30BaD FADs: Frequently Added Discussions
What are starches and starchy foods?
Are grains starchy foods?
Are nuts and seeds starchy foods?
Recently here at 30BaD, there has been some controversy and confusion as to what the definition of dietary starches are and or what starchy foods are.
A common question that comes up aks if grain and wheat products are included in the starchy food category. There has also been some confusion regarding nuts and seeds. Many nuts and seeds do contain starch, and could be considered starchy foods.
This blog post will define starches and complex carbohydrates, explain what foods are considered starches and or starchy foods such as whole grains and bread, wheat, tubers such as potatoes, some beans aka legumes, most nuts and seeds, and show examples of how the nutritional establishment defines dietary starches.
Starch Defined by Science
The Dr. McDougall newsletter states that:
Starch is a “complex carbohydrate” made up of long chains of sugar molecules, stored in the plant’s parts for the future. This stockpile is used for survival overwinter, to regrow the next year, and to reproduce. In the case of grains, the starch stored in the seedling provides the energy for the first few hours of life, before the leaves begin their own photosynthesis. Starchy plant food-parts, are simply called “starches.” Tubers (potatoes, sweet potato, cassava), winter squashes, legumes (beans), and grains serve as organs for storing starch. In contrast, green and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus, accumulate relatively little starch, and fruit sugars are simple sugars, not starch. (1)
According to Michigan State University, starches are complex carbohydrates and come from the seeds of the grass family such as corn or maize, wheat, rice, oats,rye, and barley.
Endosperm: Usually used for flour, provides starch and protein.
Bran: Available in whole grain flours, source of fiber. Bran can be purchased as bran and added to baked products to fortify them.
Germ: Often removed from processed flour, but can be added back to increase the nutritive value. Wheat germ is best baked before adding to doughs for added flavor
Some starches are that have been extracted from the grains can be used as thickeners such as corn starch. (2)
Dietary Starch Explained
Dietary starches are actually complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are one of the main dietary components. This category of foods includes sugars, starches, and fiber. The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. An enzyme called amylase helps break down carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar), which is used for energy by the body.
Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex. The classification depends on the chemical structure of the food, and how quickly the sugar is digested and absorbed. Simple carbohydrates have one (single) or two (double) sugars. Complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars. (3)
Examples of single sugars from foods include: Fructose (found in fruits).
Double sugars include: Maltose (found in certain vegetables) and Sucrose (table sugar).
Complex carbohydrates, often referred to as "starchy" foods, include: tubers and potatoes, legumes also known as beans, starchy vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals. (3)
It is healthiest to get carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients in as natural a form as possible -- for example, from fruit instead of table sugar.
(These words are not the author's but by the offical medical search engine of the United States, Medline Plus and the National Library of Medicine!)
Not getting enough carbohydrates can cause a lack of calories (malnutrition), or excessive intake of fats to make up the calories.
Malnutrition is the condition that occurs when the body does not get enough nutrients from inadequate or unbalanced diets. Malnutrition can occur by not eating enough food. Starvation is a form of malnutrition. Malnutrition may develop by lack of a single vitamin in the diet. (4)
When writing about nutrition and or making medical recommendations for foods, starches may be defined as carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, or complex sugars. Starches may be called starchy foods and used interchangably between whole grains and bread, tubers, legumes, starchy vegetables, and processed starches such as corn starch.
These starchy foods may also be called starches as a simple unit of measurement in dietary control. For example, Weight Watcher's may give starches their own category with various points. Here is an explanation of how Weight Watchers might defined and value starches. (5)
Starch points vary, depending on calories, portion and fiber content. One cup of brown rice has four points; 1 cup of Spanish rice has five points while 1 cup of rice pilaf has seven points, according to "Eat Wisely." One cup of plain cooked spaghetti has three points. Two fat-free crackers have one point, 2 graham cracker squares have two points and a 1 oz. serving of cheese crackers have three points. One cup of cooked oatmeal has three points, and 1 cup of cold cereal has two points. One slice of high-fiber bread that has 3 (or more) grams of fiber per slice has one point, while one slice of white bread has two points.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) defines starches as starches, starch, carbohydrates and or complex carbohydrates. Foods the ADA considers starches are starchy vegetables like peas, corn, lima beans and potatoes, dried beans, lentils and peas such as pinto beans kidney beans, black eyed peas, and split peas, grains like oats, barley, and rice. Grain products in the USA are made from wheat flour, are therefore considered starches and may include pasta, bread, and crackers, and this variety is expanding to include other grains as well. (6)
Nuts and Seeds
From a culinary and or nutritional point of view, most nuts and seeds contain some starch and are therefore considered a starchy food. For example, 1 oz of raw cashew nuts has 6.6 g of starch. Just like grains might be the seeds of grasses and contain a starchy endosperm, so do many nuts and seeds. As flour can be made from grains like wheat, so too can flour be made from some seeds like almonds. (7) (8) (9)
Starchy foods are complex carbohydrates and or complex sugars, and include tubers, legumes, starchy vegetables, whole grains and breads, refined starches like corn starch. Some nuts and seeds also contain high amounts of starch and can be called starchy foods. Terms that can be used interchangeably are starch, starches, or starchy foods in writing, dicussion, and for ease of understanding.
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