Do 'Safe Starches' Deserve a Spot in Your Diet?

February 09, 2016 | 1,013 views

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Potato Starch Content

There is no scientific consensus on whether starches have a place in a healthy diet or not, especially if your goal is to lose weight and improve overall health. You’ve been told that starches are important for energy, but too much can pose health risks, especially for chronic diseases like diabetes.

The question remains: are there “safe starches” you can add to your diet?

What Is a Safe Starch?

The "safe starch" concept was introduced by Paul Jaminet, Ph.D, in his book "Perfect Health Diet." It refers to starchy foods that lack protein toxins, regardless of their starch content, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tapioca, although rice can also be inserted into this picture.

Jaminet believes that these types of starch can be added to low-carb diets improve both healthand insulin sensitivity.

Meanwhile, in his blog "Livin' La Vida Low Carb," Jimmy Moore (who himself shed more than a hundred pounds) posted a story about a Paleo Diet enthusiast whose anxiety attacks lessened after reintroducing potatoes and rice back into her low-carb diet.

This story, along with other accounts posted by Jaminet on his website, chronicles people whose health positively improved after reincorporating these starches into their diets. They have surely staked the claim that these safe starches are an acceptable component in one’s road to health.

Or did they? Is there really such a thing as safe starch in a healthy diet?

Putting the 'Safe' in 'Unsafe'

Dr. Ron Rosedale disputes Jaminet’s "safe starch" claims. A physician who used low-carb diets to treat patients with obesity, diabetes, and chronic diseases for two decades, he stresses the importance of maintaining insulin levels in one’s diet, and more importantly, that there’s no such thing as a safe starch.

Rosedale maintains that people who add "safe" starches back in their diet, especially when it’s a low-carb one, experience positive effects because they have replaced carbohydrates with high amounts of protein (which he strongly disapproves of), instead of healthy fats. The Rosedale diet is characterized by high amounts of fat oils and moderate protein intake.

Contrary to popular belief, your body actually needs starch to survive because of the glucose in it, which your body uses as an energy source. The main topic of the issue however, is whether sugar from your diet or gluconeogenesis (the metabolic pathway that generates glucose from non-carbohydrate substrates) is the best method for this. Rosedale says:

"There is no known need to eat sugar or starches. If there were, it would be an essential nutrient, which glucose is not. It is not listed on any list of essential (or even conditionally essential) nutrients (that we must obtain [from our diet] because we cannot make them sufficiently ourselves), that I'm aware of."

Your brain converts glucose, its primary fuel, into energy. New research has shown that the brain manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in the blood stream into what it needs to survive. Insulin resistance, which happens when the brain’s response to insulin is so weakened that it stops producing insulin, can lead to brain “starvation” and atrophy.

Healthier ketones, produced by the body when it converts fat to energy, come into play here. They’re used by the brain as another energy source, and are able to restore and renew neuron and nerve functions in your brain if there’s damage that sets in.

Neither your brain, or any other system in your body, relies solely on harmful glucose for energy and there’s another group that can do the same thing in a healthier manner. So why consume so much of it?

The Starch Connection

"Safe starches" is a misnomer that tacitly promotes the idea that they are a one-way ticket back to health. Take note that glucose isn't entirely bad for you, but the negative health impact of excessive consumption is extremely detrimental to your health. The same can be said for fructose.

Rosedale expressed his doubts about the existence of a safe, non-fiber starch, since your blood sugar still increases when starches are consumed, regardless of the state of your health. They'll be more quickly converted into glucose, raising blood glucose in your system. As a response, your insulin and leptin levels will also increase.

While this mechanism is designed to optimize short-term survival, it's not good in the long-run. It can lead to vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels by small muscles in their walls), inhibited fat burning, and reduced production of glycerol substrates needed for producing glucose. A spike in levels can also lead to insulin and leptin resistance, which contributes to chronic diseases and speeding up of the aging process.

Combatting the Negative Effects of Starches

Rosedale mentions an effective strategy for reversing disease and extending your lifespan: calorie restriction, especially those from carbohydrates. These carbs should be the first ones to go and the ones that should be regulated heavily.

There are many plans that you can follow, but I have always stood by intermittent fasting. It's a scheduled eating plan where just six to eight hours per day are allocated for meal consumption. Intermittent fasting can increase your body's ghrelin (hunger hormones) levels, and insulin and leptin sensitivity, lessening your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. It also gives you the ability to become "fat adapted" which increases your body's energy by burning stored fat.

If you want to start fasting intermittently, opt for:

  • An unlimited amount of whole, organic vegetables
  • High quantities of healthy fats from avocados, organic grass-fed butter, pastured egg yolks, coconut oil, and raw nuts
  • Moderate amount of high-quality protein, preferably pasture-raised or grass-fed

If you're still curious about what "safe starches" are and the impacts they can have on your health, read my article, "Potatoes and Rice: These Two Natural Foods Will Throw Your Blood Sugar Out-of-Whack."