Starchy Foods

British Nutrition Foundation

We aim to give people access to reliable science-based information to support anyone on their journey towards a healthy, sustainable diet. In this section you can read about starchy foods in the diet and how they affect our health.

Quick facts on starchy foods

  • Starch is a type of carbohydrate – sugar and fibre are other types. Starchy carbohydrate usually provides 4kcal per gram.
  • Starchy foods, sometimes called ‘carbs’, include bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, oats and other grains.
  • Starchy foods, especially wholegrains, feature as a main food group in dietary guidance all over the world.
  • It’s best for our health to go for wholegrain options of starchy foods (such as wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice) regularly and to eat potatoes with skins as these are a key source of fibre.
  • Starchy foods also make an important contribution to our intakes of essential nutrients such as B vitamins, folate, iron and calcium.
  • When we eat starchy foods, the body breaks the starch down to glucose, which is used for energy – especially by our brain, nerve cells, red blood cells and muscles.
  • The glycaemic index (GI) measures how quickly our blood sugar increases after we consume starchy and sugary food or drinks. Low GI foods like many fruits and vegetables, milk, nuts, pulses and wholegrains make our blood glucose rise more slowly and may be helpful in managing type 2 diabetes. But not all foods with a low GI are healthy (such as chocolate) so it is important to use GI in the context of a balanced diet.
  • Some people may be worried that starchy foods are fattening. Eating too much of any food can potentially cause weight gain and, gram for gram, carbohydrate contains fewer calories than fat. What’s important is choosing higher fibre or wholegrain starchy foods, and not adding too much saturated fat, for example creamy pasta sauces.
  • Lower carbohydrate weight loss diets that limit starchy foods are quite popular and they can work for some people, although we do not have evidence that they are better for weight loss than other diets. Very strict low carb diets, like keto diets, can make it difficult to eat enough fibre and these may not be good for health in the long-term.

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