Skip to main content Skip to footer

Starchy foods

What are starchy foods?

Starchy foods are foods that are rich in starch, which is a type of carbohydrate. They are sometimes called ‘carbs’.


When we eat starchy foods, our digestive system breaks down the starch into glucose which our body uses for energy.


If you have diabetes, this system doesn't work as effectively. For more nutritional information on diabetes, read our dedicated page.


In the starchy foods group, wholegrains are a key source of fibre. Studies have found that fibre from wholegrains seems to be important for health, linked with reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and inflammation.


Sarah Coe, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Which foods contain starch?

There are many types of starchy foods which are a source of energy, fibre and other nutrients:


There are many kinds of breads. On average we get around a fifth our fibre, and over 15% of our iron and calcium intakes from bread. It is a good idea to choose wholegrain or wholemeal breads as these provide more fibre.

Breakfast cereals

Breakfast cereals can be made of a variety of different grains including wheat, corn, rice, oats and barley. It is best to choose wholegrain cereals, including porridge oats, and to check labels to avoid those that are high in sugar.

Pasta, rice and grains

Pasta and rice are popular in the UK and there are also a wide range of grain varieties you can try such as bulgur wheat, quinoa, barley and spelt. Choose wholegrains such as wholemeal pasta or brown rice regularly as these provide more fibre, vitamins and minerals than white versions.


Potatoes are a source of potassium and thiamine (vitamin B1) and they also contribute to our vitamin C intakes. Eating potatoes with skins, for example, a baked potato or boiled new potatoes adds extra fibre. Chips, that are typically deep fried and have added salt, are less of a healthy choice.

Starchy vegetables

Like cassava, yam and plantain provide starchy carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals depending on the type and where they are grown.

Key facts about starchy foods

  • Starch is a type of carbohydrate.
  • Starchy foods are sometimes called ‘carbs’.
  • Starchy foods are an important source of fibre as well as vitamins and minerals.
  • Starchy foods are not fattening if you eat the right portion sizes. It’s important you do not eat more calories than you need from any food group. 
  • Types of starchy foods include bread, pasta and rice - it’s healthiest to choose wholegrain versions of these.

Starchy foods FAQs

Low carbohydrate or ‘low-carb’ diets are often thought to help you lose weight. 


There are different types of low-carb diets. Some diets may restrict your carbohydrate intake to less than 45% of your daily calories but very low ketogenic (‘keto’) diets often mean getting less than 10% of your daily calories from carbohydrates. Whatever the type, low-carb diets recommend restricting starchy foods like bread, rice and pasta.


There is evidence that in the short-term (up to about 6 months) lower carb diets can be effective in helping some people lose weight and that they may help people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar. 


However, studies have not found that lower carb diets are better than other diets (such as low-fat diets) in the long-term. Different types of diet suit different people and the key appears to be being able to stick with a diet. 


On very low-carb or ‘keto’ diets you generally cannot include any starchy foods. This may be unhealthy in the longer term as it is difficult to eat enough fibre when starchy foods have been completely cut out. If you are thinking about trying a low-carb diet, learn more by reading these pages from Diabetes UK.

Starchy foods (‘carbs’) are not inherently more ‘fattening’ than foods high in protein or fat. What is important is how much of them we eat - if you regularly have large portions of foods like bread, pasta or rice then this may mean you eat more calories than you need.


It’s important that you do not eat more calories than you need because eating more calories than your body needs contributes to weight gain. 


To make sure you don't eat more calories than you need from any food group, take a look at our Get Portion Wise! guide.

Last reviewed October 2023. Next review due October 2026.

Did you find this page useful?

We'd love to hear your feedback. If you would like a response, please contact us.

Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any individualised advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.