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How to Reverse Chronic Disease with Diet

Updated on March 14, 2021
Sam Montana profile image

Sam is certified in optimal nutrition from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and enjoys writing about health and healing.

Healthy starch
Healthy starch

This article will dispel all of the myths that starches and carbohydrates are bad for your weight and health. A starch based diet will not only help you lose weight and fat, but also reverse chronic disease like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems.

Starch is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and also one of the most misunderstood foods. It is important to remember that there are good starches and bad starches just like there are good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates. Starches are almost the same as carbohydrates, but not exactly. To put it simply, all starches are carbohydrates, but all carbohydrates are not starches.

How Starches Got a Bad Name

There are four types of molecules in all of our foods; water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (lipids). All plant foods contain carbohydrates, while no animal foods contain carbohydrates.

Without getting into all of the science, basically there are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars found naturally in milk, dairy products, and fruit juice (fructose). Simple carbs are foods that digest quickly and can spike blood glucose levels quickly. It is important to keep in mind that fruit contains many vitamins, nutrients, and fiber, while fruit juice does not contain the fiber, and fructose without fiber can cause weight gain.

Complex carbohydrates are starches that are formed by longer saccharide chains, which mean they take longer to break down and digest. All starches are complex carbohydrates.

Here is one of the reasons that starches and carbohydrates in general got their bad name. A few examples of unhealthy complex carbohydrates and unhealthy starch foods include white bread, cakes, pastries, donuts, and many other similar foods. It is important to remember is that these bad and unhealthy complex carbs are all highly processed foods that contain other unhealthy ingredients including fats, oils, sugars and sometimes added chemicals.

But there are plenty of healthy starch and complex carbohydrate foods like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta and bread, whole oats, bulgur, brown rice, quinoa and legumes like black beans, red beans, white beans, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils, and chickpeas (garbanzo beans).

Whole wheat pasta
Whole wheat pasta

The Misunderstood White Potato

Potatoes are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and too often people, including doctors and scientists, wrongfully put the bad starches in with the good starches. I read a recent study about food and diet; the scientists had the participants enter a score for each food they ate. Foods in the good category were rated a score from +1 to +5, and the bad foods were graded a score from -1 to -5.

Unfortunately, these scientists had listed in the bad food category potatoes / French fries. When the study came out and was published in major magazines, the last paragraph just said potatoes are bad for you. There is no comparing a plain baked white potato with French fries that are normally cooked in oil and grease. This is how potatoes got a bad name.

Starches Are Health Foods

Potatoes are of course just one example of a starch food that many people think are unhealthy, and that they are going to get fat eating potatoes, whole grain breads and whole grain pasta.

You cannot get fat eating a baked potato, unless you put butter, margarine, sour cream and or bacon on the baked potato. It is the fats you put on top of a baked potato that is unhealthy and causes weight gain.

When the potato was first introduced to Europe, Europeans thought they were poisonous and would only feed prisoners white potatoes. It was when they noticed that the prisoners were healthier than they were and started thinking that the potato did not contain poison.

The Irish sure knew potatoes were healthy and they not only survived but thrived eating a diet that mainly consisted of potatoes as has many civilizations throughout history.

Nutrients in a Baked White Potato

The baked potato all by itself is loaded with vitamins and minerals. This is a partial list of the nutrients in 1 medium sized (173 grams) baked potato with the skin, no salt:

Nutrient
Amount
Percent daily value
Calories
161
 
Calories from fat
2
 
Total fat
0.2 g
 
Sodium
17.3
1%
Potassium
926 mg
 
Sugar
2 g
 
Fiber
3.8g
16%
Protein
4.3 g
 
Vitamin B6
0.5 g
42%
Vitamin C
16.6 mg
28%
Iron
1.9 mg
24%
Magnesium
48.4 mg
14%
Phosphorus
121.1 mg
13%
Zinc
0.6 mg
5%
Copper
0.2 mg
11%
Manganese
0.4 mg
14%
Niacin (B3)
2.4 mg
13%
Folate (B9)
48.4 ug (micrograms)
13%
Choline
25.6 mg
5%

As you can see, just one white baked potato has plenty of nutrients with a low amount of calories and practically no fat. This is a good example of a nutrient dense food and you cannot get fat eating a potato, unless you put fat on it.

Forget the Glycemic Index

With so much talk today about all of the low carbohydrate / high fat diets, like the paleo or ketogenic diets; it is hard to know who is exactly right. Even those that follow a form of the paleo diet believe that our bodies need good starches. In fact, without carbohydrates, we could not function.

The first thing you need to do is forget about the glycemic index (GI) as a dietary aid. When you consider that the regions of the planet that eat a mainly starch based diet and a higher glycemic index diet, they are usually free of obesity and diabetes.

When you look at the regions of the planet that eat a high fat / low carbohydrate, low glycemic diet, is usually the places you will find the most obesity and diabetes. A low glycemic index diet mainly contains foods like meat, cheese, oils, and fats. But according to the glycemic index, those people should be the healthiest, yet it is usually just the opposite.

Most of us have a good basic knowledge of which foods would cause weight gain and be unhealthy, but using the glycemic index as a strict guideline as to what to eat, you would eat candy bars instead of carrots or a baked potato for weight loss and good health.

If you were to use the GI as a dietary guide as what to eat to be healthy, consider the following GI number comparisons. So-called healthy foods have a GI under 50 and so-called unhealthy foods have a glycemic index above 50.

Low GI foods
High GI foods
Chocolate cake (38)
Nabisco Shredded Wheat (83)
No bake egg custard (35)
Baked potato (85)
Nestle Quick Strawberry drink (35)
Brown rice (87)
Sara Lee premium ice cream (37)
Carrots (92)
Chocolate milk with sugar (34)
Parsnips (97)
M&Ms with peanuts (33)
Boiled potato (101)
Egg fettuccini (32)
Jasmine rice (109)
Pizza Supreme (30)
 
Greasy pizza supreme
Greasy pizza supreme

I think most would agree that you will gain more weight having a pizza supreme than you would by eating a baked potato. Today, most scientist say to leave the glycemic index in the laboratory where it belongs, not as a dietary guideline.

Resistant Starch and The Potato Hack

Resistant starch has been known about for several decades but it has only recently received public attention. Resistant starch might be the key to losing weight and regaining health as it can reverse certain chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome, and diabetes (type II).

Resistant starch is a starch that is resistant to normal digestion in the small intestine. When it passes into the large intestine, it is broken down where it feeds the good bacteria in our gut. This makes resistant starch the perfect prebiotic foods.

Many people trying to lose weight and or regain health avoid many types of starchy foods because they fear that their blood sugar will spike and the starches will be stored as fat. Resistant starch foods like seeds, unprocessed whole grains, legumes (beans), and potatoes help you stay full longer, because they are slow to digest, which in turn helps you to consume less calories per day. Resistance starch burns fat without storing the fat, and according to numerous studies, it increases metabolism.

A fascinating book, that will help you understand all of this and the incredible health benefits of resistant starch is The Potato Hack by Tim Steele. This book has a great explanation of resistant starch including scientific evidence that is easy to understand.

Tim Steele has come up with what he calls The Potato Hack. This diet is to be done for only short periods at a time, usually three to five days. On this diet you will eat nothing but white potatoes and nothing else. You can have potatoes that are baked, boiled, mashed and potato soup. You can have nothing else, and certainly no butter, margarine, sour cream, oil or yogurts on the potatoes, but you can add just a little salt or pepper if that helps.

When you make mashed potatoes, you cannot use any type of butter or other fats, and that is very important. In his book he does explain cooking methods to help you through this.

Eating nothing but white potatoes for three to five days has great health benefits. At the end of three days, you will lose weight and your insulin sensitivity will improve. Insulin resistance is what can lead to diabetes type II and obesity, and this simple diet can reverse insulin resistance. Another health benefit of the potato hack is that it will heal your digestive problems.

I have done the potato hack twice now, the first time for five days and the second for three days, both times I have lost weight, noticeably lost fat, and felt great afterwards.

Healthy potato wedges
Healthy potato wedges

Reverse Chronic Disease With The Starch Solution

Another important book is The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, as it will explain the health benefits of a starch based diet. Dr. McDougall is a well-known physician and nutrition expert that has for the past 40 years been a proponent of how diet and the food we eat affects our health.

He does not call himself a vegan, but a starchavore. He promotes a healthy way of eating that is high in good carbs and starches and very low in fat. An entirely plant based whole food diet without any types of animal foods, dairy products and no oils.

Dr. McDougall along with other doctors state that oils and fats are the main cause of many of today’s chronic diseases like obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), arthritis, and diseases caused by inflammation.

It is the oils like canola oil, olive oil, and other oils that actually cause the heart arteries to become constricted and the fat to be stored, and there is plenty of scientific evidence today backing this up.

As for gaining weight, when you look at it strictly from calories, oil has twice the calories than either carbohydrates or protein do. Carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram, while oil has 9 calories per gram.

The Starch Solution will completely explain how a person can not only lose weight and fat with a change in diet, but also reverse chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes type II, with many people that follow this way of eating going off all of their medications for various chronic disease and illnesses.

This book or many of his other books will explain just how a change in diet can help everyone lose weight and reverse chronic disease. This book will explain the importance of a starch based diet and how it has a positive effect on insulin and our health. Throughout the book, there are personal success stories from those that follow a plant based, high starch, low fat diet along with great recipes.

After just 2 months of following the way of eating that Dr. McDougall outlines in this book, you will notice weight loss, not to mention the loss of fat all over your body, not just your middle. Your face will look noticeably thinner and healthier, to the point friends and coworkers might even ask you what is different about you. Aches and pain will disappear and you will get out of bed each morning with more energy.

You might think this way of eating has no foods left to eat. But there are thousands of recipes that are not only healthy but also taste great. Foods you are used to such as bean burritos, pasta, pancakes, chili and much more, just no oil and very low fat.

If you're fed up with taking numerous medications every day, this way of eating can reverse chronic disease to the point your doctor could very well take you off your medications.

If you are still skeptical about this, the following video is excellent as Dr. McDougall explains a starch based low fat diet.

© 2018 Sam Montana

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    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      15 months ago from India

      A very informative hub.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is an eye openener for me. We have a bag of potatoes right now which we bought when the kids were here and since we no longer eat much carbo, I thought of just throwing it. Now, I will definitely bake them as I like to do these with small potatoes in the barbecue with a bit of olive oil and rosemary. Thanks for this Sam.

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