Starchy foods

Starchy foods like bread, pasta and rice and their role in a healthy, balanced diet

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Quick facts on starchy foods

  1. Starch is a type of carbohydrate – sugar and fibre are other types. Starchy carbohydrate usually provides 4 kcal per gram.
  2. Starchy foods, sometimes called ‘carbs’, include bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, oats and other grains.
  3. Starchy foods, especially wholegrains, feature as a main food group in dietary guidance all over the world.
  4. 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.
  5. Starchy foods also make an important contribution to our intakes of essential nutrients such as B vitamins, folate, iron and calcium.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 (e.g. chocolate) so it is important to use GI in the context of a balanced diet.
  8. 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 e.g. creamy pasta sauces.
  9. Lower carbohydrate weight loss diets that limit starchy foods are quite popular and they can work for some people, although we don’t have evidence that they are better for weight loss than other diets. Very strict low carb diets, e.g. 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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