If I Pick the Potatoes Out of My Soup, Is It Low-Carb?

A woman standing in a kitchen eating in a bowl.Josep Suria / Shutterstock

You may be following a low carb diet, but the rest of your family probably is not. Creating optional dinners with carbohydrates is a challenge. So, if you just eat or take the potatoes, does that make a soup or stew low in carbohydrates?

It's hard enough to maintain a low carbohydrate diet in today's sugar-filled society. It's even more difficult when other members of your family are not on board. Soups and stews are an easy option for week-end family dinners, but they can be problematic for low-carb dieters.

Usually, comforting bowls of broth, protein and vegetables include some form of potato. And, if you are trying to avoid starchy carbohydrates, this can give the alarm.

So, if you add potatoes to a stew, are carbohydrates lost in the broth? Or can you simply "eat" to maintain your low carb diet? To answer this question, let's look at how carbohydrates work in these starchy tubers.

Carbohydrates and starch

Potatoes are called starchy tubers for one reason: they are full of carbohydrates. And, although a carbohydrate is not necessarily a starch, all starchy foods are carbohydrates. Now that we have established this, the question is whether carbohydrates (or starch) escape potatoes when you cook them in broth.

When you boil potatoes, you see clouds in the water, which implies that starch escapes. The same thing happens in a soup or stew, but it is more difficult to see because of the color of the broth.

But there is a problem. Although potatoes release starch and, therefore, carbohydrates in any liquid you cook or soak, it's not what you thought. That's because the starches only bite into the broth from the cut surfaces of the potato. This is good or bad news, depending on a few factors that we will discuss below.

I took out the potatoes, so it's low in carbohydrates, right?

Well yes and no. Carbohydrates can only get into soups and stews when the potatoes have been cut, but the speed at which this happens is extremely variable. It depends entirely on the size of your potatoes and their duration of cooking. The more potato pieces you cut, the larger the total cutting area. And the more you stew them in a stew, the more potato surfaces can break down and release more carbohydrates into the broth.

Thus, in a soup in which the potatoes are still slightly firm rather than pasty, and are not cut too small, there is very little leakage of carbohydrates. However, in a stew that you have simmered all afternoon, with tiny pieces of potato decomposed into porridge, the number of carbohydrates in the broth will be greater. Whether this is a problem depends on how many carbs you limit to your diet.

Considerations and substitutions

If you are on a low carbohydrate diet to manage a chronic illness or maintain a certain biological condition, such as ketosis, consult a health professional before diving into soups and stews laden with potatoes. A doctor can provide you with tools to monitor your blood sugar so you can see if the carbohydrate count in your food is having an effect.

Otherwise, it's probably good if you choose or eat around potatoes. Do not forget that the number of carbs you get in a dish varies depending on the size and length of the cut of your potatoes.

If in doubt, you can replace the potatoes in the soups and stews with other vegetables less rich in carbohydrates. Broccoli and cauliflower stand up well for a long time of simmering and can add a touch of color to an otherwise brownish broth. If other family members want or need more carbohydrates, serve rice or potatoes separately – they can mix them in their own soup!

So if you choose potatoes, the carbohydrate content might be low, depending on the preparation of the dish. It's frustrating, it's opaque, but since diets are completely individualistic, there is no single solution.

The only thing that everyone can agree on is that we love giant bowls of soup and stew… even if you have to remove all the potatoes.

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