Starch is one of the first words that come up in making diet resolutions. You probably have heard it often: “I’m cutting out all starchy foods.” Actually, the link between starch and weight gain is real, but complicated. Here is what you should know about starch and weight gain.
Bad Starch, Good Starch
Starch is a carbohydrate found naturally in such foods as potatoes, rice and wheat. There are good (simple) carbohydrates and bad (complex) carbohydrates. In turn, starch can add pounds only if you overeat starchy, simple-carbohydrate foods such as cookies, pastries and salty snacks like cheese curls or corn chips. Simple-carbohydrate foods have what nutritionists call “empty ” calories. These foods don’t impart a feeling of fullness for long.
Starches and Sugars
At marathon races, you may know about traditional “carbo-loading” parties, where runners lined up at some chow hall the night before the race for pasta piled on their plates. The theory was that all that pasta would give them the extra energy they would need to store as they battled the endurance challenge to the finish line. The body would convert all that starch into sugar during the runner’s time on the road. The pasta binge was a way of investing in the energy they would need for the run.
Running experts, however, no longer recommend night-before carbo-loading. Instead, based on studies, they advocate that runners use moderation the day before and carb-sufficient meals throughout the training period to avoid constipation, diarrhea or any other discomfort that might keep these runners from performing optimally.
They also warn runners against starchy food toppings and spreads. Heavy cream and fat-rich sauces poured over the pasta and high-calorie, fat-laden salad dressings over the salad are risk factors for slowing runners’ systems down at the race.
If you are not a marathon runner, then nutritionists warn that the excess sugars released in your system as a result of overeating starchy foods, in the form of second helpings or large portions, are stored as body fat. Weight gain is more than likely.
What Really Matters
Starch in and of itself does not pack on the pounds. It’s how you treat starch. Two abuses will lead to weight gain. Overating is one. What you add to the starchy food is another.
The problem with starchy foods that are “refined,” as in white bread, white rice and pastries, is that there is little fiber and nutrients to make you feel satisfied. No matter how many calories you consume, you feel like eating more. As a result, you are at risk of eating too much, and that means weight gain.
The other problem is that, while white rice per cup and white bread per slice are low in calories, they are tasteless and need toppings. High-calorie toppings, such as fatty cheese sauce, or bread spreads, such as butter and jam, pack on the calories, not the starch themselves.
Complex carbohydrates are nutritious, starchy foods that will not lead to weight gain when used in proper portions. Remember not to give up on all the vitamins, minerals and appetite-satisfying fiber found in whole wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal and beans.