In this article, carbohydrates and starch mean the same; the two words will therefore be used interchangeably.
It is very common on many lips the fact that starchy foods cause weight gain. Excess starch is stored as fat; that is why it leads to weight gain. For this reason, some people do not want to eat them. It is very common to see such people eating only vegetable salads or drinking blended vegetables so they can lose weight and stay healthy. These same people will eat only fruits, say; half of a large watermelon, as lunch. They do not know that watermelon and other fruits are also full of sugar which is also starch or carbohydrate. I am happy to note that there are people who need to lose weight but eat optimal amounts of starchy foods three times daily, lose their weight and life is going on in a very healthy manner.
It is common these days to see people go on very low carbohydrate diets in a bid to lose weight. In place of the carbo, they eat more fat and protein. Certainly there is weight loss, often to their satisfaction. This does not however happen without a few other problems showing their ugly heads. This simply proves a point that the good old carbo or starch has something good to offer the human body. Apart from these undesirable effects; there is a bigger question as to whether those going without carbohydrates can keep doing that for the rest of their lives. Imagine that at age 23, you ditched starchy foods and you wish to live till 80; will you be able to avoid rice, banku, kenkey, etc for the next 57 years? Well, lets continue with some more lessons on starch or carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are also just a food group that has to be included in a healthy meal. Without them, one cannot compose a healthy and well balanced meal. The World Health Organization advises that these foods (carbohydrate or starch) contribute up to 55% to the energy that a plate of food delivers to us. About 30% must come from fats and oils and 15% from protein foods.
We have three broad classes of starchy foods. These are complex and simple starches. The complex ones can be classified further as indigestible and digestible starches. The indigestible ones, as the name implies cannot be digested by humans, but they are essential for good health. These are also known as fibre or roughage. We get these starches or roughage from leafy foods (kontonmire, lettuce, cabbage, etc), vegetables (okro, garden eggs, onions, spring onions, green pepper, etc), legumes (beans, groundnut, etc), we get them from fruits as well (mango, orange, pineapple, pawpaw, etc), we also get them from complex carbohydrate sources.
The digestible complex carbohydrates are largely digestible by humans, the end product of their digestion are the simple carbohydrates. Examples of these complex carbohydrate sources include rice, maize, wheat, sorghum, yam, plantain, cassava, potatoes, etc. Portions of these digestible starches are also indigestible; these components are known as fibre.
Simple carbohydrates include glucose, fructose, etc. these ones need no digestion. In fact, they are just ready for absorption into the blood once taken in. Glucose mostly results from complex starch digestion. Fructose occurs naturally in fruits. Another simple starch called galactose results from the breakdown of the starch in milk called lactose.
In the end, all digestible complex starches are broken down into simple ones. They are the forms in which starchy foods energize they body. It is in this form that even the human brain uses starches for energy.
Apart from the indigestible starches or roughage, all other types have to be eaten in moderation. One can hardly compose a healthy well balanced meal without these starchy foods. Once eaten in moderation, complex starches will be broken down to energize the body for its activities. If these complex starches are fried, the oil used adds more energy to them; compared to their boiled or roasted forms. It is therefore better to consume less of the fried ones. Eat them boiled more of the time.
Once boiled, combine them with vegetable stews and soups like kontonmire stew, garden egg stew, okro soup, among others. These stews and soups should however not be full of oil.
Table sugar as a simple starch should also be consumed in moderation. Sugar comes in different forms and colours. We have the usual white sugar, a type many people will shy away from. There is also brown sugar. A lot of people have now switched to taking brown sugar. This is not a wrong move at all but I want all to know that there is very little difference if any between the two. In the end, they both give us glucose in similar quantities if same amounts are consumed. The safest thing to do is to have them both in moderation. Also be mindful of white sugar which has been coloured brown, often it is mixed with honey and presented as brown sugar. Honey also contains sugar. Taking them in moderation should be the main thing. Those who have decided to take honey and not sugar anymore must take note. Taking it in small quantities is just fine. Do not see it as natural sugar and so abuse it.
We also have to be mindful of the sugar in soft drinks, fruit juices and fruits as well. Here too, moderation is key. Fresh fruits are a better choice compared to fruit juice. For the juices too the ones made by blending the fruits are better than those done by just squeezing the sap from the fruits. Bottom-line is all these are great sources of sugar and other nutrients. If you want to lose weight and for that matter resort to taking only fruits and fruit juices, you can lose the battle because they also contain sugar. Besides they do not constitute balanced meals when eaten alone. I am not by this suggesting that those who want to lose weight should stay off fruit juices; they just have to sincerely not abuse them. That is all.
Bread is a starchy food as well. It also comes in different forms, shapes and colours. Brown bread is a healthier choice among types such as sugar bread, butter bread, milk bread, chocolate bread, just to mention a few. I actually mean whole wheat bread; not brown bread. Wheat bread is popularly known as brown bread anyway. Eat bread in moderation as well and also learn to have it without cheese, butter, margarine all the time; or limit these add-ons. If eaten late at night, bread can make you gain weight. So taking tea and bread in place of a heavy meal at a time such as 9pm is not a healthy practice. Thus for those who are willing to eat healthy. I see patients who think that bread is a light food, meaning it is low in energy or calories and so they easily take it late at night. This is not true. As mentioned earlier weight gain is given a major boost by consistently eating so much bread late at night.
We all eat rice, yes it is also a starchy food. Am sure most people prefer polished long grain rice because it tastes good. It however has most of its fibre or roughage removed which should make it a less preferred choice for those who are willing to eat healthy. Whole meal rice or brown rice or unpolished rice is a better choice. When selecting this type of rice, look out for the chuff around the grain. Some bad people have the white rice coloured brown; this type loses the brown colour when washed. Eating rice with vegetable stews and or vegetable salads is a good combination. Prepare Jollof rice with little oil and it will be healthy.
Porridges or cereals like corn dough porridge, hausa koko, tom brown, oats, among others are healthy starchy foods as well. Having them with just a little sugar and milk is the way to go. Taking them late at night will also lead to weight gain. See, the difference between these porridges and solid foods like banku, kenkey and fufu is the fact that the porridges have more water added. They are all starchy. They have similar energy value compared to banku, fufu and Kenkey. Eating them earlier in the day is a healthier decision. So eat breakfast early sometime before 8am, lunch sometime between 12noon and 1pm and supper latest by 6.30pm. Sticking to these golden meal times also means that you can have starchy foods; but keep an eye on the quantities.
Biscuits are a great source of carbohydrates as well. They are loaded with both the complex and simple ones. Choose sugar free types over the sweetened ones any day if your consideration is good health and wellness. Thankfully, biscuits come in various varieties which can enable the consumer go for healthier options. Eat the very sweet and rich biscuits in moderation.
Beverages also have carbohydrates mostly in the form of added sugars. They should therefore be consumed in smaller amounts in order not to end up loading on sugar.
We need starchy foods every day. Let us cook them well, let us eat them in moderate quantities, let us retain their roughage and let us eat them at the right time. Do not bastardize starchy foods. Do not ditch them at all; just eat them wisely.
By Wise Chukwudi Letsa