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Are Starchy Foods Healthy to Eat?

Starch in foods are carbohydrates that your body converts to glucose and there are different diets and opinions on how…(continue reading)

Starch in foods are carbohydrates that your body converts to glucose and there are different diets and opinions on how much you can eat them. The energy you derive from glucose is necessary for proper function, and you need to include starchy foods in your diet; however, there are some instances where you may want to avoid starchy foods. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of starchy foods as well as some reasons why they may be detrimental to your health in certain circumstances. Finally, we will also provide some healthy alternatives to starchy foods for those who may need to avoid them.

What is starch?

Starch is a type of carbohydrate that is found in many different foods. In fact, it is the most common carbohydrate in the human diet throughout the world, more common than even fiber and sugar. Your body needs starch for energy, but too much starch can lead to weight gain and cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Besides being used as food for animals and humans, starches are also used in papermaking, textile production, and as adhesives.

Starch is the way most plants store their energy. When you eat starch that has been cooked, your body breaks it down into glucose which your body uses the hormone insulin to turn into energy. If the starch has been uncooked, it will take longer for your body to utilize it for energy as it sits in your large intestine digesting and is good for the microbes in your digestive system. It is theorized that highly processed foods that make glucose available in your small intestine instead of your large intestine could be the reason for metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes.

Why does your body need starch?

Your body needs glucose for energy and starchy foods are a good way to obtain it. Glucose is the main source of energy for your brain and nervous system and is also necessary for proper metabolism and cell function. Without starch or carbohydrates, your body would not be able to function properly. You may develop ketosis if you stop eating carbohydrates, where your body starts using ketones, which are chemicals that are used to break down fat instead of glucose. The use of ketones for energy instead of glucose is the basis for the Atkins diet and ketogenic diet; however, it can also lead to dizziness, vomiting, and headaches due to not getting enough energy from your food.

starchy foods

Are there any reasons to avoid starchy foods?

Yes, there are some good reasons to avoid starchy foods. Starch is high in calories and can lead to weight gain if you eat too much of it. It can also cause bloating and gas which can make you feel full and lethargic. If you have diabetes, you may want to limit starchy foods because they can cause your blood sugar to spike. Avoiding starchy foods may also be necessary if you are trying to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure.

What are examples of starchy foods?

Some examples of starchy foods include:

Potatoes

Potatoes are starchy vegetables that are often thought of as unhealthy because they are high in simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are preferred in a diet because they are more nutritious, high in fiber, and take longer to digest. In western culture, potatoes are often fried or combined with butter, salt, and even cheese and bacon bits which can all be unhealthy. However, potatoes are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

White rice

White rice is a starchy, refined grain that is a staple food in many cultures around the world. It is relatively cheap and easy to cook, which explains its worldwide popularity. However, it is important to note that white rice is not as healthy as different kinds of rice such as brown because it has been stripped of its bran and germ, which contain most of the grain’s nutrients.

Bread

Bread is another starchy food that is popular. It is made from flour, water, yeast, and sometimes salt. Bread is a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, but it can also be high in sugar and calorie content depending on the type of bread. White bread, in particular, tends to contribute the least amount to a healthy diet. Wholegrain bread or brown bread is a more nutritious and healthy choice when available.

Pasta

Pasta is a starchy food that is made from flour, water, and eggs. Pasta can be healthy if it is whole wheat pasta made from whole wheat flour and contains vegetables, but it can also be high in calories and carbohydrates if it is made from white flour and does not contain any vegetables.

Corn

Corn is a starchy vegetable that is often thought of as being unhealthy because it is a source of carbohydrates but corn can also be a good source of fiber and vitamins.

Cereal products

Many cereal grain products are high in starchy carbohydrates. However, there are also many healthy cereal products that are high in fiber and nutrients with whole grain cereals being the most healthy. Unfortunately, in the U.S., many breakfast cereal products contain added sugar and salt, which can also be unhealthy.

What are some healthy alternatives to starchy foods?

Besides being diligent about eating whole grain cereals and whole grain varieties of bread, brown rice, and using whole wheat flour over their less nutritious alternatives, there are many healthy alternatives to high starch food products. Some of these include:

Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain that is high in protein, fiber, and vitamins. It is gluten-free and can be used in place of rice or pasta.

Beans

Beans are high in protein, fiber, and vitamins. They can be used as a replacement for starchy foods such as rice or potatoes.

Lentils

Lentils are high in protein, fiber, and vitamins. Like beans, they can be used as a replacement for starchy foods.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables that are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamins. They can be used as a healthy option for white potatoes.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a starchy vegetable that is a good source of fiber and vitamins. It can be used as a healthy alternative to white rice and can even be used to make cauliflower rice.

Spiralized vegetable noodles

Instead of making pasta from white flour, you can use spiralized vegetables to make noodles which are healthy options to get more vegetables into your diet without all the carbs.

There are many healthy alternatives to starchy foods, and it is important to be diligent about choosing wholegrain options when possible. However, starchy foods can still be a part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Please read any food labels or food packaging before buying or cooking something to ensure it is healthy for you. 

Summary

Starch is a carbohydrate and a necessary part of your diet as it can provide energy for your body. You may want to avoid starchy foods if you are on a low-carb diet or if you have diabetes as it can promote weight gain and blood sugar spikes when eating too much of it. Examples of starchy foods include potatoes, pasta, bread, and rice although we have provided examples of healthy alternatives for a balanced, healthy diet. If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor, health care provider, or dietician about a balanced diet that is right for you.

References and Sources:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

ScienceDirect

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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