The key to a healthy diet is to eat a wide variety of foods, but the truth is that most people have favorite foods — and it's easy, especially if you're a picky eater or always pressed for time, to get stuck in a rut. Stress can also dictate your choices, and there's no question that the starchy goodness of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chips of all kinds, or a sweet and delicate baked treat fresh from the oven are luscious salves for a troubled soul. Balance is not always easy, but the more you know about how starches affect you, the better the choices you can make.
Basic Facts About Starch
Carbohydrates come in two basic types, according to the experts at Washington State University. Simple carbohydrates are basically sugar, while complex carbohydrates consist of sugar, starch and fiber. Sugars and starches are metabolized very quickly and either used for energy or stored for later use in your cells.
Starches also come in several types. Some are digested very rapidly; some are processed slowly; others ferment in your digestive system, supporting healthy gut bacteria. Examples of starch that is digested quickly include refined white flour, white rice and white potatoes.
Fiber is not digested, but passes through your body. It helps keep you full for longer after a meal, aids in healthy elimination and can help lower the levels of low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, in your bloodstream. LDLs are the so-called "bad" cholesterol that can clog your arteries, contributing to your risks of heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancers. Consuming too much sugar and starch, on the other hand, can have serious negative effects on your health.
Read more: What Are the 3 Types of Carbohydrates?
Effects of Too Much Starch on Your Body
One of the negative effects of starch that's quickly converted to sugar lies in how it affects your blood glucose and insulin levels, according to the health experts at the Mayo Clinic. When you eat too many sugary, starchy carbs, your blood glucose levels rise. This prompts your body to send out insulin to mop up the extra sugar, explains Dr. Juan Gallegos of the University of Utah Hospital. It then causes your blood sugar levels to drop, leaving you fatigued. It may also cause your brain to signal that you're hungry, even if you just ate.
All the extra sugar is stored in your fat cells, which can lead to weight gain. When carbs need to be stored, they bind with water, so you can also end up looking and feeling bloated. This is especially true when you eat starchy, salty foods such as potato chips, tortilla chips or french fries.
How to Focus on Healthy Starches
While too many carbs can cause weight gain and issues with your blood sugar, you don't have to cut carbs entirely out of your diet. The key, according to McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN, of Nutrition Stripped, is to focus on the type of starches found in complex carbohydrates. Vegetables and whole grains, such as quinoa, farro, rolled oats, brown rice and whole wheat, contain a high amount of fiber, meaning they contain a smaller amount of sugar or starch.
Adding a small bit of healthy fats to your complex carbohydrates can also help slow the absorption of the sugars they contain. Saute vegetables in olive oil, add a teaspoon of nut butter or some mashed avocado to your whole grain toast or top a portion of steaming brown rice with a piece of grilled salmon for a quick and simple meal that will keep you both nourished and full.
Read more: List of Good and Bad Carbs