From my perspective, having been a diagnosed Type 2 diabetic for 33 years, there are no safe starches. My metabolism was ruined 40 or 50 years ago when certain of my genes expressed themselves in response to my excessive use of certain foods, presumably too many highly processed carbohydrates and simple sugars.
When I learned about 17 years ago (as I write this in 2019) that I could manage my disease by changing the way I eat, I was ecstatic. I was no longer doomed to be the victim of “a progressive disease” with a worsening prognosis. I got my life back, so long as I stuck to my new way of eating. I quickly was able to give up almost all the diabetes drugs I had been on for 16 years, I lost a lot of weight (170 pounds), and my lab tests showed my doctor that my health had greatly improved. So, I turned my attention to maintaining my redemption and spreading the word.
Starches are long chains of glucose molecules. 100% glucose molecules. The chains are long but easily broken down by an enzyme that is secreted in the mouth and is also present in the small intestine where most digestion occurs. But many simple glucose compounds are broken down to single glucose molecules before they reach the stomach.
If you think this is a column about the Glycemic Index, you are wrong. If you think it is about “simple sugars and refined carbohydrates,” vs. “complex carbohydrates,” you are wrong. Those are comparisons that you might make if you thought you had an understanding that the former spiked blood sugar and the latter raised it more slowly. This is true, as far as it goes, but if you’re a Type 2 diabetic or Prediabetic, or a little Insulin Resistant (overweight?), it is irrelevant. When digested, they are all glucose “under the curve,” and they all get in your blood after you eat.
In addition, the phrase “complex carbohydrate” is falsely believed to mean any starch that is long chain vs. a simple “sugar,” i.e. a mono or disaccharide, as in cane sugar. Wrong! Bread, for example, is a starch but not a “complex carbohydrate.” Its main ingredient is flour, a highly refined carbohydrate, easily broken down. In fact, white bread has a glycemic index of 100! It is the ultimate refined carbohydrate. And all other breads, all made from highly refined flour, are not far behind. Besides, after water the next ingredient in all store-bought breads is sugar!
So, what is a “safe starch,” and for whom are they safe? For those who can eat them, they are generally whole foods. Paul Jaminet, PhD, in the book “Perfect Health Diet” (perfecthealthdiet.com), lists sweet potatoes, potatoes, plantains, and taro. Kurt Harris, MD, creator of the now defunct Archevore blog, adds yams and bananas.
Both Jaminet and Harris include white rice. Harris says, “Except for white rice, these are all whole food starch sources with good mineral and micronutrient content that have been eaten in good health for thousands of years in many environments by genetically diverse populations. Many of these plants have spread far from their biomes of origin and serve as staples for populations who have adopted them with success for several thousand years.” “White rice is kind of a special case. It lacks the nutrients of root vegetables and starchy fruits like plantain and banana, but is good in reasonable quantities, as it is a very benign grain that is easy to digest and gluten free.”
So, who can eat “safe starches”? Researchers examined diets for many indigenous populations in the world who have not developed the Diseases of Civilization (Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, CHD and CVD, stroke, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s). They found that certain carbohydrates, what they are calling “safe starches,” can be eaten, without vegetable oils, in reasonable amounts (10% to 30% of total calories) by people whose metabolic function has not been compromised by Insulin Resistance. These “safe-starches” people (those who can eat them) are most likely people who are not already metabolically unhealthy or overweight as a consequence of their Insulin Resistance. To be clear, if you are already overweight, you probably have Insulin Resistance, or if you have high blood pressure, or if you have high cholesterol (dyslipidemia), you cannot safely eat these ‘safe starches.’So, there you are. If you’ve followed the low-fat, high-carb “Dietary Guidelines,” and you’re not overweight or not otherwise metabolically unhealthy (now just 11% of the population), you can eat “safe starches” guilt-free and to your heart’s (LOL) content. But don’t forget to put lots of butter, sour cream and bacon on those baked potatoes.