How many times have you heard about "starchy" foods as the culprit behind weight gain?
Or perhaps you've been told to cut them out entirely to reach your health goals?
After serving more than 3,000 clients to meet their health goals, we have encountered every myth and misconception there is and we think it is time to clear the air.
First of all: Starches aren't the enemy; in fact, they're a crucial part of a balanced diet. The key lies in choosing quality starches.In this article we will lay out why they are important and how to hone them to achieve optimal health and yes -- weight loss.
Come with us and throw down everything you thought you knew about the big bad category -- and get ready to pick up a brand new health journey!
Starches are a type of carbohydrate (gasp), an essential nutrient that serves as your body's primary energy source. They're naturally found in many foods, including grains, vegetables, and legumes. When you consume these foods, your body breaks down the starches into glucose, which your cells use for energy.
Diet culture has given this category a bad wrap, but it is not what it seems!These are not an enemy! So, rather than shunning them, understanding their importance, identifying quality sources, and incorporating them wisely into your diet is the way forward!
Quality Starches vs. Refined Starches
Not all starches are created equal. The quality of the starches you consume plays a significant role in your overall health and well-being. Quality starches, often referred to as complex carbohydrates, are found in whole, unprocessed foods.
Good Sources of complex carbohydrates include:
Whole grains: Foods like brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, and quinoa are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. These foods also provide a wealth of other nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Legumes: Beans, lentils, and peas are packed with complex carbohydrates, along with protein and fiber.
Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables, root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, and other vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, and bell peppers are good sources of complex carbohydrates.
Fruits: While fruits do contain some simple sugars, they are also a good source of fiber and are considered a part of a healthy diet.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are not only good sources of healthy fats, but they also provide complex carbohydrates.
They're rich in fiber, which helps to regulate digestion, control blood sugar levels, and keep you feeling satisfied longer.
On the other hand, refined starches are found in processed foods. During processing, the fiber and nutrient-rich outer layer of the grain is removed, leaving behind a starch that is quickly digested and can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes.They are also known as simple or "bad" carbs.
Some examples of refined starches include:
White Rice: This is rice that has had its husk, bran, and germ removed, leaving mostly the endosperm which is mainly starch.
White Bread: Made from wheat that has had its bran and germ removed, leaving the starchy endosperm.
Pasta: Unless it's made from whole grains, pasta is another common source of refined starch.
Pastries and Sweets: Most baked goods, like cakes, cookies, and pastries, are made with refined flour and sugar, both of which are sources of refined starch.
Breakfast Cereals: Many breakfast cereals are made from refined grains and added sugars.
Instant Noodles: These are often made from refined wheat flour.
Snack Foods: Many snack foods, like chips, crackers, and pretzels, are made with refined starch.
Soda and Other Sugary Drinks: While not a starch, these drinks are worth mentioning because they're often high in refined sugars, which have similar effects on the body as refined starches.
Incorporating Quality Starches into Your Diet
Transitioning to quality, complex carbohydrates, or "good starches", can often be accomplished with a few simple swaps in your daily eating habits. It doesn't necessarily require a drastic change in your diet, and the process can be enjoyable and beneficial to your health.
Here are some simple steps to get started:
1. Replacing white bread with whole grain bread is a great first step. Whole grain bread retains the entire grain — the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran provides fiber, the germ contains nutrients, and the endosperm offers energy, making it a much more nutritious choice compared to white bread, which only contains the endosperm.
2. Trading your morning cereal for a bowl of oatmeal can be a significant upgrade. Many cereals, particularly those that are marketed towards children, are laden with sugars and lack fiber. Oatmeal, on the other hand, is a whole grain that is high in fiber, and it also contains a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which has been linked to numerous health benefits including reducing cholesterol levels.
3. Consider swapping out white rice for brown or wild rice at dinner. These whole grain alternatives are full of fiber and other nutrients and can help keep you feeling full and satisfied.
4. When it comes to snacking, opt for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, or a handful of nuts and seeds instead of processed snacks like chips or pretzels, which are often made with refined starches.
The key is to start small, making changes that feel manageable to you. Perhaps you begin by changing one meal a day or even one meal a week. Over time, as these new habits become part of your regular routine, you can continue to make additional changes.
Remember, transitioning to better quality starches is not just about subtracting from your diet, but also about adding a variety of delicious, nutrient-rich foods. This shift in perspective can make the process feel less like a sacrifice and more like a journey towards better health and well-being. Small changes can indeed lead to big benefits over time, including improved digestion, more sustained energy levels, and a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Role of Quality Starches in Chronic Disease Management
Quality starches, often referred to as complex carbohydrates, are fundamental in managing and preventing various chronic diseases. Their high fiber content, in particular, plays a pivotal role in health management.
For individuals with diabetes, or those at risk, the incorporation of quality starches can greatly influence blood sugar control. When you consume foods rich in complex carbohydrates, the sugar in these foods breaks down slowly during digestion. This slow breakdown allows for a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing the sharp blood sugar spikes associated with simple, refined carbohydrates. This steady supply of energy helps in maintaining stable blood sugar levels, an essential factor in managing diabetes.
Additionally, quality starches contribute significantly to heart health. They typically contain high amounts of dietary fiber, which has been associated with a reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or 'bad' cholesterol. Lower LDL levels correspond to a decreased risk of developing heart disease. Furthermore, many whole grains and legumes, which are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, contain important heart-healthy nutrients like magnesium and potassium.
When it comes to weight management, complex carbohydrates play a critical role as well. Foods high in these quality starches are often more filling due to their high fiber content. This can lead to increased feelings of fullness after meals, reducing the likelihood of overeating or frequent snacking on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Over time, this can help in maintaining a healthy weight or even supporting weight loss efforts.
Moreover, the high fiber content of these foods aids in digestion by adding bulk to the diet, promoting regular bowel movements. This can prevent digestive conditions such as constipation and diverticular disease.
While the term "starches" may often be associated with unhealthy foods or weight gain, it's important to differentiate between refined and quality starches. The latter, as part of a balanced and varied diet, can offer substantial benefits for chronic disease prevention and overall health management.
Choosing Quality Starches for a Healthier You
Incorporating quality starches into your diet doesn't have to be a daunting task. By making mindful choices and small changes, you can enjoy a variety of delicious, satisfying foods while nourishing your body and supporting your health goals.
At OnPoint Nutrition, our team of dietitians and nutritionists are here to guide you on this journey. With our expertise and your dedication, a healthier, happier you is within reach.
Let's redefine what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, one quality starch at a time.
Abby Aikens is a Content Manager who works with OnPoint Nutrition to spread the word about better health. With an arsenal of Dietitians and Nutritionists at her finger tips, Abby aids the mission of improving access to valuable information about how nutrition can change lives. Abby knows well the power of good nutrition and believes in the mission of OnPoint to educate and bring better health to their clients.