STARCHES OR COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© August 2015, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Carbohydrates are “fuel” foods for our bodies. They are of two basic types:
Š Sugars. These are also called simple carbohydrates. They are quite simple molecules. Their names include glucose, fructose, maltose, sucrose and others. They are among the most basic of human foods.
Š Starches. These are also called complex carbohydrates. They are made up of groups of sugars that are bound tightly together. Their structure is more complex, and during digestion they break down into sugars.
This article is about starches. A separate article discusses simple carbohydrates and is entitled Sugars.
Starches are staple foods for people around the world. Some are very good foods, while others that are refined and processed are not good foods today. Among the best are brown rice, blue corn chips, and starchy vegetables such as carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, and yams.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN A LOT OF STARCH OR COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES?
Common foods that are high in starches are:
1. Grains such as rice, corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye, millet, and others. This means that all breads, pastries, cookies, cakes, pasta, spaghetti, potato and corn chips, French fries, doughy foods, deep fried foods, noodles, and pie crusts tend to be very starchy foods.
2. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, parsnips and to some degree onions.
3. Dried beans such as pinto beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas, red beans, aduki beans and many others eaten around the world.
STARCHES REQUIRE GOOD DIGESTION
Starches require a few hours to digest. This is because the starch has to be broken down into sugars in the stomach and the intestines.
WHERE DO COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES COME FROM?
Ultimately, all of our food comes from the sun and the soil. Plants and animals, to a degree, are able to absorb solar energy and then transform it into a form that we can use to nourish and power our bodies. These chemical forms are called sugars, starches, proteins and fats.
The most important group of starches are the cereal grains. The most common grain in Western societies is wheat, which the bible calls “staff of life”. It is used in bread, pasta, pizza dough and pastries. It is also the main ingredient in cakes, cookies, as a thickener and as breading for fried food.
Other cereal grains include corn, rice, rye and barley. Others are millet, oats, buckwheat and some less known ones such as quinoa, spelt, amaranth and kamut. These are the primary energy foods or staples for most civilizations on earth. For example, rice is the major food eaten in China, while corn is eaten widely in Latin America. Thousands of varieties of cereal grains are grown around the world. They are versatile, hardy crops that can be grown in a variety of climates and soils. They literally sustain mankind in many parts of the planet.
Cereal grains can be extremely nutritious foods if they are not overly processed or refined. However, most today are refined. Let us discuss what this means in practice.
Today, most cereal grains are highly refined or processed. For example, white flour is made from wheat. However, the bran (fiber) and the germ (embryo) are removed, leaving mainly the starchy part of the wheat.
This is a shame because refining whole grains removes most of their vitamins and minerals. In making white flour, about 75% of the minerals are lost from the whole wheat.
White flour, deceptively labeled ‘wheat flour’, contains 13% of the chromium, 9% of the manganese, 19% of the iron, 30% of the cobalt, 10-30% of the copper and only17% of the zinc and magnesium contained in the whole wheat. Brown rice suffers somewhat less losses when it is refined into white rice.
Refining whole grains not only removes most of their trace minerals. It also removes most of their essential B vitamins. White flour contains only 23% of the thiamine, 20% of the riboflavin, 19% of the niacin, 29% of the pyridoxine, 50% of the pantothenic acid and 33% of the folic acid. Eighty-six percent of the vitamin E is also lost when whole wheat is made into white flour.
Removing the wheat bran does additional nutritional damage. Bran, which is mainly a fibrous substance, helps avoid constipation and can assist in the production of some vitamins in the intestinal tract.
After the best parts of the wheat has been removed, most flour is bleached with chlorine bleach similar to that used to whiten clothing. When cooked, it forms toxic chlorinated compounds. Many pesticides, for example, are chlorinated hydrocarbons.
Enriched Flour. Almost 100 years ago, tests were made feeding only white flour to animals. The test animals developed fatal neurological problems. This is because the vitamins and minerals in the wheat are needed to digest the flour. As a result of these experiments, our government requires that all white flour be enriched with three B vitamins and iron.
This is beneficial to a slight degree. However, it has caused other serious problems. First, the flour is still deficient in at least 30 other minerals, vitamins and oils. Secondly, adding only one mineral, iron, completely unbalances the food. Minerals normally compete for absorption with each other.
When many minerals are removed through refining, and then a single mineral is added in significant quantity, too much of that mineral can be absorbed, leading to mineral imbalances. This is exactly what occurs today. Fortunately, the non-organic form of iron in white flour is poorly absorbed. Even so, we get too much iron from white flour that is not balanced with other vital minerals.
OTHER PROBLEMS WITH WHEAT
Wheat can no longer be considered “the staff of life”. In fact, it has become one of the most common allergic foods and a food to avoid in all forms. Many people report that when they completely eliminate wheat from the diet they have more energy, fewer allergies, improved digestion and they often lose weight as well. Heartburn often decreases or goes away completely they have less gas or bloating as well. Let us examine why.
Hybridization. Wheat grown today is extremely hybridized. This means it has been altered to produce greater yields, more bug resistance or a better shelf life. However, it has not been bred for improved nutrition or easier digestion, for example.
In fact, the protein content of our wheat has declined significantly over the past century, from about 13% to about 5-6% today. Wheat now contains more starch, less protein and fewer trace minerals. Wheat today is also extremely high in glutamine, an amino acid that has an inflammatory effect on the body. In addition, wheat contains gluten, a protein to which an increasing number of people are allergic. These are just a few of the effects of modern hybridization of wheat. Newer genetically-modified wheat may have even more problems, such as containing some degree of pesticides that are literally bred into the plant to resist pests.
Wheat-Free Foods. If one eats processed foods, eliminating wheat is not easy because it is hidden in so many processed foods. One must read labels carefully, and even then there are occasional surprises. Those who are sensitive to gluten must also eliminate rye, oats, spelt and barley from their diets as well. The clinical name for gluten sensitivity is celiac disease. However, as more people are choosing to eliminate all wheat, which I strongly recommend, more and more foods are available that are wheat-free and even gluten-free. Eating at home makes it much easier to avoid wheat by just staying away from wheat pasta, most breads, cookies, cakes, breading used on deep-fried foods, thickeners and dressings containing wheat flour. Substitutes for these are often easy to find.
The other grains may be eaten in moderation by most people, especially brown rice, white Basmati rice and organic blue corn chips with sea salt. Some people must avoid most grains for a while to help lose weight or if their bodies are high in yeast or candida albicans infection grains may bother their bodies.
Cooked vegetables are a very important food group that almost everyone fails to eat enough of. Starchy vegetables such as roots contain some complex carbohydrates. The best root vegetables include onions, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, golden beets, celery root and parsnips. Others, which are less healthful, are potatoes, squashes, jicama, sweet potatoes, yams and daikon radish.
Nightshades and yin vegetables. Potatoes, along with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and a few others are in the nightshade family of vegetables. This group of foods contains certain toxins that cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Squash, along with peppers, tomatoes and a few other vegetables, are, in fact, fruits and are far more yin in Chinese medical terminology. For this reason, these are less recommended for daily fare. An occasional serving is okay, however.
Root vegetables are often easier to digest than cereal grains, and much less allergenic for most people than wheat. Roots and tubers usually need cooking to help break down their fiber and make them easier to digest.
Starchy vegetables should be a major part of your diet if you are health-conscious. They are tasty and nutritious by themselves, in soups and in casseroles. They keep well in the refrigerator and are generally inexpensive.
LEGUMES OR DRIED BEANS
Another set of foods high in complex carbohydrates is dried beans or legumes. These include lentils, pinto beans, navy beans, garbanzos and black-eyed peas. Others are lentils, red beans, azuki beans, peanuts, soybeans, black beans and others.
Dried beans are staple foods in many cultures, as they are inexpensive, nutritious and they keep well. However, they are not a major part of the diets we recommend. Reasons for this are:
1. While they are rich in certain amino acids, their protein content is rather imbalanced. They are not as high quality proteins as eggs, meats and other animal products. This is not helpful for many people, especially in Western nations.
2. They are more yin in Chinese medical terminology.
3. They are low in a quality we call etheric energy. This is a life energy quality that increases when one is in the animal realm, but is less in the vegetable kingdom.
Soy. Soy should be fermented for best digestion, as is done with tofu, tempeh, and miso and other fermented soy products. Fermenting soybeans helps destroy enzyme inhibitors, phytates and other harmful chemicals they contain. For this reason, I do not recommend soy protein isolate, soymilks, soy burgers and other soy products that have not been fermented.
An important point about all starches is they begin to be digested in the mouth. They will become sweet if you chew each bite at least 10 times. So chew your starches thoroughly.
Some carbohydrates are not well digested by human beings. We call these fibers. These serve as roughage. Sometimes vegetable fibers are classified as soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fibers include psyllium and pectin, among others. Insoluble fibers include cellulose and bran from wheat, oats or other grains. Cellulose forms the structure of most plants and can be digested by some animals. Pectin is a fruit fiber.
Fibers are an important group of food products for the following reasons:
1. Fibers create bulk in the intestines that help move food along in the intestines.
2. Some fibers are used for the synthesis of vitamins in the intestines.
3. Fiber is very important to absorb certain toxins and other chemicals as food passes through the intestines. One of the most important chemicals they absorb is cholesterol, secreted in the bile. However, there are many, many others as well. All foods contain toxic chemicals in small quantities. Fiber is essential to bind many of these harmful chemicals and remove them from the body. Soluble fibers such as pectin, alginates and others can absorb toxic metals as well.
4. Certain fibers can slow the absorption of sugars in the diet, helping to maintain a more balanced blood sugar level.
5. Fibers can sometimes be broken down in the intestines and used as food. In these cases, the fiber is not serving as roughage, but it actually used as food. This is less common in human beings, however.
Most foods contain some fiber. One of the worst sins against healthful eating is the removal of the bran fiber from grains such as wheat, corn and other cereal grains that occurs during the refining process. This tends to cause constipation in those eating white flour and to some extent white rice products.
CARBOHYDRATES AND WEIGHT GAIN
Overeating on carbohydrates is a major cause of excessive weight gain. A common misconception is that eating fat makes one fat. However, most weight gain today is due to overeating on refined sugars and, to a lesser extent, eating complex carbohydrates in excess.
Let us explain why people believe that eating fat makes one fat, and why it is not true:
1. Carbohydrates provide four calories (energy units) per gram, while fats provide nine calories per gram. This leads many doctors and health authorities to think that fats make you fat, but carbohydrates do not. However, our bodies easily convert carbohydrates to fats through the action of insulin and other hormones.
2. Eating carbohydrates increases insulin secretion, and decreases zinc, magnesium and other vital minerals. This can contribute to weight gain and many other diseases. Eating high quality fats does not increase insulin secretion as much.
3. Breads, pasta, fruit and sweets can also alter neurotransmitter levels in ways that cause a calming effect. This can be addictive for some people, leading to overeating on these foods. Dr. Robert Atkins, MD, a cardiologist in New York City, did quite extensive research on this subject. Although he was scorned for years, his research has been shown to be valid.
Here are simple tips to avoid overeating on these sweets and starches:
1. Make sure the carbohydrates you eat are unrefined only. This alone is most helpful. This means to eat only whole grains such as brown rice, yellow corn tortillas, and only the organic blue corn tortilla chips. Do not eat anything made with wheat flour, such as flour tortillas, white or “rye” breads unless 100% rye flour, white rice or white sugar in any form or product. This will limit your soda pop, ice cream, cookies, cakes, and much more. Also avoid anything sweetened with fruit juices, as these also count as concentrated sugars with few other nutrients in them.
2. If you must have honey or maple syrup, make sure it is 100% pure and not laced with sugar and use as little as possible.
3. Be sure to ask for what you want at restaurants. This way more restaurants will begin to offer the higher quality foods. Ask that the bread be removed from the table.
4. Eat some fats or oils at least twice daily if you are used to eating a lot of carbohydrates. This way you will not be so hungry for starches and sugars. Most people also need to eat protein at least twice daily to avoid sweet cravings.
5. If you are hypoglycemic, or just trying to reduce your carbohydrate intake, eat 4 or 5 small meals during the day of a protein food and some fat and vegetables. This will help maintain your blood sugar and prevent cravings.
6. Eat only fresh fruit or frozen berries, and very little of it. Avoid all dried fruit, all sweet fruit like dates, figs and bananas and avoid canned and baked fruit as well.
7. Eat carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. This topic is covered in the next section.
THE GLYCEMIC INDEX
All carbohydrate foods raise the level of glucose in the blood. This is considered an unhealthy quality of carbohydrates. The glycemic index of a food tells to what extent a food raises the glucose level in the blood relative to other foods. To eat lower glycemic index foods, here are a guidelines:
Š Eat cereals with oats, barley or bran.
Š If you eat bread, make sure it is whole-grain, stone ground and sourdough.
Š Among the grains, Basmati rice, pasta, noodles and quinoa are excellent.
Š Eat plenty of vegetables and a few fresh fruits.
Š However, eat fewer potatoes.
Š When eating salads, use vinaigrette dressing rather than blue cheese, thousand island or other sweetened dressings.
The Internet offers long lists of foods and their glycemic index. However, we find that this is not the most important quality of a food to pay attention to. It is far more important to avoid refined grains, all sugars and in particular, avoid all wheat products.
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