Most weight loss plans restrict starchy foods, but to restrict or avoid them you have to be able to identify the foods considered to be starches. Not only that, but it is important to realize that some starches are healthier than others and should be part of a balanced diet.
Why Starchy Foods Are Limited
People tend to think starches are limited on a weight loss diet because they are high in calories, but often they are actually rather low. In fact, many times it is what we add to starchy foods that tends to rack up the calories. For example, if you plan to have a baked potato, a familiar starchy favorite, it is about 25 calories per ounce. That means a 6 ounce potato is only 150 calories. The problem is that we don't tend to eat a plain potato. Instead we add fat in the form of butter, gravy or sour cream. If we add one tablespoon of butter to that six ounce potato it becomes 250 calories, and it is not uncommon to eat three tablespoons of butter which turns your 150 calorie baked potato into 450 calories. That's a big difference. Sour cream is a better option at only 23 calories per tablespoon.
When it comes to foods considered to be starches, many low carb diet plans cut them out completely in the early phases. Even calorie restricted diets like Prism cut out pasta, bread, and potatoes for the first six weeks. If you are trying to lose weight slowly while learning to make healthy choices a regular part of a lifestyle, then perhaps the best approach is to better understand starchy foods and which ones are healthy and which ones are not.
The real reason starches are limited for weight loss purposes or for people with diabetes is because starches become glucose once you've eat them. This is why people with type 2 diabetes can often control their diabetes through diet.
Foods Considered to Be Starches
Most people recognize the common starches made with flour and grains. These include (but are not limited to):
The starches often overlooked are those from the vegetable world. The following vegetables are considered to be starches:
- Acorn squash
- Butternut squash
- Garbanzo beans
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Pinto beans
Whole Food Versus Refined Starches
When selecting processed starches as part of your diet, it is best to choose whole grain varieties whenever possible. We hear the whole grain mantra over and over when it comes to healthy living and for good reason. As an example, consider one of the most common starchy foods-a slice of bread:
If this commercially manufactured bread is made from white refined flour it will have:
- Around 66 calories
- 1.9 grams protein
- 0.6 grams fiber
Now consider the difference for a slice of whole wheat bread:
- Around 69 calories
- 3.6 grams protein
- 1.9 grams of fiber
The amounts of fiber and protein in different starchy foods makes a difference in your weight and nutrition. In both cases, you can eat once slice of bread, but the higher protein and fiber content of the whole wheat bread will help you feel more full longer.
Starches and the Glycemic Index
To make it easier to choose between starches, the glycemic index (GI) can be used as a tool. The glycemic index measures the effect of foods on blood glucose. The GI for white bread is 71 while the GI for a slice of whole grain bread is only 50. To put this into perspective consider what the GI numbers mean. A high GI number is 70 and over. If you are trying to lose weight you'll want to stay away from these foods. A medium GI is 56 to 69 and a low GI is 55 and lower. To lose weight, choose starches from the lower end of the GI.
Choosing healthy, whole food starches can provide you with energy, fiber and needed nutrients. However, even in this case too much of a good thing needs to be avoided. Watch your serving sizes if you want to lose weight. One serving of bread is one slice. If you're eating a tortilla, a serving is equal to one six inch tortilla. Moderation is the key to incorporating healthy starches into your diet.