 grams of protein. Masaka!

Now, go boil some water and have a happy pasta time!

**NOTE: I highly recommend a Thai cooking class if you go there. Many organic options, and at some places, you can pick your own herbs from their gardens, or at least buy your own ingredients at the market. I did not, however, enjoy the spider that dropped onto my plate when tearing fresh basil for my curry. :/

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