Starch, sugar and fiber are the primary carbohydrates in food. All carbohydrates have four calories per gram of food, while fats have nine calories per gram, but most nutritionists and health experts consider starch and fiber superior choices for a weight-loss program because they are more filling than sugar and "hard for your body to convert into fat," according to "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease." However, some prominent diet experts have a dissenting view about starches.
Starch is a kind of sugar. "Essentials for Health and Wellness" defines starch as a "complex chain of glucose molecules." The carbohydrates that are commonly known as sugars are composed of one or two sugar molecules that are chained together and are also known as simple carbohydrates. Starch and fiber are known as complex carbohydrates because they contain "hundreds to thousands" of sugar molecules, according to "The New Pritikin Program." Starch is digestible; fiber is not.
Starch is found in plant-based foods such as beans, bread, cereal, fruits, pasta, rice and vegetables. Most of these foods are excellent choices if you want to lose weight because they are almost low in dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, while high-sugar foods such as cake often have a lot of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. In addition, fewer calories from starches than from dietary fat are stored as body fat because far more calories are required to digest and metabolize starches, wrote Ornish.
Starch is also a better food choice if you want to lose weight than simple sugars and fat because it provides you the fuel to exercise enough to lose more weight. Simple sugars enter your blood very quickly. Your body reacts to sugar rushes by releasing insulin that removes so much sugar from your blood that you now have a "dangerously low" blood-sugar level that causes fatigue and poor performances, according to "Swim, Bike, Run." Starches, however, "trickle" into your blood and improve your performance.
Eating more complex carbohydrates and fewer fatty foods is important because people who eat high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets "have less heart disease and cancer," according to "Essentials." The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you get 55 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 29 percent from fat and 18 percent from protein, but also reports that you should eat less sugar. The USDA recommends eating more high-starch foods, including dark green vegetables, fruits, legumes, orange vegetables and whole grains.
Highly-regarded nutritionists Dean Ornish and Robert Pritikin and "Essentials," a college textbook, all emphasize that high-starch foods such as potatoes are low in fat unless they're cooked with large amounts of fat or oil as French fries often are. Ornish blames the condiments that people put on starchy foods for the belief that starch causes body fat. However, proponents of low-carb diets, such as the late Dr. Robert Atkins, wrote that many starchy foods, including potatoes and pasta, cause fat by rapidly increasing blood-sugar levels.
- "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program For Reversing Heart Disease"; Dr. Dean Ornish; 1996
- "Essentials for Health and Wellness"; Gordon Edlin, Eric Golanty, Kelli McCormack Brown; 2000
- "The New Pritikin Program"; Robert Pritikin; 2007
- "Swim, Bike, Run"; Glenn Town and Todd Kearney; 1994
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution"; Dr. Robert Atkins; 2002