Several years ago, I traveled through Italy, a country impossible to visit without at least sampling pasta.
I enjoyed a few small dishes throughout my trip while religiously taking starch blockers before those meals.
Now, Italian pasta tends to be lower in gluten and other junky ingredients compared with American pasta. Even so, when I came back and hopped on the scales, I had lost one pound. I was sold on starch blockers.
“Made from a refined, potent extract of white kidney beans, the starch blocker binds to an enzyme called amylase, preventing it from breaking starch down into sugar,” says Dr. Jonny Bowden in Living Low Carb.
“The company that makes Phase 2 [starch blockers] claims that when you take it immediately before a heavy-starch meal, up to 66% of the starch in that meal is blocked from absorption.”
Sounds promising, but what does science show about starch blockers?
Actually, studies have mostly concluded positively. One review of clinical studies published in Nutrition Journal found starch blockers could aid weight loss and reduce postprandial (post-meal) glucose levels.
Another study published in the International Journal of Medical Science gave people either a starch blocker or placebo. Both groups ate a carbohydrate-rich diet between 2,000 and 2,300 daily calories.
Compared with those receiving a placebo, participants who took a starch blocker had significantly greater reduction of body weight, body mass index (BMI), fat mass, adipose tissue thicknes and waist/hip/thigh circumferences while maintaining lean body mass.
Researchers concluded starch blockers create “significant decrements in body weight and suggest decrements in fat mass in the face of maintained lean body mass.”
From these and other studies, I concluded that used intelligently, starch blockers might provide that extra buffer against weight gain if we’re eating a starchy food.
The question becomes, can we pop a few and happily indulge in whatever starchy concoction we’ve been craving?
Not quite. Even if starch blockers reduce absorption of up to 66% of starch (they could block much less than that amount), we still get a massive carbohydrate impact if we eat, say, a big plate of pasta.
Remember too that starch blockers only block starchy carbohydrates, not sugar carbohydrates. When we eat a pasta dish, some of that starch will still break down into sugar with all its repercussions.
A few other caveats: If we’re insulin resistant or have Type 2 diabetes, even a little bit of pasta could elevate your blood sugar and create problems.
Many starches also contain gluten. If we have food intolerances, gluten can provoke weight loss resistance, inflammation and numerous symptoms.
Bowden notes too that while starch blockers might allow us to occasionally enjoy a pasta dish without its impact, for some people even that can become a slippery slope into cravings and overeating.
If we’re hankering for quinoa pasta or gluten-free bread but want to take every possible precaution against creating a huge carbohydrate impact, starch blockers might provide that extra bit of insurance. Let’s just don’t assume they’re a free pass to guilt-free go face down in a big plate of fettuccine Alfredo without consequences.
If you’ve ever used starch blockers, have they yielded the results you wanted? Share your story below.
Barrett ML, Udani JK. A proprietary alpha-amylase inhibitor from white bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): A review of clinical studies on weight loss and glycemic control. Nutr J. 2011 Mar 17;10:24. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-24.
Bowden, J. 2010. Living Low Carb. New York: Sterling.
Celleno L, et al. A Dietary supplement containing standardized Phaseolus vulgaris extract influences body composition of overweight men and women. Int J Med Sci. 2007 Jan 24;4(1):45-52.
Author: JJ Virgin
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Steven Depolo