Why are we Sweet on Starches? Low Glycemic Load Giant Weighs in. A reader asks…


I heard that the thing you need to watch out for are sugars when you are on a low-carb diet. It is not so much about starches, but more about simple sugars. Is that true?


One answer to this question might surprise you.

According to the book The Glycemic Load Diet, by Dr. Rob Thompson,M.D., the human need for sweet actually plays a rather large role in the desire for starchy foods.

Dr. Thompson discusses the difference between sugars and starches in Chapter 2. Although sugar consumption by Americans is on the rise (about 26% more than before 1970), we’re not consuming this in the form of candy, since candy consumption has remained stable. That rise is accounted for primarily in cakes, cookies, donuts and other starchy/sweet food items. (p. 26) In other words, foods with flavorless starches which rely on sugars (sugar is added to both tone down the sweet and to add flavor to the starch) is on the rise, along with our weights.

Starches are nothing but sticky, white goo. Are they particularly appetizing? If you order a meal at McDonalds, and you place all ‘white’ items to the side in a ‘starch pile’, what do you end up seeing? Two buns (not your own. Keep those in your seat), and a big pile of white French fries.

Aside from the lack of appeal starches lend visually, starches break down almost immediately into sugars in your bloodstream. When they hit your small intestines, they short-circuit back out after only the first couple of feet right into your blood stream (p 33)! That’s not much nutritional bang for your buck.

Adding to this, the human animal was never wired for starches. Look at your tongue (if you’re not Gene Simmons, you’ll probably need a mirror). You will see a vast array of buds, none of which suss out “starch”. They will, however, detect sweet, sour and salty… but not starchy.

Starches are additives, easy to spot, and rely on sugars, fats or other foods to bring out what they are: fillers.

So if starches are so terrible, why do we crave them so much?

It’s the sugar, my dearios. The sugar.

That’s right! Remember, I had you pull your tongue out of your face and peruse your beautifeous buds?

Starches are flavorless. What is left when you chew a French fry? Starch? The stuff you jokingly put into your dad’s boxers last April as a great joke (only you forgot it was a Leap Year and it was still March? Good one, Dad). Starch is broken down into sugar, and THIS satisfies the tongue (your so-called sweet tooth). You crave starches, because your tongue (sweet tooth) really wants sweet, not starchy!

For those folks out there lucky enough to have a sweet tooth only, you bypass the need for ooey gooey starches, and go right to the crux of the matter: what your tongue wants: sweet.

So, those of us who think we don’t crave sweet, and instead run for the pizza crusts, bagels and potato chips? We’re are craving the same thing that those who have to have a chocolate after dinner are craving– sweet. We just take the circuitous route to get there.

If you do crave something starchy, try something sweet instead. I found that when I want something starchy, and had the low-carb, crepe, the need for starch disappeared. I used fresh whipping cream with sweetener and berries to add some more sweet to the delicious equation. Long story short, my tongue was satisfied, and all cravings subsided.

This is why– as odd as it sounds to anyone following a sugar-limited plan like Atkins– Dr. Thompson advocates that if one must have something sweet, have only enough to wrap fingers around, and ensure that it doesn’t accompany starch. Strawberries or those sweet crepes, or even 85% chocolate are all right according to Dr. Thompson. Pies and cakes? Those contain starches and will cause that same short-circuit through the small intestines that a pizza would. You’re going to need more of those highly refined high carbohydrate items to be satisfied than what a few jellybeans will afford the low glycemic load dieter.

If you do opt for dessert, make certain that you eat it as a taste bud satisfier more than as part of the meal. The food should be sufficient to fuel your body. The chocolate square is to provide a final accoutrement in a flavor-filled palate of healthful eating. (p. 72)

So, long story short, even though one must be mindful of sugars (and, in fact, the vast majority of low-carb plans refrains from any sugars whatsoever), watch out for the starches especially. They’re nothing more than sugar cravings disguised in substances that do nothing for you physically, and, in fact, cause negative physical reactions to many who consume them.

For more information:
Dr. Rob Thompson, M.D. website

Information taken from:
Thompson, Rob. The Glycemic Load Diet. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
A few tenets according to Thompson:

1. Starches rely on other foods for their flavor and are nutritionally worthless. Get rid of them! That sauce will taste just as delicious with spaghetti squash.

2. A region which can sense sweet is found on the tongue. Starch is not detected.

3. If you crave starches, try sweet instead.

4. Sweet foods should not contain starches and should be used sparingly for flavor and not sustenance (and only in conjunction with protein and/or fat), but with a meal.

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