By Candace Mattingly

Do you crave potatoes, pasta, corn, or rice? Of course, you do! There’s a good reason for these, almost primal, cravings that might surprise you. And, you might want to consider heeding the temptation for your health’s sake.


To understand the importance of starch, we must first understand carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made by plants and stored in their leaves, stems, roots, and fruits. Plant foods contain both simple and complex carbohydrates in various amounts. Fruits are often more than 90 percent carbohydrate, but most of their carbohydrates are the sweet-tasting simple forms of carbohydrate, such as glucose and fructose. Green and yellow vegetables store most of their calories as complex carbohydrates, but since they contain very few total calories, the amount of complex carbohydrate they provide in the diet is small.

Whole grains like rice and corn, whole grain flours like wheat and rye, as well as whole grain pastas made from them, such as wheat and soba noodles, tubers like potatoes and yams, legumes like beans and peas, and winter squashes like acorn and kabocha contain large quantities of complex carbohydrates and thus are known as starches.

Rice, corn, and other grains, as well as potatoes, typically store about 80 percent of their calories in the form of complex carbohydrates. Beans, peas, and lentils are approximately 70 percent complex carbohydrates.

Starches contain sufficient calories to easily meet the energy requirements of an active person, and they’re also abundant in essential amino acids from proteins, essential fats, fibers, and minerals. Many starches, such as potatoes, have a full complement of vitamins as well, whereas grains and legumes need the help of fruits or green and yellow vegetables in order to provide adequate vitamin A and C.


The human body is designed to enjoy and become satiated by carbohydrates, both simple and complex sugars (starches), not surprising since this substance is our intended fuel. Consider the tips of our tongues have sweet-tasting taste buds. We are designed to seek and enjoy this flavor. There are no similar sensors on our tongues for fat or protein.

Once consumed, carbohydrates cause changes in bodily hormones and brain chemistry, resulting in satisfaction of the appetite and our reward for eating correctly. Failure to eat sufficient carbohydrates, when people consume beef, chicken, fish and cheese, all containing almost no carbohydrates, leaves them wanting sugars, which may cause some people to conclude that they are addicted to carbohydrates.


All successful civilizations thrived on starches. In fact, here are some historical examples of starch-based diets: barley in Middle East for 11,000 years, corn in Central and South America for 7000 years, millet in Africa for 6,000 years, oats in Middle East for 11,000 years, sorghum in East Africa for 6,000 years, rice in Asia for more than 10,000 years, rye in Asia for 5000 years, and wheat in Near East for 10,000 years.

“All large populations of trim, healthy people, throughout written human history, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch. Examples of thriving people include, Japanese and Chinese in Asia eating sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and rice, Incas in South America eating potatoes, Mayans and Aztecs in Central America eating corn, and Egyptians in the Middle East eating wheat,” explained Dr. John McDougall author of The Starch Solution.

Over the past century there has been an escalating trend in Western societies of people abandoning starchy plant-foods for low-carbohydrate meat and dairy foods. A worldwide epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer has followed this dietary change.

“There are no exceptions, all large populations of healthy, trim people have lived on starch-based diets. We are obliged to eat starch, and failure to eat this way, means failure to thrive, both as individuals and as civilizations,” said Dr. McDougall.

The established benefits of eating whole grains are: lowers cholesterol, lowers blood sugar, lowers insulin levels, lowers IGF-1 levels, reduces risk of thrombosis, reduces heart attack risk, reduces risk of type-2 diabetes, reduces risk of obesity, reduces insulin resistance, lowers colon cancer risk, lowers gastric cancer risk, improves bowel function, accelerates bowel transit time, delays gastric emptying, relieves constipation, increases “good” bowel bacteria (bifidobacteria), decreases ”bad” bowel bacteria (E. Coli), and provides anti-oxidant activity.


According to Dr. McDougall, many populations, for example people in rural populations of Poland and Russia at the turn of the 19th century, have lived in very good health doing extremely hard work with the white potato serving as their primary source of nutrition. One landmark experiment carried out in 1925 on two healthy adults, a man 25 years old and a woman 28 years old, had them live on a diet primarily of white potatoes for 6 months. A few additional items of little nutritional value except for empty calories like pure fats, a few fruits, coffee, and tea were supplemented in their diet.

The report stated, “they did not tire of the uniform potato diet and there was no craving for change.”  Even though they were both physically active, they were described as, “…in good health on a diet in which the nitrogen (protein) was practically solely derived from the potato.”

The potato is such a great source of nutrition that it can supply all of the essential protein and amino acids for young children in times of food shortage. Eleven Peruvian children, ages 8 months to 35 months, recovering from malnutrition, were fed diets where all of the protein and 75% of the calories came from potatoes. Soybean-cottonseed oils and pure simple sugars, neither of which contain protein, vitamins, or minerals, provided some of the extra calories. Studies during the experimental feeding showed this simple diet provided all the protein and essential amino acids to meet the needs of growing children. Not only can we survive, but we can thrive and even reverse the damage caused by serious ailments, too.


Dr. McDougall stressed that when it comes to the national health epidemic of obesity there are only three food issues to consider: First, potatoes are at the bottom of the list of calorie dense foods, at one calorie per gram. By comparison, sugar, cheese, and beef are about 4 calories per gram and vegetable oils are 9 calories per gram. Second, potatoes are 1% fat – so there are virtually no fat calories to wear. By comparison, beef and cheese can be 70% fat and butter is 100% fat. And third, potatoes are at the top of the carbohydrate list with about 90% of the calories from appetite-satisfying carbohydrates.

Beef, fish, chicken, butter, and olive oil are a few examples of commonly consumed foods with no carbohydrates. Only 2% of the calories from cheese come from carbohydrates.

“One of the strongest risk factors for type-2 diabetes and heart disease is excess body fat, explained Dr. McDougall; therefore, any expert who says potatoes will lead to diabetes or obesity is ignoring the bulk of the scientific and nutrition literature. And, they are ignoring an observation anyone can make: people living on diets high in starch like Japanese and Chinese are trim, young, and active people with very low rates of diabetes.”


Sick employees cost companies money. Average health care costs per employee in the U.S. have now reached more than $11,000 a year. In response, 43% of employers now offer incentives to encourage participation in biometric screenings that check blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, tobacco use, etc. Another 30% offer incentives to engage in healthy lifestyle activities in the workplace.

Immersion Programs are also available to teach employees to live healthy, productive lives that contribute to a more productive workforce.

In 2010, the McDougall Healthy Employee Immersion Program was created for the employees of Whole Foods Market. Two years later, John Mackey, co-Founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market reported substantial savings for his company and was so impressed with the results that he predicted global acceptance of programs like these to continue.

Starchy whole foods are inexpensive, comfort foods that provide a large part of the world’s nutritional needs and should make up a large part of your plate at every meal.



Candace Mattingly studied English literature and interpersonal communications at UNC. She lives with her husband, twin toddlers, and their dog in North Carolina.