The popularity of low-carb diets might leave you thinking that starches are pure evil, at least when it comes to weight loss. But many types of starches -- also known as complex carbohydrates -- contain a wealth of beneficial nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, making them a valuable part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Pick and choose which starches to include in your diet, limiting processed, refined starches in favor of nutrient-dense options such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes.
Beans and Lentils
When it comes to choosing healthy starches, beans and lentils should be at the top of your list. Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician and nutrition specialist on CNN Health, calls beans one of the healthiest starch options because they are a rich source of fiber, plant-based protein and antioxidants. Lentils also contain protein and fiber, and each 1/2-cup serving offers 3.4 grams of resistant starch, which Health.com says helps to boost metabolism and burn fat. Other healthy legumes include dried peas, such as black-eyed and split peas.
Potatoes of All Sorts
White potatoes might be higher on the glycemic index -- a tool for measuring how quickly a food raises your blood sugar -- than other foods, but they also offer a variety of nutrients, including potassium in the flesh and fiber in the skin. Sweet potatoes are particularly nutritious; the skin offers plenty of fiber, while the pinky-orange flesh contains beta-carotene, an antioxidant that could help prevent or manage arthritis and also contribute to the health of your skin, hair and eyes. Sweet potatoes also provide potassium and vitamin C.
Beyond potatoes, choose from a variety of starchy vegetables such as winter squashes, including butternut, acorn and kobacha, as well as green peas and corn. Although these starchy vegetables are higher in calories than other veggies such as leafy greens, broccoli and cucumbers, the nutrients in them include antioxidants such as vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin, and the minerals magnesium and zinc. The American Diabetes Association also recommends parsnips and pumpkin.
Don't eliminate grains from your diet, but rather choose whole grains over refined versions. Expand your side dish recipes to those that include common grains such as brown rice and more exotic options such as whole-grain barley, whole farro, quinoa and millet. Other whole grains include bulgur, oatmeal, popcorn, whole rye, wild rice, buckwheat, triticale and sorghum. If you're purchasing a grain product, such as bread, read the ingredients list to see if it includes a whole grain as the first ingredient.