Starches are the most commonly consumed type of carbohydrates. They serve as an important source of energy. They are complex carbohydrates and offer a variety of nutrients (1). In this post, we will discuss everything about starches and which foods they are found in.
Table of Contents
- The Science Of Starch
- The Power Of Complex Carbohydrates
- What Are The Starchy Foods You Should Include In Your Diet?
- What Are The Starchy Foods To Avoid?
- What Are The Side Effects Of Excess Starch?
The Science Of Starch
The main function of starch in your diet is to be converted into glucose for energy. When you consume starchy foods, the starch breaks down in your mouth, and the saliva surrounds the complex starch molecules. As you start chewing, this saliva breaks down the complex starch molecules into simpler carbohydrates called maltose.
Once maltose enters your small intestine, it is broken down further into glucose – which gets absorbed into the bloodstream, providing energy to the cells in your body.
Your body utilizes this starch right away as fuel. The remaining starch is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen – for later use.
This is how starch functions in your body. But in addition to acting as an energy source, starch has a deeper purpose.
The Power Of Complex Carbohydrates
Starches are complex carbohydrates. These carbs are made of sugar molecules strung together in long and complex chains. They are digested slowly, leading to a slow and steady rise in blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates are rich in fiber and help improve digestion. They stabilize blood sugar levels and keep your energy levels steady. They keep you feeling full too – preventing you from compulsive eating (2).
There is also another category called resistant starches, and these bypass digestion and contribute to feeding the bacteria in the gut and in the formation of short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which keep the colon healthy. Read on to find out about the foods!
What Are The Starchy Foods You Should Include In Your Diet?
Studies done on rats show that intake of potato-resistant starch can boost the growth of colonic probiotics – including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus (3). Rats fed with potato fiber also showed an increase in short-chain fatty acid concentrations. These fatty acids were found to enhance gut microbiota and even mitigate inflammation in the gut and other parts of the body (4).
Another study shows that the resistant starch1 in potatoes may decrease postprandial blood glucose levels (5).
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains happen to be the most nutritious of starches. The presence of starch in whole grains has been recognized as being healthy for the human body – and more so for the human gut (6). The starch that enters the gut is fermented and produces butyrate, which is one of the short-chain fatty acids that contribute to a healthy gut mucosa.
The starch in cereal grains has also been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer (7).
3. Whole Wheat Bread
This is the bread made from whole wheat, which includes the bran, germ, and the endosperm (the starchy part). Studies have shown that whole grains can cut the risk of obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease. The bran and germ in whole wheat contain dietary fibers, phytochemicals, and other important micronutrients (8).
Rice is an excellent source of starch. One type of resistant starch in rice can take several hours to digest or may not get digested at all. Called type 5 resistant starch, this acts as a source of dietary fiber (9).
But we suggest you keep a check on your consumption. Long-term overeating of rice with lack of physical exercise can increase disease complications.
Beans are one of the best sources of resistant starch. Studies show that foods with resistant research can increase satiety and produce a smaller rise in blood glucose levels (10).
Resistant starch is also one of the best sources of short-chain fatty acids, which, as we saw, improve and maintain the health of colonic cells.
The resistant starch in beans also contributes to its low glycemic index, which is another reason they can be a part of a diabetes-friendly diet.
Beans are also the only plant foods that offer good amounts of lysine, the important amino acid. Intervention research also suggests that beans intake can cut the risk of ischemic heart disease and diabetes and even reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) (11).
Lentils contain just about 35% of digestible starch, and the remaining 65% is resistant starch. This means the body cannot digest a high amount of lentils. This way, lentils have a very low impact on your blood sugar levels. They also serve as an amazing source of dietary fiber.
In a study, replacing high-GI foods with lentils showed a significant decrease in blood sugar levels (12).
Lentils also regulate starch digestibility and glycemic load, thereby diminishing diabetes complications (13). Lentils also contain high amounts of prebiotic carbohydrates that maintain gut microbiota and prevent diseases associated with the colon.
7. Green Bananas
Unripe bananas contain a large amount of starch. If you want to get the starch out of the banana, ensure you eat it before it ripens and softens. A softened banana is a result of starch degradation and accumulation of soluble sugars (14).
Most of the starch in unripe bananas is resistant – it acts like dietary fiber. Unripe bananas also contain pectin. Pectin is another type of dietary fiber that helps unripe bananas hold their structural form. As pectin breaks down, bananas become overripe and soft and mushy (15).
These are the top foods rich in starch. Ensure you consume all of them in the ideal amounts for the maximum benefits. Starches offer energy. Resistant starches, especially, lower blood sugar levels. They aid digestion and reduce appetite – and may contribute to weight loss in a way.
But then, not all starchy foods are created equal. There are some starchy foods you absolutely need to avoid.
What Are The Starchy Foods To Avoid?
Starch is great. But it also depends on where it is coming from. Many processed varieties in the market also contain starch. These are the foods you must be wary of. They include:
- Refined Breads
The grains used to make refined breads lose most of their nutrients during the processing. White breads or enriched breads, or even breads with wheat flour as the main ingredient, must be avoided. Choose breads made of 100% whole grains, which ideally have at least 3 grams of fiber in a serving.
- Commercial Cookies And Cakes
Overconsuming these can be a problem. Most of the store-bought cookies and cakes and other pastries are rich in refined grains, unhealthy fats, and added sugars. They also contain trans fats that can elevate the risk of heart disease and diabetes (16).
- Salty Snacks
Processed salty foods can also be high in sodium, which can elevate your blood pressure levels. These include packaged chips, French fries, pretzels, and cheese puffs.
These are the starchy foods you should avoid. That said, you shouldn’t have an excess of the healthy starchy foods too. Like any food, moderation is key.
What Are The Side Effects Of Excess Starch?
When it comes to digesting starch, excess consumption can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and weight gain (17). Excess amounts of resistant starch may cause stomach discomfort (18). Hence, moderate your starch intake – and stick to resistant starch more often.
The dietary guidelines recommend that 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake should come from carbs (19). For some people with diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance that percentage may be lower – about 30-35%. If you are on a 2000-calorie diet every day, this translates to 225 to 325 grams (a majority of which should come from starches and fibers) of carbs every day. Ensure your resistant starch intake doesn’t exceed the recommended amount of carbs in grams.
Carbs are not bad by themselves. It all depends on what type you consume. The complex carbohydrates, including starch, hold the key to long-term health. Include more of those in your diet – and you will be happy you did.
Any other complex carbs you think we should have mentioned? Do let us know by leaving a comment in the box below!
- Resistant starch – Most starch in the foods is digested to glucose in the small intestine. But there is some starch that resists digestion – it passes through the intestine undigested. This is called resistant starch, and acts similarly to insoluble fiber.
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- “Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
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