Choosing Starches: Whole Grains & Starchy Vegetables

What Is a Starch?
Starches are a complex carbohydrate found in plants. Plants with larger amounts of starch include legumes, cereals, grains, and some vegetables, including corn and potatoes. Starch provides energy for the plant to grow, similar to how our bodies use starch for energy. There is another complex carbohydrate found in plants called cellulose, the main component of fiber. Non-starchy vegetables have fiber, but little, if any starch. They are less energy dense than their starchy counterparts. In the Short-Term Maintenance Phase, you add starches back into your nutritional plan. You should choose whole grains and starchy vegetables, which are the most nutrient-dense starches.

What Are Whole Grains?
All grains begin as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed of the plant (also called a kernel) and consist of three components:
Bran — multi-layered outer skin of the kernel; contains fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants
Germ — contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats
Endosperm — contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals; largest part of the seed

Whole grains contain all three components. The germ and bran help slow the digestion of grain, helping you avoid spikes in blood sugar. Refined grains have the germ and bran removed before processing, leaving only the white endosperm. Refined grains, such as white flour, white rice, and enriched flours, are quickly converted into sugar and can cause blood sugar levels to spike.

Additionally, when grains are refined, they lose many of the nutrients that make them beneficial. When wheat, the most popular grain in the U.S., is processed it loses more than half of its B vitamins, 90 percent of its vitamin E, and virtually all its fiber. Refined grains have some of the vitamins and minerals lost in processing added back in, but this does not make them a whole grain.

Types of Whole Grains
• Wild rice (actually a seed)
• Brown rice
• Whole-wheat flour
• Oatmeal and whole oats
• Barley
• Whole rye
• Bulgur
• Popcorn
• Amaranth
• Millet
• Quinoa
• Sorghum
• Triticale

Determining Whole-Grain Products

It is typically a whole grain if the first ingredient is:
– Whole grain (name of grain)
– Whole (name of grain)
– Whole wheat
– Stone ground (name of grain)
– Brown rice
– Oats
– Wheat berry

It is typically not a whole grain if the first ingredient is:
– Wheat flour
– Semolina
– Durum wheat
– Organic flour
– Multigrain
– Enriched flour
– Wheat germ
– Bran

• Be wary of packages labeled organic flour, wheat flour, or multigrain because these statements do not necessarily indicate a whole-grain product.
• When choosing loose whole grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, or barley, the ingredient list should include only this grain.

Click here to download a .pdf file with some insight into serving sizes for starches!