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Starch and carbs, in general, seem to get a bad rap these days. But are they really bad for us? Is starch really unhealthy?

People point to the changes that happened in the ’80s when the USDA switched to using the infamous pyramid and started emphasizing low-fat eating. Then, over the next decade, Americans started gaining weight.

But, is the inherent “fattening-ness” of a baked potato really the underlying cause of our obesity?

I say NO! Here are some reasons:

Checking websites from the USDA, the Farm Bureau, and other commodities, I quickly uncovered that
we are currently consuming several times as much vegetable oil and more than double the amount of cheese we were in the ’70s.
We are also eating more than double the amount of chicken; far more than the amount of red meat we’ve decreased.

Compare:

  • a pound of cooked chicken breast = 748 calories
  • a pound of ground meat = 1,506 calories
  • a pound of baked potatoes = 350 calories!

And it’s no secret that we’re eating more processed starches; white flour & cornmeal products that are laden not just with empty-calorie starches but also empty-calorie fats and sugar.

The white flour & cornmeal, devoid of nutrients, are bad enough but add the sugar and the fat and you’ve got a
5-part recipe for obesity:

  1. Processed starches; devoid of both fiber and nutrients.
  2. Processed sugar, corn syrup or similar sweeteners also devoid of nutrients.
  3. Processed fats (mostly vegetable oils); which are not only devoid of nutrients, but also raise cholesterol and LDL levels, cause inflammation and more; again, with no nutrition and lots of empty calories. (a graph I found indicates that vegetable oil consumption in the US rose several-fold between 1980 & 2000.)
  4. The lack of fiber means they are quickly digested and don’t have enough volume to stimulate stretch receptors in our stomachs, leaving us hungry in as little as an hour even though we’ve consumed several hundred calories. Our satiety centers are never satisfied by this “food.”
  5.  The lack of nutrients means the other thing that stimulates our satiety centers (taking in nutritious food) also isn’t happening here.

So it’s not the “starch” per se that’s the problem, it’s the combination of processed dead starch and processed dead fat & sugar.

Back to the baked potato; it’s not the problem. It’s the sour cream, bacon bits, cheese, and all the other stuff people commonly add to it.

As our per capita consumption of pizza and burgers has skyrocketed along with the “foods” mentioned above that are even more devoid of nutrition, our obesity rates have also skyrocketed. Meanwhile, our consumption of nutritious starches like beans, whole grain rice, barley, millet, quinoa, and more have plummeted. (Except for quinoa recently because it’s in vogue. But eating it once every week or 2 doesn’t make up for what we’re not getting on a daily basis.)

Taking this a little further and looking around the world, we find that the Okinawans, famous for their longevity, eat a diet that is over 60% sweet potatoes, squash, and gourds. . . starches!  They have virtually no heart disease, diabetes, or cancer in their 80s, 90s, and beyond! We also find that in other regions of the world where people eat traditional diets and remain healthy throughout life, they eat predominantly beans, whole grains (starches), and veggies. They typically eat less than 10% of their calories from animal foods (they use meat as a condiment; for flavor). They also use little added oil and little or no dairy.

Further, contrary to what you (and your doctor) may think, animal fat in the diet the cause of type 2 diabetes.

So, if you insist you must have sour cream on your baked potato, here you go!

Vegan Sour Cream
1 lb. silken tofu
2Tbsp. lemon juice  
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp salt.
Blend in blender or food processor until smooth.
Notes: Silken tofu can be found NON-refrigerated, usually near the canned beans or condiments in your health food store. It comes in a box similar to that of (unrefrigerated) non-dairy milk or juice. (I always buy organic soy products so I know they’re not genetically modified.)

Other baked potato toppings:
Salsa
Steamed broccoli
Nutritional yeast (this is a powder or flake. I use it with other stuff as it adds richness)
Spiced black beans
Let your imagination go, there’s much more.

So, when you eat the baked potato mentioned above, you can round it out to a full meal by adding the vegan sour cream or black beans as a protein source, adding a veggie, a salad, or both and completing the meal with a piece of fruit for dessert.

Stay tuned for more ideas.

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