"Which starch would you like with your dinner?" the waiter asked.
He wanted to know if I prefered a baked potato, rice, or corn on the cob with my fish and steamed veggies. Or maybe a side order of pancakes.
His question surprised me, and I could have shot back a question of my own: "What makes you think that I like to eat any starch?" But I remained civil and simply declined his offer.
While starches and sugars are the cheapest foods and are the mainstay of the typical American diet, they aren’t for me. Truly, they aren’t for anyone who has diabetes because diabetes is a disturbance of carbohydrate metabolism where our blood glucose level rises above normal. Starch breaks down into simple sugars in our digestive system and raises our blood glucose levels higher and faster than anything else we possibly could put in our mouths.
Cutting out sugar is easy, even if we have a sweet tooth. We have some great sweeteners that don’t have any carbs or calories. But we don’t have any alternatives to starch – we simply have to eliminate it or at least cut back on it as much as possible.
Potatoes are among our starchiest foods. For example, baked Russet Burbank potatoes have an even higher glycemic index than pure glucose, according to the Revised International Table of Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) Values – 2008.
Did you ever try to eat a baked potato without butter, sour cream, or chives? If you did, you know how bland it is.
"Starch in its pure form is a white, odorless, tasteless, carbohydrate powder," admits Dr. John McDougall. This is the guy who writes in his forthcoming book, The Starch Solution, that, "The proper diet for human beings is based on starches. The more rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beans you eat, the trimmer and healthier you will be."
But not for human beings who have diabetes. I followed his high-carb McDougall Plan diet a decade ago, and my weight ballooned up to 312 pounds. Now, on a very low-carb diet my weight and A1C levels are each about half of what they were on his plan. Even though starch is tasteless, most Americans eat a lot of it and not just because it’s cheap. We know that at least some starches contain opioids, as I wrote here at "Wheat and Other Grains Can Be Addicting to People with Diabetes. The five food groups that Dr. McDougall named, and which I cite above, are a good place for people with diabetes to start to eliminate from our diets. But he left out the most important one, wheat and wheat products, as I wrote in my review here, Lose Your Wheat Belly for Diabetes Health. Most of the so-called foods that you find in our supermarkets and even in our natural food stores have lots of starch in them. The worst offenders are wheat and those five groups that Dr. McDougall names. But we also need to watch out for many more.
The NutritionData website has a convenient list of the 433 foods – not food groups – that have the most grams of starch in a 200-calorie serving. Not surprisingly, rice, potatoes, corn (as in cornmeal), wheat (as in Shredded Wheat), and oats (as in oatmeal) lead the list. But lesser known grains – barley, millet, amaranth, kamut, spelt, and teff – are also high in starch. Quinoa, which is not actually a grain, has almost as much starch as those grains.
Peas and carrots also contain a fair amount of starch. Two of my favorite vegetables, cucumbers and okra, have a little starch, I learned to my dismay. Even some fruits – bananas, prunes, and figs – are on the list. Among the nuts, cashews are the highest in starch. But most vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds have little if any starch. Meat, fish, most dairy products, and eggs have none. These are truly the foods that will keep us trimmer and healthier.
David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 keep his diabetes in remission without any drugs. He can be found on Twitter @davidmendosa and on Facebook at David Mendosa.