McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Starches are a key component of following a healthy, balanced diet.

Starches, also known as complex carbohydrates, are found in starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes and beets, and beans, but they’re also in whole-grain bread, pasta, cereals, and oatmeal. As I pointed out in my carbohydrates basics post, whole-food starches and fiber are slowly digested and don’t spike blood-sugar levels. The problem is many of us consume too many highly processed starches, which can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes. Today, I want to get back to the basics of what it means to eat whole and well—the sole mission of this blog and offer ways you can incorporate starches into your diet and reap their benefits.

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What Are Good and Bad Starches?

According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. The majority of those carbohydrates should come from vegetables, whole grains and beans and other legumes, but many people tend to eat too many refined grains. Think white flour, cornmeal, white bread and white rice. Refined grains can cause elevated blood sugar levels, putting you at risk for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Unlike whole grains, refined grains don’t have the bran and germ—the most nutritious parts of a whole grain—to give it a finer texture. Refined-grain products at the grocery will say that they’re enriched, which basically means some nutrients and vitamins are added back in after processing. 

A Mindful Eating Approach to Carbohydrates

So how many refined grains are good, and how much is bad? I don’t like suggesting specific grams and calories you should enjoy every day because I believe there are a time and place for every type of food in your diet, even potato chips, and donuts. But if you want to practice mindful eating, then I recommend that most or all the grains you eat are whole grains. Some great choices are quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat flour, whole farro, whole barley, millet and rolled oats. And since you know that gluten and I don’t get along very well, all the recipes on Nutrition Stripped use nutrient-dense gluten-free flours, like almond and coconut flour, buckwheat flour, gluten-free oats, brown rice flour, amaranth and quinoa flour. I even use these flours to make my own healthy cakes, cookies, and muffins. 

With that said, the NS Philosophy is all about controlling carbohydrate and macronutrient intake to benefit your body and help it use carbohydrates more efficiently. Focusing on all forms of carbohydrates that are closest to nature, including leafy greens and fruits, can help you reach our weight loss goals and meet your nutritional needs. Here are some other whole starches you should include in your diet:

Starchy Vegetables

While starchy vegetables are packed with a host of health-boosting nutrients, you want to exercise some portion control with them because they have a higher glycemic index, meaning they raise your blood sugars faster especially when eaten alone (i.e. without protein, fiber-rich vegetables, and healthy fat). Everyone’s recommendation for carbohydrate will be different depending on your lifestyle, your metabolic needs, etc.; but at first, try sticking to a 1/2-cup serving or about a quarter of your plate per meal. Fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy veggies, some healthy fats and quality protein for a well-balanced meal.

  • Corn
  • Butternut squash and other types of squash
  • Sweet and white potatoes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Plantain
  • Parsnips
  • Green peas

Beans and Other Legumes

Beans are an excellent source of fiber and plant-based protein, but they’re also rich in other nutrients, like iron, calcium, and potassium. Aim to have at least a 1/2-cup of beans and other legumes with your meal daily.

  • Chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc.
  • Black-eyed and split peas
  • Hummus
  • Edamame
  • Tempeh, tofu and other soy products

Let’s Hear It

Are you eating enough or too many healthy starches daily? What strategies do you use to help you ensure you don’t go overboard on starches and other carbohydrates? Keep the conversation going by commenting below — and connect with us on Instagram @nutritionstripped #nutritionstripped. Want more sound nutrition advice? Sign up for NS Society.

xx McKel