What are Starchy Carbs and Should you be Eating Them?

By | Carbohydrates, Fuel, Nutrition

Lately I’ve had a number of people talk to me about whether or not they should be eating carbohydrates (carbs) with many suggesting they should cut carbs, particularly starchy carbs as a weight loss strategy. What that means is they would reduce or remove high starch carbs from their diet such as bread, flour, potatoes, pasta, corn, rice and their many derivatives.

Taking a quick look at what carbs are, they generally fall into three broad categories – sugars, starches and dietary fibre. However, within the carbohydrate family tree there are many branches. Starch is a complex carb and there are two distinct types. Regular starch is able to be broken down into individual sugar molecules in our small intestine to be absorbed by our body and used to produce or store energy. Resistant starch, which has more recently risen to prominence, is a type of starch that passes through the small intestine remaining somewhat undigested as it moves into our large intestine. Usually this is because the simple carbohydrate molecules are not accessible to our digestive enzymes due to the configuration and shape of the starch leaving these stubborn little bundles “resistant” to being broken down.

Including resistant starch in your diet is very beneficial. Like dietary fibre, resistant starch aids digestion and provides fuel for your good gut bacteria when being broken down in your large intestine. By eating foods that are resisting digestion we also reduce the amount of simple sugars that we are absorbing from the meal which is usually the main reason why people remove starch from their diet.

Where do we find resistant starch? The nutritional content of food is not always as straight forward as it seems. A green banana for example is very high in resistant starch whereas an over-ripe banana you can smell from the next room is much lower in resistant starch and higher in fructose, a sugar. We experience this as a sweeter taste compared to the chalky, not so sweet green banana. You’ll also find resistant starch in various legumes, raw oats and many vegetables.

Should you remove starch from your diet?

Before you tell all your friends you are cutting carbs, make sure you are clear on the reason why. There are a number of potential diet strategies that can be employed depending on your weight goals, your current and desired energy levels and your food preferences. Removing starch is one strategy but in a lot of cases is not required.

If you love a good carb (like me), there are ways you can improve your diet without needing to place a blanket ban on carbs or starch. Here’s three considerations to make before determining whether or not to keep some of that starchy goodness in your life.

1. Preparation

How you prepare and eat your starchy foods can make quite a difference to the levels of resistant and non resistant starch being consumed as well as the overall health benefits of the meal. One of the best ways to eat starch is via cooked food which has been cooled. Potatoes which have been boiled and cooled remain soft and delicious however during the cooling process some of the starch binds together increasing the amount of resistance starch in the meal. This results in absorbing less calories from the starch and at the same time aiding our digestive system. Win-win. White rice in sushi is another example. Avoiding cooking your starchy foods in trans fats such as vegetable oils will also help you decrease the digestive burden and overall calories being consumed with your starchy food. Sorry hot chips, you’re out.

2. Timing of starchy meals

When are you eating your carbs? If you’re reading this you’re probably well aware that binging on potato chips and Vegemite toast at 9pm is a big no no, likely to result in reduced quality of sleep and deserving of a slap on the wrist. Likewise eating a carb only breakfast is not the ideal start to the day. Eating them after a workout is one of the best times to get your carbs in. Insulin sensitivity is heightened after working out which helps you to regulate blood glucose levels. If you really pushed yourself, you’ll also have depleted muscle glycogen stores which the starchy foods can help to replenish meaning you are less likely to have a surplus of glucose in your blood to be stored as fat. Good for recovery, less likely to become fat. Another win-win.

3. Combination of foods

What are you eating your starch with? By avoiding using starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta and bread products as the base of a meal and combining them with high fibre foods, protein ands fat you can reduce the number of calories being consumed from starch as a percentage of the overall meal. Dietary fibre, protein and healthy fats are far more satiating than carbs and will lead to you eating less calories and feeling fuller for longer. Opting for foods that are high in fibre will also assist overall digestion. My usual advice is to opt for variety in your food and be mindful of the balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) during each meal.

Find a strategy for you

With all general advice it really depends on the goal of your diet, your workouts and your weight status. There are certainly benefits to fasted workouts and post workout fasting just like there can be benefits to cutting carbs. Time restricted eating is another great strategy which can be used as a starting point. Remember, not all carbs are created equal. Think about how you are are preparing your foods, the timing of when you eat carbs and the combination of macros during each meal.

If you would like to have a more specific conversation about your own carb intake, I’m helping people just like you make subtle changes to their diet, exercise routine and sleep to feel better, stress less and achieve more. Simply fill in the contact form here to book your free wellness discovery session.

Confused about metabolism? Here’s what you should know.

By | Fuel, Nutrition

No doubt you’ve heard of the word metabolism. Most people will be familiar with the idea that it can slow down as you age and that a slow metabolism could be the cause of some unwelcome extra KG’s. So, what is it and why is it important to know a little bit about it?

In a nut shell, metabolism is the sum of all the chemical reactions taking place in your body. We often associate it with the rate at which our bodies produce or “burn” energy for movement and normal function. This is known as catabolism, the breaking down of molecules and is just half of the metabolic equation. The other half is the anabolic side, which includes repairing tissue, producing enzymes or hormones and building new cells.

Our bodies are amazing and there are many ways we can produce energy from a combination of fuels found in our blood, stored in our muscles or packed in some unwanted places as body fat. Metabolic issues arise when there is a breakdown in a metabolic process such as one of the steps involved when converting fuel to energy.

There are a stack of possible reasons we can experience metabolic sluggishness, which could include poor dietary and lifestyle habits, organ failure, disease, or it could be a result of genetic or hereditary conditions. Hereditary fructose disorder is an example of a rare condition where an individual has a deficiency in producing a specific enzyme responsible for one small step in the metabolic process of breaking down fructose, a common type of sugar. Without being able to produce FP1 aldolase (the missing enzyme) the person is unable to completely metabolise fructose leading to a build up of certain molecules in the body which will lead to serious health issues if left undiagnosed. Thankfully most of us don’t need to spend much time worrying about hereditary metabolic issues, however there is a vital link between our dietary and lifestyle habits and our metabolism which is important to understand.

Metabolism is like a fire

I recently heard Ryan Faenle, an accomplished nutrition and body building coach, use the analogy of metabolism being akin to a fire. With a lot of high quality fuel, the fire rages on but as the fuel burns down the flames die down so you add another log to the fire to build it back up. Similarly, when you have a consistent diet and are continually adding the right type of fuel to your body your metabolism will act like the fire that regularly has a new log thrown on top. However, making a large change to the amount or type of fuel you consume will change the nature and size of the fire. Understanding this and how it impacts your body can be your biggest advantage or it could be your biggest dietary trap.

Let’s say you start a diet (purely hypothetical of course) and consciously reduce the fuel available to your body. For a time, say 2 to 3 weeks, your body will source the fuel to make up the deficit from other places such as stores of fat and muscle glycogen which will likely result in weight loss. Yay! Winning! However, due to receiving less fuel your metabolic rate may start to adjust, becoming slower as you begin to preserve your remaining fuel stores. Your body craves stability and will do everything is can to adjust to it’s environment. If you continue restricting fuel, your metabolism will continue to slow down to protect you from fading away into a skeleton. This is why perpetual dieting or constant fasting can lead to a slower metabolism and why fat burning results from “dietary restriction” alone will generally reduce over time.

Yo-yo dieting or crash diets are even worse and are one of the least effective strategies when trying to lose weight. Although being on a calorie restrictive diet may give you some initial results, as you start to reduce your levels of stored fuel not only will your metabolism slow down but you will begin to experience hunger. With a small amount of will power this can be tolerated for a while. If you continue restricting calories further you’re hunger may become intolerable and you will experience an increase in cravings particularly for energy dense foods (the sugary, high carb stuff). Indulging in the foods you’re craving will cause you to put on weight faster than you lost it and you’ll now be a step behind where you started. One step forward, two steps back!

Eating more can boost your metabolism

On the flip side, if your body starts receiving a gradual increase in fuel (you’re consuming more calories) it will begin to increase metabolic rate to break down, use, store or excrete the fuel faster as there is now more available. The flame gets bigger. This can be combined with other strategies to increase you metabolism, ensuring that while you increase your calorie intake you don’t just add it all to your hips. Building lean muscle mass is one strategy as muscle tissue is responsible for a large percentage of your metabolic rate due to it requiring a higher amount of energy to maintain and due to it making up approximately 40-50% of your total body weight. High intensity interval training is another proven method and there are also certain foods which have metabolism boosting properties that can be added into your diet plan.

Achieving sustainable body composition goals, creating the shape, ideal weight and tone you desire, usually requires a combination of strategies and tweaks over a number of cycles. There’s rarely shortcuts available in life and resetting your metabolism is no exception. A nutritious diet, proper exercise programming, healthy sleep habits and consciously living a healthier life takes a concerted effort. Boosting your metabolism and your energy expenditure efficiency requires holding a view of the bigger picture to properly plan for the phases and the challenges of your progress. Let me assure you it’s worth it. You’ll be rewarded with achieving the results that you want and creating sustainable healthy habits that you’re proud of in the process.


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