When you first think of cornstarch, a number of different uses may come to mind.
Maybe you’ve used it as a helpful replacement for baby powder or have seen it as a key compound in the production of industrial products such as latex gloves. However, another key use of cornstarch is its ability to be a thickening agent for a variety of different cooking and baking recipes.
So, what exactly is this multi-purpose food?
What is Cornstarch?
It’s strange to think that a substance used for industrial purposes could be edible too, right? This fine, white powder is made from the endosperm of a corn kernel seed. The endosperm is where you’ll find all the starch n the kernel. This starch is what led to its discovery in 1840 in a wheat starch factory in Jersey City, New Jersey back in 1840. It was used strictly for industrial purposes until it started to become incorporated in to food production eleven years later in 1851.
While cornstarch may have many different uses, that’s where the benefits of this edible substance ends. Cornstarch provides no protein, healthy fats, vitamins or minerals. One cup of cornstarch contains a total of 488 calories, including zero grams of fat, zero grams of protein, 117 grams of carbohydrates and a rather insignificant amount of fiber (less than two grams per cup).
When it comes to recipes, cornstarch is mainly used as a thickening agent in food such as soups, stews, sauces, custards and other liquid-based dishes. Some people prefer cornstarch over flour due to it’s translucent color and lack of flavor, but the high carb count is an important factor to take into consideration. This leads us to the question — is cornstarch low carb or keto friendly?
How And When Does Cornstarch Fit Into a Low Carb or Ketogenic Diet?
When it comes to using cornstarch in a recipe, you can measure it by how much flour you would typically use. When replacing flour, you only need half the amount of cornstarch you would compared to flour. For example, a recipe requiring one cup of flour would only need a half cup of cornstarch. While the serving of cornstarch varies by recipe, only a half of a cup still comes out to over 58 grams of net carbs. This means even a quarter cup of this thickening agent is enough to kick you out of ketosis.
The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) suggests that you stay between a carb intake of 20 and 50 grams per day, and often times even less than that. The SKD is the go-to type of ketogenic diet for individuals just starting a low carb or ketogenic diet. Starting off in a deficit in carbohydrates is important in helping the alteration of your metabolism. When you consume carbs, your body naturally looks to burn them for energy. However, when you deprive yourself of carbs, your body looks to its second preferred fuel source — fats.
In this case of staying under 20 grams of carbs per day, cornstarch would kick you out of ketosis instantly. On top of it’s high carb count, it simply has no additional health benefits — giving you no real reason or need to consume it.
However, there are different types ketogenic diets that could allow the consumption of cornstarch. The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) is meant for individuals who lead a more active lifestyle and require a bit of carbs to fuel their workouts. The TKD allows for 20 to 50 additional grams of carbohydrates up to both an hour before and after the workout window.
For some athletes and individuals that train at extremely high intensities, this simply may not be enough carbs. This is where the cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) comes into play. The CKD follows a SKD for the majority of the week (about five days a week) and then has up to one to two days of carb backloading. During these two days of carb backloading, you can consume up to 400 to 600 grams of carbohydrates in order to completely refuel your glycogen stores. This is the time that consuming cornstarch would be best.
When Should Cornstarch Be Avoided on a Low Carb or Ketogenic Diet?
While you may think since it’s originally from a planted crop that it must be good for you, cornstarch is far from it. The only possible health benefit it may provide is if you’re consciously trying to gain weight. With it’s lack of flavor and high calorie count, it’s an easy way to get in those extra calories and boost your insulin levels. However, most individuals should be cautious of consuming too much of this thickening agent.
While you should definitely avoid using this ingredient if you’re following a low carb or standard ketogenic diet, you should also be careful consuming it on the targeted ketogenic diet as well. With a quarter cup serving being around 24 grams of net carbs, this tiny bit of cornstarch may still be enough to kick you out of ketosis even if you’re trying to use those carbs to fuel your workout.
So is Cornstarch Low Carb or Keto Friendly?
If you’re thinking of adding cornstarch into one of your favorite low carb dishes, think again. While it is seen in many dishes today, it’s simply not suitable for a low carb or ketogenic diet.
Luckily, there are plenty of low carb substitutes for cornstarch that you can choose from.
While there are some circumstances in which the ketogenic diet would allow you to have a certain number of carbohydrates. These circumstances include times before and after your training times on the TKD or the CKD during your carb backloading days. Your other days on the ketogenic diet should be kept between 20 and 50 grams of carbohydrates, or even less.
The first step is making sure you’re within your macronutrients is by calculating them correctly. This is important not only to keep your carb intake low, but also because the keto diet actually alters your metabolism, entering you into a state of ketosis.
To be clear, cornstarch is not low carb or ketogenic friendly.
Steph is a writer, competitive weightlifter and nutritional consultant with a passion for health and wellness. She is the founder of The Athlete’s Kitchen, a website dedicated to providing its audience with articles, recipes and the latest nutritional information on their favorite foods.