What are Starchy Carbs and Should you be Eating Them?

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.