Starch is an odorless and tasteless complex carbohydrate that many have lumped into the category of foods that are off limits. However, just as there are good carbs and bad carbs, there are also good starches and not so good starches.
While some should limit the amount of starch in their diet, both good and bad, most of us can greatly benefit from including healthy starches in our meal plan.
Simple Carbohydrates Vs Complex Carbohydrates
About 75 percent of our caloric intake should be from carbohydrates, which are the body’s primary fuel source. Since carbs make up such a large part of our diets, we should be intentional to eat complex fiber packed carbs, instead of simple carbs. Simple carbs are made of simple sugar molecules and are a source of quick energy.
Complex carbs are often packed with starch, vitamins and minerals. They are made of complex sugar molecules that are similar to a coil and take the body longer to break down. This slow breakdown leads to energy being sustained for longer, helping to maintain stable blood sugar.
When we eat starch, special protein enzymes break the carbohydrate down into glucose so that we can burn it for energy. Eating resistant, or complex, starches regularly can aid in combating and preventing certain health issues, like lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, and maintaining stable blood sugar.
Read on to learn which healthy starches you should be including in your diet. You’ll notice that many of these foods are fruits and vegetables, as starch is naturally found in plant tubers and seed endosperm.
74 percent of cornmeal is made up of starch, making it one of the best ways that you can easily add starch to your diet. It’s a type of flour made from dried corn kernels that is free of gluten. Therefore, it’s a safe option for those with celiac disease, Hashimoto’s and other gluten sensitivities.
Whole grain cornmeal is the best option, as de-germed cornmeal doesn’t contain nearly the same amount of fiber and nutrients. Most cornmeal is coarse, while some of it is ground into a finer substance called corn flour.
You can use cornmeal in a vast number of recipes including Polenta, Indian pudding, cornbread, corn muffins, pancakes, biscotti and cakes.
2. Sorghum Flour
68 percent of sorghum flour is made up of starch. It’s another excellent source of fiber that’s also an option for gluten-free cooking. It’s also high in antioxidants, that help your body reduce inflammation, as well as fiber.
As if all of that weren’t enough, sorghum flour is also ideal for those looking to balance their blood sugar. This is due to the fact that it is low on the glycemic index and takes longer for your body to digest.
It’s been used for cooking since ancient times due to all of the health benefits it lends. Sorghum flour is known for combating obesity, cancer, some neurological diseases and heart disease. It is also a natural way to lower diabetes and cholesterol levels.
55 to 60 percent of oats are comprised of starch. They are also high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You may notice that oats contain several of the same things as sorghum flour. Thus, they work to prevent and naturally treat some of the same health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Oats are also a better source of protein than most other grains. You can get your daily oats by consuming a number of tasty treats like oatmeal, granola, bread made with oats, and oat bran cereals.
Rice is a good source of starch, but it’s important to note that some types of rice are healthier (and a better source of starch) than others. Brown rice and wild rice are amongst the healthier options and both are good sources of fiber. However, you’ll find that brown rice has almost double the amount of starch you can find in wild rice.
Brown rice is made up of 64.4 percent starch. What makes brown rice healthier than white rice is the fact that it is mostly left intact. White rice is polished, meaning that a layer of the grain is removed that contains essentials fats vital to supporting health. Brown rice doesn’t go through this process and contains far more nutrients and vitamins.
Wild rice is made up of only 38.3 percent starch, making it a secondary option to brown rice. Perhaps this drop in starch can be linked to the fact that wild rice isn’t even technically rice. It’s actually a water grass that commonly grows in rivers and in lakes.
Quinoa is one of those superfoods that you hear everybody talking about nowadays. The reason for this is that quinoa is a healthy whole-grain seed that is rich in starch and high in protein.
If that doesn’t convince you to add quinoa to your diet, then also consider the fact that quinoa is gluten-free, filled with antioxidants, and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Plantains are a close relative to bananas, and like bananas, plantains are rich in potassium and give your immune system a boost. However, plantains contain less sugar and more starch than bananas. The tasty fruit is also rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Regularly eating plantains will greatly assist your body in preventing and fighting a number of health issues like high blood pressure, diverticulitis, high cholesterol and heart disease. To top it all off, all of the vitamin C packed into plantains play an important role in growing and repairing bodily tissues.
Parsnips are the sweet, ivory colored relatives of carrots. 7 of the 13 carbs, in every cup of parsnips, are starches. Thanks to all of their phytonutrients, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, parsnips can contribute to your overall health in a major way.
Some of the health benefits that are linked to parsnips include lowered cholesterol and blood pressure levels, prevention of certain cancers, and a normalization in heart rate.
Eating a half cup of lentils will give you close to 3.5 grams of the 15 to 20 grams of starch you should consume each day. Regularly eating lentils helps maintain heart health, stabilizes blood sugar, and aids in weight loss! It’s just an added bonus that they’re packed full of protein and very affordable.
Comprised of about 20 percent starch, yams are considered to be a low glycemic food. Yams contain a compound called allantoin that is responsible for accelerating the body’s healing process and relieving bronchial trouble.
10. Cashew Nuts
Most nuts contain some amount of starch, but cashew nuts contain a higher amount of the special carbohydrate. They’re filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Including cashew nuts in your diet can help with many health issues, several of which are combatted by other starch-rich foods in this list.
However, what’s unique to cashews is their ability to help create new blood cells, protect against cataracts, and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. They even contain arginine, which works to protect the linings of artery walls.
Most legumes are packed full of resistant starches and chickpeas are no exception to this. Several nations around the world recognized how healthy chickpeas are thousands of years ago, which has led to chickpeas becoming the second most widely eaten bean in the world today.
Including chickpeas as a regular part of your diet can give a boost to your digestion, assist in maintaining stable blood sugar, and help protect your body against disease. This is due to all of the protein, vitamins and minerals that are packed inside.
Hummus is a great option to add to your snack list. It’s a tasty spread, or dip, that’s high in starch and contains more protein than other dips. The main ingredients are chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic and tahini. Hummus is a perfect snacking option for those on a gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan diet.
12. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is a type of winter squash. All winter squash is known to have higher levels of starch, with butternut squash having the second highest level. It is an excellent source of most vitamins, minerals and nutrients, and surprisingly just a cup of butternut squash has even more potassium than a banana!
Eating butternut squash isn’t only beneficial for your blood pressure and digestion. It’s also helpful in the beauty department – offering a smoother complexion and healthier hair.
13. Acorn Squash
Acorn squash, which is similar in shape to an oversized acorn, holds the award amongst the winter squash family for offering the most starch per serving. In fact, the acorn squash has more nutrients packed into it than any other variety of winter squash!
In addition to being packed with a ton of vitamins and minerals, they are also quite low in sodium, cholesterol and fat. Some of the health benefits of adding acorn squash to your diet include prevention of certain types of cancer, stable blood sugar and cholesterol, improved vision, strengthened bones, and skin protection.
Pumpkin isn’t just for fall! You can benefit from its health benefits all year round. Eating foods made with pumpkin will leave you feeling fuller for longer, thanks to the high amount of fiber in the superfood. It doesn’t contain too much starch or sugar but is fully loaded with potassium and other vitamins and minerals.
Regularly eating pumpkin can benefit your health in many of the same ways as other starchy vegetables in this list. However, the powerful effects of pumpkin go far beyond just stabilizing blood sugar and lowering cholesterol levels.
Eating pumpkin can help clear up acne, naturally combat anxiety and depression, and can even prevent breast cancer.
A cup of green peas is packed full of starch and contains a whopping 8.8 grams of fiber! With peas, you still get all of the benefits of eating beans filled with resistant starches, without having to consume all the calories found in beans.
Eating peas can help your body fight infection, could prevent osteoporosis and diseases like Alzheimer’s, and can even help smooth out wrinkles!
Corn can be comprised of between 5 and 48 percent starch, depending upon the type of corn and the method you use to cook it. Sweet yellow corn has the lowest starch content, while white Navajo corn has the highest.
Adding corn to your regular diet will grant you a wide variety of unique health benefits. These include
- the prevention of hemmorhoids
- the maintenance of nerve health
- the maintenance of cognitive function
- the prevention of certain types of cancer
- a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke
- the maintenance of good vision and healthy skin
If corn is a healthy source of starch, then it would only seem natural for popcorn to be a healthy snack rich in starch. Popcorn is a natural whole grain that is low in fat and high in fiber.
To add a little flavor to your popcorn, consider using a no-salt dried herb like basil or garlic powder.
Opting for unsalted popcorn as your new healthy snacking option can improve your digestion, control blood sugar, lower cholesterol, prevent cancer, and prevent several signs of aging like
- hair loss and
- cognitive decline
Eat More Healthy Starches
The benefits of including resistant starch in your diet are undeniable. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean completely eliminating your favorite foods.
As you’ve learned, there are certain foods that you can swap out in place of healthier foods. Instead of grabbing potato chips and french onion dip, go for the hummus and baby carrots. Other healthy switches include
- whole-grain or plant-based pasta (like chickpea pasta) instead of regular pasta
- spaghetti squash instead of pasta
- whole-grain bread instead of white bread
- nuts instead of chips
- plant-based burgers instead of processed fast food
Remember that the key is to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates while being intentional to choose foods that are packed with healthy starches.
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