Beyond Trim: Don’t resist starches

Sherry DeWalt

When it comes to carbohydrates there are a lot of misconceptions. Some people avoid “carbs” because they think they cause weight gain or because they might raise blood sugar too quickly.

And among carbohydrates it is sometimes the “starchy” carbohydrate foods that people put at the top of their list of foods to be avoided. That’s too bad because starches, like potatoes, beans, squash, etc., can be a part of a healthy diet and may have many health benefits.

Some of the most common starchy foods in the United States diet are white bread, cakes and noodles. These foods consist of a lot of highly digestible starch, which does indeed raise blood sugars quickly and may contribute to insulin resistance.

Scientists have been focusing on starches that are digested more slowly and have coined the term “resistant starches” to differentiate them from more simple forms of starch. These slowly digested starches pass through the upper digestive track and reach the colon. There they are fermented by good bacteria. This fermentation process produces important substances like short chain fatty acids that help reduce your risk for colon cancer, improve nutrient absorption and affect hormone secretion, all of which can improve both physical and mental health.

Resistant starches may be found in root vegetables, grains, some fruits, plus beans and legumes. There is a classification system that ranks starches in terms of their resistance. The degree of resistance may depend on the level of processing, ripeness and whether the starch is consumed in raw or cooked state. For example, whole wheat bread contains more resistant starch than white bread and raw, or cooked and cooled potatoes have more resistant starch than cooked potatoes that are eaten while still hot or warm. And a green banana has more resistant starch than an overripe banana.

You may have heard of the glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly a food is digested. The glycemic index is another way to determine which starchy foods have the most “resistant” qualities. Some of the starchy foods that have the lowest glycemic index are whole grain spaghetti, oat porridge, sweet potatoes, and most beans and legumes.

Carbohydrates in the form of whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains or beans are essential to our health. They provide energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals. So choose wisely, but don’t be afraid to include starchy carbohydrates in your diet.

  • Sherry DeWalt is a certified health and nutrition coach and healthy lifestyles coordinator with the CGH Health Foundation.
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